Which Indian accidentally got famous in 2019
The end of the Indian dream
The protest reverberates from the streets of Chile, Catalonia, Great Britain, France, Iraq, Lebanon and Hong Kong. A new generation is outraged by what has been done to their planet. Still, you may have forgiven me when I speak of a place where the streets have been taken over by something entirely different. There was a time when dissent was one of India's foremost exports. But today, even in the face of rising protest in the West, our major anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist movements for social and environmental justice have largely fallen silent. This applies to the marches against the large dams, against the privatization and plundering of our rivers and forests as well as against the mass expulsions and the alienation of the homeland of the indigenous people.
On September 17 of last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave himself the gift of the reservoir of the Sardar-Sarovar Dam, which was filled to the brim for his 69th birthday. Meanwhile, thousands of villagers who had fought the dam for over 30 years saw their houses disappear in the rising water. It was a highly symbolic moment.
In today's India a shadowy world comes over us in broad daylight. It's getting harder and harder to communicate the extent of the crisis, even among yourself. An accurate description risks sounding like an exaggeration. And that is why we - for the sake of credibility and good manners - take care of the creature that has struck its teeth in us. We comb her hair and wipe her dripping mouth to make her look more handsome in classy company. India is nowhere near the worst or most dangerous place on earth - at least not yet. But the gap between what it could be and what it has become makes it perhaps the most tragic place on earth.
Right now, seven million people in the Kashmir Valley - the majority of whom do not want to be citizens of India and have fought for their right to self-determination for decades - are surrounded by a digital siege and the world's densest military occupation. At the same time, nearly two million people in the eastern state of Assam - longing to belong to India - have found their names missing from the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and threatened with statelessness. The Indian government has announced its intention to expand the NRC to the rest of the country. A law has already been enacted that could ultimately lead to statelessness on an unprecedented scale.
Freedom, equality, fraternity: the first victims of the climate crisis
In the west, the rich are taking their precautions for the coming climate catastrophe. They build bunkers and store supplies of food and clean water. In poor countries - and while India is the fifth largest economy in the world, shamefully still a poor and hungry country - other precautions are being taken. India's annexation of Kashmir on August 5, 2019 is also explained by the fact that the Indian government urgently wants to secure access to the five rivers that flow through the state of Jammu and Kashmir. And the NRC, which will create a tiered citizenship system in which some citizens have more rights than others, is also preparing for a time when resources will become scarce. Because citizenship is, in Hannah Arendt's well-known formulation, the right to have rights.
The ideas of freedom, equality and brotherhood are becoming the first victims of the climate crisis - and in fact have already been. I will try to explain in a little more detail how this happens - and that in India the modern management system that is supposed to handle this very modern crisis is rooted in the hideous, dangerous sediments of our history.
The violence of inclusion and the violence of exclusion herald a shock that could shift the foundations of India - and change its meaning and place in the world. Our constitution describes India as a "socialist secular democratic republic". However, we use the word “secular” a little differently than the rest of the world - for us it is a code for a society in which all religions have the same status before the law. In practice India has never been secular or socialist. It has always functioned as an upper-cast Hindu state. But conceited secularism, however hypocritical it may be, is the only fragment of unity that India has at all possible makes. That hypocrisy was the best we had. Without them India will end.
In his acceptance speech in May 2019, after his party won a second term, Modi boasted that no politician from any party had dared to use the word “secularism” in the election campaign. The reservoir of secularism, said Modi, is now empty. So it's official. India is idle. And we learn, albeit too late, to appreciate hypocrisy. Because with it comes a remnant, at least a pretense, of a traditional propriety.
The "epochal revolution" of the Hindu nationalists
India isn't really a country. It's a continent. More complex and diverse, with more languages - 780 at the last count, without dialects - more nationalities and sub-nationalities, more indigenous tribes and religions than all of Europe. Imagine that this vast ocean, this fragile, recalcitrant social ecosystem is suddenly seized by a Hindu supremacy organization whose doctrine is: one country, one language, one religion, one constitution.
I am talking about the RSS, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, founded in 1925, the mother ship of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Its founding fathers were heavily influenced by German and Italian fascism. They drew a connection between Indian Muslims and German Jews and believed that there was no place for Muslims in a Hindu India. Today's RSS distances itself in its typical chameleon language from this point of view. But in their ideology Muslims operate as treacherous permanent “outsiders”, which appears as an eternal lyre in the public speeches of BJP politicians and is expressed in the terrifying slogans of rampaging mobs. An example: "Mussalman ka ek hi sthan - Kabristan ya Pakistan" (There is only one place for Muslims - the cemetery or Pakistan). In October 2019, the RSS Supreme Leader declared, "India is a Hindu Rashtra" - a Hindu nation. "That is not negotiable."
This idea turns everything beautiful about India into acid.
The RSS speaks of an epochal revolution in which the Hindus would finally sweep aside centuries of oppression from the former Muslim rulers of India. But that is part of their project of falsifying history. In truth, millions of Indian Muslims are descended from people who converted to Islam in order to escape the cruel caste system of Hinduism.
If Nazi Germany was a country that wanted to impose its fantasies on a continent (and not just this), the impulse of RSS-led India is in some ways exactly the opposite: a continent trying to shrink into one country. Not even on a country, but on a province. A primitive, ethno-religious province. It turns out to be an unimaginably violent process.
None of the white supremacy organizations, none of the neo-Nazi groups on the rise in the world today, can boast of the infrastructure and human strength that the RSS possesses. She has 57,000 shakhas (Branches) all over the country and an armed, loyal militia of 600,000 "volunteers". It runs schools that enroll millions of children and has its own medical missions, unions, farmers' associations, media and women's groups. She recently announced the opening of a recruiting school for those wishing to join the Indian army. Under hers bhagwa dhwaj (the saffron pennant) a myriad of right-wing organizations known as the Sangh Parivar - the "family" of the RSS - has grown and prospered. These organizations - the political equivalents of letterbox companies - are responsible for shockingly violent attacks on minorities that have killed thousands of people over the years.
Narendra Modi: A Creature of RSS
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been an RSS member all his life. He is a creature of RSS. Although not a Brahmin, he is more responsible than anyone for making it the most powerful organization in India and writing the most glorious chapter in its history to date. It is tiresome to have to repeat the story of Modi's rise to power over and over, but the officially sanctioned amnesia that surrounds it makes it almost compulsory.
Modi's political career took off in October 2001, just weeks after the 9/11 attacks, when the BJP removed the elected prime minister of Gujarat and replaced him. He was not even a member of that state's parliament at the time. Three months after he took office, a heinous but mysterious arson attack occurred in which 59 Hindu pilgrims were burned to death on a train. "Revenge" led to planned rioting by Hindu vigilante mobs throughout the state. It is estimated that 2,500 people, almost exclusively Muslims, were murdered in broad daylight. Women were gang raped in the street and tens of thousands were evicted from their homes. Immediately after the pogrom, Modi called elections. He won not despite the massacre, but because of it - and was re-elected as Prime Minister three times in a row.
When Modi was running for the post of Indian Prime Minister in 2014 - also accompanied by a massacre of Muslims, this time in the Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh - a Reuters journalist asked him if he regretted the 2002 pogrom in Gujarat. Modi replied that he himself would regret the death of a dog if it accidentally got under the wheels of his car. There it was, the pure, carefully practiced RSS language.
Modi's swearing-in as India's 14th Prime Minister was celebrated not only by his Hindu nationalist supporters, but also by the country's major industrialists and businessmen, many Indian liberals and the international media. They saw him as the epitome of hope and progress, a savior in a saffron-colored business suit, who embodied in his person the confluence of ancient and modern - Hindu nationalism and unrestrained market-liberal capitalism.
How Modi puts our love to the test
Modi was able to keep his promises on Hindu nationalism, but on the liberal market front, he found himself stumbled badly. With a series of failures, he brought India's economy to its knees. In 2016, a little over a year after taking office, he announced that from that moment on, all 500 and 1000 rupee notes - over 80 percent of the currency in circulation - would no longer be legal tender. There had never been anything like this in any country before. Neither the finance minister nor the main economic advisor appeared to be privy to it. This "demonetization", said Modi, is a "surgical blow" against corruption and the financing of terrorism. In fact, it was pure economic charlatanism, a home recipe that was tried in a country with more than a billion people. It turned out to be utterly devastating. But there were no riots. No protests. People stood in line for hours in front of the banks to deposit their old bills - the only remaining option to redeem them. No Chile, Catalonia, Lebanon, Hong Kong. Jobs were lost almost overnight, construction came to a standstill and small businesses simply closed down.
Some of us foolishly believed that this act of unimaginable hubris was Modi's end. How wrong we were with that. The people were happy. They suffered - but were happy. It was as if pain had turned into pleasure. As if their sufferings were the birth pangs from which glorious, prosperous Hindu India would soon emerge.
Most economists agree that demonetization, coupled with the new tax on goods and services that Modi announced shortly afterwards - with the promise of "one country, one tax" - is the political equivalent of being shot in the tires of an accelerating car were. Even the government admits that unemployment is higher than it has been in 45 years. In the World Hunger Index, India ranks 102nd out of 117 countries (Nepal on 73, Bangladesh on 88 and Pakistan on 94).
But the demonetization was never just about economics. It was a test of loyalty, a test of our love that the great leader subjected us to. Would we follow him, would we love him always, come what may? We passed with flying colors. The moment we accepted demonetization as a people, we infantilized ourselves and surrendered to pocket authoritarianism.
But what was bad for the country turned out to be excellent for the BJP. Between 2016 and 2017, when the economy went bad, it became the richest political party in the world. Its revenues rose 81 percent, making it five times as rich as its main rival, the Congress Party, whose revenues fell 14 percent. Smaller political parties practically went bankrupt. Thanks to this war chest, the BJP won the major election in the state of Uttar Pradesh, and India's 2019 general election turned into a race between a Ferrari and a few old bikes. And since elections are increasingly about money, there should hardly be any chance of a free and fair vote in the near future. So maybe in the end the demonetization wasn't a blunder at all.
Furious fanaticism: the intensified class and caste war
In Modi's second term in office, the RSS went one step further. It no longer acts as a shadow state or a parallel state; it is now the state. Every day we see examples of how she controls the media, police and secret services. What is worrying is that it also appears to have a significant impact on the armed forces. Foreign diplomats and ambassadors are flocking to RSS headquarters in Nagpur to pay their respects.
In fact, we've got to a point where open control isn't even necessary. Over 400 TV news channels, millions of WhatsApp groups and TikTok videos keep the population on the drip of frenzied fanaticism. In November 2019, the Supreme Court of India ruled the "most important case in the world", as it was sometimes called. On December 6, 1992, a Hindu vigilante mob - organized by the BJP and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (the World Hindu Council, VHP) - literally smashed a 450-year-old mosque to dust in the city of Ayodhya. They claimed that this mosque, the Babri Masjid, was built on the ruins of a Hindu temple, the birthplace of the god Rama. The following ethnic violence killed over 2,000 people, mostly Muslims. In its most recent ruling, the court found that the Muslims could not prove their exclusive and continuous ownership of the site. It therefore transferred the site to a foundation that it entrusted the BJP government to set up, which is to build a Hindu temple there. Critics of the verdict were arrested en masse. The VHP stuck to its earlier statements that it would take on more mosques. This campaign can go on forever - everything was built on something, after all.
Through the influence that comes with immense wealth, the BJP has succeeded in co-opting, buying up, or simply crushing its political rivals. The hardest blow hit the parties whose electorate base is the Dalit and other disadvantaged castes in the northern Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. They lost many of their traditional voters to the BJP. To accomplish this feat - and it is nothing less than that - the BJP worked hard to exploit and expose the hierarchies within the Dalit and disadvantaged castes, which have their own inner universe of hegemony and marginalization. The overflowing coffers of the BJP and their deep, cunning understanding of the caste system have completely changed conventional electoral arithmetic.
Since securing the voices of the disadvantaged, the BJP has been rapidly reducing all advances in gender equality policy with its privatizations in education and the public sector and pushing the members of disadvantaged castes out of jobs and educational institutions. At the same time, the National Crime Records Bureau has seen a massive increase in atrocities against Dalit, including lynching and public flogging. Last September, when the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation honored Modi for building toilets, two Dalit children whose shelter consisted of plastic sheeting were beaten to death for relieving themselves outdoors. It is grotesque to honor a prime minister for his sanitation efforts while tens of thousands of Dalit continue to sweep the streets - removing human excrement on their heads.
In addition to the open attacks on religious minorities, we are currently experiencing an intensified class and caste war.
A gallery of villains
In order to consolidate their political gains, the RSS and BJP are primarily aiming to create long-lasting chaos on an industrial scale. They've outfitted their kitchen with a series of bubbling kettles that can be quickly brought to a boil whenever needed.
Kashmir is written on one of these cauldrons: On August 5, 2019, the Indian parliament unilaterally broke the basic conditions of the Instrument of Accession, with which the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir had agreed to become part of India in 1947. It stripped Jammu and Kashmir of their statehood and their special status, which allowed them to have their own constitution and flag. The dissolution of the legal person of this state also meant the dissolution of Section 35A of the Indian Constitution, which guaranteed the citizens of this state the rights and privileges which made them administrators of their territory. The government prepared this move by flying over 50,000 soldiers into Kashmir, in addition to the hundreds of thousands already stationed there. On the night of August 4, tourists and pilgrims were evacuated from the Kashmir Valley. Schools and markets were closed. More than 4,000 people were arrested: politicians, entrepreneurs, lawyers, activists, local leaders, students and three former prime ministers. The entire Kashmiri political class was imprisoned, even those of its own who were loyal to India. At midnight the internet went off and the phones were dead.
The lifting of Kashmir's special status, the promise of an all-Indian National Register of Citizens, the building of a Rama temple in Ayodhya - they are all on the front plates of the RSS and BJP kitchens. If the Hindu nationalists want to rekindle waning passions, all they have to do is choose a villain from their gallery and unleash the dogs of war. There are different categories of villains - Pakistani jihadists, Kashmiri terrorists, Bangladeshi "intruders" or any of the nearly 200 million Indian Muslims who can always be accused of loving Pakistan or anti-national traitors. Each of these "cards" take the others hostage and often serve as a substitute for the others. They have little to do with one another and are often hostile to one another because their needs, desires, ideologies and life situations are not only detrimental to one another, but ultimately represent an existential threat to one another. Just because they are all Muslims do they each have to suffer the consequences of each other's actions.
Depending on the mercy of the mob
In two national elections, the BJP has shown that it can win a parliamentary majority without the “Muslim votes”. As a result, Indian Muslims have been effectively disenfranchised and become the most vulnerable groups - a community with no political representation, no voice. With various forms of unexplained social boycott, they are pushed down the economic ladder and, ostensibly for reasons of physical safety, are pushed into ghettos. India's Muslims have also lost their place in the mainstream media - the only Muslim voices we hear on TV shows are those few absurd individuals who are constantly and deliberately invited to play the role of primitive Islamist and so things still worse than they already are. That being said, the only acceptable public statement left by the Muslim community is to keep showing their loyalty to the Indian flag. While the Kashmiris, brutalized by their history and, more importantly, their geography, still have a lifeboat - the dream of azadi, of freedom - the Indian Muslims must stay on deck and help repair the damaged ship. 
The lynching of Tabrez Ansari shows how leaky this ship is and how deep the putrefaction extends. Lynching is the public execution of a ritualized murder in which a person is killed to remind his community that their lives depend on the mercy of the mob. And that the police, the law, the government - as well as the good people in their homes who couldn't harm a fly, who go to work and take care of their families - are all friends of the mob.
Tabrez was lynched last June. He was an orphan boy raised by his uncles in Jharkhand State. As a teenager, he went to the city of Pune, where he found work as a welder. At the age of 22 he returned home to get married. The day after his wedding to the 18-year-old Shahista, Tabrez was grabbed by a mob, tied to a lantern, beaten for hours and forced to shout the new Hindu battle cry "Jai Shri Ram!" ("Victory for Prince Rama!"). Police eventually took Tabrez into custody but did not allow his desperate family and young bride to take him to the hospital. Instead, the officers charged him with theft and brought him before a judge who sent him back to prison. He died there four days later.
In its most recent report, the National Crime Records Bureau carefully omitted all data on lynchings. According to the Indian online medium "The Quint", 113 people have been killed since 2015. But the perpetrators and others accused of hate crimes - including mass murder - were rewarded with public office and honored by ministers from Modi's cabinet. Modi himself, who is usually chatty on Twitter and generously distributes condolence messages and birthday greetings, always becomes very quiet when a person is lynched. But it may also be unreasonable to expect a prime minister to comment every time a dog gets under the wheels of a car. Especially since it happens so often.
On colonial conquest
Five days after Modi's birthday party on Narmada Dam, 60,000 Indian Americans gathered at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. The “Howdy, Modi!” Spectacle there is already the stuff of urban legends. US President Donald Trump was kind enough to allow a visiting prime minister to see him in his own country, to his own citizens Special guest to announce. Several members of the US Congress spoke, their smiles too broad, their bodies bent in pompous postures. Over a crescendo of drum rolls and wild cheers, the admiring crowd shouted “Modi! Modes! Modes! ". At the end of the show, Trump and Modi shook hands and went on a lap of honor. The stadium literally exploded. In India, the noise was amplified a thousandfold by the reporting of the TV stations. "Howdy" became a Hindu word. At the same time, the media ignored the thousands of demonstrators in front of the stadium.
But even the roar of the 60,000 at the Houston stadium failed to mask the deafening silence from Kashmir. This September 22nd marked the 48th day of curfew and communication blockade in the valley.
Once again, Modi has managed to unleash its very own form of cruelty, to an extent unknown in modern times. And again, that made him even more popular with his loyal public. When the Indian Parliament passed the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill on August 6, this was celebrated across camps. Sweets were given away in the offices and there was dancing in the streets. A conquest was celebrated - a colonial annexation, another triumph of the Hindu nation. Again, the eye of the conquerors fell on the two primal trophies of every conquest - women and land. Statements by leading BJP politicians and patriotic pop videos that received millions of views legitimized this shamelessness. Google saw a surge in searches for the phrases “marry a Kashmiri girl” and “buy land in Kashmiri”.
But it was by no means just mob Google searches. In the first days of the siege, the Forest Advisory Committee approved 125 projects to use forest land for other purposes.
Cashmere in the information vacuum
At the beginning of the curfew, little news came out of the valley. The Indian media told us what the government wanted us to hear. The Kashmiri newspapers have been completely censored. They printed pages of news about canceled weddings, the effects of climate change, preserving lakes and wildlife areas, tips on living with diabetes - and front-page advertisements from the government about the benefits Kashmir's new downgraded legal status would bring to its citizens. These “virtues” arguably include the construction of large dams that will control and confiscate the water of the rivers that flow through Kashmir. In addition, there is certainly the erosion from deforestation, the destruction of the fragile ecosystem of the Himalayas and the plundering of the generous natural wealth of Kashmir by Indian corporations.
Serious reports about the lives of ordinary people came mostly from the journalists and photographers who work for international media - Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, BBC, New York Times and Washington Post ". Most of their reporters were Kashmiri, working in an information vacuum and lacking the resources that today's journalists normally have. They traveled through their homeland and took a great risk to provide us with news. And that news announced nightly raids, of young men rounded up and beaten for hours, their screams broadcast over loudspeakers for their neighbors and families to listen. They announced that soldiers were breaking into villagers' homes and pouring fertilizer and kerosene over their winter supplies. They fired teenagers whose shot-riddled bodies were being treated at home for risking arrest while visiting the hospital. They announced hundreds of children who had been taken away in the blackness of the night, of parents weakened by despair and fear. They heralded fear and anger, depression, confusion, steely determination and ardent resistance.
But Interior Minister Amit Shah said the siege only existed in the imagination of the people. Jammu and Kashmiri governor Satya Pal Malik said phone lines are irrelevant to Kashmiris and only used by terrorists. And army chief Bipin Rawat announced: “Normal life in Jammu and Kashmir is not affected. People do their necessary work. [...] Those who feel the effects are those whose survival depends on terrorism. ”It is not difficult to determine who exactly the Indian government considers to be terrorists.
A new phase of the conflict
Imagine an information blockade and curfew, controlled by hundreds of thousands of soldiers, all over New York City. Imagine if the streets of your city were redrawn with barbed wire and torture centers. Imagine mini Abu Ghraibs showing up in your neighborhood. Imagine if thousands of you were arrested and your families did not know where they were taken. Imagine that for weeks you could not communicate with anyone, not with your neighbors, not with loved ones outside the city, not with anyone in the outside world. Imagine that banks and schools are closed, children are locked up at home. Imagine if your parents, siblings, partners or children die and they don't find out for weeks. Imagine the medical, psychological, legal emergencies, the shortages of food, money and gasoline. Imagine that you are a day laborer or a contract worker who has earned nothing for weeks. And then imagine being told that all of this is for your own good.
The horrors the Kashmiris have suffered in recent months add to the trauma of a thirty-year-old armed conflict that has claimed 70,000 lives and covered their valley with graves. They held out when everything was thrown at them - war, money, torture, mass disappearances, an army of over half a million soldiers, and a smear campaign that portrayed an entire population as murderous fundamentalists. The siege has been going on for over three months. The Kashmiri leaders are still in jail. Dismissal is offered to them only on one condition: they must sign a commitment that they will not make a public statement for a full year. Most of them refused.
The curfew has now been eased, schools have reopened and some telephone lines have been restored. The "normality" was declared. But in Kashmir normality is always an explanation - an order from the government or the army. It has little to do with people's daily life.
So far, the Kashmiris have refused to accept this new normal. The classrooms are empty, the streets deserted and the record apple harvest is rotting in the orchards. What would be more difficult for parents or farmers to endure? Perhaps the impending extinction of their identity.
The new phase of the Kashmir conflict has already begun. Fighters warn that from now on all Indians will be considered legitimate targets. More than ten people, mostly poor, non-Kashmiri migrant workers, have already been shot. (Yes, it's the poor, almost always the poor, who get into the line of fire.) It's going to get ugly. Very ugly.
Soon all this recent history will be forgotten and there will be renewed debates in television studios equating the atrocities of the Indian security forces and the Kashmiri fighters. When talking about Kashmir, the Indian government and its media will immediately cover Pakistan, deliberately linking the misdeeds of a hostile foreign state to the democratic aspirations of ordinary people under military occupation. The Indian government has made it clear that the only option for the Kashmiris is to surrender completely, that no form of resistance is acceptable - violent, peaceful, spoken, written or sung. But the Kashmiris know: in order to exist, they have to fight back.
Why should they want to be part of India? For what conceivable reason? If they want freedom, then they should have freedom.
The Indians should want that too. Not for the Kashmiris, but for their own sake. The atrocity committed on their behalf is causing a decline India will not survive. Kashmir may not be able to defeat India, but it will consume India. In many ways it already has.
The article is based on the Jonathan Schell Memorial Lecture on the Fate of the Earth by the Type Media Center and the Gould Family Foundation, which Arundhati Roy gave on November 12, 2019 at the Cooper Union College in New York City. The text was published in advance in English on www.thenation.com. The translation is by Steffen Vogel.
End of the first part; Part II will follow in the February issue.
There is another category of “anti-national” villain - human rights activists, lawyers, students, academics, “urban Maoists” - who have been defamed, imprisoned, involved in legal proceedings, sniffed out with Israeli spy software and, in several cases, murdered. But this is another story.
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