RIPPING APART HEARTS

Majoritarian lynch mobs are leading India towards a second Partition

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Image: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
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Gopalkrishna Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and one of the most credible voices in public life in India, worries about a second partition, a division this time not of the country but of the mind. He reminds us that the Two-Nation Theory had not just Muslim but also Hindu adherents. These are now “wandering over the Indian countryside looking for, thirsting for, disembowelling the Indian earth for the acquifers of hate…They want in India a partition of the mind within the partitioned nation…a Hindu Rashtra.”

“Two ways of life,” he declares in another interview, “are now before us. One, that which wants Indians to have freedom of conscience, thought, and speech so that the best ideas and energies can be devoted to raising the poor, the marginalised and the discriminated, making India a republic for all its citizens. Second, that which wants India to be dominated by one political ideology, one religious order, one majoritarian grip on all, making India a nation of stark, severe, and strict uniformity. A subtle fear pervades our politics today. This converts a majority from an honest weightage of democratic opinion into majoritarianism, the very antithesis of democracy.”

This violent, triumphalist majoritarian dominance is on lurid display across this new India. As lynching threatens to grow into a national pandemic, Indian Muslims are learning to endure a sense of foreboding—a lurking, unnamed, unspoken, everyday fear. 

As this fear grows like a cancer in a permissive political environment, there is very little resistance from the rest of the Indian people. Too little outrage, too little empathy and compassion.

I think today of Babasaheb Ambedkar, recalling his counsel that the core of democracy and our Constitution is fraternity. That justice, liberty, and equality can never become the natural order of things unless there is fraternity. Our shared sisterhood and brotherhood.

Solidarity. Love. But of all the founding constitutional principles of our republic, it is fraternity today that is most under attack.

I recall today Mahatma Gandhi’s last and finest months. In 1947, a million people had died in a tempest of hate in Hindu–Muslim riots. Yet he risked his life repeatedly for love, for Hindu–Muslim unity, for the right of minorities to live in India as their homeland, as equal citizens in every way, with their minds without fear, and their heads held high. He walked bravely, alone and unmindful of his safety, and fasted again and again until peace was restored, consecutively in Noakhali, Bihar, Calcutta, and finally in Delhi. He did this even as the entire country was engulfed and ripped apart by hate.

His epic fast for forty days in Calcutta succeeded in dousing the inferno of communal killings of Hindus and Muslims. Lord Mountbatten wrote to him that what 55,000 armed soldiers could not accomplish in burning Punjab, one man did in Bengal, battling with only the weapon of his frail body and his steely moral resolve.

Gandhiji had resolved to proceed from Calcutta to Punjab to fight the communal madness that had gripped it on both sides of the new border. But when he reached Delhi, he found that Hindu and Sikh refugees had gathered in tens of thousands, bitterly enraged by the killings of their loved ones and the loss of their homes and homelands to Muslims there. Spurred and encouraged by the Hindu Mahasabha, the RSS and the Akalis, they began to attack Muslim settlements and violently occupied Muslim homes, and placed Hindu idols in more than a hundred mosques and dargahs in the capital.

It was both Nehru and Gandhi who would go to these refugee camps, braving the anger and hatred of refugees, to try to persuade them to restore peace and amity. Gandhiji said the Hindu faith would be destroyed if a single mosque was forcefully turned into a Hindu temple. He reminded angry Sikhs that love was central to the tenets of their faith. He said India’s soul would be hollowed out if Muslims could not live in India as equal citizens, without fear. His last fast, a fortnight before he was killed, was for all mosques, dargahs and homes to be returned to the Muslims.

I worry about many things. Majoritarian governments that cynically create an enabling environment that tacitly encourages hate attacks on minorities….The morally weak-kneed response of parties across the political establishment which claim only for electoral gain what they call the “secular” space. And the shamefully partisan role of the police, which does little to protect the victim, often criminalising those it is charged to defend, and subverting justice.

I worry also about the ease with which mobs gather, and the rage and hatred that drives them as they knife or pulp strangers, sometimes children, only for their faith or caste.

But more than all of these, I worry about the bystander. Lynch assaults across the land are characterised almost without exception by bystanders who either actively support the killing, or do nothing to stop the battering or to save the innocent victims. I worry about us who watch and do nothing. Starkly, I worry about you and me, and our complicities by silence and inaction. I believe our greatest, hardest battle will have to be with the bystander. With ourselves. And with our own.

Today lynch attacks barely register, or linger in the public memory, a blip in our consciousness until the next outrage. My idealistic young friend in Assam, Abdul Kalam Azad, asks in anguish in a recent article: “Has fear lynched my conscience?”

I worry even more profoundly—Has hate lynched my conscience? We need our conscience to ache. We need it to be burdened intolerably.

There can be only three reasons for our silences today as hatred and fear prevail. Either we are too frightened to speak, or we don’t care. Or most worrying of all, somewhere in our hearts, it is that we too secretly nurture some of the hatred of the mob, and are happy to outsource to the lynch mob to do our work for us.

From Gandhi’s last months we need to learn and claim a love that burns, that aches, love born from the defiant conviction of the equal worth of every human being, love that is fierce and brave, love founded in courage, in the willingness to sacrifice everything, even one’s life, for love to overcome, to prevail. In the rising darkness in India, it is this radical love that has been lynched—whether by fear, indifference and hate, I do not know. But we must fight, before it is too late, to locate within ourselves our collective capacities for radical love.

Darkness can never be fought with darkness, only light can dispel the enveloping shadows. And so also a politics of hate can only be fought with a new and radical politics of love and solidarity. In battling ideologies that harvest hate, we can win only equipped with this love. 

We need to garner across our land a plenitude of acts of love.

Excerpted from Harsh Mander’s book Partitions of the Heart with permission from Penguin Random House India. We welcome your comments at ideas.india@qz.com.