REPORTS & ESSAYS
Understanding Emerging Fascism In India
Image courtesy Deviantart
In recent times, there have been many discussions against the agenda of the communal fascists owing to recent events like the developments in FTII; twisted nationalism; rise in fabricated cases; human rights violations using draconian laws; developments in Chennai (IIT) against Dalits; the beef debate; moral policing; attacks on human rights activists; Rohit Vemula’s suicide and the subsequent Dalit students’ movement at Hyderbad University; the enforcement repressive policies of the Government on the students in JNU; growing attacks on writers, secular intellectuals, women, Dalits and Adivasis all over India; violations on freedom of expression among others. All these incidents and others have resulted in many private and public discussions and protests against the growing fascist forces in India. At the same time, there are also concerns about the limitations in identifying the meaning, character and agenda of fascism in many of these discourses.
During the Babri Masjid demolition and the communal violence that followed in different parts of the country, some of my leftist friends had put forward the idea that ‘class’ was the problem and these discussions often tried to reduce communalism to a class issue. Much later, some of my Dalit friends had shared their analysis with me saying that ‘caste’ was the problem and some of them tried to reduce communalism to a caste issue. There have been many efforts to view communalism from the perspective of women also. And now, my own friends in Kerala are arguing with me today that ‘religion’ is the main problem and a terminology called ‘religious fascism’ is being used more often in discourses. Though I have tried to grapple critically with the limitations of all these frameworks, I have always maintained my partial acceptance to all such analyses. Apart from such analysis, the term fascism was also used actively by many progressive people in India to describe the period of Emergency in India, imposed between 1975 and 1977 in India. A section of activists in Kerala also try to view the violence used by political parties as fascism. Still another section would like to look at religious fundamentalism in any religion as fascism. Some of my own secular friends would like to see all religions as communal in an equal manner and feel that an anti-communal or anti-fascist struggle should not associate with religious sections. All these descriptions of fascism have diverse meanings and connotations. Therefore, it is important for any activist to understand the term fascism with much more clarity before confronting it.
The Indian State transitioned from a pretence of democracy into an ‘authoritarian’ State during the Emergency. However, it would be highly inappropriate to classify the State under Emergency as fascist, because the transition of the State was ‘purely from above’. The state of Emergency in India during the 70s was ‘imposed’ on the people, while fascism evolves as mass movement, capturing the institutions of State power. Certainly, dictatorship is one important characteristic of fascism, but not the only one. Fascism brings changes in the character of State from ‘below’. This point can be easily understood if you analyse the immense mass support for Hitler during the emergence of fascism in Germany. The repressive character of the State is definitely one of the characteristics of fascism, but not the only one. In any case, the repressive character of Emergency and the repressive character of a fascist German State had major differences in terms of the intensity of horror of the nature of violence.
Those who analyse the political violence exhibited by any particular political party as fascism, must come to terms with the fact that though violence is certainly one of the important ingredients of fascism, fascism can not be analysed by expressions of violence alone. A political force in India can be addressed as fascist if it expresses its fascist ideology and a process of fascist actions with the support of the massed. In India, the violence exhibited by the Sangh Parivar on thousands of Muslims during the communal genocide in Gujarat or against the Dalit Christians and Adivasi Christians in Kandhamal can qualify such a classification. During the rule of Narendra Modi, we must remember the fact that there have been over 200 incidents of communal violence. Understanding the vast difference between the character of political murders in Kerala and the character of a mass frenzy of participants in the communal violence initiated by Sangh Parivar, is important in any analysis of fascism in India. It the open participation of hundreds of people running wild to execute the crimes of murder, rape and violence on thousands of innocent Muslims in Gujarat and Mumbai riots, or the openly frenzied participation of 100s of people in the destruction of over 350 churches, 6500 homes in addition to murder, rape and loot on the population of Adivasi Christians and Dalit Christians in Kandhamal that classify such acts against a particular community as ‘fascist.’
As an atheist, I find it too simplistic when many secular friends view the growth of fascism in India as a response to religious conflicts. Many of them in Kerala still tend to confuse fascism with religious fundamentalism. It has to be understood that fundamentalism is there in all identities in India and not just among the religious identities. And certainly religious fundamentalism in any religion should not be encouraged, especially in the current historical context.
Fundamentalism is a principle of exclusion; exclusion creates disharmony in the diversity of cultures and therefore it must be resisted strongly. However, instead of trying to understand religious fundamentalism as the main pillar of fascism, I would request my secular friends to look at religious fundamentalism only as a facilitating agency for the development of fascism. More important is to understand the power hierarchies between the dominant religion and other religions and spiritualities and analyse how the Hindutva forces have been succeeding in suppressing marginalised religions, faiths and spiritualities in this sub-continent. The apparent potential conflict between Hindu and Hindutva vanishes from such a simplistic analysis of equating fascism with religious fundamentalism. Such an analysis can have dangerous repercussions in the future.
Gujarat and Kandhamal were not religious conflicts or a war. In a religious conflict or a war, there is a pre-condition of two religious forces fighting with each other. But the Sangh Parivar is not a religious network. It is a political network using a majoritarian religious identity to generate consistent hate campaigns against minority religions and building up a climate of violence, so that when mass violence is initiated on religious minorities it would be viewed as the ‘natural outcome’ of what the religious minorities in India really ‘deserved’ based on their own actions. Needless to say, the aggression and violence on the religious minorities in both Gujarat and Kandhamal were entirely one sided and such violence can not be described as a ‘religious conflict’. In both Gujarat and Kandhamal, many Hindus supported the victims and survivors instead of joining the violent mob unleashed by the fascist forces. Hence, it is important in the present political context, to separate Hindu religion and the Hindutva political force.
Some of these problems of correlating religion and fascism spring from a one dimensional perception of religion. No religion is one dimensional. They have many streams, often contradicting each other. Sometimes a politically conscious section in one religion questions the conservative fundamentalists within the same religion. Religions may also have a liberative potential within themselves, which needs to be addressed actively during the struggle against fascism. The liberation theology in Christianity, which inspired many Christian believers to devote their time and energy towards the struggles of the marginalised in Kerala as well as in other parts of India during the 70s and 80s must not be forgotten in this context. The Islamic theologians of Malappuram and the regions of northern Kerala, who inspired the Muslims to put up the first resistance in India against the colonial forces during the Portuguese invasion should also not be forgotten. These segments in the history of religion and politics may not be as powerful today as they once were, but they still generate inspiration youth from different religions in Kerala. The struggles of women within religions against the conservative patriarchal structure in their own religion in different parts of the country need more attention and support. The struggles of Dalits, Adivasis, Women and even Sexual minorities within religions against the conservative, patriarchal and casteist structures of their own religions in different parts in India deserve more attention and support in the present historical context of attacks on the religious minorities by the fascist forces. It is essential to strengthen such forces during the struggle against fascism instead of treating religion as politically untouchable per se which unfortunately has become a trend in Kerala during the public conventions against fascism initiated by the secular forces.
From the writings of the early spiritual gurus of the Hindutva forces, it is very clear that they were inspired by the notion of Aryan supremacy of Hitler and the Nazis in Germany. Where did Hitler get the notion of Aryan supremacy? Was it just a figment of his imagination or did it have any historical roots? In the Indian context, the term `Aryan’ has always been used to describe the Brahmins and not the Adivasis, Dalits or OBCs. Even today, the Aryan restaurant means a Brahmin restaurant. If this is the case, the next obvious question is: How did the superiority of the Aryan/Brahminical world get established over the indigenous communities, Dalits, Adivasis and Dravidians?’ Is this assertion of superiority of power just a figment of imagination of the Dalit intellectuals in India? Here we find a definite correlation between fascism in Germany and India in their deep conviction on Aryan supremacy. The racial element within the ideology of fascism can not be ignored.
The emerging fascism in India can be different from the development of fascism in Germany or Italy, but we cannot deny the similarities. The Nazi hatred of religious as well as sexual minorities, extreme patriarchal consciousness, militarisation of mass organisations, suppression of dissent, creation of paramilitary organisation, hatred of communists, anti-intellectualism, rejection and reduction of spaces for democratic thinking, redefining morals and values, rejection of diversities, national expansionism and national chauvinism and redefining history from the perspective of the above notions have its parallels among the emerging Sangh Parivar in India. The fascist forces in India deciding what should be spoken about and what should not, what should be written and what should not, what should be performed and what should not, what should be painted and what should not, what should be eaten and what should not and what should be screened as films and what should not, also had their counterparts in Nazi Germany. Both the Nazis and the Sangh Parivar systematically manipulated the unconscious, inverting truth, morals, history and a potentially explosive sexually repressed sub-conscious mind.
A clear understanding of fascism requires a recognition that there is a growing phenomenon in India using the superiority of the mainstream identities of caste, class, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, language, region, race etc along with a might of mass physical power, mainstream media, and all the institutions of State. The obvious victims are Muslims, Christians, Dalits, Adivasis, women, children, sexual minorities, marginalised nationalities and marginalised languages. The emerging strength of Indian capital at a global level is the key to facilitate the growth of such fascism. To that extent, globalisation and the emerging fascism function as two sides of the same coin. The frenzy in which Narendra Modi is travelling all over the world is ultimately to facilitate such a process. The attacks on the working class will emerge as a major phenomenon the moment the working class organisations become a real threat to this agenda of the fascist forces. Till then, the organisations of the marginalised identities and the left, secular and democratic forces will be on the forefront.
The organised mass as well as State terrorism is already taking a new shape in the present history. Any attempt of activism against fascism without encompassing and involving the grave reality of marginalisation diverse sections by the above forces, could become counter-productive. Those who are involved in the anti-fascist struggle will have to ask themselves, who are the immediate victims of fascism and what is their relationship existing as well as potential victims and survivors during such a political struggle. Such questions among ourselves may indicate an answer to fascism in the long run, upholding the values of democracy, justice, peace and harmony.
K.P. Sasi is a filmmaker.
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