Why reading Harsh Mander’s Partitions of the Heart is the need of the hour
March 1, 2019
Image Courtesy: Penguin
“There is a well-known story about a frog, which when thrown into boiling water, reacts immediately by jumping out. By contrast, if the frog is placed into lukewarm water which is slowly heated, it does not react or resist even as the water gradually boils, and the frog ultimately dies.” “The frog in this metaphor is, of course, the democratic rights to equality and freedom of minorities in India”
– Harsh Mander, Partitions of the Heart; Unmaking the Idea of India (2019)
Harsh Mander’s Partitions of the Heart; Unmaking the Idea of India offers an insightful social reflection and critique on the growing violence and hatred towards Muslims and other religious minorities, Dalits, Adivasis and the ‘other’ discriminated sections of the society. Mander’s work offers a painful, detailed insight into the contours of hate and violence legitimised by ‘hyper-nationalism’ and the politics of deepening communalism. The work assumes relevance in a context where there is a pressing threat to the idea of India – enshrined in the Constitution as a secular republic binding all citizens equal before law – while systematic endeavors are employed to to muffle dissenting voices.
Mander starts the book by asserting, “There are moments in history that will compel later generations to ask, what is it that you did at that time?” Mander believes we are “living through one such moment” that calls for our immediate attention. This is not only true for India but country after country around the world where people are electing those who reflect, amplify, legitimise and valorise hatred and bigotry. Over the last few decades, Hindu nationalists have led several political campaigns, claiming that their religion is under threat. They demand the authorities in power to protect the rights of Hindus through measures such as ban on cattle trade and consumption of beef. Moreover, since beef is consumed largely by religious and ethnic minorities, political leaders have (mis)used this occasion in appealing to Hindu voters and made venomous statements about protecting their religion through legitimising communal violence.
Bandhutta: Ideology of Love and Friendship
However, Mander emphasises during the launch of his recent book that he is “intensely worried about where we are going as a people.” Indicating the present climate of hate and bigotry in the name of patriotism, he appeals to each of us to take cognisance of our actions and question our silence. He emphasises, “our biggest battle, after all, is the battle with a) silent bystanders, b) ones we call our own, and c) most importantly, the battle with ourselves.” The normalisation of hatred, its celebration, and valorisation by our political leadership is rampant and often unquestioned. The problem is not solely confined to the leaders but each one us choosing to remain silent especially at a time when the very foundation of our republic (justice, liberty, and fraternity) is under severe crisis. For Mander, “one of the biggest crises that we are facing today is that of fraternity.” By fraternity, he means bandhutta, as stated in the Preamble of our Constitution, signifying an “ideology of love and friendship.”
“IndiaSpend did a quick survey of cow-related hate crimes since 2010 reported in the English language press. Its findings are revealing. Ninety-seven per cent of such attacks occurred after Modi came to power, and more than half were in BJP- ruled states. More than half the attacks were against Muslims, but 84 per cent of those killed by lynching mobs were Muslim.” [Mander 2019, 96]
According to the Human Right Watch “In addition to beating up cattle traders and transporters that have caused serious injuries, even fatalities, cow protectors have reportedly assaulted Muslim men and women in trains and railway stations in Madhya Pradesh state, stripped and beat Dalit men in Gujarat, force-fed cow dung and urine to two men in Haryana, raided a Muslim hotel in Jaipur, and raped two women and killed two men in Haryana for allegedly eating beef at home.”
Legal provisions against lynching today- ‘Heads you win tails I lose’.
What is a hate crime and how is it different from other forms of crimes?. Mohsin Alam Bhat(Asst. Prof Jindal Global Unv) in an interview with Newsclick highlights ‘hate crimes are different from other crimes on the accounts of motivation towards the identity of the victim causing the attack’. The systematic killings by mob across the country targeting Muslim and Dalit populations are only persecuted under milder sections of the IPC such as 34 (Common Intention), 141, 149 (Unlawful Assembly), 147 & 148 (Rioting) and Criminal conspiracy(120 B). These sections of the IPC do not justify the planned-systematic attacks equivalent to gruesome murders by faceless mobs. On the contrary, we have witnessed complaints against victims’ family members and their closed ones under laws banning cow slaughter and other repressive sections. The nature of legal counter complaints against witnesses and family members serve to not only intimidate them but also deter them from pursuing justice. The police have often arrested victim’s family and relatives under more serious sections such as the National Security Act (NSA) a repressive law that permits detention without charge for up to a year. As police officials understand cow-killers to be their top priority while murder and rioting can wait.
Although in July 2018, the Supreme Court (Tehseen S. Poonawalla v. Union of India & ors.) issued a series of directives for “preventive, remedial and punitive” measures to address “lynching”—the term used in India for killing by a mob. While cow protection is an emotional issue for many Hindus, the Supreme Court denounced violent attacks by so-called cow protectors, saying: “It is imperative for them to remember that they are subservient to the law and cannot be guided by notions or emotions or sentiments or, for that matter, faith.”
Performative acts of lynching and its celebration
In spite of which we witness spine-chilling instances of lynching, since 2015 and continuing until the present, the Muslims, and to an extent, the Dalits are harassed and told, that their existence is permitted at the mercy of the majority Hindu community. This explains that they cannot claim any rights, privileges or expect any equality.
One of the most horrifying aspects of lynching in India has been to proudly record the killings, share them online, and boast of ‘this achievements’, much like Shambhulal Regar’s case. He is accused of killing and burning 54-year-old migrant labourer, Mohd Afrazul a Muslim man from Rajasthan’s Rajsamad and is now being offered a ticket by Uttar Pradesh Navnirman Sena, a lesser known political outfit. Mander draws our attention to an equally horrifying angle, that is, the clarity of the video, shot by Shambhulal Regar’s nephew who seemed steady and unfettered through the entire incident. Professor Apoorvanand highlights that for the last five years “the Hindu society is witnessing a fond familiarity to violence” the danger is that we are not only habituated to it but also “seeking pleasure in watching and learning about violent attacks and have become addicted to hatred and bigotry evident in fearless dissemination through various mediums like WhatsApp and other social media channels.” According to him, these videos ensure that; one no longer needs to commit a crime to derive pleasures of killing the ‘assumed enemy’, the invitation to watch and share brings similar, if not equal, joy of committing brutal murder in the broad daylight.
For Mander the ‘degree of hatred in a performative act communicated to one’s community as an act of valor, that is, evident in the courage to not only commit a crime but also revealing your identity during the act, to be celebrated as a hero.’ These also send across a dangerous message of legitimising heinous crimes cloaked as nationalist; ensuring, impunity, valorisation and celebration of such acts which will only happen when the victim is Muslim. There are several such instances where the accused are often congratulated, defended and garlanded by our representatives in parliament for carrying out violent attacks.
Mander notes “our silences can only signal our complicity with the brazen changing of India into a majoritarian Hindu country. A land where minorities must submit, else blood will flow.” He questions this silence by probing “Is it that we are too frightened to speak out? Or are just indifferent? Or is the reality that we actually support the hatred and persecution of other Indian because of their faith and caste?
For Apoorvanand this issue is no longer confined to silence but, he explains, in Gandhi’s(1947) words “open goondaism we see on the streets is not possible without subtle goondaism that lives in our hearts.” For him, at present ‘we are addicted to this subtle goondaism and souls of our Hindu community has been crushed’This is not only demonstrative of the failure of political parties but also the failure of political leadership to speak in the language of love and compassion and the ability to openly call out hate mongers. Why is the opposition also whispering their dissent against hatred? The problem, for him, lies at heart of pandering to the Hindu community before elections by carefully eschewing from standing up against violence perpetrated on Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis. This is largely reflected in their imagination of ‘digressing from ‘real issues’ like employment GDP, economy, defence etc. The blatant denial is illustrated, in the way; instances of mob lynching are reported and recorded.
The systematic lynching of our conscience
Mander adds ‘the numbers do not justify the data representing the total number of people killed in lynchings over the last few years’ and he suspects it is deliberately misrepresented. The civil society has tried to fill this gap, but they believe their numbers do not present a clear picture of the rise in communal violence in India. He highlights there are broadly three kinds of lynchings; one, purely spontaneous. The second is rough justice stemming little or no belief in the justice system. The third kind of lynching is hate violence; i.e. attacking someone not for what they have done, but for who they are and their identity.
Mander recalls having read the following lines made an impact on him, which is; ‘every lynching was a thousand lynching’, as for him every lynching reverberated across the land, across the rivers, across the mountains and into the heart of every minority community. These lynchings reverberate in the hearts of those who are frightened to openly embrace their culture, religion, eating habits, faith, and political opinions for the fear of being lynched. “It's now frightening to travel with an open Muslim identity in a train” recalling his colleague’s family’s legitimate concerns. The need to express, verbalise and address these concerns is high-priority before we cause another “Junaid, Akhlaq, Mohammed Mazlum Ansari, Imteyaz Khan, and many more who we owe an apology of lifetime and our solidarities. Mander emphasises that he will continue to tell us stories that shake our consciousness because they ought to, for those who have faced the brunt were also one amongst us, our very own.
Love: A ‘radical’ idea?
Natasha Badhwar asks ‘is there any hope left’? Pamela Philipose reassures us that tireless works of the likes of Mander maybe seem like a “pebble in the pool of indifference” But she believes that “if we keep throwing pebbles of this kind we would be able to perhaps change the narrative.”
Mander’s appeal for solidarity is reflected in the continued efforts by Karwan-e-Mohabbat an initiative to visit families of those affected by communal hatred and violence of all kinds. These acts of expressing solidarity not only involve offering legal aid and other forms of legal and moral assistance to fight for justice but it is also a political act of telling the story from the victim’s family. As Natasha rightly highlights that ‘Karwan' is not just a symbolic performance which is a ‘counter speech’ posing as an alternative and helping to transcend the situation in many ways. It also, most importantly, doesn't stop there; it is a counter strategy which becomes a political process because it is more than a symbolic gesture.’
As citizens, the onus is on us; to continue the struggle for justice through (re)building solidarities, employing compassion against hate and love against fear. Turning the tables, we might question, what if instead of posing ‘radical ideas of love’ as counter-narratives to hatred and prejudices we might consider addressing them as central(not alternative) for upholding our ideas of India. There is no other alternative to love as love trumps hate.
“In the rising darkness in India, is this radical love that has been lynched-whether by fear, indifference and hate….We must fight before it is too late, to locate within ourselves our collective capacities of 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 and a plentitude of acts of love”(Mander, 2019: 233)
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