Ram Puniyani’s Religious Nationalism, Social Perceptions and Violence, takes up various aspects of the Hindu nationalist narrative and associated themes which are a grave threat to the values of Indian Constitution. The topics taken up for analysis in the book deconstruct communal politics and give an indication of how to build Indian Nation in opposition to the currently dominating perceptions in society.
The following is an excerpt from the Introduction to the book.
India has been passing through turbulent times, in more ways than one. Last many years have seen phenomenon which goes against the grain of Indian democratic ethos. We are witness to a widening divide between different communities in the name of caste, region and religion, among others. The growing intolerance, the increasing violence on emotive issues, the ‘othering’ of fellow citizens is growing at frightening proportions. While a couple of decades ago; the germs of many of such phenomenon were prevalent, they are now presenting themselves in dangerous proportions.
The major danger signals have been coming from the mobs taking the law into their hands to kill and maim those, who seem to be having different dietary habits or are having professions which involve the trade of cattle or occupations related to dead animals. The incidents related to lynching in the name of cow, the brutal floggings of dalit youth carrying dead cows for professional purpose, have shaken the conscience of sensitive people, the citizenry which holds to the Indian ethos of tolerance and amity. The communal violence, which has been the bane of Indian society for quite some time, has assumed proportions that are terrible and have resulted in killings of innocents in large numbers. This violence has been organized lately on many different pretexts. The youth carrying tricolour, in Kasganj and asking people from minority community to clear the area, where they were celebrating the Republic day, so that their rally can pass, has been the latest ground for getting such divisive violence orchestrated.1
The killing of Afrazul on the pretext of Love Jihad, filming the ghastly incident and then circulating in the social media was bad enough, what added intensity to the crime was a group of citizens coming forward to take up the cause of Shambhulal Regar and hail him as a hero. The issue of love jihad, a matter of free choice between adults has been dragged into the marsh of religious divides leading to women like Hadiya (Akhila) despite being 24 years old, being sent to the custody of her parents rather than letting her to live with her husband, who happened to be from another religion. Finally, apex Court did rectify the error, but the intermediate decision was humiliating to the dignity of an adult who had chosen her life partner, on her own.2
The period also saw the assassinations of leading rational thinkers, Dr Dabholkar, Com Pansare, M M Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh. Their crime was to articulate their political opinions and their engagement with social issues, where they stood for plural secular society. It is these murders and the lynchings which led our leading literary figures, filmmakers, scientists and activists to return their well-earned honours. The Award Wapasi, whose leading lights were presented by the section of media as Gang, is a matter of shame. The leading lights of our society have been struggling for the values of compassion, and amity, values based on liberalism and pluralism. Scores of our leading lights braved to come forward to show their opposition to the undermining of the values of tolerance, which are a core part of our civilizational values, as pointed out by the then President of India Mr Pranab Mukherjee, but to no avail.3
Our Universities are supposed to be places for learning, debate and dialogue. JNU has been at the forefront of our University system, showing the path for growth of knowledge in a democratic way. The attempt to muzzle the voice of dissent, to dub the dissidents as anti-national and suppress the process of freedom in the places of learning was painfully witnessed there. The young breed of leaders who braved the suppression showed the foundations of the type of learning process, inculcated in the University. Same was witnessed in many other campuses where those with opposing ideologies were barred from being part of seminars.4
At ground level, the communal divides have been growing. The major acts of communal violence which took place in the decades of 1980s and 1990s affected the security perceptions of the religious minorities. The post-Babri demolition violence and the violence in Adivasi areas intensified the sense of insecurity among the weaker sections, leading to ghettoization in major cities where the violence took place. The mark of insecurity also affected eminent citizens and leading bureaucrats, who started feeling very disturbed by the goings-on.5 Many eminent citizens from minority community do feel marginalized as a community. The fringe elements have been asserting things like all have to chant ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ or exhibit nationalism in a particular way. The state machinery goes with these elements who take law into their hands and practice intolerance, leading to growing communal divides. The intimidation and violence of minorities and those raising their voice for justice has been grounded in social perceptions, which have been manufactured, constructed over a period of time. These negative perceptions about the vulnerable sections of society play a crucial role in preparing the grounds, where ‘hate’ dominates the scene and violence becomes possible.6 These are core ingredients of communalism, politics in the name of identity of religion. As such, communalism in any country thrives on a constructed image of the past, glorifies the past and ‘others’ a section of the society, the religious minorities in particular.
This book is an attempt to look at the divisive politics, and its role in creating the social common sense, the demonization of religious minorities and the agenda of divisive nationalism. The overt part of the agenda is to marginalize the religious minorities, at a deeper level the victims of this agenda are dalits, women and Adivasis as well. The accompaniment of the divisive politics is the deeper collaboration with the corporate world and it undertakes policies which lead to a rise in unemployment, intensifies agrarian distress and worsens the lot of workers. Here we focus on mainly the social aspects of the politics as far as its generation of perceptions is concerned, as to how biases and stereotypes create hate, which forms the base of violence, polarizing the society paving the way for religious nationalism and its agenda of bringing in the values of pre-industrial society, halting the march of journey which aims at abolishing the values of caste and gender hierarchy. More studies are needed to understand the commonality in the pattern of politics in post-colonial states where religious politics has surfaced in different forms, particularly the likes of Islamic fundamentalism in Iran, Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the latest Buddhist fundamentalism in Myanmar, to name a few. The book is just one facet of the phenomenon which comes up in the society due to the strengthening of politics of communalism.