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Friday, November 9, 2007

The Pathology Has Deeper Etiology Than What's Apparent


Business Standard

Tehelka and after

Sadanand Menon / New Delhi November 02, 2007

Every bully is also a braggart. It was a matter
of time before architects of the 2002 Gujarat
pogroms would sing like parrots and boast of
their brutalities. That a Tehelka kind of exposé
would happen was inevitable. Enough criminal acts
had been perpetrated by enough number of people
for it to continue to remain under the wraps for
any extended length of time.

The Tehelka team did manage a convincing
orchestration of their material and its
dissemination. Their special issue, last week, is
a compelling document of infamy, packing in the
on-camera testimonies of some 20 lead players in
the Gujarat riots as well as an inspired
editorial by Tarun Tejpal. Obviously, he and his
colleagues are shaken by the evidentiary material
on tape. The editorial warning, "Read. And be
afraid," rings true. It is the voice of someone
who has seen the 'face of fascism' and got

A few questions follow. One is, what made such a
large number of Narendra Modi acolytes come
clean, even if on spy-cam? What made them
describe so graphically the unspeakable acts they
committed? You don't find rapists or murderers
easily confessing their crimes. So, why did this
set of mob leaders feel compelled to talk?

The other question is, despite a 48-hour media
buzz, why has the exposé been unable to provoke
any mass reaction either in Gujarat or in the
rest of the country? Will anyone be punished?

Some explanations can be attempted. One is based
on Jean-Paul Sartre's celebrated cautionary, in
his introduction to Frantz Fanon's The Wretched
of the Earth. Confronting his countrymen with the
excesses of French soldiers in Algeria, Sartre
writes, "It is not right (for a soldier) to be
obliged to torture for ten hours a day; at that
rate, his nerves will fall to bits, unless the
torturers are forbidden in their own interest to
work overtime." The Hindutva 'laboratory' in
Gujarat allowed their cadre to carry out
unrepentant rampage on minorities for too long.
What we are witnessing on the Tehelka tapes now
is a process of the fraying of nerves. It's the
guts spilling out. The only way the arsonist can
handle his conscience is by exaggerating it as an
achievement. It is an exhibition of unbridled
libido. You have to flaunt it. Babu Bajrangi,
Haresh Bhatt, Arvind Pandya, everyone has been
bursting to announce it. All they needed was the
promise of a secure listener. That was what the
undercover Tehelka reporter represented.

Of course, it is not as if anyone was trying to
hide this planned savagery. I have travelled to
Gujarat many times since March 2002. Each time I
have been told how recordings of rape and
killings are now part of video lending libraries
in the state, regularly taken on loan to be
'enjoyed' in the comfort of average middle class
homes. The story circulates of how private video
studios in towns and villages (usually making a
living out of recording local marriages) were
willingly or otherwise drafted and how several
acts of violence were done 'for camera'.

So, the Gujarat events are not about the
barbarity of one political figurehead or his
trusted cronies. While they were certainly
instrumental, as the tapes show, one cannot
anymore disregard the role of the 'masses'.
"Fascism," German psychologist Wilhelm Reich had
explained, "differs from other reactionary
parties, inasmuch as it is borne and championed
by masses of people." In Gujarat, it is clear
that, as Shubh Mathur's brilliant The Everyday
Life of Hindu Nationalism (Three Essays
Collective, forthcoming) has it, "the cultural
logic and institutional power of Hindutva have
become deeply entrenched in everyday life itself."

She quotes Columbia University anthropologist,
Michael Taussig: "Torture and institutionalised
terror is like a ritual art form; far from being
spontaneous and an abandonment of what are often
called 'the values of civilization', such rites
have a deep history deriving power and meaning
from those values."

I have often argued that, in the daily sphere,
this is made possible by the galloping growth of
popular mysticism. In Gujarat, it manifests in
the horizontal spread of the satsang. Subsequent
to the demagogic successes of sadhvis like
Rithambara and Uma Bharati, an epidemic of
satsangis has captured Gujarat. Morari Bapu,
Asaramji Bapu, Rameshbhai Oza, Atmagyani Niruma,
Pramukh Swami - a long list of interpreters of
Hindu tenets who pepper their discourses with
provocative contemporary political issues. Seldom
do they have audiences of less than a hundred
thousand. They are conduits through which
borderline Hindutva circulates.

It is an error to read fascism as an abnormality;
one should, in fact, seek the links between
fascism and 'normality'. Shubh Mathur's insight
is important, "A 'culture of terror' is the
cultural logic of Hindutva, and is central to its
imagining, enactment, and retelling." It is
crucial that individuals, collectives and
institutions act to dismantle that logic.
Otherwise, a sullen backlash is certain.

o o o

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always want to defend peace, justice, peoples' right to love each other and live with dignity,struggles against parochial visions and hatred;instinctively a defender of socialist and democratic values