Communalism, Hate Speech and History
I am copying three articles below, written in this mopnth by three different authros in The Indian Express. Copying them in the order of their publication.
The first one is by S.Y. Quraisi regarding hate speech.
Second a rejoinder to Quraishi by BalbirPunj.
The third one is regarding cherry picking in history, a rejoinder to Punj by Narayani Gupta.
These three articles actually cover a lot of ground of the current communal-political discourse. Three views, the so-called liberal, Muslim perspective and the so-called Rightist Hindu view are presented, though not in detail.
Let us discuss these articles on the coming Saturday, 30th April 2022, at 8:00 pm
Link: Rohit Dhankar is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.
Topic: Open Dialogue
Time: Apr 30, 2022 08:00 PM Mumbai, Kolkata, New Delhi
Join Zoom Meeting
Hate speech is violent in itself and must be called out
SY Quraishi writes: It is at the root of many forms of violence that are being perpetrated and has become one of the biggest challenges to the rule of law and to our democratic conscience.
Calling Our Hate
Written by S Y Quraishi |Updated: April 15, 2022 9:05:50 am
What is to be done when the Indian republic, committed to working within the framework of constitutional democracy and the rule of law, starts to accommodate elements that are stridently anti-constitutional and anti-secular? What once belonged to the fringes of Indian society now has increasingly become mainstream, their disruptive actions being registered in the public sphere more frequently and viciously. Hate speech is at the root of many forms of violence that are being perpetrated and has become one of the biggest challenges to the rule of law and to our democratic conscience.
One of the most visible consequences of hate speech is increased electoral mobilisation along communal lines which is also paying some electoral dividends.
Hate speech must be unambiguously condemned and the law must take its course, although not merely because it can lead to events of violence in the future. Hate speech, in itself, must be understood and treated as a violent act and urgently so, for it has become an indispensable resource for the ruling powers. No wonder, during the elections, it becomes louder.
Several instances of hate speech and religious polarisation have been reported in Yogi Adityanath’s poll campaign in the recently concluded UP elections, for instance. In 2019, the Supreme Court reprimanded the Election Commission, calling it “toothless” for not taking action against candidates engaging in hate speech during the election campaigns in UP. The Commission responded by saying that it had limited powers to take action in this matter. So far, the Supreme Court does not appear to have acted decisively in response to allegations of hate speech in electoral campaigns, indicating that the EC must assume more responsibility and the EC has argued that in matters of hate speech, it is largely “powerless”. In any case, the EC’s role is confined to the election period. So who is responsible for the non-election times?
Is the state powerless? Not at all. There are a whole bunch of laws meant to curb hate speech. The Indian Penal Code, as per Sections 153A, 295A and 298, criminalises the promotion of enmity between different groups of people on grounds of religion and language, alongside acts that are prejudicial to maintaining communal harmony. Section 125 of the Representation of People Act deems that any person, in connection with the election, promoting feelings of enmity and hatred on grounds of religion and caste is punishable with imprisonment up to three years and fine or both. Section 505 criminalises multiple kinds of speech, including statements made with the intention of inducing, or which are likely to induce, fear or alarm to the public, instigating them towards public disorder; statements made with the intention of inciting, or which are likely to incite, class or community violence; and discriminatory statements that have the effect or the intention of promoting inter-community hatred. It covers incitement of violence against the state or another community, as well as promotion of class hatred.
While examining the scope of hate speech laws in India, the Law Commission in its 267th report published in March 2017, recommended introduction of new provisions within the penal code that specifically punish incitement to violence in addition to the existing ones. In my view, any recommendation for more laws is a red herring and provides an excuse for inaction. It’s the lack of political will, blatant inefficiency and bias of the administration and shocking apathy of the judiciary that is killing the secular spirit of the Constitution.
Another watchdog should have been the media. In recent years, hate speech in all its varieties has acquired a systemic presence in the media and the internet, from electoral campaigns to everyday life. Abusive speech directed against minority communities, particularly Muslims, and disinformation campaigns on media networks have made trolling and fake news significant aspects of public discourse. By desensitising the citizenry with a constant barrage of anti-minority sentiments, the ethical and moral bonds of our democracy are taking a hit.
This epidemic of “mediatised” hate speech is, in fact, a global phenomenon. According to the Washington Post, 2018 can be considered as “the year of online hate”. Facebook, in its Transparency Report, disclosed that it ended up taking down 3 million hateful posts from its platform while YouTube removed 25,000 posts in one month alone.
On April 2, amidst unconcerned police officials and cheering crowds, Mahant Bajrang Muni Udasin, the chief priest of the Badi Sangat Ashram in Uttar Pradesh’s Sitapur district, publicly threatened sexual violence against Muslim women and against Muslims in general — “you and your pigsty will cease to exist”. Although this particular video went viral recently, and he has now been arrested by the Sitapur police, Udasin has had a long history of spewing hate and stoking communal polarisation with apparent impunity. In the past, Udasin celebrated Dara Singh, a Bajrang Dal member who is currently serving a life sentence for leading a mob on January 23, 1999 in Orissa and setting fire to the wagon in which the Christian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons were burnt to death. Likening Dara Singh to a godman, Udasin appealed to Hindu monks to declare him a Shankaracharya. With this, Udasin joins the ranks of a multitude of “holy” men and women, most prominent among them being Yati Narsinghanand, Pooja Shakun Pandey and Jitendra Tyagi, who have been at the forefront of the politics of fear and hatred.
With elected members currently sitting in the legislative assemblies and Parliament giving political sanction to these self-styled mahants, and ordinary citizens mobilised into mob violence and complicit public officials, hate speech is becoming the dominant mode of public political participation. Two people died in the Ram Navami violence recently while many were arrested across states. Shocking images also surfaced from JNU of students injured during a face-off between two groups on Ram Navami on campus.
This should prick the conscience of the nation. Enough damage has been done. We cannot wait another day to address this growing challenge.
Face the facts on communal violence in India
Balbir Punj writes: Understanding climate of hate requires honest examination of its origins, perpetrators
Ignorance isn’t bliss
Written by Balbir Punj |Updated: April 21, 2022 10:46:08 am
Hate and bigotry feed on each other. They germinate and flourish on a toxic diet of divisive and schismatic ideologies and polarising creeds that discriminate against human beings on the basis of colour, region, gender, faith — and divide them between believers and non-believers — ranging the chosen ones against the idolatrous.
‘Calling out hate’ by S Y Quraishi (IE, April 15) has little to do with the anatomy of hate or its ongoing malignancy. It is more of an ad hominem attack on the ruling dispensation. A complex phenomenon has been over-simplified to suit a convenient political narrative. The arguments are drearily familiar, facts dodgy and conclusions delusional.
For aeons, India has had syncretic traditions inspired by the Vedic aphorism, “Ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti” (there is only one truth and learned persons call it by many names). Because of this underpinning, Indian society has never insisted on uniformity in any facet of life. Indian philosophy is a smorgasbord of varied ideas and traditions — incongruous at times, but always a part of a harmonious milieu.
This equanimity of Indian society was, however, disrupted by invading creeds claiming only their God, and His messenger were true, and the rest were false and worthy of destruction, along with their followers and places of worship.
The first such incursion came in 712, when Muhammad bin Qasim vanquished Sindh, and as Chach Nama, a contemporary Arab chronicle states, introduced the practice of treating local Hindus as zimmis, forcing them to pay jizya (a poll tax), as a penalty to live by their beliefs. “Hate” and “bigotry” thus made their debut in India, which was hitherto free from this virus. Pakistan’s official website credits this invasion as when the country was born as an Islamic nation in the Subcontinent.
In the 11th century, Mahmud of Ghazni, while receiving the caliphate honours on his accession to the throne, took a vow to wage jihad every year against Indian idolaters. During his 32-year reign, he did keep his solemn promise over a dozen times. The rest is history.
But why go into the distant past? Unfortunately, the trail of hate unleashed over a thousand years ago continues to haunt us even today. The last 100-odd years witnessed the Moplah riots, Partition, and the decimation of Hindus/Sikhs/Buddhists in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Kashmir Valley. The recent pre-planned attacks on Ram Navami processions in over half a dozen states, and the onslaught on the Hanuman Janamutsav rally have reminded us that the ogre of hate is alive and stinging.
It’s uncanny: While communal mayhem was going on in India, Muslim mobs were fighting pitched battles against the police in dozens of towns in Spain, Sweden and the city of Jerusalem. In Sweden, Muslims were agitated over blasphemy involving the holy Quran. Protests in Spain are against the imprisonment of a rapper convicted of insulting the monarchy and praising terrorist violence. While the issues involving these sordid episodes may differ, the pattern is common.
Were the Hindu-Muslim relations peaceful in the past and have soured post-2014? The fact is, ties between the two communities were seldom cordial. There were intermittent skirmishes, wars and occasional short-lived opportunistic alliances. Is the current dispensation responsible for Muslim alienation? Remember, even Gandhiji failed to wean Muslims from Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s schismatic movement.
In the aftermath of the Moplah violence and communal riots at several places in India, Gandhiji observed in Young India (May 24, 1924): “My own experience but confirms the opinion that the Musalman as a rule is a bully, and the Hindu as a rule is a coward”. Nothing much has since changed in the Subcontinent.
Can laws or police fight hate? No. If they could, Kashmiri Hindus wouldn’t have gone through the hell they did in the 1990s, and would have been happily back in their homes by now. India is a secular democracy, not because of its Constitution. It’s the other way round. When Pakistan declared itself an Islamic Republic in 1947, it would have been natural for India to identify itself as a Hindu state. It didn’t, and couldn’t have — because of its Hindu ethos of pluralism. A Hindu-dominated India, is, and will always be, catholic, plural, myriad and a vibrant democracy.
George Orwell said, “The relative freedom which we enjoy depends on public opinion. The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country”.
Can one fight hate selectively? The burning of Graham Staines and his children is reprehensible. So was the lynching of Akhlaq and Junaid. But why the cowering silence on the dastardly gunning down of Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati and four of his disciples (August 2008) in Orissa for which seven Christians and a Maoist have been convicted? Over a dozen Muslim workers of the BJP have been killed in Jammu & Kashmir and other parts of India in the recent past. These victims of hate are, of course, ignored. Their deaths don’t suit the narrative.
Charged reactions, punctuated with half-truths, deliberate omissions and tailored narratives, offer no real solution. Pusillanimity to face facts will only exacerbate the situation and give egregious results. Ignorance is not always bliss.
In this context, it’s relevant to recall what Lester Pearson (14th PM of Canada) said: “Misunderstanding arising from ignorance breeds fear, and fear remains the greatest enemy of peace.”
The problem with cherry-picking facts from history
Narayani Gupta writes: Selective reading of historical events produces half-truths, tailored narratives
History as Mischief
Written by Narayani Gupta | Updated: April 26, 2022 6:32:21
In my younger days, if we wanted to comment on any article in a newspaper, we rattled off a short letter to the editor on our typewriter. Now there are journalists whose comments are in the form of an article as long as the one under discussion. Many of them can only be described as clones of Humpty Dumpty, confident that “When I use a word, it means exactly what I want it to mean, no more, no less”.
A recent example is that of an article by S Y Quraishi (‘Calling out hate’, April 15) and the comment that followed. Noting the alarming reports of hate speeches in the social media, Quraishi wrote, “It is at the root of many forms of violence that are being perpetrated and has become one of the biggest challenges to the rule of law and to our democratic conscience.” He lists those who can act firmly and swiftly — during elections it is the Election Commission that must act, and in the “non-election” months the state has the power to act by using provisions of the Indian Penal Code, and the Representation of the People Act. The sense of urgency in his article was palpable.
There was a rejoinder to Quraishi in The Indian Express (‘Ignorance isn’t bliss’, April 21). Balbir Punj, the writer, says in the second paragraph that Quraishi’s “arguments are drearily familiar, facts dodgy, and conclusions delusional”. Punj adds: “Quraishi’s article has little to do with the anatomy of hate or its ongoing malignancy”. Quraishi was not dissecting the emotion of hate, he was criticising the inaction of the Election Commission and the courts, in the context of hate-speeches made by individuals over the last year.
Punj begins his piece on a breathless note: “Hate and bigotry feed on each other. They germinate and flourish on a toxic diet of divisive and schismatic ideologies and polarising creeds that discriminate against human beings on the basis of colour, region, gender, faith — and divide them between believers and non-believers — ranging the chosen ones against the idolatrous”. The strapline was “Understanding trail of hate in India requires honest examination of its origins”. Eleven of the 15 paragraphs in the essay deal with this trail.
History as a discipline is about time, place and people. Teachers of history compartmentalise themselves into sections of time and of place/region. Not so the non-historian. Punj writes, “For aeons, India has had syncretic traditions, inspired by the Vedic aphorism “ekam sad [sic] vipra bahudha vadanti” (there is only one truth and learned persons call it by many names). In September 2020, a 16-member committee was set up by the Ministry of Culture to study the origin and evolution of Indian culture, “dating back to around 12,000 years ago”. It held two meetings and vanished from the scene. That’s a cautionary tale.
Bhakti and Sufi cults have been for long described as “syncretic”. Punj does not associate Sindh with its great Sufi tradition, but with bin Qasim’s conquest in 712 CE and the coming of Islam — “…as Chach Nama, a contemporary Arab chronicle states, [he] introduced the practice of treating local Hindus as zimmis, forcing them to pay jizya… ‘Hate’ and ‘bigotry’ thus made their debut in India, which was hitherto free from this virus”.
It is worth locating and browsing through translations of the Chach Nama, for its accounts of the attitude of the Arab rulers of Sindh towards the Hindu population and their places of worship. A natural outcome of this beginning was the enduring presence of Sufi orders in Sindh.
The simplest — but not wholly ethical — way to substantiate an argument is by cherry-picking. From 8th-century Sindh the author moves to 11th-century north India. He writes of Mahmud of Ghazni who “took a vow to wage jihad every year against Indian idolators”. (I tried to locate a source for this, and came up only with one — an earlier article by Punj, on July 12, 2019). Ghaznavi’s exact contemporary, Rajendra Chola, was in the same period raiding Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. In Indian school textbooks Ghaznavi has always been an “invader”, the Cholas were “conquerors”.
The next eight centuries are omitted, and the trail moves down to Malabar (the Moplah Rebellion of 1921), then north and east India (the Partition tragedies of 1946-8), the “decimation” of Hindus in neighbouring countries (no dates) and people in Spain and Sweden.
He proceeds to ask a rhetorical question “Can laws or police fight hate?”
And this article was published a day after the BJP-run civic body let the bulldozers raze homes in Jahangirpuri “in the face of the Supreme Court order” as the Indian Express headline stated on the same day as Punj’s article!
Punj’s narrative could be described in his own words — “charged reactions, punctuated with half-truths, deliberate omissions and tailored narratives, offer no real solution” [to what?]. This is followed by a line which I find extremely difficult to decipher — “pusillanimity to face facts will only exacerbate the situation and give egregious results.”
A QUICK RESPONSE
S.Y.Qureshi’s article : in case you are referring to this as the “Muslim perspective”, I would beg to differ – for me it is the voice of a citizen concerned at how things are at the moment so far as the influence of hate speech is concerned – and this is something that should be of concern to all sensitive human beings as citizens.
Balbir Punj is responding as any hard core pro-BJP, Right-winger would respond, with blinkers similar to those of whom you call “so-called liberals”. But it does point towards issues that need to be addressed by those you slot as “so called liberals”.
Narayani Gupta is, of course, responding as a historian with what you call the “so called liberal” perspective.
For me, the real issue that emerges from the Punj-Narayani “dialogue” is about how History as a discipline should be taken – dispassionately, on the basis of facts available, using the tools it provides for analysis.
Punj brings in all the issues he raises as a way to divert attention from the present – it is as loaded a response as might well be of someone from your characterisation of the “so-called liberal” space.
For me, at the present juncture, it is very important and crucial to stand with those being so blatantly targetted – the minorities ARE being targetted for sure.
But this is also a juncture at which a dispassionate analysis of historical perspectives needs to be undertaken by the liberals and the Left. Problem is that we are at a fire-fighting stage to save the crucial democratic ethos in the history of what I might call our modern State – and people like us have to keep alive the larger issue of the study of History as a Discipline even as we handle the fire-fighting. But we too have to do this in a balanced and measured manner that takes into account all aspects of the issues and perspectives involved.
Thanks for comments. Very useful and perceptive. I may have disagreements on some points but that is not of much importance. I agree with you that Quraishi’s article is ‘from a citizen’s perspective, about which all should be concerned. At the same time I do find it one-sided. But more on that later.