Hindu Nationalism in India and the Politics of Fear
Author(s) Anand, Dibyesh
Imprint Palgrave Macmillan US, 2011
ISBN 9780230339545, 9781349371907
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The Awakened Hindu India: Ayodhya and Gujarat
The destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, and the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002 are two spectacular events that have been etched into the memory of Hindu nationalists as symbols of the awakened Hindu nation. These are held out as the prime illustrations of the Hindu nationalist awakening. The events are sources of pride because they represent concrete proof that Hindus can “react” against the danger posed by minorities and secularists and “act” as a political community under the guidance of orga- nized Hindutva.
The 6th of December has been celebrated every year since 1992 as the “Shaurya Diwas” (“Valor Day”) by Hindutva activists. I observed the celebrations on 6 December in 2005 in Ayodhya, the first year since 1992 when the anniversary coincided with a prominent local Hindu festival—“Ram Sita Vivah” (“Marriage of Ram and Sita”). Rather than charting the history and politics of dispute over the Babri Mosque–Ram Janmabhumi (Ram’s birthplace), I will focus on the celebration of the mosque’s destruction and what it says about Hindutva’s politics of awakening. The second event that I briefly comment upon here is Gujarat 2002—the large-scale anti-Muslim riots following the burning of Hindutva activists in a train in the town of Godhra. Rather than going into an explanation of why these events occurred, the chapter focuses on the significance these have acquired within the Hindutva imaginary as symbols
D. Anand, Hindu Nationalism in India and the Politics of Fear © Dibyesh Anand 2011
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of the awakened Hindu nation. That the awakening cannibal- izes upon the victimized Muslim bodies is represented as a legitimate response to the threatening Muslim Other. What is also significant in both the sites of investigation is the role of the state—I argue that while the representations are crucial in normalizing, justifying, and legitimizing violence against Muslims, the actual widespread violence cannot be understood without recognizing the complicity of the state.
The Ram Janmabhumi movement—the movement to build a grand temple for Lord Ram at his supposed birthplace in Ayodhya by destroying the preexisting Babri Mosque—has acquired an epic significance in the Hindu nationalist imagina- tion. Ayodhya stands out as the best illustration of an awakened Hindu nation—after centuries of suppression, struggle, sac- rifice, patience, duplicity of secularist politicians, and rigidity of Muslims, the otherwise peaceful Hindu society lashed out against historical injustice, spontaneously destroyed the sym- bol of humiliation (the Babri Mosque), and liberated Ram’s birthplace for the construction of a grand temple honoring him. As Pandey reminds us, “The conflict over the Babari Masjid in Ayodhya is part of a larger Hindu drive to reclaim the national culture from its enemies—Muslims, but also secular- ists and westernizers” (Pandey 2006: 68). The destruction of the Babri Mosque on 6 December 1992 marks a watershed for Hindu nationalists. A close analysis of the discourse of Ram Janmabhumi liberation shows how a poetics of fear is inter- meshed with a politics of awakening of the Hindu body politic. In this, the minority Muslims have no option but to accept their subjugation or face further violence from the awakened Hindu nation. While the Hindu nation is given agency as an actor in liberating the birthplace of Ram, no individual Hindus are rec- ognized as responsible for the actual destruction of the structure in place (the Babri Mosque). Ayodhya thus signifies a collective grief (at the presence of the Babri Mosque on a site believed to be Ram’s birthplace) and a collective triumph (at the destruction of the mosque) shared by the awakening Hindu nation.
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The complete destruction of the Babri Mosque on 6 December 1992 was a culmination of years of campaigning that began in 1984 under the leadership of the VHP and included several countrywide and regional rathyatras, yajnas, electoral political machinations, judicial and governmental (non)interventions, and communal polarization. While much of the country and the world saw the bringing down of the mosque as a crisis of Indian secularism and as an attack on pluralism, it was a joyous moment of victory for Hindu nationalists and their sympathizers. It was the moment of liberation that now awaits a formal coronation in the form of building a grand temple in the near future. As leaders and activists of the VHP, the BJP, and other bodies remind people repeatedly, it is not a question of structure per se but the concern for the dignity of Hindu people in their “own holyland/homeland,” and the movement is to “redeem the honour and self-esteem of crores of Hindus of a free India” (Singh 1993: 40). “For the Hindus, a temple at the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi is not an issue of mere bricks and mortar. It is an issue of our cultural resurgence and identity, where Shri Rama, as maryada purushottam, has a prime place of importance. The movement is an expression of the collective consciousness of the Hindu ethos . . .” (VHP n.d.).
As can be expected, there are very different narratives about the disputed and destroyed structure of the Babri Mosque (often referred to as Ram Janmabhumi/Babri Mosque). Most professional historians question the certainty of Hindutva. Some accept the reality of the mosque and question the cynical use of faith and belief by the VHP and other Hindutva forces to represent the site of the mosque as the original birthplace of the mythical figure of Ram; others recognize that a number of mosques were built over the ruins of preexisting temples or used materials from old temples, and even though the site is disputed, one cannot rewrite history by destroying all monuments.
In preindependence India, Ayodhya was a small nondescript town with no big significance for practicing Hindus. Occasional clashes between various groups (Shias, Sunnis, Hindus) and court cases meant that both Hindus and Muslims were allowed
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to worship on the same site next to each other. In 1949, a statue of Ram was placed surreptitiously inside the mosque. Though the then Prime Minister Nehru asked for its removal, the local politicians and officials dithered and using the court case as an excuse sealed the site preventing anyone from worshipping there. In the 1980s, as a result of the VHP-led Ram Janmabhumi movement, a court judgment on opening the lock for Hindu worship, the Congress government’s cynical attempt to appeal to Hindu majoritarianism by allowing the ceremony for bricklaying (shilanyas) for a future temple, and the rise of a national political party (BJP) that made the temple its primary electoral plank, the situation escalated and culminated in the physical obliteration of the mosque in 1992. Since then, Hindu worshippers were allowed in the makeshift temple around the statue illegally installed at the original site of the mosque. In October 2010, a province-level court (Allahabad High Court) passed a judgment, criticized by many as a further erosion of secularism, dividing the disputed land between the Hindus and Muslims while recognizing the Hindutva argument that the main site (where the Babri Mosque used to stand) is the birthplace of Ram. The Supreme Court of India will now have the final say on this.
Scholars have analyzed the Ram Janmabhumi movement and its destruction of the Babri Mosque extensively. For instance, in the specific act of vandalism, Raychaudhuri sees signs of fascism as Hindutva is “a movement of aggressive nationalism with strong anti-intellectual or non-intellectual overtones” (Raychaudhuri 2000: 268, see also Ahmad 2003). Both Panikkar (1993) and Thakur (1993) remind us of the facilitative role played by the increasingly deinstitutionalized Congress and the ambivalence of its secularism. According to Thakur, “The political exploitation of a Hindu sense of grievance was thus the proximate cause of the Ayodhya tragedy. But the ultimate cause was the creeping malaise afflicting India’s constitutional democracy” (Thakur 1993: 658). Muralidharan (1990) analyzes Hindu nationalism’s efforts to maintain Hindu hegemony as a response to the political assertion of low-caste Hindus, while Chibber and Misra (1993) identify the social basis of the movement. Other scholars see the transformation of Ayodhya
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into a site for resurgence of religiosity and communal violence as a product of the breakdown of traditional social and cultural ties crossing religious boundaries; emergence of a modern, ossified, elitist version of religion as a political ideology; and a politicized middle class (Nandy et al. 1995: 23). Bock (1997) reminds us that the use of religious symbols in communal conflicts make the latter more lethal. Van Der Veer through his detailed research on Ayodhya argues that the sentiments “aroused by the movement are not ‘primordial,’ but that they are fragmented and depend on developments in the political arena” (Van Der Veer 1987: 284) and provides an investiga- tion of the ways religious practices are intertwined with his- torical circumstances and political-economic manipulations in Ayodhya (Van Der Veer 1989).
While scholars rightly explain the temple movement in terms of political transformation taking place in India at the time and high- light its political nature, the Hindutva self-understanding is very different. For Hindutva, politics is what the secularists/Congress/ Muslims indulge in—the Ram Janmabhumi movement is one of national awakening and thus above politics. BJP’s White Paper states: “The Ayodhya movement also clears the confusion as to what is nationalism and what constitutes the ideal basis for inter- religious harmony. It asserts that it is not the spiritually bankrupt Western concept of secularism, but the assimilative Hindu cultural nationhood that is the basis for religious harmony.” (BJP 1993) In this chapter, let me analyze how Ayodhya is an illustration of the Hindu nationalist politics of fear and anxiety, one where awaken- ing of the Hindu body politics necessarily involves an attack on symbols associated with Muslims and/or secularism.
The Hindutva narrative today as presented by the RSS, the BJP, the VHP, and others is straightforward and unidimensional (see in Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas 2001) and goes along the following lines. According to Hindu beliefs, Lord Ram was born in Ayodhya and there was a grand temple to commemorate that (Chowgule n.d.). Ram Vilas Vedanti, during an interview with me in 2005, gives a precise number—the temple was built by Lord Ram’s father 18,160,662 years ago (Personal Interview 2005h). As Babur came to India and established the Mughal
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empire, his commander Mir Baqi built the Babri Mosque in 1528 deliberately over a preexisting temple because this was meant to humiliate the Hindus. Hindus never gave up their struggle, and the agitation since 1984 is only a recent modern episode in the long-running war between Hindus and Muslims over the site. While the destruction of the mosque on 6 December 1992 was crucial, it is the entire movement of Ram Janmabhumi—the political movement, infused with religious imageries, to replace the existing structure (a task that is completed) with a grand temple for Ram (a task that is remaining)—that reflects the awakened Hindu nation. The movement’s pinnacle was a singu- lar act of violence—the physical dismembering of the existing mosque. For the Hindu nationalist activists I spoke to, this act of destruction perceived as striking a blow to the obstinate Muslims and arrogant secularists is the best example of what an awakened Hindu nation is. BJP’s White Paper reminds us:
Thus, the BJP is convinced that the quest for a Temple for Sri Rama at Ayodhya, at the very place where the Maryada Purushotam is believed to have been born, is the expression of a brooding national conscience that had been held in check since the partition of India by pseudo-secular leaders and parties, that it is a symbol of the greatest national introspection and cultural resurgence of the present century. The peoples participation in the Ayodhya movement and its reach cutting across all barriers of caste, religion, language and region showed and emphasised its national and political thrust.
The affirmation of the Hindu nation through the Ram Janmabhumi temple movement is based on a politics of denial. A denial of the very politics of the movement, a denial of responsibility for any action, and a denial of the very presence of the visible architecture of the mosque. For Hindutva there was no mosque but at most a mosque-like structure. So the dispute over a physically present Babri Mosque transformed into the Babri Masjid–Ram Janmabhumi dispute, and since
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the obliteration of the mosque in 1992 is referred to as the Ram Janmabhumi dispute—the Hindutva appropriation of the discursive site of Ram Janmabhumi is almost complete. The figure of Ram is transformed as the main symbol of an awakened Hindu nation, his putative birthplace is sought to be liberated from Muslim and secular control, and victory is to be celebrated by constructing a grand temple at the exact spot where for centuries there was the Babri Mosque.
The head of the Ram Janmabhumi movement, Mahant Nritya Gopal Das explained to me, “Listen young man, there was never a mosque; Ram temple is as integral to Hindus as Mecca and Medina is to the Muslims” (Personal Interview 2005e). In the Hindutva narrative, not only was a mosque never there, but Ram Lalla (the infant Lord Ram) was always pres- ent at his birthplace. A number of my respondents in Ayodhya and elsewhere told me stories of how when Babur’s official Mir Baqi went to destroy the idol, the idol disappeared, and hence the sacrality of the birthplace was maintained. According to a VHP figure Vedanti, “Mir Baqi failed to locate the idol of Ram Lalla (it was there but the Muslims could not see it) and while he built the mosque-like structure, no namaz was offered and in 1949 Ram Lalla reappeared at midnight” (Personal Interview 2005h). The miraculous appearance, disappearance, and reap- pearance of the physical idol of Ram are an integral part of Hindutva historical telling. This absolves individual humans and political actors from any responsibility as they are repre- sented as mere recipients of god’s play. As Pandey points out, “A sense of eternal (and united) Hindu activism and sacrifice, of numbers (which testify again to Hindu strength), and of a divine play or order (once again revealing the power of the Hindu) actuates this right-wing reconstruction of the past” (Pandey 2006: 77).
Hindutva leaders, especially in the recent decades, deny the very existence of the architecturally present mosque (they call it “dhancha,” a structure) while affirming the continued existence of a Ram temple even when structurally there was no temple. When asked about the demolition of the mosque, Rajendra Singh, an RSS veteran leader, said, “It was not a mosque at all.
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It was a functioning temple” (Singh 1993: 5). The interesting question is that if the Babri Mosque was not a mosque and if the site always had a sacred presence of Ram, what was the point of the movement to build a temple. If it was a functioning temple within a mosque-like physical structure, why destroy that to build another temple? The very act of consciously destroying a preexisting structure (the Babri Mosque) in the name of build- ing a grand temple for Ram (the Ram Janmabhumi temple) reveals that contrary to the Hindtuva denial of the Babri struc- ture being a mosque, it was nothing but a mosque.
A similar politics of denial also goes in when it comes to taking responsibility for the bringing down of the mosque. For instance, next to the disputed site in Ayodhya, shops sell a number of trinkets, VCDs, and music cassettes mostly celebrat- ing the Ram Janmabhumi movement and its violence. A short movie, whose Video VCD I picked up in 2005, is called Kar Seva (Santoshi n.d.). It has the following slogan on its cover: “Bhakto ka seene pe goliyan khaana, mandir ke khatir khoon bahaana, dekho Ram ke sache bhakton, 6 Dissambar bhool na jaana” (“The devotees who braved bullets in their chest, who sacrificed blood for the cause of the temple; True followers of Rama remember, never forget 6 December”). It gives a reified history of the movement. It tells the viewers that the demolition of the mosque in 1992 was due to the enthusiasm of the few and the emotional surge of the Hindu samaj (society), and the state and the political leaders could do nothing to stop this. The state had the option of either massacring the gathered Hindu crowd or letting the events take their own course. The Hindu mob, rather than Hindutva leaders, are the ones who brought down the mosque. Thus, the leaders and activists belonging to different Hindu nationalist organizations who were involved in the temple movement and the destruction of Babri mosque are absolved of all responsibilities. Not surprising, for crowds “are regarded as sovereign entities in that they may be dispersed and controlled by the police as crowds, but individuals are never held accountable for violence or destruction in the course of crowd action” (in Hansen 2005: 127–28; on the role of crowds, see also Brass 1997; Hansen 2008; Tambiah 1996).
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The film (Santoshi n.d.) has shots of policemen worship- ping Ram’s idol, thus revealing their complicity, and is filled with Bollywood-style songs. Interestingly, as with Gujarat, coercive forces of the state—the police—are often seen on the side of the Hindu society. A young boy took me around for a tour of Ayodhya pointing out various places where “sacrifices” were made (a lane is called Shahid Marg/Martyr Lane) by brave Hindus for years before culminating in 6 December. His elder brothers were with Bajrang Dal, and his father belonged to the VHP. He told me stories of how police were seen as enemies of Hindus in 1990 and 1991 when the state government pre- vented the Hindu mobs, but were then praised as allies in 1992 when the state government was under the BJP rule. Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) men were heard saying, “Sharir becha hai; Dharma nahin” (“We have mortgaged our body to the Government, not our faith,” in Malkani 1993: 9; on police complicity, see also Patwardhan 1994). During my research visit in December 2005, the policemen I met and interacted with at the disputed site and other establishments mostly shared the Hindutva worldview. For instance, on 6 December 2005 I had a conversation with a policeman who gave his name as Tiwari. He explained the history of the place to me: “There was always a temple here, the history of Islam in India has been that of bloodshed with 7 lakh Hindus sacrificed, the 1992 destruction occurred only because after allowing the worship, the govern- ment dragged its feet, the police didn’t see anything wrong with the destruction, all evidence after 1992 point to an ancient tem- ple, ‘those terrorists’ are out there to destroy the Ram Temple; if they succeed they will wipe out Hindus from throughout the world” (Personal Interview 2005i). Policemen saw themselves as belonging to the Hindu community rather than as neutral state officials.
Thus, the destruction of the existing structure of the Babri Mosque by the kar sevaks in 1992 is ascribed by Hindutva to the spontaneous emotional outburst of nationalist consciousness by the hitherto trampled and suppressed Hindus. It is seen as a “volcanic eruption.” The emphasis is put on the sheer diversity of Hindus from different regions, castes, and social groups who
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came to offer their service for the Ram Janmabhumi (see, for example, Karseva 1991). “The Hindus are very slow to act, but when they do rise, even the Himalayas must start trembling” (Dubashi 1992: 3). Hindu nationalism’s destructive politics as exemplified by Ayodhya thus reflects an underlying current that the faithful Hindus need to react to the “challenge of other [reli- gious minority] people’s activism” (Bayly 1993: 12).
Kalyan Singh, the then BJP chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and thus in charge of the law and order in Ayodhya, ascribed the destruction to the act of God, as the “Bal-Lila of Ram Lalla [Play of young Ram]” (Malkani 1993: 4). No specific organiza- tion or leader was seen as responsible for the destruction—it was the generic Hindu nation that had spoken with one voice: “Kasam Ram ki khaate hain, mandir wahin banayenge” (“We swear in the name of Ram, we will build the temple there”). As the BJP’s White Paper of 1993 points out, the demolition of the disputed structure was an uncontrolled and, in fact, uncontrol- lable upsurge of a spontaneous nature, which was provoked only by the callousness of the government in dealing with the Ayodhya issue without understanding its sensitive nature (BJP 1993; on a critique of White Paper, see Srivastava 1994). A BJP leader muses that the actual vandalism was committed by the Congress government—backed intelligence operatives (Malkani 2002: 164–167) while an RSS leader opines that “cir- cumstances suddenly demolished the structure” (Singh 1993: 72). The emphasis now is to avoid any scrutiny and accept the act of violence as a product of the Hindu awakening: “Although unexpected and never planned by the organisers of kar seva, nevertheless it resulted in the removal of the disputed structure—that blot of foreign slavery on that holy spot” (RSS leader Rajendra Singh in 1994, in Hartung et al. 2003: 13).
Celebration of the National Resurgence
The 6th of December has been celebrated every year since 1992 as Shaurya Diwas by the Hindutva activists. Many speakers during the celebration witnessed by me in 2005 saw it as the true inde- pendence day. As the foreword of the BJP’s White Paper makes it
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clear, the Babri mosque had a wider significance: “It was purely and simply a symbol not of devotion and of religion but of con- quest. Correspondingly, quite apart from its being an obstacle, preventing Hindus from worshipping the birthplace of their idol, Sri Rama, it was for the country the symbol of its subjugation.” (BJP 1993). Therefore, the destruction was a kind of liberation.
Awasthi, the RSS leader in charge of Ayodhya said that since Babri was a provocation—“jaise pitaa mar kar tang diya gaya ho” (“as if father were killed and hanged”)—the physical destruc- tion of 1992 was welcomed for it was as if “kalaa tikaa mit gaya” (“the black spot has been erased”) (Personal Interview 2005d). All publications, speeches, and statements of various branches of Hindu nationalism celebrate the destruction of the mosque as the sign of national awakening, as an inevitable consequence of history where Hindus are finally emancipating themselves after centuries of servitude. As Raychaudhuri points out in his analysis, for Hindutva the “destruction of a mosque is not a cause for shame but instead a tremendous morale booster for the Hindu psyche, in effect an act of liberation” (2000: 262).
The “liberation” of the Ram Janmabhumi and the awakening of the Hindu nation are seen as mutually dependent.
The Rama Janmabhoomi Movement seeks the release of the Hindu psyche, which has remained strangulated for centuries. The country witnessed the educated and sophisticated Hindus fighting shy in proudly proclaiming themselves as Hindus. Nothing can be more humiliating for any race or community. The temple movement is essentially the awakening of the self- esteem, self-respect, the removal of a continuing ocular demon- stration of Hindu humiliation and validation of pride in being a Hindu. The basic ethos of the Shri Rama Janmabhoomi move- ment is to restore the honour of the Hindu Samaj (society) and Hindu culture. It is not just an issue of bricks and mortar.
(Singh 1993: 18–19)
Given that the god (Lord Ram in this case) himself is seen on the side of Hindus, Hindu nationalist leaders remind their followers of the duty to be karmayogi (a rightful actioner). Suresh Das (2005a), a sadhu of Digambar Akhara stirred up the public
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during a festival commemorating 6 December in Ayodhya by chanting: “Baba sapna pura karenge, mandir ka nirman karenge” (“Lord will fulfill our dreams and build the temple”). A VCD (Santoshi n.d.) dedicated to all those Ram bhaktas (followers of Ram) who gave up their lives for the construction of the Ram Temple repeats slogans including “jis hindu ka khoon na khole, woh khoon nahin paani ha” (“a Hindu whose blood does not boil, has no blood but water”) and “jo ram ke kam na aaye, woh bekar jawani hai” (“youth that does not come of use to Ram is a useless one”). The slogans such as these (see VHP 2003) are meant to rouse the people. As I argued in the previous chap- ters, Hindutva is a discourse of masculinist nationalism and nationalizing masculinity. Sen and Wagner quote a respondent to their research on the Ayodhya movement: “If the temple is not made . . . then Hindus are not worthy enough to stay in this country . . . wear bangles, wear saris, live like a woman and ask their Hindu women to marry Muslim men” (in Sen and Wagner 2005: 2.13). Exhortations to the kar sevaks throughout the movement were “replete with appeals to masculine virility, national pride, racial redemption, contempt for law and civility” (Ahmad 2003: 5). There was only one way in which Hindutva men could prove their patriotism, their masculinity; it was by being uncompromising, by mobilizing, by vandalizing. In a more detailed study, Udayakumar argues, “Having been brain- washed by the rhetoric of ‘heroic heritage’ of the past and the ‘pathetic situation’ of the present, the ‘Hindu’ youth are made to feel intensely the need for shunning ‘impotence’ and ‘weakness.’ They are presented with a clear enemy and a visible symbol to destroy and establish their ‘strength and glory,’ and regain their ‘pride and hegemony’” (Udayakumar 1997: 17). During my con- versations with young male activists in Ayodhya and Hardwar, it was evident that the destruction of the Babri Mosque was seen as the ultimate manly act by the Hindus (the word that came up again and again was “mardangi,” virility/masculinity).
History is used and misused to add weight to the Hindutva arguments. “It is religious intensity, linked with politicized com- munal feelings, that has made the Ayodhya situation so compel- ling. The way militant Hindus have structured the narrative of
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Ayodhya’s sacred history and bent the epic universe to their def- inition of Indian national identity is a striking example of how vulnerable the past is to passions of the moment” (Miller 1991: 790). In this narrativization of history, the meaning of Hindu is posed as self-evidently opposed to Muslim and as coterminus with Indian. By fusing a story of historical trauma (resulting from Muslim-Mughal rule) with the continuing presence of an actual mosque, which Hindutva claimed to be built over a sacred Hindu site, Hindutva constructed a Hindu identity that was inevitably antagonistic to Muslims. One can see this antagonism in Elst’s description of the movement: “The North- Indian town of Ayodhya became world famous in 1989–1992 when Hindus and Muslims clashed over a mosque structure used by the Hindus as a temple but claimed by the Muslims as the Babri Masjid” (2002, chapter 9). Elst, a pro-Hindutva right- wing ideologue turns the story on its head as he naturalizes the Hindutva claims. Even as ideologues like him talk of Hindu- Muslim clash, the bulk of Ayodhya movement-related violence was committed by Hindu nationalists. The victimization of Muslims and the overwhelming violence inflicted upon them is ignored. Muslims can never be deserving victims in the Hindu nationalist imagination.
In VHP’s history-telling, the Hindu community, like the temple, is “already fully constituted from the start,” and the “loss of territory, site, self-respect occurs only when the Hindu community/nation, or its rulers, turn away from the Ram Janmabhumi, that is, from religion” (Pandey 1995: 386–387). Modern Hindutva is thus legitimized by giving it a history. Continuous resistance and struggle is repeated in most articles and resources available from ayodhya.com and hinduunity.org. For example, look at the following tale from a Hindutva tract:
The Temple at Bhagwan Ram’s birthplace was destroyed in 1528 CE and the Babri structure was built in its place. The objective was a political one to provide an ocular reminder to the Hindus that Islam ruled over their holy land. Thus it was a monument of Hindu slavery. The struggle to repossess the birthplace of Bhagwan Ram has been going on for the last 478 years. It is a
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program for upholding the dignity and showing devotion to Bhagwan Ram. Lakhs of Hindu lives have been sacrificed in this struggle.
Ram is celebrated as both a sacred mythological figure (hence beyond reproach and questioning) and a historical one (only then can a birthplace be fixed to a specific geographical site). The Ram Janmabhumi movement uses various manifestations of Ram to catalyze specific aspects of politics. For instance, the Bajrang Dal was created after 1984 (Bajrang Bali is Hanuman, the faithful companion of Ram) to act as a defender force. The Ayodhya Temple is about Ram lalla (baby Ram). Yet, the most common picture of Ram that mushroomed during the move- ment was the one with a well-defined body (see Kapur 1993). While Ram is respected as a god and an ideal king, the use of his stories are not always asexual. For instance, a sadhu (Vaishnav Das 2005), during Hardwar Dharma Sansad, made the following statement about Ram’s marriage to Sita after he won the chal- lenge against all other suitors: “Swayamvara [ceremony where the bride chooses her suitors] of Janaki [Sita] was like a modern beauty contest, imagine if all 10,000 men had met the challenge posed by Sita’s father, what would have happened to a woman shared by 10,000 men.” Given that this statement was preceded by a denunciation of “witches” (dayan) like Sonia Gandhi and Mayawati, the two most powerful female secular politicians in India, and was greeted by laughter and chuckle from the audi- ence of sadhus and activists, the attitude of Hindutva leaders toward women becomes obvious. Vaishnav Das hastened to then add that Ram was great because he put an end to this uncivilized practice of a woman having more than one suitor.
Apart from the specific context of Ram Janmabhumi (that there was a mosque over a site claimed by some to be the exact birthplace of a Hindu God), it is also important to note that the epic Ramayana (of which Ram is a figure) with its tale of moral- ity and good and evil, does lend itself to an easy retelling that is about antagonism. As Pollock points out in his detailed study, “I believe the text offers unique imaginative instruments—in fact, two linked instruments—whereby, on the one hand, a
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divine political order can be conceptualized, narrated, and his- torically grounded, and, on the other, a fully demonized Other can be categorized, counterposed, and condemned” (1993: 264). The Babri Mosque was conjured up as the humiliating symbol of demonic Muslim rule, which the Hindu nation had to liberate with the blessing of the divine forces. Reflecting upon various political developments in India in the 1980s, including insurgen- cies in Punjab, Kashmir, and Assam, a pro-Hindutva intellectual Bajaj justifies the Ram Temple movement as an inevitable reac- tion of the beleaguered Hindu majority. He argues that at times of attacks on national integrity and secessionist movements by minorities, nations “revert to their roots,” to their
civilizational moorings to redefine themselves and reassess the way. The people of India thus sought refuge in Srirama. They tried to find solace in Him. Through Him they tried to redis- cover the essence of being Indian and recapture the lost spirit of Indian-ness. And, they tried to reawaken their determination as a nation by dedicating themselves to the building of a great temple to Srirama at His birthplace in Ayodhya. In the effort to build the temple, they were in fact trying to rebuild them- selves.
(Bajaj 1993: 37)
Rajendra Singh of the RSS denied there was any politics involved in the Ayodhya movement. “There is a veiled and not-so-veiled suggestion that we are out to create a Hindu vote bank by build- ing a Ram temple . . . Nothing could be farther from truth. We are not against any community . . . It would be absurd to suggest that political power is what those of us in RSS have in mind. Ours is a movement for national consciousness . . .” (Singh 1993: 16). Not only does this claim fly in the face of the BJP, which has been fighting elections by making the Ram Temple its main plank, but it also betrays a limited understanding of politics. The RSS may or may not be concerned about day-to-day electoral politics, but it clearly seeks to shift the content to nationalist politics in India away from secularism.
The political message of the Ram Janmabhumi movement is unmistakable. It is not only about building a specific temple.
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It is directly connected to Hindutva’s vision for an India where Muslim minorities accept the terms of integration offered by the Hindu extremists. Elst, with his quotes appearing on sev- eral Web sites, echoes the polemic of several Hindutva leaders when he says the temple movement offers “an invitation to the Muslim Indians to reintegrate themselves into the society and the culture from which their ancestors were cut off by fanati- cal rulers and their thought police, the theologians. It is thus an exercise in national integration” (Elst 1991). A Hindutva writer blames Muslims for obstinacy and refusing to give up the mosque: “A historic opportunity for genuine and long-term Hindu-Muslim understanding, offered by repeated and passion- ate pleas by Hindu organizations for the Ramjanmabhoomi site in Ayodhya, has been thrown away” (Jain 1992). The polemic is that the present-day Muslims should “return” at the very least three holy sites where temples and mosques exist in the same place or side by side—Ayodhya, Mathura, and Varanasi. Prashant Bhaiya, a young RSS man in Hardwar recited his poem to me: “Mathura kaashi ab bhi baaki hai, yeh to pehli ang- rai hai; samay bankuri Raghava ke, tumko sau baar badhai hai” (“Mathura and Kashi are still left, this is just a start; O followers of Raghava, heartiest congratulations to you”). Discussing this with the activists in Nagpur and Ayodhya, I got a clear sense that they do not expect the “reasonable” demand from the VHP to be accepted by Muslims and even if they were proven wrong, they will not trust the Muslims.
The following quote from the VHP makes clear a link between the liberation of the Ram Janmabhumi and a discourse of the Muslim location within Hindu India: “[The VHP] has sincerely felt that India’s experiment in secularism will succeed only when the present generation of Indian Muslims disassoci- ate themselves from the medieval ideology of religious exclu- sivism, expansionism and iconoclasism, pursued by foreign invaders like Babur or by intolerant rulers like Aurangzeb and glorification of such acts of vandalism in the name of religion.” (VHP 1999).
Though Hindu nationalists claim that Ayodhya is not anti- Muslim: “The Ram Janmabhoomi movement is not designed
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to open old wounds but to heal them. These wounds are those that have been inflicted on the Hindus” (Chowgule 1997: 3)—it is clear from their statements and actions that the movement is antagonistic to Muslims. As Panikkar points out, Ayodhya became “a site for constructing Hindu solidarity and avenging the Muslim wrong” (Panikkar 1993: 67). For instance, a VHP booklet, while discussing the Ram Janmabhumi movement as a national awakening, ends up exposing its own Islamobhobia in its conclusion: “This struggle, in short, is the one between those who consider themselves as Babar’s progeny and those who feel proud of calling themselves the descendants of Sri Rama. It is clear therefore that the present achievement is one more victo- rious step in the culmination of the relentless struggle by the Hindu Nation against the Islamic aggression of 1000 years” (The Saga n.d.: 27). As I mentioned before, “Babur ki aulad” (Babur’s children) is a pejorative description of Indian Muslims. A sadhu spoke bluntly to me: “If Ram temple is not built, Muslims will be bolstered and in no time another Pakistan will be created” (Das, N. 2005). These leave no room for doubt that an anti- Muslim agenda is integral to this movement that occasionally claims to be about “liberation” of certain religious sites.
In the Hindutva’s imagination, Hindus are always at the edge—the edge of patience, tolerance, and acceptance. The Hindus have been long suppressed in their home by foreign religionists and traitors, but their patience has a limit. The actions of the VHP, Bajrang Dal, and others are naturalized as resulting from the impatience of the hitherto suppressed Hindu majority. Hindutva represents its own violence as a spontane- ous outburst of the hitherto pacified Hindu nation. “The lib- eration of the Shri Rama Janma Bhumi is a question of prestige and dignity for the entire Hindu samaj. Hindu society has been insulted in this matter for long and it will not tolerate it any longer” (Sri Rama Janma Bhumi Mukti Yajna samiti’s state- ment in September 1987, cited in Hartung et al., 2003: 116). Hindu nationalist intolerance thus masks itself as an inevitable manifestation of the Hindu nation lashing out after centuries of humiliation by Muslims and others. The Babri Mosque’s destruction was portrayed as a product of Hindu impatience.
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Rajendra Singh, a senior RSS leader, argued that 6 December was a watershed, for the “Hindu has decided not to take every- thing lying down. If justice is not meted out to him, he will react” and this is the “real import of the Ayodhya incidents” (Singh 1993: 17).
Since 1992, as the court cases drag on and the political class recognizes the limits of tying electoral politics too closely to a temple movement, the VHP and its sadhus repeatedly warn of Hindu patience running out. Not surprising then that the massacre of several hundreds of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 was seen as a direct result of killing scores of Hindutva activ- ists associated with the Ram Janmabhumi movement. In 2005 Hardwar Dharma Sansad, Krishnacharya Maharaj, in a public speech, was goading the temple movement to radicalize further. Referring to the earlier killing of the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984, he joked to a receptive applauding audience, “Bahut dekha hai striyon ko solah shringar karte, pehli bar dekha ek stri ko solah goli khaate” (“I have often seen women decking themselves but saw a woman being decorated with 16 bullets for the first time”). And then he promised to cajole other reli- gious men to distribute through their mandirs and maths, VHP literature about the dangers posed by Muslims and about the rejuvenation of Ram Janmabhumi movement (Krishnacharya Maharaj 2005).
Ayodhya is not a movement in itself; it is interconnected with Hindu nationalism (often oscillating between moderate and militant approaches toward Ram Janmabhumi depending on the political context; see Jaffrelot 1999) and its politics of fear and intolerance. During a discussion during the Dharma Sansad on 14 December 2005 in Hardwar, the VHP, in one of the resolutions, reaffirmed its commitment to liberating the land and even assures Hindus worldwide that not only will they build a temple, but they will prevent any mosque from being built in the precinct or anywhere else in the Ayodhya region: “The community of religious figures (sant samaj) gives assur- ance to the Hindus worldwide they will categorically not allow the building of any mosque as an alternative to the destroyed structure either within the Shri Ramjanmabhoomi precinct or
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Ayodhya’s cultural boundaries, even if they will require more sacrifices.” Hindutva has a moral certainty about its mission to militarize Hinduism and Hinduize India and the recovery of “self-esteem” through the destruction of the Babri Mosque has played a crucial role in it.
Thus, the temple movement has a significance beyond the specific demands. It is Hindu nationalism in practice. As Christensen reminds us, “As the drive to build the Ram temple at Ayodhya was inextricably linked to the VHP’s action plan for cultural rejuvenation of the Hindu nation, the scheme must be viewed not only as a powerful means of mapping and reclaim- ing sacred Hindu spaces, but as a cultural symbol buttressing a conception of Hindu identity deeply embedded in Hindu nationalist ideology” (Christensen 2003: 175). It is an illustra- tion of what a Hindu nation will look like—deindividualized, intolerant, antisecular, anti-Muslim, men and women driven by a religious fervor to transform India’s body politic.
Let me now make some observations about a specific eth- nographic site—the event Shaurya Diwas celebrated by Hindu nationalists on 6 December to commemorate the bringing down of the Babri Mosque. My experience is from 2005. The local RSS leader reminded me that “Shaurya Diwas is another episode in the long history of war between Hindus and Muslims; even during the Muslim rule, Hindu resistance continued. The destruction of the Babri Mosque was a result of this history, [because of ] anger of Hindu samaj, a result of boiling blood, an expression of valour, and a landmark since it showed the strength of Hindu samaj” (Personal Interview 2005d). The event included chants and a number of sadhus making short speeches in the Kar Sewak Puram, a well-guarded establishment in Ayodhya. The slogans included “Bacchaa bac- chaa Ram kaa, janmabhoomi ke kaam ka” (“Each and every child belongs to Rama and is useful for the Janmabhoomi”) and “Mar jayenge, mit jayenge, mandir wahin banayenge” (“We will die, we will be erased, but we shall build the temple at that very place”).
Religious leaders criticized what they called the antin- ational temperament of minorities, duplicity of secularists,
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and passivity of Hindus in general. Mahant Nritya Gopal Das explained to the media people that 6 December is more than a Shaurya Diwas, in fact, it is the the true “Swatantra Diwas” (Independence Day). The speakers mocked those Muslims and their supporters who commemorate the day as that of mourn- ing. For example, a speaker criticized those who treat the day as “Gam Diwas” (Mourning Day) and argued, “It should be obvi- ous to you who is marking this day of mourning, their mourn- ing will now never end. If they want to mourn, they should leave India” (Das, Kanhaiya 2005). While he did not name the Muslims, it was obvious to everyone that he was referring to them. A sadhu, Ram Swarup Das, made numerous references to the recent earthquake in Kashmir that had killed tens of thousands of Muslims as a “divine punishment” and shouted to a loud cheer: “Aur bhi bhayanak bhookampa aayega, agar kala diwas manayega, agar mandir main sammilit nahin ho to, aur bhi bada bhokampa aayega” (“An even more dangerous quake will come, if you mark the mourning day, if you do not join the temple movement, an even bigger quake will come”) (Das, Ram Swarup 2005). Ram Vilas Vedanti, a VHP leader I encountered a number of times in Ayodhya and Hardwar during my research, did not mince his words: “Katle aam karna chahiye, kali patti bandhne walon ke hathon ko tod do” (“We should massacre, the hands of those who tie the black band must be broken”) (Vedanti 2005).
While Nritya Gopal Das asked his followers to respect all security personnel, Kanhaiya Das cajoled Hindus to avenge “four lakh Hindu souls” who had died fighting the Muslims and assured them that the army men will not fire at the agitating Hindus because their mothers would be Ram worshippers too. Kanhaiya Das warned Muslims against any opposition to the Ram temple in Ayodhya (“Agar koi mulla ya kathmulla virodh karega, kabra pehle banayenge!” “If any muslim leader or quasi- leader opposes, we will dig his grave first”). And he reserved his choicest abuse for Congress politician Sonia Gandhi by comparing her to vamps from ancient legends. “Bhabhi ban kar raho nahin to tera bhi naak kaan Shurpanakha ki tarah kat kar Italy bhej doonga” (“Live like a sister-in-law, otherwise like
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Shurpanakha, I will cut your nose and ears and send you off to Italy”) (Das, Kanhaiya 2005). Amrish of the Bajrang Dal declared that since the Babri Mosque was a symbol of servi- tude (“paradheenta ka prateek”), building of a grand temple for Ram is inevitable: “If some people support, they will be taken along; if some are neutral, they will be put aside; if some are opposed, we will trample on their chest” (Amrish Ji 2005). Mahant Sharad Kishori (of VHP) reminded his audience that the struggle is more than one for a temple, it is a fight for the nation: “Ram mandir is fine, but Rashtra mandir [‘National Temple’] is the higher goal” (Kishori 2005). And Suresh Das of Digambar Akhara called for a struggle not only for India as it exists today, but for regaining an undivided India: “We need to struggle for Akhanda Bharat (Undivided India) by incorporat- ing Pakistan and only then can we defeat Islam and Terrorism” (Das 2005a).
Thus, we see Hindu nationalists launching and indulging in the temple movement not only to defend a specific religious right to worship, but, more importantly, to promote a vision of Hindu nation. A vision that demands the Hindu population to rise up against the dangers posed by minorities and work as a single corporate body of a Hindu nation under the aegis of Hindutva parties.
Visiting a Site of Communal Violence: Gujarat 2002
The anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002 was masked as “inevitable” and “understandable” acts to secure the Hindu Self. The (meta)discourse of security offered the forces of Hindutva a tool to legitimize violence as nonviolence, killers as defenders, rape as understandable lust, and death as non-death. I do not go into details of the violence and explanations of it here (see An Independent 2002; Cohn 2003; “Genocide Gujarat” 2002; Lessons 2003; Mander 2002; Report 2003; Vardarajan 2003). What I propose is one of the ways in which we can make sense of the complicity of a significant number of Hindus in this violence, borrowing the analysis from various reports men- tioned above. It is a politics of fear along the lines discussed
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in the previous chapters that dehumanizes minorities, instils a sense of anxiety among Hindus, and allows Hindutva to legiti- mize their actions as a product of awakening of the hitherto overly patient Hindu nation.
During February 2002 the VHP was carrying on with its agitation over the building of a grand temple in Ayodhya. After an altercation, one coach of the Sabarmati Express, a train returning from Ayodhya and carrying many Hindu kar sevaks (activists), was burned at the Godhra station in Gujarat on 26 February killing 58 people. What followed for the next couple of months was massive communal violence in which most of the victims were Muslims. Though Hindutva forces painted this overwhelmingly anti-Muslim violence, in which hundreds were killed, as a reaction to Godhra, documented evidence points to four crucial features of this violence that challenge the “riots-as-post-Godhra-reaction” thesis. First, there was active state complicity—through police inaction (see Human Rights Watch 2002); frequent police participation in anti-Muslim violence; hate speeches by members of the state government and the ruling BJP; active participation of local and state lead- ers in fomenting violence; and availability of lists of Muslim establishments (data privy to the government) to the Hindu mobs. Second, there was a conscious and well-orchestrated pre- planning for communal violence through activities of various Hindutva organizations. Third, organizations such as the VHP used the train incident as an excuse to “teach Muslims a les- son” through vicious uses of brutality. Fourth, the ruling party, the BJP, used this to buttress its political position—a strategy that succeeded with the BJP coming to power with a greater majority in a snap election. In a few months’ time, the violence subsided, but the hatred and its legacy remain as the struggle for rebuilding lives and securing justice continues. Following the actual violence, over years Hindu nationalists and their sup- porters have sought to trivialize the incident, blaming it on the “wicked, conspiratorial terroristic mentality” of Muslims (VSK 2002: 1), adopting a victimization paradigm where the Hindus and the Hindutva leaders are the victims of secularist smear campaigns, and legitimizing it as a spontaneous reaction for
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which no one (except the Muslims) is responsible. For instance, in a collection of the Hindutva sympathizers, Bhosle argues that “without tinder, sparks are useless” and justifies anti-Muslim violence, “the devout Hindus have already compromised by asking for just 3 sites from among thousands. It is now up to the parent [secularist and leftist media] to cajole or threaten the spoilt child [Muslim leadership] and teach him how to share with his sibling. Otherwise, further pampering = added estrangement = more riots. QED” (Bhosle 2003: 27).
What makes the spectacle of anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat 2002 extraordinary is its banality and its “participative” nature. Class, gender, age, or caste were not a barrier either for the will- ing participants or for the unwilling victims. Not surprisingly, the RSS then passed a resolution in March 2002: “The reac- tion of this murderous incident [the Godhra train incident] in Gujarat was natural and spontaneous. The entire Hindu soci- ety cutting across all divisions of party, caste and social status reacted. It is unfortunate that a number of people died in the violence that erupted” (in Rao 2003: 63). It is interesting to note that the killing of scores of Hindutva activists is condemned as “murderous” while the massacre of hundreds of Muslims is regretted as unfortunate after justifying it as “natural and spontaneous.”
It is not sufficient to explain this phenomenon in instrumen- tal terms alone. While interests did play an important role (for instance, looting, grabbing of land, occupying houses, settling scores), it was not the sole determining factor. For the majority who did not benefit in instrumental terms but still accepted Hindutva versions of the violence and voted with their feet by reelecting the BJP in the Assembly polls, it was the imag- ined subjectivity of the victims (dangerous, fanatic, violent, and hence to be blamed for provoking Hindus) that was the important factor. It is these dehumanized representations of the Other as a danger that offer us a good handle to understand the normalization of abnormal violence and the construc- tion of a secure Hindu identity through the humiliation and extermination of other identities. Elst in his introduction to a collection of pro-Hindutva articles blames the violence on the
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“nexus between India’s vanguard secularists and anti-Indian forces in Washington and Islamabad” and reminds us that there “are limits to the Hindu capacity for tolerance” (Elst 2003). Another Hindutva ideologue reminds his readers: “The main problem is the appeasement of Muslims by the government and it can only lead to a vicious cycle of violence and counter violence” and “If you desire to see the end of this, then the deplorable partisan attitude of saying that the Muslim blood is blood and the Hindu blood is water must end” (Saurabh Shah in Vishva Samvad Kendra 2002: 15).
The approving statements of a Hindu man (a non-partici- pant middle-class professional man), quoted by Cohn (2003), reflect a sentiment that was widespread during the riots in Gujarat in 2002: “Muslim boys, even married ones, try to have friendships with Hindu girls. I tell you, most Muslim guys are very good looking, and Hindu girls are very innocent—once they give you their heart, it’s easily broken . . . I personally feel they’re spoiling the lives of these Hindu girls. Our blood gets hot. We can’t stand them . . . It’s time that the Hindus fight violence with violence.”
The need to secure the Hindu female body against the dan- ger of the putative Muslim was therefore seen as one of the rationales for violence against Muslims (for a detailed treat- ment, see Report 2003). Aseem Shukla writes of his experi- ence during the riots and says how after Godhra, because of headlines and news reports, “impotent rage” was building on the streets of Gujarat (Shukla 2003: 55; emphasis in origi- nal). Gujarat 2002 was a lesson in masculinization showing, through the defeat and humiliation of Muslim men, who the “real men” are. The slogan “Jis Hinduon ka khoon na khola, woh Hindu nahin, woh hijra hain” (“Those Hindus whose blood does not boil, are not Hindus, they are eunuchs”) chanted by the student wing of the BJP at a premier university in Delhi during a post-Godhra procession (see Sarkar, T. 2002) illustrates this obsession with manhood. Various displays of violent sexuality emphasized Hindu manhood as the violent protector of Hindus and sought to highlight the impotency of “the Muslim” in the face of an awakened Hindu nation. The
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reaction of Pravin Togadia, a leader of the VHP, in the after- math of Godhra is significant: “Hindu Society will avenge the Godhra killings. Muslims should accept the fact that Hindus are not wearing bangles. We will respond vigorously to all such incidents” (An Independent 2002).
Pamphlets exhorting Hindu men not to feel guilty about rap- ing Muslim women; regional Gujarati newspapers sensational- izing false stories about Hindu girls being raped; Hindutva ideologues hammering on about the historic rape of the Hindu women and the nation at the hands of Muslims; distribution of bangles (an ornamental marker of femininity) to Hindu men who did not participate; punishing (through killing, boycott, and hate campaigns) of Hindu men and women who were seen as helping Muslims—all these show that the macabre display of “tolerance,” “passion,” and “reaction” (these were the self-serving terms used by various proponents of Hindutva to characterize the anti-Muslim violence) was anything but spon- taneous (for detailed reports, see “Genocide Gujarat” 2002). It shows the construction of a particular form of masculinity through acts of violence, a masculinity that declares itself as the protector of the security of Hindu bodies as well as the Hindu body politic. When asked about sexual violence and rape dur- ing the riots, the defense minister of India at the time, George Fernandez , part of the BJP-led alliance government, retorted: “There is nothing new in the mayhem let loose in Gujarat . . . A pregnant woman’s stomach being slit, a daughter being raped in front of a mother aren’t a new thing” (Concerned Citizens Tribunal 2002). On the other hand, Keshavram Kashiram Shastri, 96-year-old chairman of the Gujarat unit of the VHP, explained this in terms of “Lust and anger are blind,” “Our boys were charged,” and the rioters being “well-bred Hindu boys” (Rediff 2002).
A majority of the people in the affected areas of Gujarat did not participate directly in the violence. However, neither was there any massive protest against the violence. Many nongovernmental organizations and citizens groups did not speak out in strong terms condemning the violence. “All sides should calm down” is seen as implying that no one is
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responsible. The silent majority’s inaction in Gujarat 2002 was an action loaded in favor of those perpetrating anti- Muslim violence. The BJP state leadership, which was clearly identified as complicit with the Gujarat-2002 killing machin- ery, was confident of gaining electorally after the riot, and the fact that this confidence paid off is an indictment of the silent majority. The BJP chief minister of the state, accused for his complicity and instigation of violence, was rewarded with electoral victories. “Hats off to the asli mard [real man]” praised a fan on his Web site (in Bunsha 2002). This electoral victory in the State Assembly elections of December 2002, the best performance ever by the BJP on its own in any state in India until then, challenged most factors that are seen as important in the electoral democracy in India (e.g., the anti- incumbency factor, the lack of development, and the strength of the opposition) and showed that violence against Muslims paid off. This cannot be explained by the instrumental inter- ests of the Hindu majority alone but by the lack of compas- sion for the Muslim victims. There was a curious reversal of responsibility as many Hindus blamed Muslims for the vio- lence and saw themselves as the victims whose security was threatened by “the Muslim.”
The attitude of my Hindutva respondents during the 2005– 2006 fieldwork toward anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002 ranged from “unfortunate but well-deserved” to unmiti- gated celebration. Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, the head of Ram Janmabhumi Trust, brushed off stories of gang rape by saying: “You are educated, you should surely know that rape is commit- ted only by a man over a woman and gang rape is not possible . . . since the reports mention gang rapes, they are surely fabri- cated . . . When 100–220 people went to burn Muslim houses, how would they all rape women?” Slightly frustrated with my repeated questions about Gujarat 2002, he said with a finality: “Gujarat was a reaction—if someone kills your loved ones, you will of course retaliate, ‘isme galti kya hai?’ (What is wrong with this?’)”; for Nritya Gopal Das, as for most other leaders and activists I spoke to, the state was innocent, uninvolved, and help- less against the tide of Hindu awakening.
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On the other hand, young activists and some Hindutva sym- pathizers were more frank. “We are proud that we killed at least 25,000 Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. If Muslims respond, fine, we will teach them a lesson again,” bragged a VHP activist in front of an approving crowd in Hardwar (Personal Interview 2005a). SS, a policeman in the town of Ayodhya, rational- ized the well-documented reports of sexual violence against Muslims with this comment: “If rape did occur in Gujarat, so what, it is what they [the Muslims] did in the past, they did it to the Kashmiri [Hindu] women. Gujarat kanda [incident] in fact reduced rape by warning Muslims that the Hindus will respond in kind” (Personal Interview 2005b).
While activists are more open in their celebration of vio- lence, leaders would focus on explaining, justifying, legiti- mizing, and thus encouraging violence. Togadia is clear in his statement: “When the secularists selectively condemn the Gujarat violence, it seems that without Sita haran (Sita’s abduction) the Lanka dahan (Lanka’s burning) is imagined. So if you have to criticize the Gujarat carnage, you must also condemn the Kashmir killings as well as the Godhra massa- cre” (in The Milli Gazette n.d.). Togadia is not making a case for a balanced scrutiny of all killings, but merely representing Hindutva violence as a reaction to the dangers posed by the minorities and their secularist allies. Ram Vilas Vedanti justi- fied anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat as an inevitable reaction (“pratikriya”) and argued that “agar Godhra kanda galat hai, to Gujarat kanda sahi hai” (“If Godhra incident is wrong, then Gujarat incident is correct”) and rubbished any suggestion of sexual violence by stating categorically, “Hindus do not rape women, Muslims do” (Personal Interview 2005h).
SS, a policeman guarding a VHP leader, explained why anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat should be a matter of pride—Western education has spoilt many Hindus, he has witnessed through his assignment how sadhus and the VHP have instilled a new pride among young men, it is mostly Hindus who die in communal riots, and finally, it is refresh- ing to see Hindus killing more Muslims and proving that they are not emasculated (Personal Interview 2005b). Clearly for
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Hindutva leaders, activists, and sympathizers, anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat 2002 was an episode in the masculinist- nationalist awakening of the Hindus. Violence against actual minorities was celebrated as nationalist awakening of the majoritarian community imagined as under siege from hostile forces of foreign (and minority) religionists and their secular- ist supporters.