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Public space for discourse has become totally hateful, odious: Pradnya Daya Pawar

Pradnya Daya Pawar, daughter of well-known Dalit writer and Padma Shri recipient Daya Pawar, is the first writer from Maharashtra to return all state awards — she had five — in protest against growing religious intolerance, killing of rationalists and restrictions on personal freedom. Following her decision, more than 10 writers from the state have decided to return the awards.

In an interview with Firstpost, Pawar speaks on the reasons behind her move, on the threat to writers and artiste from fringe elements and the questions being raised on the writers’ honesty for their act.

What is the reason behind returning the state government awards?

We are going through a phase of undeclared Emergency today. This Emergency is much harsher than the one of 1975. It was only the government machinery that was keeping surveillance on common citizens then but now the ruling party and its myriad supporters are keeping a close eye on all our everyday activities such as where we live, work and move around. There is increasing hooliganism in all cultural fields like education, history, science, art and literature. The public space for discourse and discussion has become totally hateful and odious.

YouTube screen grab of Pradnya

YouTube screen grab of Pradnya Daya Pawar

Developments such as the Dadri killing, banning of Muslim youths from garba in Gujarat, killing of Dalits in Maharashtra, love jihad, beef ban and Ghar Wapsi are on the rise. The situation has worsened to such an extent that rationalists are being killed. There is no scope for a fight with them in a rational way. The killings of (Narendra) Dabholkar, (Govind) Pansare and (MM) Kalburgi clearly show that they won’t tolerate any other ideology. The issue is not just about the freedom of speech of writers or providing protection to them. It is about the common people who are living in the shadow of fear.

People around me are living under the constant fear over what to eat, what to drink, whom to love, what to wear and how to express themselves. While underlining the issue of fundamental rights of writers and actors, the government machinery is encroaching upon the rights of the common man. There’s an attempt to infringe on the core values of the Indian Constitution from all sides. To condemn these things, I have returned all the government awards with the cash prize.

Do you think has India changed in terms of intolerance?

Since the past one-and-a-half year, the situation has become worse and any sensitive person will be worried about it. The extreme elements are trying to crush the fundamental rights given to us by the Constitution. The earlier Congress-NCP government never did this. They never told us what to write or never interfered in our private spaces.

Are the intellectuals and liberals under threat from the extreme elements?

Yes, if we look at the incidents of the recent past. Still, we must continue to work without succumbing to the pressure from these. These elements do not tolerate the criticism of the Hindu religion and they have created their own definition of Hinduism, which is unacceptable.

Are the writers soft targets?

Yes. They cannot hire people for their security. No writer from Maharashtra can afford that. We feel that it is the responsibility of the state government to protect not only writers, but artists, activists and journalists as well.

Do you think that all of a sudden these fringe elements have become strong?

Rather than saying suddenly, I would say that it all started with the Babri Masjid demolition. The ‘rath yatra’ completely polarised our society. And now that they are in power with full majority, people at high positions are making provocative statements. Fringe elements are trying to outdo them or trying to give effect to these statements. As is its wont, RSS is using bahujan youth for its own ends.

Is the law and order breaking down and whether the state is becoming weak?

As I have said earlier, with the active support from higher up, party workers and workers of a number of fraternal organisations, for example, VHP, Bajrang Dal, Hindu Rashtra Samiti and Sanatan Sanstha are taking the law in their own hands. They issue fatwas and demand unconditional acceptance. ‘If you don’t follow our orders, we will punish you,’ this is their stance. The recent Shiv Sena attack on (Sudheendra) Kulkarni is one such example. It appears that there are various parallel governments. These elements are getting strength from the state machinery. It is because of the help of such elements that the governments came to power in the first place.

The writers are being criticised for returning the awards and questions are being raised on their honesty…

I openly challenge them (critics) to scrutinise my work and those of writers who have returned their awards. I have a question for them. Why are they so bothered about our returning the awards? They could have just simply ignored it. It shows that they are on the defensive now. Ideally, they should address the original issues but they are trying to divert attention by speaking on our action. They should keep in mind that the common man can throw them out of power. I don’t consider myself different from common people. Through my writing also, I have raised the voice of common man and that is what I am doing now. I am not a pessimistic. We are fighting and shall keep fighting to keep India democratic.

So, what is your next move?

Returning the award is just a small step. Many writers from Maharashtra have returned the awards after I did. We will come together and try to create a pressure group. I feel that in such an emergency situation we need to take a stand. Our protest is not against one or the other political party. It is against the system which is currently being run by the BJP. If the Congress comes back to power and tries to strike at the root of our Constitution, as this government is doing, then also we will protest.

Fatwa row: Time for AR Rahman’s ‘ghar-wapsi’, says VHP

VHP joint general secretary Surendra Jain said Hindus will “welcome” the noted composer with open arms and alleged that he had converted to Islam for commercial reasons.
File Photo
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Vishwa Hindu Parishad today asked A R Rahman, whose composition for a film on Prophet Muhammad has invited a fatwa against him, to re-convert to Hinduism, saying it was time for his “ghar-wapsi”.VHP joint general secretary Surendra Jain said Hindus will “welcome” the noted composer with open arms and alleged that he had converted to Islam for commercial reasons.”The fatwa against Rahman is very unfortunate and what is more unfortunate is the language of revenge in it…. He composed music for a film not on the basis of any religion. I will appeal to Rahman… he should return, he should do ‘ghar-wapsi’. The Hindu society is waiting for its son. We will not only welcome him with open arms but also ensure that no harm is done to him irrespective of how many fatwas are issued,” Jain told reporters.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Ghar-wapsi has been a controversial programme run by certain Hindu groups aimed at converting Muslims and Christians back to Hinduism.Iranian director Majid Majidi has directed the film “Muhammad: Messenger of God”. Mumbai-based Raza Academy had objected to the film and issued a fatwa against Oscar-winner Rahman and Majidi, calling the movie against Islam. Rahman has said he composed the music “in good faith and with no intention to cause offence”.The VHP also supported Union Minister Mahesh Sharma over his assertion that Hindu scriptures like Ramayana, Mahabharata and Gita should be made parts of school curriculum, saying teaching moral lessons was necessary to restore values in society and check heinous crimes.Asked about holy books of other religions, Jain said it should be shown if they also give the same primacy to values as Hindu books.

Want to keep Islamic State out? Address Muslims’ grievances, London think-tank tells PM Modi

London: “India’s over 150 million Muslim population is largely unattracted to extremism. India’s growing economy, vibrant democracy, and inclusive culture, encourage Muslims to seek success and social mobility in the mainstream and reduces alienation. With Indian Muslim youth increasingly comfortable in the mainstream, the pool of potential recruits is shrinking, while Muslim families and communities provide little sanction or support to extremist appeals.”—US embassy in Delhi in a secret cable to the State Department in December 2005 as revealed by WikiLeaks.

Ten years later, although things are less rosy with “the pool of potential recruits’’ expanding rather than “shrinking’’ India still has the best record in South Asia in keeping Islamists at bay.  But there are now fears that with the “inclusive culture”, which made the Indian Muslim youth “comfortable in the mainstream”, facing threat from the Hindu Right the global jihadi groups are likely to step up their campaign to attract disaffected Muslims.

AFP imageAFP image

Representational image. AFP

A leading London-based counter-terror think- tank, which advises the British government on its de-radicalisation programme, has urged  Narendra Modi  to take “swift” and “pro-active” steps to address Muslim grievances and allay their fears in order to reduce the appeal of Islamist militant  groups.

The Indian Prime Minister must also do more to “strengthen”  his government’s avowed commitment to “religious freedoms” and  “integration”, according to the Quilliam Foundation.

“We strongly urge the Indian Government to better engage with its Muslim community in order to decrease the appeal of IS’s projections of an Islamic Caliphate, as well as to reduce  the appeal of militant ideologies that cater to Indian Muslims’ grievances,” it says in a strongly-worded report on Islamist militancy in South Asia timed to coincide with the first anniversary this week of Islamic State (IS)’s so-called Caliphate this week.

Criticising “ghar wapsi” style campaigns, seen as a provocation by Muslims, it says,  “We ask the BJP to take swift, proactive steps to clamp down on coercive conversions to Hinduism, and allay fears that state welfare is conditional on Hinduism.”

About threats from  “home-grown’’ Muslim extremists, it warns, “These threats will not be quelled so long as there is the perception that Muslims are being subjugated by the Indian Government.’’

Nikita Malik, a co-author of the report who has written the India section, told Firstpost that so far Indian Muslims had mostly stayed clear of global jihadi groups (“India is the best case scenario in South Asia”) with only a handful of confirmed cases of young men fleeing to Syria to join IS. But she was concerned about the likely Muslim backlash against Hindu right-wing organisations’ inflammatory rhetoric.

“We’ll need to watch out,” she said.

Baroness Kishwer Falkner, a Liberal Democrat peer, who has worked extensively on human rights issues and was present at the Quilliam report launch said the BJP’s “hostility” to Muslims was problematic from the point of view of fighting Islamist extremism.

“The BJP government of today is very different in nature from the previous BJP governments. As a Muslim if I was living in India today I would be very worried,” she said replying to questions.

But I’ll come back to the report in a bit, first a word about the Quilliam Foundation. It is important to know its background to get a perspective on its understanding of Islamist extremism.

Set up  by a group of former British jihadi insiders of Indian and Pakistani origin in the wake of the 2005 London bombings, its stated aim is to develop a counter-narrative to challenge the Islamists’ “fabricated narrative of recent history and current affairs” by drawing on its founders’ experience of “having been to hell and back”. One of them Ed Husain wrote the autobiographical best-seller The Islamist which at one time became “must” reading for counter-terror pundits.

The group, which is reported to have received about £1m in government funding, is accused by its critics of “McCarthyite smear tactics” to please its patrons which are said to include American neo-cons. It is named after William Henry Quilliam, a 19th century Christian convert to Islam who later changed his name to Abdullah Quilliam and established Britain’s first mosque and Islamic Centre in Liverpool.

So, it is a bit of a mixed bag. Progressive, but part of a growing human rights/conflict resolution/counter-terror “industry’’ with a penchant for self-promotion.

Coming back to the report, however, it is critical of  the BJP’s hawkish line on Kashmir’s special status which, it says, is fuelling anger among Kashmiri Muslims and likely to play into the hands of separatists and extremists. The high turnout in the Assembly elections in December 2014, it points out, showed that Kashmiri Muslims were “prepared to give democratic politics under Indian rule a chance’’.

“This is an opportunity to stabilise the situation in Jammu and Kashmir that must not be wasted…We strongly encourage the BJP to quell the fear that they plan to rescind Article 370 , a move which would infuriate Kashmiris and is likely to usher in a new wave of militancy,” it warns.

The report notes with some bewilderment that India has “no comprehensive policy on countering radicalisation.”

“This creates gaps in long-term effectiveness,” it says.

Nor does India have “a specific anti-terrorism law”, it points out though it is not clear whether it advocates one. But it is more pointed  in its criticism that India’s counter-terror strategy doesn’t pay enough attention to likely domestic factors behind extremism,  and is too Pakistan-centric.

A larger point the report makes in relation to extremism in South Asia generally is that it is fuelled by high levels of youth unemployment, corruption and an absence of rule of law and accountability in many countries in the region.

Even in India, a robust democracy with constitutional trappings of rule of law, access to justice is hard, time-consuming and tilted in favour of the rich and the powerful, says Baroness Falkner. This breeds frustration and alienates the disadvantaged, especially the youth.

“If it takes 20 to 25 years to get justice it is frustrating,’’ she said adding that India also suffered from high levels of violence, notably against women.

Many in India will accuse Quilliam of offering gratuitous advice and  interfering in the country’s internal affairs but the fact is that it contains many unpleasant home truths that must be confronted if groups like the IS are to be kept at bay.

Of dead cows and Dalits: Revisiting Babasaheb Ambedkar’s inconvenient history of caste conversion

“He saw the universal brotherhood of Islam uniting just Muslims. He was critical of the spirit of aggression of political Islam that takes advantage of the weakness of Hindus and follows gangsterism,” declared Prafulla Ketkar, editor of the RSS mouthpiece Organiser, expounding on his publication’s controversial edition commemorating BR Ambedkar’s 124th birth anniversary.

Ketkar went on to claim that Ambedkar supported ‘reconversion’, saying, “In a way, he also supported ghar wapsi. That he converted to Buddhism after Gandhi’s death and as per his promise to Gandhiji chose the religion closest to Hinduism after giving a lot of time to Hindu society.”

Reuters image.Reuters image.

Reuters image.

The attempt of the RSS to focus on Ambedkar’s purported disdain for Islam, of course, diverts attention from his withering analysis of Hinduism, the pathetic social status it accords to Dalits, and the legitimising of their exploitation. It also elides the reasons why Ambedkar converted to Buddhism, and inspired a segment of Mahars in Maharashtra to convert to do the same in 1956.

Through conversion, Dr Ambedkar subtly sought to overturn the centuries-old triumph of Brahmanism over Buddhism, the consequence of which he thought was Hinduism as we know it today – and which he ultimately rejected. For the RSS bosses wishing to reconfigure Ambedkar’s thoughts through an undue emphasis on just an aspect of his prodigious writings, it might make tremendous sense to read his The Untouchables: Who Were They and Why they Became Untouchables?

From dead cow to sacred cow

Reading Ambedkar’s writing will be particularly edifying for the RSS bosses who are currently spearheading the movement to expand the ban on cow slaughter to include bullocks and oxen, besides imposing punishment for its violation far more severe than what even committing of social crimes invite. The ban on cattle-slaughter, as we all know, has been justified because it is said to hurt the sentiments of all Hindus.

However, in The Untouchables, Ambedkar’s analysis links the untouchable status of certain castes to their eating of the dead cow. This became a marker of untouchability because of the historical process through which the consumption of beef became a religious taboo.

As Dr Ambedkar writes, “… If beef-eating had remained a secular affair – a mere matter of individual taste – such a bar between those who ate beef and those who did not would not have arisen. Unfortunately beef-eating, instead of being treated as a purely secular matter, was made a matter of religion. This happened because the Brahmins made the cow a sacred animal. This made beef-eating a sacrilege.”

In contrast to the extant RSS commentary claiming that the cow had been a sacred animal for all Hindus from time immemorial, Dr Ambedkar cites from innumerable ancient texts to show otherwise. “In Rig Veda (X. 86.14) Indira says, ‘They cook for one 15 plus twenty oxen.’ The Rig Veda (X. 91.14) says that for Agni were sacrificed horses, bulls, oxen, barren cows and rams. From the Rig Veda (X, 72.6) it appears that the cow was killed with a sword or an axe.”

He quotes Taittiriya Brahmana to show it described even the kind of cows and oxen to be sacrificed for different deities. “Thus, a dwarf ox is to be chosen for sacrifice to Vishnu; a drooping horned bull with a blaze on the forehead to Indra as the destroyer of Vritra; a black cow to Pushan; a red cow to Rudra; and so on,” Dr Ambedkar writes.

He also records a fact which is well known – the killing of cow in honour of the guest had become so rampant that it inspired the synonym of go-ghna, or the killer of the cow, to describe him. The Ashvalayana Grahya Sutra, he says, advises people to let loose their cows to evade adhering to the social norm demanding they be slaughtered at the arrival of guests.

Perhaps feeding beef to guests became a binding socio-cultural norm because the performance of religious rituals included sacrificing the cow. For the non-Brahmins, however, the cow was a prohibitively expensive animal, sacrificed to propitiate deities only on special occasions.

“But the case with the Brahmin was different,” Dr Ambedkar notes. “In a period overridden by ritualism there was hardly a day on which there was no cow sacrifice to which the Brahmin was not invited by some non-Brahmin. For the Brahmin every day was a beef-steak day.” Considering the grip of Brahmins over the society, and the importance of the cow in the agrarian economy then, it was only natural for societal reaction to set in.

Buddhist roots of the beef ban

This reaction against the Brahmin facilitated the rise of Buddhism, which, contrary to the popular belief in India, did not ban cow-slaughter, but imposed certain restrictions on it – that is, what was needless and unnecessary. Since Buddhism was opposed to the extreme, suffocating ritualism of the Brahmin, the practice of cow-slaughter began to wane.

However, Buddhism did allow people to eat beef, not even banning it for Buddhist monks. Dr Ambedkar quotes the Chinese traveller Yuan Chwang to say the Buddhist monks were disallowed to eat the flesh of those animals “which they had seen put to death for them, or about which they had been told that it had been slain for them… (or) not suspected by them to have been on their account.” Barring these three types – described, rather evocatively, as “unseen, unheard, unsuspected” – they could otherwise eat meat of any animal, including of those which died naturally or was killed by a predatory creature.

The rise and consolidation of Buddhism dethroned the Brahmins, so to speak, from their pedestal of prestige, prompting them to rethink the strategies to re-establish their supremacy. The mere banning of animal sacrifice for religious purposes wouldn’t have sufficed, Dr Ambedkar speculates, because it would have only put them on par with the Buddhist monks. The Brahmin’s goal, he argues, was to occupy the place of honour the Buddhist monk had acquired by “their opposition to the killing of the cow for sacrificial purposes.”

Dr Ambedkar goes on to write, “To achieve their purpose the Brahmins had to adopt the usual tactics of a reckless adventurer… It is the strategy which all rightists use to overcome the leftists. The only way to beat the Buddhists was to go a step further and be vegetarians.” Thus, the practice of cow-slaughter was abandoned and vegetarianism began to be considered virtuous.

As Hinduism began to stage a comeback and Brahmins started to again enjoy royal patronage, the cow acquired a sacred status, its killing deemed a sacrilege. “Cow-killing was made a mortal sin or a capital offence by the Gupta kings who were champions of Hinduism,” notes Dr Ambedkar. He quotes historian D.R. Bhandarkar, who in his Some Aspects of Ancient Indian Culture cites a copper plate inscription, dated 465 AD and belonging to Skandagupta’s reign, which equates gau-hatya, or cow-slaughter, with brahma-hatya, or the slaying of a Brahmin. This equivalence is more or less echoed in an earlier inscription of 412 AD. It was from then on cow-slaughter began to be considered a mortal sin.

Beef becomes a caste marker

Barring the untouchable castes, why did other non-Brahmins forsake beef? Ambedkar says it was because inferior classes tend to imitate the lifestyle of superior classes – which the Brahmin had become at least from the Gupta period. He goes on to ask a pertinent question: Why did the untouchable castes not give up eating beef? Incidentally, Ambedkar refers to them as the Broken Men, or tribes which were vanquished and routed and compelled to live outside the villages.

Dr Ambedkar says these castes, or the Broken Men, were too penurious to slaughter cows for their consumption. They, perforce, had to eat the flesh of cows which died naturally. When cow-slaughter was proscribed and declared sacrilegious, the Broken Men were allowed to consume the flesh of the dead cow – after all, they were eating what they had not killed, but had died naturally. It did not flout the violation of the ban. The meat of dead cow given to them free was, and still remains in large parts of India, their principal food of sustenance.

In fact, Ambedkar says castes such as the Mahars traditionally enjoyed the right to remove and carry away dead cows from the houses of those who owned them. But what was once a privilege became an obligation, says Ambedkar. He observes, “As they could not escape carrying the dead cow they did not mind using the flesh as food in the manner in which they were doing previously.”

Obviously, obligations almost always have the force of sanction. There is inherent compulsion built into this system. Ambedkar notes perspicaciously, “There is no community which is really an Untouchable community which has not something to do with the dead cow. Some eat her flesh, some remove the skin, some manufacture articles out of her skin and bones.”

Obviously, beef isn’t a taboo for Dalits even today. The inclusion of cattle in the market economy – to be sold, bought, and slaughtered – the increase in cattle population, the consequent cheaper price at which its meat can be purchased, are all factors why Dalits wouldn’t hesitate to consume beef.

This is why the RSS-inspired ban on cow-slaughter remains as much a cultural imposition as it was centuries ago. Just as the Gupta dynasty harnessed their power in the fifth century to declare the killing of cow as a mortal sin or fit for capital punishment, so is the RSS exploiting the BJP’s majority at the Centre to expand the ban on cow-slaughter to include the bull and the bullock.

In this endeavour to further its cultural project, Ambedkar’s writings become an obstacle difficult to surmount. It just suits the RSS to project him as anti-Muslim, forgetting his defining interest was to guide the Dalits to walk the path most favourable to their interests. Islam and Hinduism were weeds or, at best, irrelevant overgrowth slowing the march of Dalits to win honour, respect and, above all, their rights.

(Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist from Delhi. His novel, The Hour Before Dawn, published by HarperCollins, is available in bookstores. Email: [email protected]gmail.com)

Rajnath Singh on church attacks: There should be debate on anti-conversion law

New Delhi: Pledging full protection to minorities, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Monday questioned the practice of conversions and advocated a debate on the need for an anti-conversion law.

He also wanted to know whether people cannot be served without indulging in conversions.

Union home minister Rajnath Singh. Reuters/File imageUnion home minister Rajnath Singh. Reuters/File image

Union home minister Rajnath Singh. Reuters/File image

“There are sometimes rumours and controversies about ‘Ghar Wapsi’ and conversions. Why should there by any conversion at all?

“In other countries it is the minorities which ask for anti-conversion law. Here, we are only saying that there should be an anti-conversion law. There should be debate over it. We must think on bringing anti-conversion law. I humbly request all of you to think over it,” Singh said.

He was addressing a conference of state minority commissions which was attended by representatives of various minority communities.

The Home Minister’s remarks on conversions assume significance in the midst of controversy over anti-conversion campaign undertaken by Hindutva organisations and comments by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat regarding Mother Teresa.

“Why can’t we serve the people without doing conversion. Those who want to serve the people should do so without engaged with conversion. Can’t we find a solution to the problem.

“The issue was even raised in Parliament. Many people said government should do something about it. But I think society also has a role. Society too has responsibility. Can’t we live without respecting each other’s faith. What is the necessity of conversion. Can’t a religion survive without involving in conversion,” he said.

The Home Minister said he would like to request all state governments to take strongest possible action for the protection of minorities.

“I want to tell the whole country, even through law and order is a state subject, I will do everything for the protection of minority. I will go to any extent for this. I say this in the name of god,” he said.

PTI

‘Ghar wapsi’ has become a bad phrase despite Article 25 guaranteeing it

“When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less”, says Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Caroll’s Through the looking Glass.

To which Alice asks, “The question is whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

Humpty Dumpty’s reply: “The question is which is to be the master, that’s all.”

It speaks much for the agenda-setting powers of the Lutyens elite and large segments of the mainstream English media, and the poor communications ability of its bete noire, the Sangh parivar, that words uttered by the latter can be forced to mean what the former chooses it to mean.

Nothing illustrates this point more than the term ghar wapsi – a term used by the RSS and its ideological fronts as code for converting non-Hindus to Hinduism. Ghar wapsi is something the RSS is committed to, as indicated by the recent meeting of its top body, the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha. It has now relabelled it as dharma jagran (religious awakening), which, The Indian Express informs us, is the same as ghar wapsi.

However, in Indian “secular” discourse, the term is used not to describe a religious conversion activity – which every liberal is keen to defend, including President Barack Obama, who gave us a lecture on it in January – but as code for communalism with negative connotations.

Thus, when a nun gets raped in Ranaghat in West Bengal, a state minister happily attributes it to “ghar wapsi”. This is how Bengal Minister Firhad Hakim linked the rape to ghar wapsi. “Religious intolerance in the name of ghar wapsi is at work, sometimes in Odisha and sometimes in Bengal. This may be one of the reasons (for the rape of a 71-year-old nun).

Even someone more sensible than Mamata Banerjee’s ministers, former Punjab DGP Julio Ribeiro, thinks ghar wapsi is something negative. In a poignant article in The Indian Express, where Ribeiro shared the anguish of the Christian community over some toxic statements from the Sangh, Ribeiro wrote: “Ghar wapsi, the declaration of Christmas as ‘Good Governance Day’, the attack on Christian churches and schools in Delhi, all (have) added to a sense of siege that now afflicts these peaceful people.”

While one can certainly agree with some of his points, the inclusion of the term ghar wapsi in the same category as attacks on churches is questionable, especially when the “secular” consensus is in favour of freedom to preach and propagate a religion of your choice.

Chief Mohan Rao Bhagwat  of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)Chief Mohan Rao Bhagwat  of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)

Chief Mohan Rao Bhagwat of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)

This shows how the Sangh has lost control of the meaning of its own branded phrase – and, in the process, the topic itself. The crass way in which some of the practitioners have boasted about “ghar wapsi” may have something to do with it, but so has the pretense that it is not a conversion programme.

What is ghar wapsi, really? It is essentially a Hindu effort to convert (or reconvert) people from other faiths – a freedom guaranteed to everybody under article 25 of the constitution.

However, the Sangh does not want to call a spade a spade – an issue any Hindu will understand, but the secularists choose to misunderstand deliberately.

Since Hinduism believes that one can be a Hindu only by birth, “ghar wapsi” is essentially a way of getting around this doctrinal ban on seeking converts. By pretending that it is only bringing back former Hindus back to the fold, the Sangh is pretending that it is not running a conversion programme, but merely advocating a return to old religious roots.

The problem with the Sangh’s terminology is that there cannot be anyone called an original Hindu who can automatically become Hindu again without active conversion. Once someone is identified as Muslim or Christian, the only way he or she can become Hindu again is by conversion. At best, one can call the return of a recent convert to the Hindu fold as ghar wapsi, since the conversion and reconversion happened within one lifetime. All other conversions have to be called conversions.

However, one need not quarrel with the term ghar wapsi itself. If that is how the Sangh chooses to call it, so be it. A conversion programme called by any other name would still be a conversion programme.

The Sangh is losing the argument and the meaning embedded in the term ‘ghar wapsi’ because it has wrongly chosen to call for a ban on religious conversions. There can be no ban on conversions in a liberal society – unless the reasons are related to coercion or fraud.

By insisting on a ban, the Sangh’s own conversion programme can be deliberately misinterpreted by its enemies as amounting to coercion and fraud.

It is time the Sangh started taking advantage of the constitutional guarantee under article 25 and openly acknowledge that it wants to convert more Indians (and presumably foreigners) to Hinduism. When the Pope can make calls for the “evangelisation” of Asia and Africa, and still not be branded communal, why is the RSS courting a bad name by pretending it is not into conversions? There is nothing wrong in the RSS wanting to convert people to Hinduism.

It is time the RSS reclaimed the meaning of the term ghar wapsi. In the hands of its rivals, the phrase has been mangled out of shape.

Thank you for playing: liberal media is RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s best asset

Has anyone noticed how much media coverage RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has been hogging since Narendra Modi came to power? The BJP has been in government before but, if my memory serves right, the RSS never got this level of news exposure in the past.

Even without counting that notorious one-hour live DD telecast of Bhagwat’s Vijaya Dashmi address to his cadres last October, it has been unprecedented.

Just look at the everyday media coverage of his speeches — most of it front page and topped by earnest commentaries plus noisy TV debates.

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. PTIRSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. PTI

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. PTI

Any gem that comes out of his mouth (and Bhagwat seems to suffer from the same level of verbal diarrhoea that the BJP used to complain Indira Gandhi suffered from) is faithfully reported.

So, by now we know almost by heart his mostly irrational and frequently illiterate views on Indian (sorry, Hindu Rashtra) society. And his crackpot theories of nationhood and cultural identity, not to mention a grasp of Indian social realities so slender that he thinks rapes don’t happen in what he calls “Bharat” (rural India) but only in “India” (urban India) blighted by western values. Even in cloud cuckoo land you will struggle to hear such rubbish.

The funny thing is that the media believes that by reporting his tasteless and ignorant remarks it is exposing and challenging his views. But the fact is that it is Bhagwat who is having the last laugh. He spouts any old nonsense, and there he is on the front page with Edit and Op-Edit writers deconstructing his “thoughts”.

What the media doesn’t get is that it is falling into a trap.

It is a time-tested tactic of secret/extremist organisations to provoke and create controversy with the aim of generating headlines that would keep them in the news.

And Bhagwat’s actions are no different. His provocative interventions are carefully calculated to get airing for his views which, when repeated again and again in the media even for the purpose of attacking them, become part of the mainstream discourse.

Consider this: six months ago when he claimed that all Indians were Hindus it sounded like a shocking statement. But since then it has been talked about so much that these days it barely causes an eyebrow to move.

Bhagwat doesn’t care how his utterances are received so long as they are noticed. Any publicity — even a bad one — is better than no publicity. There is an Urdu couplet Badnaam bhi honge to kya naam na hoga (never mind getting a bad name; at least it gets talked about). And that about sums up the RSS strategy. It is in line with the tendency of all such organisations: they crave attention, and what Margaret Thatcher described as the “Oxygen of publicity”, their staple survival diet.

At the height of the IRA terror, the UK government tried to cut off supply of such “oxygen” by banning the BBC from even using its leader Gerry Adams’ voice. It was, of course, an extreme response and was rightly ridiculed.

Censorship doesn’t work. Apart from being hugely undemocratic it is counterproductive as it gives those thus targeted an aura of martyrdom and victimhood which in turn makes people more curious about them.
Above all, it denies people their legitimate right to information. Reporting the likes of Bhagwat and Sakshi Maharaj is also important in that it gives us a glimpse of their thinking and shape our response to their activities.

But the alternative is not indiscriminate dissemination of any old thing that Bhagwat and his attention-seeking Parivar bedfellows choose to say, no matter how toxic or odious.

Why must every pronouncement on ghar wapsi be reported until there is a new development? Who cares how many children Bhagwat wants a Hindu woman to have? How many times are we going to read his views on Hindu Rashtra or his definition of Hindutva? Or his insistence on defining all Indians as Hindus?

And must everything he says be taken so seriously?

Take the excitement — again predictably front page, prime-time TV — over his latest intervention: his tasteless comment about Mother Teresa. Much more critical things have been said and written about her by better polemicists and more knowledgeable people than Bhagwat. So, what’s new? Does it really matter what he thinks of her? By amplifying his remarks the media is not so much exposing his prejudices as playing into them.

The media’s “Bhagwat Problem” is, in fact, part of a bigger malaise – the fact that news selection is far too frequently made not so much on whether it has great news value but who is the source. “Who says what” drives a lot of the editorial judgment.

So, for example, anything that Amartya Sen says is news. Never mind if he has said the same thing umpteen times before. But on the same day, something more important by a less sexy figure would go unnoticed.

Similarly, the antics of the lunatic fringe whether Hindu or Muslim are automatically “in” while sensible moderate voices are ignored. Among political figures, the most sought after by the media are those who have a nuisance value—the likes of Uma Bharati and Digvijaya Singh.

True, sensationalism is the nature of the beast called media. Newspapers and broadcasters worldwide are guilty of it, but it is much more marked in India. In Britain,sensationalism is confined largely to tabloids, and rants like those of Bhagwat’s will rarely make to the front pages of The Times, The Guardian or The Daily Telegraph.

There is a big debate going on in the West over the danger of amplifying threatening voices and the media is under growing pressure to stop boosting their messages. In India, though, it is not only business as usual but is thriving.

It is telling that at the time of the infamous DD telecast of Bhagwat’s speech critics were exercised not so much over the fact that it had zero news value as that DD was arm-twisted into doing it. The fact is that several private channels also carried the full speech live; and even those, who didn’t, showed large chunks from it.

So, OK, DD did it under sarkari pressure but what about them? What were they up to? Were they also cosying up to the power behind the Modi throne?

The bottom-line, as one editor candidly points out, is that it is all about generating controversy and driving up ratings.

“It is a guaranteed button pusher. One side will outrage, the other will defend, and the media is happy. Polarisation works for media as well as it does for the BJP.”

So, more media power to the Bhagwat brigade then?

SC ruling on reconversion: It’s a stamp of approval for ghar wapsi, says VHP

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SC ruling on reconversion: It’s a stamp of approval for ghar wapasi, claims VHP

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VHP leader Praveen Togadia’s speech played at Bengaluru rally, police ban defied

Bengaluru: Defying multi-media gag by police, VHP leader Praveen Togadia‘s video recorded speech was played at a rally in Bengaluru on Sunday in which he called for Ghar Wapsi (homecoming) and establishment of “Constitutional Hindu Nation”.

Praveen Togadia’s speech was played at a Bengaluru rally. AFP

Additional Commissioner of Police (Bengaluru) Alok Kumar said, “We have taken note of the violation; we will get opinion of our legal officers and we will take further action.”

At ‘Virat Hindu Samajotsava’ rally, Togadia said in his recorded speech,”…We want security, security for hundred crore Hindus… We want prosperity for Hindus… We want honour for Hindus…”

The organisers played the address ignoring the police orders banning displaying or transmitting the speech through audio, visual or other media.

Police had issued fresh orders on Saturday imposing the multi-media gag after the Karnataka High Court had upheld its ban prohibiting entry of Togadia into the city for a week from 5 February.

Apprehending that the ‘Samajotsava’ organisers might circumvent the ban by showing Togadia’s speech using audio or visual media, Bengaluru Police Commissioner MN Reddi had issued the orders.

Togadia left for Ahmedabad from Hosur in Tamil Nadu via Bengaluru where he was taken to the airport, police said earlier in the day.

Security was beefed up around the venue and in sensitive parts of the city, with policemen, assisted by Rapid Action Force, Quick Response Teams and other security personnel deployed in good strength.

“…let no one teach us about tolerance, from the time when this universe was created we have tolerance, if we were not tolerant, people from across the world couldn’t have come and settled here,” Togadia said.

“Those who do religious conversions are the enemies of tolerance. Hindus have never done religious conversions. Hindus have been converted, now Hindus will not be converted, we will do Ghar Wapsi…”

also see

Come clean on religious conversions in Agra, Aligarh: BJP tells Akhilesh

Now ‘Ghar Wapsi’ in Bengal? TMC says won’t tolerate VHP’s ‘dirty tricks’

Ban on Praveen Togadia: Karnataka BJP MLAs stage walkout

As Togadia spoke, a huge crowd gathered at the National High School Ground cheered and raised slogans in his praise. They also raised slogans against Siddaramaiah government holding it responsible for banning his entry into the city.

“…we won’t allow Hindus (number of Hindu’s) to recede;…for security and prosperity of Hindus, the government in the country has to think about Hindus, for this we have to establish a Samvidanik Hindu Rashtra,” Togadia said.

Justice Abdul Nazir of Karnataka High Court had on Friday turned down the interim prayer by Karnataka VHP to stay the police commissioner’s order, banning Togadia’s entry into the city from 5 to 11 February.

Reddi had earlier this week imposed the ban on the ground that Togadia’s “provocative” and “inflammatory” speeches would have “grave” consequences and there likelihood of breach of peace.

VHP had challenged the Commissioner’s orders on Togadia’s entry into the city in the High Court with the interim prayer for a stay on the ban.

While declining the interim plea, the Judge, however, had said Hegde’s petition was maintainable and adjourned the matter without mentioning the next date of hearing.

PTI

Sadhvi Prachi performs ‘Ghar Wapsi’ on UP youth, administration takes action

Lakhimpur Kheri (UP): District administration here were on their toes after VHP leader Sadhvi Prachi allegedly performed “Ghar Wapsi” (reconversion) of a youth here.

At a programme organised by VHP to mark its golden jubilee year, Sadhvi Prachi carried out “Ghar Wapsi” of the youth.

Sadhvi Prachi. Ibnlive

As soon as the administration officials came to know about it, they took the youth identified as Rajan Puri into their custody.

Police and administration officials took away the youth to the collectorate to record his statements while the VHP activists resorted to agitation demanding his statements be taken at the place of meeting.

The hour-long drama ended after the youth was brought back to the meeting spot.

Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM) Rakesh Patel said, “The youth in his statement has said he had adopted Islam in 2006 when he had married a Muslim girl. However, today he re-adopted Hindu religion without any pressure or allurement.”

“The administration will serve a notice on the organisers as they had failed to intimate the authorities about this programme,” he said.

Earlier, Sadhvi Prachi in her address spoke against “Love Jihad” and appealed to follow “Hum Do Hamare Char (We Two Ours Four)” policy to save the country.

She said she was against religious conversion and advocated law to check it.

However, she strongly championed for “Ghar Wapsi” saying “1,400 years ago, only ancestors of Ram and Krishna existed here”. She also appealed youths to avoid western culture which promoted Valentine’s Day.

PTI

Obama’s Siri Fort speech: PM Modi baiters, bhakts heard different versions

The big question we must ask ourselves when we discuss President Barack Obama’s Siri Fort speech today (27 January) is this: did we all hear the same speech? Or did we dissect it according to our individual biases?

If one were to take a look at the buzz on social media, the traditional Modi-baiters saw in Obama’s speech, and especially his message of religious tolerance and diversity, as an oblique criticism of the government and its Parivar backers. Thin-skinned Modi-bhakts were upset that Obama gave us a lecture on secularism when America is far from being a just society.

In fact, what we try to read in Obama’s speech – or, for that matter anybody’s speech – tells us more about ourselves than about the person delivering it.

Those who believe that Obama had the Sangh Parivar in mind when he talked about “freedom of conscience and….. right to freely profess and practice and propagate religion” should also ponder another sentence: “In both our countries, in all countries…freedom of religion is the utmost responsibility of the government but also the responsibility of every person.” (Read here and here for some of Obama’s Siri Fort quotes).

He said both countries, not only India. He was probably thinking aloud about freedom of conscience, which is endangered everywhere, including America, where Christian fundamentalists are busy demonising Islam.

His intent became clear when he mentioned the Sikh Gurdwara massacre in Wisconsin. The fact is the US and Europe probably house more Islamophobes than India. Obama himself has been the victim of a bitter Christian right-wing smear campaign that which saw him as a closet Muslim, thanks to his middle name “Hussain.”

On the other hand, the internet Hindus on twitter seemed to recoil with a guilty conscience on his call for religious freedom. One wonders why. “Ghar wapsi” is nothing if not an effort to reconvert people who left the Hindu faith, and surely freedom of religion applies as much here as in the reverse. Surely, Obama could not have meant a one-way freedom of conscience and religion. He may not back “ghar wapsi”, but it is logically implied when he said article 25 of the Indian constitution guarantees “the right to freely profess and practise and propagate religion.”

Then again, Obama said this: “Every person has a right to practice the faith that they choose and to practice no faith at all and to do so free of persecution, fear or discrimination.” What is objectionable in this? There are, arguably, more critics of atheism in god-fearing America than in India. Heading towards Saudi Arabia from India, Obama could have been referring to that kingdom’s complete absence of freedom of religion and the death sentence for apostasy. Atheism and agnosticism have never been issues in Hinduism, and Buddhism and Jainism are essentially non-theistic faiths. So where did he really criticise us for Modi-baiters to get ecstatic about it?

Or take his reference to diversity. Obama said “our diversity is our strength” and cautioned both India and the US to guard against sectarianism.

Note: the operative word is “our”. He did not say diversity is only America’s strength, but of both countries. It’s a compliment to us. He also expanded on this theme: “If America shows itself as an example of its diversity and the capacity to live and work together in common effort and common purpose, and if India, as massive as it is with so much diversity, so many differences, is able to continuously reaffirm its democracy so that is an example for every other country…That’s what makes us world leaders.” (Italics mine)

PTI

Here Obama is essentially applauding India’s diversity in the past and exhorting it to remain so in the future. Note the “if” in both sentences. He is essentially saying that both US and India are great countries only “if” they can retain their diversity and keep sectarian differences at bay.

We know that the US is hardly the exemplar in racial justice, as the recent riots and violence over the shooting of a Black youth by the Ferguson (Missouri) police prove. It is hardly likely that Obama had just Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti or Sakshi Maharaj or the RSS’s efforts to call India a Hindu nation in mind. US right-wingers call America a Christian nation – a nation where nearly half the population believes that Darwin was off his rocker by giving us his theory of evolution when, in fact, God created the world through “intelligent design.” Religion and the narrowness of religious beliefs is as much a problem in America as in India.

About India specifically, Obama said: “India is defined by diverse cultures, creed, languages. When we were born, people who looked like us couldn’t even vote in our country. There were times when I was treated differently because of the colour of my skin. My grandfather was a cook in the British army. Branches of Michelle’s family were slaves as well as slave-owners. A young boy delivering lunch on a bicycle, a young girl hauling a bucket of water. Even as we live in a world of inequality, a tea-seller can become Prime Minister. Everyone has a chance.”

Does this remotely sound like Obama was just giving us a lecture on how secular and just America is superior to communal India?

Then Obama talked about women’s empowerment, the girl child, and safety. We could take this as mild criticism of us, given our daily news fare of rape and sexual harassment. Or we could take it as a challenge we all need to meet. He said: “Every girl’s life matters. Every daughter deserves the same chance as our sons. Every woman should be able to go about her day…and be safe and be treated with the respect and dignity that she deserves.”

This is hardly something to take amiss, when our own Prime Minister talked about the same issues on I-Day and there is now a Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao scheme on the anvil.

On climate change, he said what needed to be said: that we have to learn to grow with far less use of fossil fuels than before. Who can argue with that?

The moral of the story is simple: what we got was a heart-felt message from the US president, but we read it as a condemnation of Modi or the Sangh parivar. It goes to prove a basic human truth: there is a gap between what is said and what we choose to hear.