The real attack on Indian democracy was not on December 13th, the day of the terrorist attack on the parliament. It began the day Sabarmathy Express was torched at Godhra and a carnage was let loose on Indian citizens by the state machinery. Shri. Narenda Modi, whose complicity in the post Godhra carnage is proved beyong doubt by the recent tehelka expose,, was re elected twice after the holocaust, with a resounding majority. All this leaves the people of India with few reasons for optimism and cheer. How, one wonders, could such things come to pass in a nation constitutionally bound to secularism?
One could, perhaps, begin by exploring how, in a nation, which holds up “secularism” as an absolute value, it has suddenly become a problemetised term, prompting even hardcore advocates who swear by it, to speak of it in a defensive manner!
“Language”, Ronald Barthes states “is the origin of man—it is the language which teaches the definition of man, not the reverse”. Barthes’ observation draws attention to the power of words to create reality. The story of man is one of struggle for domination between groups of people. In this power struggle, the warring groups construct modes of discourse, which soon gain the status of empirical truth and undisputed knowledge. In this power game, language is appropriated, and utilized to promote agendas. In this technologically advanced age, where television has invaded the homes, language has acquired another dimension – of images on the television screen. The reach of language is frightening. Today, its capacity to shape consciousness is instant, a fact to which can be attributed the phenomenal speed with which a communal ideology could translate itself into a political power capable of forming government at the Centre.
The last two decades of the previous century saw this happening in India. Of course, there had always existed certain ideological binaries in the subcontinent that had not matured into full-fledged rhetoric at the time of Independence; nevertheless the tensions between them prevailed and erupted occasionally into violent acts, culminating in the assassination of the Mahatma. In the nineteen nineties, Hindutva emerged (for political reasons which are not our immediate concern here) as a force to reckon with and today the nation is polorised between two ideologies – Hindutva and Secularism. Tragically, the casualty is peace, harmony and that minimum level of predictability in day-to-day life so essential for development.
The role of language or discourse in effecting this Volte-face from secular to communal ideals on a national scale ought be of more than mere academic interest. The past two decades saw linguistic or verbal formations being imperceptibly but systematically constructed to disseminate a certain communal discourse throughout the country, enabling the emergence of Hindutva as an alternative ideology to Secularism. History is replete with evidences of how the discursive formations of an era determine or construct ‘knowledge’ or ‘truth’, that is, construct a reality that tacitly buttresses the interests of the dominant group. What happened in India towards the close of last century is not dissimilar to the way, centuries go, white nations/cultures used language to appropriate Christianity to validate the imperial agenda of the European powers.
Christianity was born in the semetic soil. A particular semetic tribe was groomed through centuries for the nonviolent religion that Christ founded. On account of the political situation that prevailed in the Middle East at that time, Christianity spread to Europe. However the christianisation of Europe was, in effect, a superimposition of a religion of peace on a brutal race, ill prepared for it. The result was Christianity underwent a drastic transformation in Europe, bearing little resemblance to the fundamental concepts laid down by its founder. With Rome becoming the capital of Christianity, Europe asserted its proprietorship over this Semetic religion which soon became institutionalized, politicized, and a motif of the axiomatic concept of divinely ordained rights for the European people. In short, the religion, thus hijacked by Europe, developed a new face, and to take the analogy further, developed Stockholm syndrome. It sanctioned conquest, murder, genocide and brutality, which had always been integral to European civilization.
Language/rhetoric/ discourse was a principal facilitator in this process of ‘managing’ religion to legitimize and perpetuate the interests of European powers. Primitive Christianity (not an accepted term but I use it in analogy with primitive Buddhism ie, pristine Buddhism as taught by Gautama) was all about creating a casteless, egalitarian society bound by love and characterized by nonviolence. Christ’s message was as simple as that. This is the Kingdom of God he spoke about. But this kingdom would pose a challenge to the imperial intent of the European countries. So a new definition of Christianity- a new rhetoric or discourse was constructed to counter this challenge. The Imperial rhetoric projected all non- Europeans as pagans, hence uncivilized. The same rhetoric represented Christian Europe as the ‘divinely ordained’ saviour, destined to bring salvation to the rest of the world.
Terms such as pagans, infidel, Saracens, heretic, White Man’s Burden were part of this rhetoric. They enabled European practitioners of Christianity to violate every code of behaviour laid down by its founder, by providing spiritual rationale for plunder and murder, territorial violation and genocide. European literature subtly equated non- Europeans to sub-humans or evolutionary dropouts- a convenient turn of the rhetoric, for Christian love did not include nonhumans! Thus over centuries, the imperial rhetoric developed subtleties and nuances to ratify every unchristian deed that the imperial powers resorted to. This discourse had an internal consistency, and a durability, which made it a formidable fort of rationalism. The rhetoric continues to date, in new forms, though at long last chinks are beginning to appear in its walls-----.
This is, no doubt, a vast oversimplification of a very complex issue; nevertheless, it serves to illustrate how language defines and shapes reality; in other words, in human perception there is no reality other than what language creates.
Coming back to India, the first major victory of the Hindutva agenda is the construction of a discourse within whose framework was effected a gradual, subtle (initially), but a systematic destruction of the sacrosanct status of the term ‘secularism’. This was achieved again with language. Secularism was reborn in the Hindutva rhetoric as ‘pseuedo – secularism’. Questioning secularism would once have made any leader a political leper. It is no longer so. Dismissing it as an anachronism or as unpatriotic has not only become possible and legal but also a highly respectable position to take, so long as the term occurs as pseudo secularism, within the structured rhetoric of Hindutva. Hence, with great ease and elan, a politician can, at any public meeting or even in the parliament, ridicule this cornerstone of democracy called secularism and get away with it! The situation is similar to the systematic Calibanisation of nonwhite people in the imperial discourse in order to validate the imperial designs. Also, that great mother of religions, Hinduism, is also being appropriated by vested parochial agencies to legitimize the Hindutva programme.
Those political groups who do not subscribe to the Hindutva agenda have today rallied under the banner of secularism, but their discourse is suspect; for people, at long last, have learnt to distinguish between statesmen and politicians. Secularism is bandied about in a manner that lacks conviction; an effective counter rhetoric seems unable to be born. It therefore becomes imperative that, we, the people, who desire nothing more than a peaceful atmosphere for our children to grow up in, be on our guard when politicians and the media float catchy slogans like ‘secularism’ and ‘pseudo secularism’, ‘majority feelings’ and ‘minority rights’, for every rhetoric has an agenda.. When the government gives to minority groups sops that override court rulings, we need to realize that it is part of the rhetoric of vote bank politics. When carnage is officially glorified and is used as vote winning propaganda, we definitely need to cry for our beloved country. When a politician holding a responsible position, writing for the ‘middle’ of a reputed daily, cites the precedence of the post Indra Gandhi assassination violence to legitimise the post Godhra holocaust, we need to inquire into the agenda of the daily. When the same daily employs a journalist to regularly take up the cause of a certain community and indulge in secularism bashing, the time has come to beware. Remember, the media was responsible for Hitler's phenomenal growth into power. Forget the lessons of history and be prepared for the talibanisation of India!
Political and religious leaders, and those who wield their pens should get their priorities straight. Let them not shed tears for the Church of Nativity. Instead weep for the Palestinian and Israeli lives lost. Let them not weep for Babri Masjid, or Ram Temple destroyed by Baber. Instead, let us all hang our heads in grief and shame at the lives lost in the name of these structures.
“Is there no redemption?” is the question teasing the hapless citizen out of thought. Yes. There is. The need of the hour is a new rhetoric with public weal alone as its agenda. We, the people, look to the media for it. The freedom of speech it enjoys and the power of word that it holds obligates it to safeguard democracy and secularism. We are deeply concerned that the media, with its power and reach does not evolve that new rhetoric that will neutralize the rhetoric of polarization. We are concerned that the media does not take upon itself the role of the agent of resistance that can intervene to transform the dangerous political arrangements taking this country to a theocratic system. We expect it to dissociates itself from the various cantankerous groups and interests that are eating into the polity of the nation and carry out an all out war against this communalization of Indian politics.