Monday, June 16, 2008

COMMENT: Discovering paternal prejudice ...

Last spring, I started a spring clean of my office. That was 2007. It’s now winter 2008, and I’m still at it. I’ve just pulled out an essay that I started reading years ago. Perhaps as long ago as 2002.

The essay is by Mira Kamdar and is entitled The Struggle for India's Soul. It was first published in the Fall 2002 edition of the World Policy Journal.

The article is a reflection on the rise of religious prejudice in India, and how it is infecting even otherwise educated and tolerant middle-class Indians. It's a topic that I find very uncomfortable talking about, given my own SOuth Asian background. It's always hard to openly recognise and identify the log in one's own eye.

Kamdar talks at some length about her "immigrant Gujarati father" who is "a liberal Democrat" yet at the same time "a supporter of Hindu fascism". She discusses how Hindutva as a political ideology has become a tool for those wishing to transform India into a religious state.

Hindutva is the ideology of the Sangh Parivar, an amalgam of groups which includes the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, now India’s ruling party; the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS; the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or VHP; and the Bajrang Dal. The BJP plays the role of the moderate, mainstream entity, friendly to multinational capital and mature enough to lead India onto the global stage of the great powers, against the RSS’s frankly fascist youth corps activities, the VHP’s worldwide propaganda machine, and the Bajrang Dal’s street-level enforcement and terror gangs.

I've been told by a number of sources that Liberal Party MP's and organisational officials regularly attend gatherings organised by the Australian branch of the VHP.

Kamdar goes into great length about the massacre that took place in Gujarat in March 2002. She writes of ...

... the participation in the violence of large numbers of white-collar, educated men, and the presence of middle-class women, who screamed filthy insults at the Muslims and cheered on male attackers as they targeted members of the Muslim elite: business owners, academics, lawyers, former legislators ... In Ahmedabad, Ehsan Jafri, a poet and former Congress Party MP, was burned alive at his home, along with several members of his family, despite a series of desperate cell phone calls to the authorities for help.

Kamdar acknowledges that extremists from all sides participate in such massacres. What troubles her is that such extremism is now becoming mainstream even in middle class circles in India.

Kamdar wrote this essay in 2002. She has just released a book Planet India, and it would be interesting to see if she maintains the pessimism she felt some 6 years ago.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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