People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
November 12, 2006
The Ongoing Communalisation In Karnataka
THE recent communal violence in Mangalore is part of the larger process of communalisation that the Sangh Parivar is engaged in throughout the country, and more particularly in the states where it holds the government, on its own or in partnership. Karnataka has seen considerable amount of Sangh Parivar activism in the last decade. This activism is well thought out and well planned, and does not depend on chance happenings that can be utilised by the Hindutva forces. On the contrary, incidents that appear as spontaneous outbursts are a result of systematic propaganda on issues related to the larger political agenda of the Sangh Parivar, with the issues themselves being cleverly and very deliberately introduced. To say there is an ‘incident’ almost every day is not an exaggeration (G Rajashekhar and K Phaniraj, Communalism Combat, September 2006), small enough not to get reported in the national press or the parliament, but significant enough to raise temperatures and tensions in the area concerned.
In this context, not just Mangalore but almost any city of Karnataka can, given a small provocation, erupt in communal violence, provoked and organised by the Hindutva forces, which have mastered the art of provocation as well as shown considerable ingenuity in finding issues which are varied in their detail, but retain a unified core in purpose.
The Sangh Parivar has been steadily growing in strength in this state, a fact that has gone unnoticed in the national media, and which continues to be under estimated also by the mainstream political leadership of this country. It is only the focused citizens groups, which have recognised this reality. While the JD (S) continues to maintain that it remains secular (!), even as it partners the BJP, the Sangh Parivar has been carrying on as if it alone decides the political agenda in the state.
The Sangh Parivar’s ride to political strength has paralleled the rise of the Sangh Parivar in the rest of the country, with the LK Advani’s rath yatra and the subsequent campaign for the Ayodhya temple culminating in the demolition of the Babri masjid and communal killings as decisive markers in its growth. The BJP’s vote share in the state was just 4.7 per cent in 1984, and 2.55 per cent in 1989. In 1991 this rose to 28.78 per cent, and in the 2004 elections the BJP became the single largest party in Karnataka, winning 79 assembly seats and 18 Lok Sabha seats in the state. (G Rajashekhar and K Phaniraj). The result is there to see in the form of support that Hindutva forces receive from the state of course, but also from what is today neutrally called as civil society. The Sangh Parivar has managed, as elsewhere in the country, to infiltrate its people in the media and the governing institutions and also to communalise popular consciousness. While thousands of people may still respond to a call for a rally in support of secularism and for taking action against the criminal acts of the Sangh Parivar organisations, there is a pervasive acceptance of the myths constructed and proliferating as a consequence of the sustained campaigns of the Hindutva organisations.
FEEDING ON COMMUNAL ISSUES
Anything can be an excuse as long as it lends itself to the saffron agenda, and feeds into the main planks of the Hindutva campaigns: places of worship; cow slaughter; conversions; population myths; Pakistan and anti-nationalism of minorities.
In recent years, a place of common, syncretic worship has been transformed into a site for an Ayodhya like campaign. Every year since 1992 the Sangh Parivar has been invading Chikmagalur, a town in central Karnataka, with a view to “liberating” the cave shrine on Bababudangiri, named after a sufi saint revered across religions. They have constructed a new ‘tradition’, sectarian, and which claims the place only for Hindus. Much like in Ayodhya, the media, and the middle class intelligentsia has adopted the name given by the Sangh Parivar: just as the Babri masjid area is now referred to as Ramjanambhoomi, and the dispute as the Ramjanambhoomi dispute, so also the Bababudangiri site is being called “Dattareya Peeta”. Hate speeches abound in the region, the district administration turns a blind eye, and the government provides sanction by providing buses for darshan just as it does in the case of Ayodhya, and in another parallel, “the illegal and unconstitutional ritual called Datta Jayanti inside the cave shrine was blessed by none other than the then law minister of the Congress government who even participated in Brahminical rituals such as yagna and Homa.” Tension prevails every year as the days of the “jayanti” approach. In 2003, while secular activists were not allowed a peace rally, and were beaten up and arrested, the then Congress government allowed the sangh parivar activities to proceed unhindered around the site. (VS Sreedhara, Communalism Combat).
Conversions are attributed to Christian organisations as well. The Hindutva forces have used this plank in Udupi and other districts of Dakshin Kannada. Udupi has been not just a Hindu pilgrimage centre, but is also home to very old mosques and churches. Members of the Hindu Yuva Sena and the Bajrang Dal have been disrupting gatherings and meetings of Protestant sects here on grounds of ‘forced conversions’, and the local newspapers have been erroneously reporting in support of them. The RSS on its part has been trying out its reconversion and ‘purification’ programmes in these areas, and continuously intimidating dalit christians.
The law allowing for transportation of cows is being misused to accuse Muslims of large scale cow slaughter, and inciting violence against them, thus hitting out at the livelihood of Muslims, and further marginalising them. In Karnataka, beef is consumed not only by Muslims and Christians but also by Adivasis and dalits. Yet the BJP holds only the Muslims and Christians responsible for “offending Hindu religious sentiments” (G Rajashekhar and K Phaniraj). It also acts unconstitutionally because under Karnataka’s Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation Act any cow that is twelve years or older, does not yield milk or is infertile can be slaughtered with due permission from the gram panchayat or the city municipality. Any transportation of cows becomes an occasion for deliberate wild rumours and for taking away licences of Muslim butchers, not just with regard to cows, but for carrying out their livelihood occupation altogether. Communalism Combat, September 2006, has reported on how one such campaign resulted in communal tensions, some violence and denial of right to livelihood to Muslims in some villages in the Udupi district. Bajrang Dal members also killed a Hindu priest whose job was to mediate in a general sale of cows, not for slaughter at all.
There are numerous reports of Muslims being targeted, publicly stripped of their clothes, paraded naked, and assaulted for ‘offending the Hindu view of life’. The Bajrang Dal and the Hindu Yuva Sena function in some districts as a law unto themselves, unchallenged by the local administrative machinery. Offenders are in some cases nominated for local posts by the BJP. Some Kannada language newspapers in the state have been getting away with publishing false stories, baseless theories and imagined facts as scoop stories. Vijaya Karnataka, the largest selling Kannada daily actually carried a four column article on September 8, 2006, alleging links between the Mumbai underworld and the Muslims of coastal Karnataka, and concocting ‘facts’ on seizure of explosives and AK 47s from the Muslim areas. This paper was launched in 1999 by Vijay Sankeshwar Rao, who was then a sitting BJP MP. Udayavani is another paper known for its communalised news ‘reports’, presentation of engineered rumours as facts, editorials, and opinion pieces. (Gauri Lankesh, Communalism Combat, September 2006). On the Bababudangiri issue, the media has made considerable contribution in communalising it, and made grounds for controversy where there were none, in a manner similar to Babri masjid, which became a ‘disputed structure’ and finally Ramjanmbhoomi, almost entirely due to the media adopting the favoured Sangh Parivar nomenclature for the masjid.
TARGETING SECULAR STRONGHOLDS
Although Dakshin Karnataka and Udipi district, not to speak of the Mangalore where ‘riots’ were recently engineered, are strong bases of the Sangh Parivar, their activities are widely spread over the entire state. All the areas targeted by the Hindutva forces have historically been home to syncretic cultures. In terms of religions there is a history of interactions between Islam and the various cults broadly termed as Hinduism, and the influence of Christianity and even Buddhism and Jainism. Kannada language and literature have imbibed influences from Persian and Urdu traditions along with the strong component of the entire south Indian literary and language heritage. The same can be said of the architecture in the state, including that of the Vijayanagar Empire, ruled by Hindu kings. The Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Islamic architectural patterns are found cheek by jowl all over the state. The Bible in Kannada is centuries old, the Christian missionaries have contributed significantly to the spread of literacy in the state, and there are old churches that are part of the architectural and religious tradition of Karnataka. Food flavours are varied and specific to regions, with caste and religious variations, and cannot be strictly demarcated only along religious lines though the Sangh Parivar would have us believe that only Muslims eat beef, or that Hindus are not naturally meat eaters etc.
The Sangh Parivar is out to deliberately subvert this entire composite cultural heritage, through the creation of a concocted Kannada tradition, which is sectarian, chauvinistic and Hindu in character. This it is doing not just through the textbooks in the schools run by the Parivar and through influencing changes in the books used in the state school system, but also through utilising all other public channels of communication, and taking advantage of the right to free speech and dissemination of ideas that a democracy entails. It is using democracy to subvert all democratic gains, not just in the cultural but also the political sphere of life. It is doing this through sharing political power in the state, and political clout in the administration and muscle power on the streets.
There is a need to challenge it on all these fronts. Allowing the Sangh Parivar to get away with much that is unconstitutional, not only gives it greater confidence and contributes to its muscle power on the streets, but is also gradually transforming the Indian State itself, by making much that constitutes unconstitutionality a part of our regular political life. The UPA government obviously has no problems with this.