Sunday, May 25, 2008

Observers and Their Unalloyed Drivel

Arun Shourie

"And what about the pogroms that go on from time to time ?," the caller asked. Late at night, an editorial writer with one of the world's best-known papers was calling from the USA. It was becoming evident that the BJP would form the Government, he was gathering background information.

"What did you say?," I asked. Even though I had heard the word clearly enough, I wanted to see. if he would repeat it.

"Pogroms," he repeated.

"What do you mean, 'pogroms'?"

"it is an East-European term", he began.

Now, even a brown Asiatic like me knows the meaning of the word. The person had lived in India for some time, as the India correspondent of this important paper enough years to know that even we know that it is a term which is used to describe the massacre of millions of white Europeans by white Europeans.

"Which specific incidents did you have in mind ?", I asked.

"Oh, like the riots in Bombay after the demolition of the mosque..."

"Have you looked into the origin of the riots, or the course they took ? Have you investigated any other riot?

No, he hadn. Can you recall any account of any riot or killings which was based on an actual investigation? No, he couldn't. But "pogroms" it was.

On the day Mr. Vajpayee is sworn in as Prime Minister, a journalist friend in London sends me a message over email. He refers to an article in The Guardian by the papers Delhi correspondent. "The Bharatiya Janata Party, whose coalition is to be sworn in as New Delhi's next Government tomorrow," the article opens, "has temporarily forsaken its crusade against India's minorities and turned its sights on a new enemy : foreign investment."

Its "crusades"? You mean, the things European Christians launched against Muslims in the course of which they butchered hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of Muslims? "Against minorities"? Till yesterday the BJP's "crusades" were supposed to be against the Muslims only. Now that the party is forming the Government, are the paper and its correspondent proffering a promotion -- from being a party that was engaged in "crusades" against Muslims alone to being one in the business of "crusades" against all minorities? And that forecast -- "The Bharatiya Janata Party... has temporarily forsaken its crusade.

And that characterisation about the party's attitude to foreign direct investment: "its new enemy". Europeans nations protect their own producers with piles of subsidies, with tariff barriers, with quantitative restrictions. The Americans most certainly, and most blatantly do. And anyone who has read statements of the American government, and analyses in American papers would know that the Japanese do so as well. Do foreign correspondents reporting from those countries characterise what those countries do as their putting down an "enemy"? And, especially after what has been happening to the "miracle economies" of East Asia, which fool would assert that a country should not take steps to protect its interests?

"Vajpayee leads the Bharatiya Janata Party," says Newsweek in its news report, "with its Muslim-bashing thugs..." "The BJP is a Hindu-nationalist party, unashamedly hostile to the country's 120 million Muslims and other minorities... The BJP is undeniably ugly, yet less so than it was pontificates The Economist.

I am not, however, on the point about such reportage, such "analysis" being authentic drivel -- that it manifestly is. I am on the fact that such drivel flows so naturally in regard to a group which these persons and their counterparts here have decided is "Hindu fundamentalist", that drivel has become a habit with them. As a consequence they see everything the group does as confirming this perception of the group : if the BJP advocates a Common Civil Code, it is seen as conspiring to whip the minorities out of their identities -- of course, when members of the same minorities go to the USA, and have to live by the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant ethic underlying the laws there, none of these commentators sees that as a conspiracy to erase the identities of minorities; if the BJP agrees not to press its view on the Code, they shout, "But it is giving up its character", but why, pray, are you so distraught at its "giving up its character'? After all, by your own reckoning that character has been "Fascist", "Fundamentalist".

Moreover, so accustomed have these commentators become to their drivel being swallowed unchallenged, that, should someone question them, they shout "Fundamentalist", "Fascist", and the rest. Not one of them, when working in an Islamic country, dares to refer to those societies in the pejoratives he slips into his "news reporting" of India. None of their scholars working on the old Soviet Union or China dared use such pejoratives about those societies. If one of them slips and does so inadvertently, not only do those societies deal with him, a score of his own countrymen pounce and pronounce him guilty of "Orientalism", and thereby quarantine the damage. But here in India, it is open season for all of them.

The friend in London sends another sentence from The Guardian report's little "crusade". "Although the next Government appears an odd assortment of old style socialists, Sikh separatists, Hindu supremacists, and regional barons, the blueprint reveals their shared suspicion of market reforms introduced seven years ago...

More drivel, of course. But assume for a moment that what she says is true that "Sikh separatists" and "Hindu supremacists" are today together in Government. It seems "odd" to her. It is joy to me. And completely in character.

Throughout the years in which terrorists were killing in Punjab and Kashmir, no one was as energetic in reading a "freedom struggle" into their cruelties than some of these foreign news agencies : the BBC's broadcasts of the period really ought to form compulsory viewing in media courses. And no one seems to have been as disappointed as them at the fact that those "freedom struggles" against "Hindu hegemony" evaporated.

But that very fact -- of the kinds of persons who were joining hands in the new Government, as their counterparts had done in the last one is the one that delighted me at the swearing-in ceremony. The DMK and the AIADMK, for instance, are offshoots of a movement that not long ago used to advocate breaking away from India. That same DMK was in power at the Centre in the last Government -- its members held very important portfolios, they acquitted themselves as well as anyone in these assignments. No one but no one, can point to a single decision they took as having been inspired by any anti-national design. Today, the AIADMK delegates are members of the new Government. The two parties oppose each other but neither tries to outdo the other by raising anti-India or even anti-North sentiments.

Similarly, both parties are the offspring of the movement whose original inspiration and commander used to break idols of Hindu deities in public squares. To this day, just yards from the Kanchi mutt stands his statue. It bears his famous dictum:

"There is no God. There is no God. There is no God at all. The inventor of God is a fool. The propagator of God is a scoundrel. The worshipper of God is a barbarian."

His followers today troop to the Sabrimalai shrine in the same black shirts that the movement had made so dreaded an attire. They take oaths of office in the name of God! A man of passion and fervour, he roused millions on the heady decoction of secession. Today his progeny swear to protect the sovereignty and integrity of India, they swear to live by the Constitution!

For these observers all this is something "odd", a let-down, if I may say so. For us it is an outcome fore-seen, it is a thing to celebrate.

The caste system is justifiably condemned -- for the rigidities which came to characterize it, for the exclusions, and much else. But it has also been well said that it was the Indian, specifically Hindu alternative to the Westerner's genocide. What did the white man do Bible in hand -when he came across a people who were different? The Native Americans in North America? The native peoples of South America? He did not decimate them -- for the word means killing off every tenth man. He killed them off completely.

By contrast when our society encountered a people who were in some sense not on the same scale as yet, it put them on the escalator of social, intellectual and occupational progress. I have had occasion earlier to recall examples from the work of even a scholar whose views in so many respects provide grist to the Marxist mill, Professor Suniti Kumar Chatterji. Even a single paper by him -- his Presidential Address to the All India Oriental Congress, 1953, for instance contains scores of examples of this progressive harmonization, of embracing and advancing.

The assimilation of ruling houses of different races and tribes through the deliberate extension of Kshatriyahood upon them by the Brahmins : hence the formation of the Surya and Chandra Vansh lineages, the formation later of the Agni-Kula by the conferment of Kshatriyahood on to ome powerful Hinduised aristocracies of Turki and Iranian origin", and of the lndra-Vansh by the adoption within the Brahminical fold of the Ahoms in the North-East "a Thai or Sino Siamese people," says Professor Chatterji. He recounts, similarly, the recognition of the Bodo royal household of Dimapur and Kachar as being the descendants of Bhima, of the Meithi kings and upper classes of Manipur and Tripura as Chandra-Vansha Kshatriyas... The inter-penetration of languages...

The mingling of rituals : of the fire-centered rituals of the Vedas in which fire is the messenger to carry prayers to the deities with the flower offerings of rituals in the south where the powers of the deities are brought down to inhere in the idol or symbol which is then venerated; the substitution of sandal and paste for the blood of animals which had figured in the Austric rituals...

And the deities themselves. Here is the decree the white-Western races followed: You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations you shall dispossess served their gods, upon the high mountains and upon the hills and under every green tree; you shall tear down their altars, and dash in pieces their pillars, and burn their [deity] with fire; you shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy their name of that place....

Not from some Islamic book though those books enjoined such dicta by the score but from the ever-so tolerant Bible ! By contrast, in Hinduism the gods and idols of the peoples of different parts are woven together in legends, they are given different colours. Animals worshipped by tribes are not suppressed or slandered away as "animism" and "paganism" they are given places of honour. Often they become objects of intense devotion themselves : Hanuman. Often they are joined together with anthropomorphic deities the elephant's head in Ganesha. Often they become the vahanas of other gods and goddesses Nandi of Shiva, the lion of Durga, the swan of Saraswati, the tiny mouse of Ganesha, the peacock of Kartikeya.... Trees, plants, mountains, the sea each of them revered by someone are all blended into a deep reverence for nature as a living, pulsating, vibrant whole.

But this too was condemned by the forbears of our analysts and "reporters". Recall what these fellows say : if the "Hindu fundamentalist" BJP advocates a Common Civil Code, they shout, "Fascists trying to wipe out the minorities"; if it does not press the point, they shout, "Giving up its character." Similarly, the missionaries : if Hindus excluded some from their pale, they shouted, "Inhuman, intolerant, Exclusivist"; if they embraced them as in the examples above, they shouted, "The Hindu boa-constrictor."

A continuity in their prejudices, therefore. But a continuity in our practice too. And the result while they keep spewing the same bile, here "Sikh separatists" and "Hindu supremacists" together take oaths to safeguard and serve our country, to abide by our Constitution

"Odd" for the observers, exasperating if truth be told. All in a day's work for us.

The Observer
March 27,1998

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