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Dadri to Faridabad: Is BJP encouraging India's Ku Klux Klan?

By Shehzad Poonawalla
October 28, 2015 20:48 IST
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'It would be a folly on our part to believe that the KKK or its Indian version exists only as some dedicated organisation. Rather, the Indian KKK, much like the American counterpart, exists as a fragmented and amorphous collection of independent groups and individuals,' says Shehzad Poonawalla.

IMAGE: Members of groups claiming affiliation to the Ku Klux Klan attend a cross-lighting ceremony on a member's property in Virginia. Photograph: Johnny Milano/Reuters

Even as I return from Sunped village in Faridabad district of Haryana, barely 40 kilometres from Delhi, after organising a legal aid cum fact-finding mission into the gruesome immolation of two Dalit children, aged about ten months and two-and-a-half years respectively, by upper caste men who allegedly set ablaze the house of 31-year-old Jitender Kumar, yet another Dalit minor, arrested for stealing a pigeon, yes, a pigeon, has been killed in police custody in Haryana under 'mysterious circumstances.'

Of course, an upper caste minister in the Modi government, V K Singh, who was previously known for branding the media as 'presstitutes,' felt that one should not seek any accountability from the central government over these issues, although they quite evidently pose a challenge to the rule of law and the Constitutional guarantee of equality and right to life.

Singh then went on to liken the killings of the two Dalit toddlers to the stoning of a dog -- giving us a very clear insight into the ideological positioning of a government whose PM felt no qualms in equating Muslim victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots, which took place under his watch as chief minister, to a puppy crushed under the wheels of his car.

As one tries to make sense of the new and unprecedented wave of violence that has been unleashed in a rather public manner against different vulnerable groups from Dalits to Muslims, resembling in its crudest manifestations the tactics and ideological tendencies of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan, one cannot ignore the justifications that are dished out by ministers and senior leaders of the ruling party, for such acts, instead of unequivocal, unambiguous condemnations.

The eloquent PM, after a prolonged silence over the Dadri lynching, even while his own ministers Mahesh Sharma and Sanjeev Baliyan and colleagues like Sangeet Som and Sakshi Maharaj were literally justifying the murder, chose to ride piggyback on the President's sentiments, then blamed the Opposition, expressed helplessness over the law and order crisis in non-BJP ruled states, and then went back to 'silent mode' on the Dalit killings that took place in BJP-ruled Haryana.

In less than a month, even if you were to discount the 'ban something everyday' policy of the state and other instances of intolerance that have exhibited themselves through ink attacks and threats, the lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri, Noman in Himachal Pradesh and the petrol bombing of Jammu and Kashmir trucker Zahid Ahmad Bhat over flimsy beef and cow slaughter rumours, the setting ablaze of a 90-year-old Dalit outside a temple in Hamirpur, the public stripping of a Dalit couple by local cops in Greater Noida, the murder of innocent Dalit children and the mysterious death of the Dalit boy in Sonipat, strike one as having a definitive ideological pattern to them and not as stray instances.

To an informed student of history, this spate of violence would remind them of the lynching of scores of black Americans and civil rights activists, bombing of African American churches and church-goers, rampant in the 1960s in America, which was sweltering in the heat of racial segregation.

Of course, the accused or culprits in each of these Indian cases do not belong to one monolithic group or organisation. In some instances they may belong to a militant group or even a political party and in some instances they may not.

In some cases, as exposed by some reporters, they may assemble themselves as vigilante groups like the Gau Rakshak Dal, armed with weapons, moving along highways in search of the next 'Zahid.'

The thread that binds them together is not organisational affiliation or a membership card but their neo-Nazi, supremacist worldview and their unconstitutional, vigilante methods, whose origins can be traced to a militant-fascist brand of Hindutva hate politics, paraphrased in contemporary lingo by prominent right-wing figures like M S Golwalkar, second supreme leader of the RSS, revered as 'Guruji' even today by members of the RSS, BJP and its affiliates, through works like We or Our Nationhood Defined or Bunch of Thoughts.

Inspired from manuscripts like Manusmriti (copies of which were burnt by Dr B R Ambedkar) that sanctioned and justified the caste system and stifled women through its patriarchal constructs, Golwalkar in a sense set the guiding narrative for the saffron cousins of the Ku Klux Klan.

Let me draw an entire range of parallels between the Indian and American KKK.

The KKK's stated goal is creating a 'White Christian Nation' in the USA. Their objective is matched by our home grown KKK with its goal of creating a 'Hindu Rashtra.'

The KKK believes in the racial superiority of the white man over African Americans. The Indian KKK advocates Manusmriti, which endorses the caste system and places the upper castes above Dalits, and the replacing the Constitution. The RSS mouthpiece Organiser in an editorial on November 30, 1949, lamented that our Constitution did not draw from the Manusmriti and legalise the caste system and untouchability by stating: 'To this day his laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing.'

For the KKK, only the 'white Christian' can be a patriot while the patriotism of the rest is under suspicion. Similarly, Golwalkar in his book Bunch of Thoughts lists three major internal threats: I: The Muslims; II: The Christians; III: The Communists, thus impugning the patriotism of these groups.

The KKK has targeted the LGBT community and considers the sexual acts of gays as 'disgusting and inhuman.' The VHP considers homosexuality to be an 'imported disease.'

Much like the KKK opposed affirmative action, the Indian variant wants to do away with reservations.

The KKK used 'burning crosses' to intimidate blacks, the Indian version uses 'beef rumours' to intimidate minorities.

It would be a folly on our part to believe that the KKK or its Indian version exists only as some dedicated organisation. Rather, the Indian KKK, much like the American one, exists as a fragmented and amorphous collection of independent groups and individuals.

So perpetrators may not necessarily have membership of right-wing groups like the RSS, Bajrang Dal, Sri Ram Sene, Hindu Raksha Dal or VHP in each instance, but they identify with their larger political and cultural common cause of Hindutva promoted by these groups.

The BJP government including the PM himself recently visited the RSS and gave them presentations on the functioning of the government. For an elected government to parade its ministers in front of an unregistered, unaccountable organisation seems, as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley would put it, 'tyranny of the unelected.'

One of the accused in the recent Dadri lynching, Vishal, is the son of a local BJP leader. Recent exposes have shown how BJP leaders helped Ranveer Sena activists to carry out the mass murders of Dalits in Bihar. Former minister in Modi's government in Gujarat Maya Kodnani was convicted of mass murder in Gujarat and Orissa BJP MLA Manoj Pradhan has been convicted in the Kandhamal riots.

The BJP, when in power, has taken a 'go soft' approach towards organisations like the VHP in Gujarat, Sri Ram Sene in Karnataka, and Bajrang Dal despite their involvement in communal incidents, and as allegations from Rohini Salian, the leading public prosecutor suggests, even against the accused in the Malegaon blasts case, instead of cracking down on them.

Slowly but surely the BJP is sounding and seeming more like an apologist for the Indian KKK when it tries to rationalise their actions. Given that it is the ruling party, this translates into political legitimacy and patronage that emboldens them.

Unless the BJP acts against these groups and rejects the Hindutva ideology decisively and cuts what it calls its 'umbilical chord' with such outfits, things can get much worse.

The Third Reich began with the silencing of writers and intellectuals followed by the attack on Jews. The BJP must decide if this is the road they want India to take.

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Shehzad Poonawalla