February 23, 2024

Modi's Engagement with temple events is no decolonization

Modi’s engagements with Temple Events is not Decolonization Ram Puniyani The recent (22 January 2024) Pran Pratishtha (consecration) of Lord Ram in Ram Temple in Ayodhya has been a major spectacle. This has accompanied promotion of the mass display of religiosity in most parts of the country, more so in Northern India. This also saw the fusion of roles ‘chief of religion’ and ‘chief of political power’ into a single person, the Prime Minister. It was immediately followed by Mr. Modi inaugurating another big temple (Shri Swaminayan) in Abu Dhabi with gaiety and publicity. And lo and behold foundation for another temple in Chambal, Kalki Dham, was also done by Mr. Modi a couple of days ago. Impressed by the serial temple events many Right wing ideologues are claiming that Mr. Modi is the first statesman from post colonial societies to move towards decolonization of cultures in post colonial societies. How did colonialism affect South Asia in particular? South Asia was predominantly a feudal type society, ruled by the landlord-Kings legitimized by the clergy. The British succeeded in colonizing most parts of South Asia, Indian subcontinent in particular. Their primary focus was on plundering its wealth and creating markets for its goods being produced in England. It had to lay the structure of a colonial state in which transport, education and foundations of modern administration were laid down. Incidentally they also supported eradication of some of the ghastly practices like Sati. For other reforms the likes of Jotirao Phule, Savitribai Phule, Ambedakr and Gandhi moved the mountains to bring in reforms and cultural changes. The culture of society is not a static thing. It did start changing in multiple ways during the colonial period. While a blind aping of the West was a small part of cultural change, the major accompanying part was for the journey towards a society with equality. These were baby steps towards the culture of industrial-modern society in India. This was looked down by the conservative political forces like Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabha and RSS, the communalists, as being Western values. They were essentially piqued by the journey towards equality of the downtrodden, they were opposed to it and they labeled it as being ‘Western’. On these lines they called the Indian Constitution, embodiment of India’s political culture, as being based on Western values. One recalls that the ideologues of Hindu right were totally opposed to the ideology which talks of equality. In opposition to this they harp on Holy books like Manu Smriti, which were talking of inequality of caste and gender. Interestingly those social forces which had roots in feudal power structure stuck to the ‘anti-Western narrative’. At the same time they collaborated with the colonial rulers. Interestingly the National movement was shaping the culture and also opposing colonial rulers. One recalls the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ (West Asia) at this point as yet another example. It also calls the democratic culture and values as Western import and tries to impose dictatorial norms and social inequality in the name of Islam. In India Hindu right wing seeks to oppose equality as being a Western import. The opposition to the values of Indian Constitution is also couched in the garb of opposition to Colonial culture and is propagated as glorification of ‘Indian Culture’. So what is being called as opposing colonial culture at times is the culture which bases itself to oppose fraternity and justice. Justice for all, irrespective of caste and gender, has been the goal of emerging Indian democracy; this gives space to pluralism and diversity. Amongst the post colonial states India had the best political journey till a few decades ago. This was also accompanied by a culture, which had continuity and change. This was reflected in the life patterns promoted by the likes of Gandhi and Nehru, Subhash Bose and Maulana Azad, to name a few. This was an attempt to tune the culture which is compatible with democratic values. The spree of temple related events is accompanied by the assertion that this is the decolonization of culture! Also the impression being created that the inauguration of the temple in Abu Dhabi is the first one in the ‘Muslim countries’ of West Asia is totally false. One knows there are many temples in the region, UAE, Muscat, Bahrain and Oman to name the few. As the global migrations; economic in this case, of Indians are accompanied by the temples in the region. We also recall there are many temples in our neighboring Muslim countries. Dhakeshwwari temple in BanglaDesh is well known and we also recall that apart from other existing temples in Pakistan, Lal Krishna Advani had visited Pakistan to inaugurate renovated Katasraj Temple. Glorification of Modi for ensuring a Hindu temple is unwarranted. To assert that by inaugurating temples in India and in Abu Dhabi, Modi is showing the conviction to bring in decolonization is totally misplaced. In India the colonial impact was undone during the freedom movement itself, as the roots of progressive social steps and progressive writings, theatre also ran parallel with national movement. Post Independence the process continued with Nehru’s encouragement of scientific temper and Ambedkar’s well drafted Indian constitution. India did not get subdued by colonial culture in totality. What we are facing today is the promotion of religiosity and conservatism during the last few decades. Since politics is stalking the streets in the garb of religion, our culture is coming under the attack from conservative and orthodox values. The hilarious example of this is the opposition by BJP associate VHP and company legally challenging the forest department to let the lion Akbar cohabit the lioness Sita. As far as Abu Dhabi is concerned, not only Abu Dhabi but the whole of West Asia has suffered the onslaught of orthodox values due to promotion of Islamic fundamentalism by the United States of America. In pursuit of its control over oil resources, it had overthrown the democratically elected Government of Mossadegh in Iran in 1953 paving the way for fundamentalist regime in due course. Later it was instrumental in propping up Madrassas in Pakistan to train Mujahedeen, Al Qaeda with huge funding and also supplying them with armaments. This whole American intervention shifted the West Asian culture towards a retrograde one. The inauguration of the temple in Abu Dhabi in no way can undo the cultural damage done to West Asia by the global forces with infinite ‘hunger for oil’. Temples are one part of the culture. The definition of culture has to be much broader than just temple related events.

February 16, 2024

India: Forging Communal Space: Negotiating Streets and Practices in Delhi, 1922–65 | Saeed Ahmad



This paper examines space-making in the Jangpura-Bhogal locality of Delhi by documenting communal conflicts in the late 1920s and 1950s. First, it addresses the production of a Hindu religious space by disavowing Muslim ritual practices under a colonial regime seeking to control religious conflict. Second, it unpacks the diverse mechanisms used to produce a Sikh political space during a nascent postcolonial state’s management of linguistic subnationalisms. Grounded in power relations and cohesions around multiple social registers, these variegated spatial claims were made through political and religious processions, petitions and physical violence. These communal geographies highlight the importance of neighbourhood histories.


February 14, 2024

Indian Muslims Electoral Choices | Ram Puniyani

Indian Muslims and Electoral Choices | Ram Puniyani 


As the 2024 General Elections are looming on the horizon some Muslim elite are appealing to Muslim community to give a relook at BJP They claim that Indian Muslims are not being discriminated against. Such intellectuals also argue that BJP is giving special attention to Pasmanda Muslims and the Sufi Muslims. They also argue that Muslims are beneficiaries of BJP’s schemes for social welfare: food; housing; gas; water among others and lastly that there has been no major communal violence since 2014 and that India has been most peaceful during the last fifty years. 

Such appeals are based on half truths and ignore the core problem which shapes the lives of Muslims in India. True, some elite Muslims may not be facing the problems so severely but overall the central issue of insecurity, marginalization and ghettoization as a whole is not accounted for in such appeals. The point that there is no major violence against Muslims since 2014 is a blatant lie. The horrific Delhi violence in the aftermath of massive Shaheen Baugh movement, instigated by BJP worthies, (Goli Maro, and ‘we will get them removed from the place of Dharna’) led to the death of 51 people, 37 of those being Muslims. Day in and day out bulldozers are on the streets to target the Muslim properties, on one or the other pretexts. In BJP ruled states there seems to be a competition as to who can inflict more damage to Muslim properties. AP Shah, a retired chief justice of the Delhi High Court, affirmed to the news portal Coda, “Mere alleged involvement in criminal activity cannot ever be grounds for demolition of property.” While the cow beef politics has led to stray animals causing accidents on roads and in attacks on the standing crops on one hand on the other it has led to initiation of a new phenomenon of lynching on Indian streets. 

Starting from Mohammad Akhlaq there are many cases where Muslims (and also dalits) have been the target of the incited mobs. The case of Monu Manesar who was part of the crime of Nasir and Junaid is most frightening. Harsh Mander who visited victims’ families wrote “I am profoundly chilled as I scan social media pages of Monu Manesar. He and members of his gang live stream as they openly brandish sophisticated firearms, sound sirens mimicking police jeeps, shoot at vehicles, and brutally thrash the men they catch.” The proper data of bovine related violence is not available as the state wants to hide it, but it has created a fear among large sections of Muslims. In Mewat in particular where Muslims deal with dairy business face a tough time. Just a couple of horrific incidents which give us chills in our spine are when Shambhulal Regar not only killed but videotaped brutal killing of Afrazul in Rajasthan. 

We saw those accused of murdering Kalimuddin Ansari feted by Jayant Sinha, a Union Minister at the time. Such incidents have now become ‘new normal’. We also saw the scare created around Love Jihad and then types of Jihad were tabulated, UPSC, Land Jihad among others. The amusing one was Corona Jihad, where the Tablighi Jamaat meeting was blamed for the spread of Corona, the Muslims hawkers were denied entry into societies. Islamophobia is reaching new heights by the day. 

This intimidatory atmosphere is leading the rise in the process of ghettoisation of Muslims in the cities. Muslims are being denied housing in the mixed localities in most places. This is accompanied by the decline in their educational and economic status. One example of this is the scrapping of Maulana Azad Fellowship, the major beneficiaries of which have been the Muslim students trying to pursue higher education. The economic climb-down of the community continues in recent years. Gallup data shows that, “For both groups, (Hindus and Muslims) perceptions that standards of living were worsening shot up between 2018 and 2019, as the Indian economy entered a deep slowdown. Among Muslim Indians, the percentage jumped to 45% in 2019, up from 25% the previous year. And among Hindu Indians, the percentage saying the same hit 37% in 2019, an increase of 19 percentage points from 2018.” 

The threat of disenfranchising the Muslims through exercise of NRC, CAA is very much there. The Assam exercise showed that among the 19 Lakh people who did not have proper papers the majority were Hindus. For Hindus the safety clause of CAA is in place and for Muslims, detention centers are coming up. The present show of sympathy for Pasmanda Muslims is a mere eye wash. We understand the majority of victims of violence inspired by majoritarian politics are Pasmanda Muslims. The Muslim Ashrafs do need to ensure better treatment of the Pasmandas, but the bigger threat for the community as a whole is the insecurity, which affects them both and makes a fertile ground for orthodox elements to flourish. Reform amongst Muslim community is a must, however the point is reforms remain in the backyard till the community feels the threat to their existence and to their citizenship. 

The BJP Government in different states is now planning things which are further discriminatory against Muslims. With Ram Temple inaugurated the RSS-BJP’s majoritarian politics may become more assertive. Already Muslims have been losing representation in the political institutions. We remember that in this Hindu nationalist party not a single MP is a Muslim. Even earlier governments could not alleviate the suffering of this community. The major obstacle in this direction has been the opposition from RSS-BJP. Sachar Committee has been an example of how any affirmative action for this deprived community is marred. In the aftermath of this report, the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated that deprived and marginalized communities have the first right on national resources. That was propagated as if Singh is saying that Muslims have the first right on national resources. And then there was a brake in any initiative to alleviate the miseries of this community. BJP’s claim that its free rations etc. are reaching all sections of society. Such schemes and the very concept of Labharthis is so much against the democratic ‘Rights based approach’. We do need to introspect about electoral choices in general for all the communities, and of course the luring of Muslim community is a hollow drum bereft of any substance.

February 13, 2024

Lord Ram: From Universal Spirit to Hindu Majoritarian Icon

Lord Ram: From Divine Spirit to Hindu Nationalist Icon Ram Puniyani This January 22, a massive spectacle was created when the Prime Minister Narendra Modi consecrated the idol of Lord Ram in Ayodhya. Declarations were made that Lord Ram is the soul of India and is the one who united India. Just before this ceremony some Muslim leaders warned that Muslim people should avoid travel on 22nd January as there will be large scale movement of Kar Sevaks during the day. As saffron flags flew all over including Ayodhya, as thousands of celebrities thronged Ayodhya most of the Muslims remained indoors, they feared the repeat of the mayhem that followed the destruction of Babri Mosque by Hindu nationalists forces, nearly three decades ago. After the consecration ceremony, a bit later a Muslim graveyard was dug in Bihar, A Muslim was paraded naked in a town in South India and a saffron flag was hoisted on the Church. In Mira Road near Mumbai, a Ram Mandir Pran Pratishta procession was involved in an imbroglio in which a tempo driven by a Muslim and some Muslim shops were attacked. As the Prime Minister acted as high priest of Hinduism on one hand there were massive displays of religiosity, people assembled to celebrate, on the other there was a scare among Muslim community. With this Lord Ram assumed a new symbol as the one intimidating religious minorities in India. The Lord, whose story was first written by poet sage Valmiki, had the distinction of Maryada Purushottam (Man with dignity), who renounced his throne so that his father Dashrath could keep his promise given to his wife Kaikeyi. Many versions of Lord Ram Story are prevalent in South Asia. A.K.Ramanujan’s essay, 300 Ramayans… is a classic piece telling us the diversities in various versions. In the Jataka (Buddhist) version Ram and Sita are also brother and sister, apart from being husband and wife. The reason for this was to keep the purity of the clan. In the Jain version Lord is a believer of non violence and propagator of Jain values. Popular and prevalent "Women's Ramayana Songs" of Telugu Brahmin Women, put together by Rangnayakamma, present Sita as finally victorious over Ram and in these, Surpanakha succeeds in taking revenge over Ram. In Thai Ramkirti, or Ramkin (Ram's story), there is a twist in the tale and Shurpanakh's daughter decides to take revenge attributing her mother’s mutilation primarily because of Sita. Here the focus is on Hanuman, who in this telling is neither devout nor celibate but quite a ladies’ man. In India Ram story was popularized by Goswami Tulsidas, as he wrote it in Awadhi, lokbhasha, (people’s language) away from the Sanskrit, Devbhasha,(language of Gods) in 16th Century. After this Lord Ram became more popular and many Ram temples sprung up in North India. Interestingly Tulsidas, a devout Ram Bhakta, living in Ayodhya in 16th Century, does not mention any demolition of Ram Temple by Babur. Also when he is threatened by Brahmins for writing Ramcharimans in Lokbhasha (Awadhi) he merrily says that he can very well live in a Mosque. (from Kavitavali, his autobiography). The bhakti poets presented Ram as an embodiment of Universal spirit, a formless God. For Kabir the foremost among them, Ram is evoked in the nirgun (formless) sense, which he uses to denote both Brahman (God), supreme consciousness, and its individual expression as atman (Soul). As per him Ram is the spark of consciousness within each of us. Gandhi considered Ram to be the ultimate source of morality and spirituality. His powerful concept of the Lord was inclusive and saw Iswar (Hindu God) and Allah (Muslim God) being the same. This unique interpretation of Lord Ram by Gandhi was the underlying factor for laying the basis of fraternity in the Indian context. This also laid the foundation of his unique respect for people of all religions. This was part of the moral and ethical ground which united India. Gandhi clarified his concept of Ram in an article in Harijan, 1946. He says “My Ram, the Ram of our prayers is not the historical Rama, the son of Dasharath, the King of Ayodhya. He is the eternal, the unborn, the one without a second.” The values of Gandhi symbolized India’s ‘making into a nation’, symbolized the anti colonial struggle and emergence of the values which are the foundation of Indian Constitution. These are totally in contrast to what is being asserted by RSS-BJP as embodied in BJP-Modi’s politics. Ram Temple was not in the scheme of things of RSS till 1980s. When the communal forces started getting steam, the issue of Ram Temple was taken up. The seeds of doubts about Ram temple having been destroyed by Babur were sown by the British. Mrs. A.F. Beeveridge, while translating Baburnama added a footnote that probably there was a temple underneath the mosque. Serious scholarship shows that her writing was in tune with the British policy of ‘Divide and Rule’. Mrs. Beveridge produces no historical evidence to support her assertion that the mosque was built at the site of a temple. Indeed the general tenor of Babur's state policy towards places of worship of other religions hardly justifies Mrs. Beveridge's inference. In Babar's reign there was a strong growth of syncretic traditions, while he got the Jain temples of Gwalior demolished on the grounds of nude idols being there. Babar's will to Humanyun advises him to respect other religions especially, Hinduism, as his subjects are Hindus. Babur himself was no bigot and he gives a good account of his respect for other religions in his Baburnama. The Supreme Courts also did not support this thesis that there was a Ram Temple underneath. As the agenda of RSS-BJP is to oppose the march towards social justice, it found it a very useful instrument to whip up popular hysteria around Ram Temple once the Mandal Commission was implemented. Kabir and Gandhi’s Ram has been transformed and politics of polarization around the issue is peaking in the current scenario. With coming to power through this polarization process now RSS-BJP are putting their full energy into promoting their image of the Lord into today’s political scenario. The occasion of consecration the Lord’s idol was heavily promoted all around in different institutions and social spaces. This is accompanied by the intimidation and political marginalization of the religious minorities. Can we retrieve the spirit of Lord Ram as envisaged by the likes of Kabir and Gandhi, can we promote the moral, ethical and spiritual aspects of the religion rather than the ritualistic aspects being promoted in the current scenario?

February 12, 2024

USA: Hindu Nationalists Using Pro-Israel Playbook


Joint statement and appeal from Uttarakhand's public organizations, intellectuals, and citizens

The incident happened in Haldwani on 8 February is worrisome, condemnable and sad. We extend our condolences to all the dead and injured and demand appropriate compensation for them. We request the people of Haldwani, Uttarakhand and country to keep peace. We condemn all forms of violence and want fair legal action to be taken. Any resistance should be in the realm of law and constitution.
At this critical time we would also request the administration that no action should be against constitutional values.
- This incident shows the negligence, haste and biased approach of the administration is clearly visible. The use of communal language is seen in the statements of the administration. When allegedly made illegal mosque and madrassa were sealed and the case was to be heard in court on 14 February then what was the need for demolition of preparation without hurry? So the District Collector and Senior Superintendent of Police should be immediately transferred and judicial investigation of this incident by a High Court judge.
- It is also necessary to keep in mind that Uttarakhand government is not taking fair legal action against continuous crowd violence and hate propaganda since 2017 till date. State citizens, public organizations, opposition parties and senior intellectuals to Supreme Court lawyers and former generals of the army. When the government's steps are not fair, the resonance for anti-social elements increases. Therefore constantly voices raised that ruling forces promoting hate, communal and violent events for political gain increases threats to social harmony and the rule of law. So in 2018 and beyond, the Supreme Court should strictly implement the decisions on hate propaganda and violence should be taken at war level.
- We are constantly saying that the "Remove Encroachment Campaign" shows an eagerness and bias. Dozens of sabotage incidents have occurred over the past one year without giving notice, while we believe no one should be homeless without rehabilitation first and any such action should be legally, with sensitivity after adequate hearing. Lakhs of people are living on Najul land in Uttarakhand. Haldwani also has a large population on Nazul land, including people who believe in all religions. The public is demanding that the people living on Najul land should be given the right to ownership. For this, the state government has also sent a proposal to the Center. Despite this hurrying on encroachment matters is beyond comprehension. For the long time state government is homelessing common man in the name of remove encroachment campaign, destroying forest land, najul land and other places. The government is advancing its communal agenda in the name of remove encroachment campaign. This should be banned immediately.
Don't hate, give employment!
The contractor,
Rajiv Lochan Sah, President, Uttarakhand Lok Channel
Naresh Nodiyal, General Secretary, Uttarakhand Transformation Party
Tarun Joshi, Van Panchayat Sangharsh March
Bhuwan Pathak and Shankar Dutt, Goodwill Committee Uttarakhand
Shankar Gopal and Vinod Badoni, consciousness movement
Islam Hussain, Sarvoday Mandal, Uttarakhand
Lalit Upreti and Munish Kumar, Samajwadi Lok Forum
Trilochan Bhatt, independent journalist
Diamond Jungwater, Women Farmers Rights Forum