June 05, 2023

India: Bajrang Dal and making of the deeper state | Christophe Jaffrelot


In the Name of Faith and State

Will political change, as signalled by the Karnataka election results, translate into change at the grass roots — or has the Sangh Parivar taken over society?

Written by Christophe Jaffrelot

Indian Express, June 5, 2023

During the Karnataka election campaign, the Congress committed itself to banning organisations such as the Bajrang Dal if they indulged in illegal activities. This promise is very important given the growing role of Hindu vigilantes, who are often part of the Sangh Parivar.

Vigilantism is inherent in the mission that the RSS assigned to itself from its inception. K B Hedgewar’s aim was, indeed, to defend the Hindus by endowing them with physical strength in order to resist other groups seen as posing a threat to them, starting with the Muslims. But the RSS only very rarely resorted to the use of force itself, preferring to rely on persuasion and outsourcing coercion through violence to some of its affiliates, including the Bajrang Dal.

The Bajrang Dal was created in 1984 as the Vishva Hindu Parishad’s youth wing in the context of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. As early as the 1990s, it set up training camps at which its activists were put through gruelling physical exercises. Although guns made their first appearance in the Bajrang Dal in the 1980s, the outfit places greater importance on bladed and other melee weapons. Its preferred instrument is the trishul (trident), a weapon associated with Shiva.

What did Bajrang Dal use this strike force against? It targeted artists first. In 1996, Bajrang Dal activists attacked M F Husain’s gallery in Ahmedabad and in 1998 they ransacked his apartment in Bombay in protest against his painting, “Sita Rescued”, which depicted the famous scene in the Ramayana where Sita is freed from Ravana’s clutches — allegedly because she was too scantily clad. Husain left the country a few years later and died far from his homeland. In 2000, Deepa Mehta was also a victim of this cultural policing when she made a film on the life of Hindu widows in Varanasi in the 1930s, when these women were condemned to enforced celibacy and begging. The VHP president immediately declared that the film insulted “ancient Indian culture and traditions”. The set built on the banks of the Ganges was ransacked by the Bajrang Dal and Mehta had to move away from UP.

However, minorities have been the main casualties of vigilante groups, which started to work with the police in BJP-ruled states, including Gujarat in the 2000s and many others subsequently. This is well illustrated by the division of labour between vigilantes and the police in the context of the cow protection movement, especially in states where the BJP has passed “beef ban” laws. There, vigilantes patrol the highways and check trucks likely to carry bovines. When the driver happens to be a Muslim, they hand him over to the police — there are also instances of lynching.

The collaboration between the vigilante groups and the police finds expression in a very material way: The former often use the van or the pick-ups of the latter. More importantly, they work in tandem with specific segments of the police like the Haryana “Cow Protection Task Force”, that was established by the Khattar government in 2021, along with the Gau Seva Aayog, which is in charge of cow protection and dominated by RSS leaders.

In other words, Hindu nationalists stand at the interface of a continuum: At one end, officials, including from the government and police, represent the legal order, whereas at the other end, Hindu vigilantes implement their plans at the grass roots level. Their activities may be illegal, but they are seen as legitimate as they appear as the footsoldiers of Hinduism, and benefit from highly placed protection and patronage. Those at the top endow the movement with a façade of respectability, while those in charge of the dirty work epitomise what I call the “deeper” state.

The deep state is made of members of the security apparatus who are not accountable to society. The “deeper” state is made of the activists who crisscross society at the very local level and perform cultural policing of society. Proud of defending their religion, they get a new self-esteem — and some money — in the process. They report to little known leaders who may not be elected, but whose influence embraces politicians with a mandate as well as them.

In BJP-ruled states, RSS leaders control the government as well as the network of local activists, including Hindu vigilantes, making “their” state so deep that it penetrates society, not only via shakhas but also more intrusive branches of the Bajrang Dal, the Durga Vahini or the Gau Raksha Dal.

In today’s India, minorities are the main targets of these vigilante groups, but there are others. The Bajrang Dal, for instance, tries to control the matrimonial market too, not only to avoid inter religious marriages in the name of anti “love jihad” activism, but also inter-caste marriages (one of the priorities of Babu Bajrangi in Gujarat in the 2000s). Parents who are anxious to dissuade their daughters and sons from contracting such marriages turn to the Bajrang Dal or other groups for fixing such issues.

In the end, Hindu vigilantes add one societal layer to the usual power structure, with the blessings of the state: They enforce a Hindu view of society that is not legal, but that the police (and sometimes the judiciary) endorse because of its alignment with the orthodox — and therefore dominant — view of society. Will this making of a deeper state continue after the BJP loses power in Karnataka and elsewhere? Will political change translate into change at the grass roots — or has the Sangh Parivar taken over society? These questions arise from the very debates within the Karnataka Congress, whose government may not, in the end, fulfil this promise in its election manifesto.

Jaffrelot is senior research fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS, Paris, and professor of Indian Politics and Sociology at King’s India Institute, London


June 04, 2023

India: Can There Be A Progressive Uniform Civil Code? | Omar Rashid (May 31, 2023)

Can There Be A Progressive Uniform Civil Code?
What we need is a UCC that is acceptable to all sections of society, gender
and communities
Omar Rashid
31 May 2023
In October 2017, a citizen’s group that included well-known activist
Bezwada Wilson and musician T M Krishna presented a proposal of a model
‘progressive’ Uniform Civil Code (UCC) to the chairperson of the Law
Commission of India, Justice B S Chauhan.
The draft proposed the dissolution of the Hindu Undivided Family and the
repeal of various personal laws of religious communities, including The
Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, The Muslim Personal Law (Sharia) Application Act,
1937, The Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872, The Parsi Marriage and
Divorce Act, 1936 and The Hindu Succession Act, 1956. The draft
standardised the process of marriage, partnership, right to adopt, divorce,
custody of child, succession and inheritance in accordance with uniformity
of gender as well as sexuality.
For instance, it proposed that no non-judicial decree of divorce would have
any legal effect. A divorce would be granted by a district court or civil
court on an application by the person seeking it and after hearing the
other spouse. There would be four grounds for divorce—mut­ual consent of
both persons, irr­etrievable breakdown of marriage, physical or mental
cruelty by the spouse or mental unsoundness of the spouse. The draft
outlined an inclusive definition of marriage, as the legal union of a man
with a woman, a man with another man, a woman with another woman, a
transgender with another transgender or a transgender with a man or a woman.
The draft of the ‘progressive’ UCC was based on the premise that personal
laws of all religions were beset with various inequities, especially in the
context of gender. Unless the “discrimination entrenched in all personal
laws” was not eliminated, the values and principles enshrined in the
Constitution could not be truly honoured, the group said in a note to
Justice Chauhan.
In 2016, the law commission had invited suggestions and views from public
and organisations after the Ministry of Law and Justice had asked it to
“examine matters in relation” to the UCC.
A UCC has been a long-held agenda of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh
(RSS)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine. In recent elections, both state
and national, the BJP has promised that if elected to power, it would draft
a UCC. In the party manifesto released for the 2019 Lok Sabha election,
which gave Narendra Modi his second term as Prime Minister, the BJP
reiterated its stand to draft a UCC, “drawing upon the best traditions and
harmonising them with the modern times.” The party said it “believes that
there cannot be gender equality till such time India adopts a Uniform Civil
Code, which protects the rights of all women.”
While its contours have not been outlined, the UCC could mean a common set
of laws governing personal matters for all irrespective of gender or
religion. However, despite consistently involving the UCC in its political
and electoral agenda and rhetoric, the BJP is yet to outline a draft for
such a unified code.
What would the BJP’s UCC have in store for the diversity of personal laws
and customs within the Hindu fold? At a time when the Supreme Court is
pressed with the question of legalising same-sex marriage, with the ruling
party opposing it, would the UCC exclude sexuality as a determinant? Would
Hindu women be better able to exercise their right to property, which
according to customs is often bequeathed to sons? Questions are plenty.
On May 15, Pushkar Singh Dhami, the chief minister of Uttarakhand, one of
the few BJP states that have promised to bring in a UCC at the state-level,
said that a committee formed by his government to prepare a draft of the
code had completed 90 per cent work. The committee would submit its
proposals by June 30.
A major section of civil society and Opposition parties have consistently
looked at the BJP’s promise of a UCC with suspicion. They feel that in the
Sangh Parivar’s book, the UCC was a majoritarian means to undermine the
religious identity of minority communities.
But that brings us to the question—can there be a progressive UCC, one that
is acceptable to all sections of society, gender and communities and does
not reflect the ideological prism of the Hindu majoritarianism espoused by
the BJP-RSS?
In the absence of an actual draft or clear-cut goals, public discussion has
so far been limited to speculation. Many experts feel it may not be easy to
implement a UCC that would be acceptable to all communities and groups.
Rather than chasing the utopia of a unified code, they feel, the essence of
an equitable unified code would be achieved if progressive reforms are
brought into the various personal laws.
“Make all personal laws gender just and the laws will cease to be
problematic,” says A Faizur Rahman, secretary general of the Islamic Forum
for the Promotion of Moderate Thought. Rahman has over the years forcefully
argued that a unifying code that was acceptable to all communities was not
possible in a country as culturally and religiously diverse as India. “I
would not even attempt to draft a UCC. It will not be acceptable to all
communities,” he says.
Even those who are theoretically in favour of a unified and equitable code
but not one based on majoritarianism, argue that the process should start
by each community reflecting on their own personal laws and comparing it
with present-day norms of human rights and equality.
Hasina Khan, a well-known feminist activist from Mumbai, advocates for the
removal of gender discrimination in personal laws and making them inclusive
rather than exclusive. What if she had to draft such a UCC? “I would not
use the term UCC but a gender-just law,” she says. This would mean that
anyone, be it one in a live-in relationship or a queer group, heterosexual
group or a couple in companionship of some form, they should have legal
rights and recognition. There should not be any burden of proof for
self-determination regardless of gender identity, she says.
Khan, who as part of her group Bebaak Collective, had approached the Law
Commission for suggestions on UCC, especially with regards to Muslim
personal laws, stresses that polygamy and practices such as halala need to
go. Also, she is in favour of making the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages
Act, 1939 “gender neutral” so that the practice of unilateral talaq (by men
to women) is over.
At present, if a Muslim woman wishes to divorce her husband, she has to
take the trouble of making an application to the court. A Muslim man,
however, can unilaterally divorce his wife under personal laws. Apart from
this, Khan also pointed to the unequal inheritance and property rights
under Muslim personal laws as well as in other religious personal laws. On
the question of succession of property, there is no uniformity under Hindu
laws on the inheritance of agricultural land by women who often face
exclusion. “Few states have given daughters rights at par with sons but
inheritance is a big issue across the country,” says senior lawyer Colin
Gonsalves. He is in favour of a UCC but one based on constitutional values.
“I don’t want a BJP code. I want a constitution law code,” he stresses.
While several commentators often engage in elaborate discussions on a
possible UCC covering various aspects of personal laws, Gonsalves says “we
must deal with the roots first and the branches later.” The key to
achieving a UCC in essence is to simply remove all forms of discriminatory
customs and traditions from personal laws. “If I had to draft a UCC, I
would sum it up in one line. Any custom, practice or tradition which
discriminates between male and female is unconstitutional and henceforth
shall be treated as void,” he says.
The ‘progressive’ draft on succession and inheritance says that
every person, whether adopted or biological, upon the parent’s death, will
have an equal share along with the surviving parent in the property of the
deceased parent, irrespective of their gender, sexual orientation or
religion. Also, non-heterosexual married couples, or couples in partnership
will be equally entitled to legally adopt a child as heterosexual couples
in similar relationships.
Former attorney general of India Soli J. Sorabjee, in a letter to Justice
Chauhan supporting the ‘progressive’ UCC draft, had stated that the
recommendations of the Law Commission need to be far-sighted and
progressive. “The Law Commission should obviate apprehension that anything
uniform, would be majoritarian,” Sorabjee wrote.
In August 2018, in a 185-page consultation paper, however, the law
commission said that the UCC “is neither necessary nor desirable at this
stage.” The commission rather suggested a series of amendments to personal
laws and further codification of certain other laws, particularly with
respect to succession and inheritance.
While stressing that efforts have to be made to reconcile our diversity
with universal and indisputable arguments on human rights, Justice Chauhan
said that the term secularism would have true meaning if discriminatory
practices within a religion did not hide behind the cloak of that faith to
gain legitimacy.
Rahman agrees with the Law Commission’s conclusion on the lack of
feasibility of a UCC. It would be better to reform existing personal laws
of each community and bring them in conformity with modern laws or
constitution, he argues.
For instance, in the law of inheritance, there are so many restrictions in
Muslim personal law which do not give women equal rights. A Muslim woman
can inherit only 50 per cent of what a man inherits. In a recent example, a
Muslim couple from Kerala remarried and got their marriage registered under
the Special Marriage Act to ensure that their daughters get a proper share
of the father’s property.
Under the Muslim personal laws, through which they conducted their first
marriage, the daughters would only get a share of his property. Since he
did not have a male heir, the remaining share would go to his
brothers. In the Hindu marriage act, bigamy is a ground for divorce only if
the first wife complains, says Rahman. On the other hand, if a Muslim man
div­orces his wife through utterance of triple talaq, he can go to jail.
(This appeared in the print as 'Can There Be A Progressive UCC?')

June 03, 2023

India in Seeming Damage Control After installation of Akhand Bharat Mural in its New Parliament Building


India - Gujarat: Over 500 women get training to fight ‘love jihad’ (via Kadva Patidar, Kajal Hindustani) | Damayantee Dhar

Gujarat: Over 500 women get training to fight ‘love jihad’

At a three-day event organised by the caste-based group Kadva Patidar (Patel) Samaj in Kutch, more than 500 women were given daggers (katars) to protect themselves from wolfish men from other religions.

India: New Parliament Building Inauguration or Coronation | Ram Puniyani


New Parliament Inauguration Mimicked Coronation Ceremonies of Yore

Ram Puniyani |
Installing a ‘sceptre’ amounts to reviving divine right as the source of political authority.
PM, not President, Inaugurating New Parliament Building is at Odds with Constitution

Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

On 28 May, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a new and more lavish Parliament building. Most Opposition parties boycotted this function as they argued President Draupadi Murmu should have inaugurated it. As per Article 79 of the Constitution of India, the President, Rajya Sabha, and Lok Sabha constitute Parliament. Thus, the President is a part of the legislature. Keeping her out indicates Modi’s appropriation of centrality in all public matters and legislative affairs.

But, equally importantly, the inauguration was marked by two other significant events. One was the presence of many holy men, including priests and the heads of many religious establishments. Invocations of Hindu gods and deities such as Shiva and Ganesha rang aloud. Hindu religious rituals seemed at the event’s core, undermining the secular nature of our State and Constitution. The all-faith prayer, which was also conducted, was hardly noticed, talked about, or shown, especially on TV channels.

The Prime Minister was handed over a sengol, a kind of sceptre, by the Thiruvaduthurai Adheenam, a Shaivite establishment near Mayiladuthurai in Tamil Nadu. Accompanied by the representatives of other Adheenams of Tamil Nadu and the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the Prime Minister installed this sceptre in the new building and even referred to it in his speech.

The argument goes that this sceptre symbolises the transfer of power. It is said to have been a part of the tradition of the Chola Empire, in which a sengol was presented to a new king to symbolise his authority and power. The symbolism was to demonstrate the ruler derived his powers from god through the divine agency of a priest.

Therefore, the Prime Minister installing a sceptre in Parliament amounts to an attempt to revive the “glorious” tradition of divine sanction for rulers.

It is also being asserted that at the time of Independence, this particular sceptre was passed from the last viceroy of India, Albert Mountbatten, to the first Prime Minister of free India, Jawaharlal Nehru, as a symbol of the transfer of power. This is a totally concocted work of fiction. Congress party leader and former minister in the previous United Progressive Alliance government, Jairam Ramesh, informed over a popular social media platform that “A majestic sceptre conceived of by a religious establishment in then Madras province and crafted in Madras city was indeed presented to Nehru in August 1947… There is NO documented evidence whatsoever of Mountbatten, Rajaji & Nehru describing this sceptre as a symbol of the transfer of British power to India. All claims to this effect are plain and simple—BOGUS. Wholly and completely manufactured in the minds of a few and dispersed into WhatsApp and now to the drum-beaters in the media. Two of the finest Rajaji scholars with impeccable credentials have expressed surprise.”

Nehru possibly received the sceptre from the Shaivite establishment as a marker of respect. However, the first Prime Minister found a place for it within The Allahabad Museum. It is totally false that he treated it as a walking stick, and it has been established that it was also not characterised as one at any point. Nehru and all significant leaders of the freedom movement did not uphold kingdoms or kings. They conceived India as a democracy where power flows from the people and participatory democracy is established through the universal adult franchise.

Sovereignty in India belongs to the people and does not flow from god, divine forces, or religious figureheads. The democratisation of Indian society created these values, and the Prime Minister or President are not king, emperor or ruler. They do not claim accountability or authority to religious authorities or traditions. India has no ‘Raj Guru’ or royal priest but the people and the Constitution.

Incidentally, CK Annadurai, the founder of the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham, wrote a scathing commentary opposing the gift of the sengol and the Shaivite body’s effort to represent it as a symbol of the transfer of power. He writes, “You know they must get rid of it to pave the way for the blossom of democracy. The heads of the mutts [religious organisations], who are afraid that you might seek to implement what you have learnt, will not only give a golden sceptre but even a sceptre embedded with ‘navaratnas’ to protect themselves.”

However, Hindu ritualism has been a part of the agenda of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its offshoot, the Bharatiya Janata Party. They sought to undermine the plural nature of India and impose the Hindu nationalist view in its place. This view is part of the norms that emerged from Hindu kings and princes, who later joined with ideologues to articulate the Hindu-nationalistic vision of India. It is no coincidence that the inauguration of the new Parliament building was planned on the 140th birth anniversary of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, an ideologue of Hindu nationalism and quite possibly the first to articulate this view in his book, Hindutva or Who is a Hindu. In this book, he justifies religion as the basis of nationalism, and it is the first text to advocate the two-nation theory’s core beliefs openly.

Through the spectre spectacle, Modi signalled the primacy of faith over the Constitution. He proclaimed, “Today, India is turning once again to that glorious stream of ancient times”. What were the values of those allegedly glorious ancient times? They had authoritarian rulers presiding over societies filled with caste and gender hierarchies, as the Manusmriti enunciates. Constitution writer and first law minister Dr BR Ambedkar burned Savarkar’s book. He believed the ancient scriptures established the secondary position of Dalits and women in society.

RSS ideologues glorify the inaugural event by claiming it revives a glorious Hindu tradition that places dharma above political power. According to them, the king is duty-bound to abide by dharma, and the sengol represents that. The government argues the sceptre reflects a continuity of tradition by embodying sanctified sovereignty and the rule by dharma. RSS’s Ram Madhav has written in the Indian Express that as the sengol reaches the new Parliament House, its “real significance as the ‘Dharma Dand’—the Indian civilisational tradition of ethical-spiritual authority over mere political authority—must be the point of debate rather than the nitpicking over its historicity.”

He also wrote that in the Indian civilisational tradition, monarchs and kings were never considered the supreme authority. “Irrespective of whatever regalia were used, like crowns or sceptres or orbs, the royals were always reminded by the court priests at the time of the coronation that Dharma, the ethical-spiritual order, is the only supreme authority,” he wrote.

In a way India took another step in the direction of Hindu Rashtra on 28 May. The event showed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has monarchical ambitions. The events presented a kingdom’s values in modern garb and used religion to cover for suppressing democratic values. It parallels other fundamentalisms in the name of Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, or any other faith. The subtle subversion of democracy was more than evident during the inauguration ceremony. After all, less than two kilometres away, the police brutally attacked protesting wrestlers and their supporters who had been protesting in the most genuinely democratic way.

The author is a human rights activist. The views expressed are personal.


June 01, 2023

India: Mockery of history, say Netaji, Khudiram kin after actor's tweet on Savarkar biopic (Subhro Niyogi & Sujoy Khanra - TOI)

The Times of India

Mockery of history, say Netaji, Khudiram kin after actor's tweet on Savarkar biopic
Subhro Niyogi & Sujoy Khanra / TNN / Updated: Jun 1, 2023, 01:43 IST

Family members of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Khudiram Bose have dismissed as "mockery of history" and "cheap publicity stunt" any suggestion that Hindutva ideologue Vinayak Damodar Savarkar had a role in inspiring the freedom fighters.
Their reaction follows a tweet by actor Randeep Hooda, who plays Savarkar in the biopic "Swatantrata Veer Savarkar". "The most wanted Indian by the British. The inspiration behind revolutionaries like Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh and Khudiram Bose," Hooda had tweeted.
Netaji's daughter Anita Bose Pfaff said perhaps the only thing common between her father and Savarkar was their religion. "Netaji was a devout, religious man. One can also say that he was a devout Hindu. At the same time, he had great respect for all other religions," she told TOI. "Like Mahatma Gandhi, Netaji was opposed to the divisiveness based on religious differences. Let Sarvarkar's followers join Netaji in his vision for India and not hijack him for views that certainly were not his," Pfaff said

 [ . . . ]