The current socio-political discourse in India is such that it primarily focuses on instances of inter-religious and inter-caste violence and the activities of political and social organisations that are characterised as communal or casteist. Such a discourse is complacent and ignores the larger political and social structures that give birth to communalism and sectarian political and social organisations. However, the rising violence vis-à-vis institutional murders, unlawful arrests of activists and wide-spread communalism in India are calls to delve into the structural nature of casteism and communalism in India, in the light of dissent.
The death of the tribal activist Stan Swamy is a crude evidence of the institutional casteism inflicted by the State. Swamy was an accused in a case of caste violence in Bhima Koregaon village near Pune in 2018 and was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) amidst the pandemic in October 2020. With no substantial rationale for the tribal activist’s arrest, the State resorted to the draconian law of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act; a legal weapon largely appropriated by the Brahmanical state in India to curb dissent. Apart from other ailments, Swamy was diagnosed with Parkinson’s – a progressive neurological condition and was denied sustainable conditions for his feeble health by the executive body.
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The statement released by Swamy’s friends and family condemning the apartheid State noted: “Having spent his life among the Adivasis in Jharkhand, fighting for their right to resources and land. Father Stan did not deserve to die in this manner, far from his beloved Jharkhand, falsely imprisoned by the vindictive state”. The signatories of the statement included other activists who have been unlawfully arrested by the NIA in purview of the Bhima Koregaon violence.
Following such cases, it is significant to decipher the adequate conditions and eligibility that makes one the ‘right culprit/suspect’ in this Brahmanical regime led by Modi.
A biographical study notes that Father Stan Swamy was a Jesuit priest and a tribal right activist based in Jharkhand. He had worked for over three decades on various issues of the Adivasi community related to land, forest and labour rights.
He also questioned the non-implementation of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution that advocated for the establishment of a Tribes Advisory Council with members solely from the Adivasi community for their protection, well-being and development. According to a report by the Indian Express, two days before his custody was undertaken by the NIA, Swamy had raised his voice against the indiscriminate arrest of thousands of Adivasis and Moolvasis, with investigating agencies labelling them as ‘naxals’.
Swamy, through his activism, was staunchly committed to expose the institutional casteism inflicted by the ‘welfare’ State and consistently demanded the rightful recognition of the Adivasi identity in India, facilitating them rights through a discourse that shall provide them autonomy and self-agency over their well-being. Similarly, Swamy and the other unlawfully arrested activists courageously spoke against the hegemony and power wielded by the Brahmanical state in India. This, in turn, made them the ‘ideal’ threat to the dominant narrative of nationalism, that further needs to be neutralised for the ‘unity’ of the nation .
According to Pritam Singh’s essay ‘Institutional Communalism in India’, an historical account presents that during India’s movement for independence, many of the legislative, judicial and administrative policies and instruments that the British rulers adopted in response to the demands, generally from the non-Hindu religious community and the oppressed caste communities within the Hindu society for protecting their interests, came to called as “communal”.
However, the leadership of the Indian National Congress that hegemonized India’s movement for Independence viewed any move aimed at safeguarding the vulnerable communities as an attempt at creating divisions in the movement. The contemporary relevance of this narrative reveals the vested interest of the Brahmanical political state in the persistent oppression of the vulnerable communities in India, presently achieved by censoring dissent from these communities.
The recent case of an open call for genocide against the Muslim community in India at the event organized by ‘Bharat Jodo Movement’ exacerbates the state of secularism and democracy in India. The entitlement of the political group to such a blatant propagation of hate speech is a testament of the institutional nature of communalism sponsored by the Hindu state.
The event witnessed the absolute complacency and incompetence of the Delhi police that failed to stop the anti-Muslim sloganeering. Furthermore, the BJP leader and Supreme Court lawyer Ashwini Upadhyaya was granted bail one day later on being arrested in connection to the anti-Muslim threats at Jantar Mantar in Delhi.
The BJP leader claimed that the Delhi police had ‘framed’ him and his counselor claimed that Upadhyaya was ‘illegally incarcerated’. The accused was released on the ground that the offences were bailable in nature and can be dealt by the trial court. The court also noted that the investigation was at a ‘nascent stage’ and the ‘liberty’ of the citizen cannot be curtailed on mere assertions and apprehensions. On the contrary, while the Delhi police did not take any action to stop the anti-Muslim sloganeering, they were seen effectively detaining student activists and civilians who protested against the incendiary slogans.
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With the aim to historically conceptualise dissent, Romila Thapar in her essay ‘Voices of Dissent’ argues that historically, the conservative political lobby in India maintained that dissent is a Western import. This belief assumes that the Indian past was free from blemishes and did not require dissenting opinions.
Such an imagination was a product of wishful thinking that subsequently maintained that India was a civilization of ‘high culture’, which is free from fault and acceptable to all those who created it. Such a claim maintained that there has been a prevailing acceptance of the dominant culture, a period of harmony and little contestation both in the realm of ideas and social activities. The characteristics of such a civilization focused on the territory in which it was rooted, in a single dominant language in which the best of its literature and thought was written, in a single religion that gave it an identity and the laws that gave the structure its functioning.
Hence, in what may be understood as culture, recognising the presence of dissent within it as the view of ‘the Other’ is crucial to the bias of understanding what is touted the ‘original’ culture.
In contemporary India, the emphasis is on articulating such cultural and political discourses of ‘the other’ as a challenge to the dominant culture for its exploitative and oppressive nature. However, the institutionalisation and hegemony of dominant caste, religion and class forces is a threat to the dissenting voices of ‘the other’.
- Institutional Communalism in India by Pritam Singh
- Voices of Dissent; an essay by Romila Thapar