October 20, 2005

Outlived its purpose

Here is the final shortlisted essay in the Citizens for Peace/Indian Express competition on the theme "A Secular Rethink." Lakkan Naqvi, from Delhi, won second prize for this effort. Congratulations, Lakkan!

Note: Shashi Warrier's first prize winner. Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta's third prize winner. The three other shortlisted essays: Sultan & Rehmat Fazelbhoy, Paresh Kumar, Amit Gawde.

Note also that these are the English entries that were shortlisted. Would a Hindi blogger out there like to post the Hindi ones?

With no more preamble, over to Lakkan.


Secularism is dead: Long live India

I avoid making friends with Muslims who show a “special” interest in me because I also happen to be a Muslim. I also avoid making friends with Hindus who want to improve my comfort level by talking about their other “Mohammedan friends”. The ones who express surprise because we do not “look” like Muslims should count themselves lucky that I do not have their blood on my hands. My wife usually tells them that we have forgotten to carry our horns. And I simply detest people who bare their secular heart because I find them a shade more communal than the Muslims who show a “special” interest in me or the Hindus who have other “Mohammedan friends”.

There are certain words and phrases that lose their original meaning to reflect change. The word Harijan was coined by Mahatma Gandhi to give a touch of dignity to the country’s underclass. It was a very sensitive coinage. Its usage is now banned. The Dalits are happy with their new identity. Call them Harijans and you will have Mayawati gunning for you.

I believe the concept of secularism, for whatever it stood for, too has outlived its purpose. Gandhi was perfectly right in publicly using religious metaphors to establish communal harmony in the tense period before the partition-cum-Independence of India. The constant reference to “Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Issai, apas mien hain bhai, bhai” did help bring down the level of communal tension generated by the British, the Muslim League and the Hindu Maha Sabha in equal measure.

Today we are being asked to share the once sacred secular space with Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Veer Savarkar, both votaries of the vicious two-nation theory! Dear countrymen, I plead with you to with folded hands to support me in demanding that secularism in its present mutilated form should be officially given a quiet burial and allowed to rest in peace. Please do it before the butcher of Staines and the Fuhrer of Gujarat raise their hand in support of secularism.

I am certain that my mother was not promoting the Congress-coined and State-sponsored concept of secularism when she helped two Sindhi refugee boys, Lachchhoo and Chandu set up a grocery store in a mixed-locality in Lucknow shortly after partition. Neither was she trying to establish Shia-Sunni harmony by helping Khalil Master set up a tailoring shop. She is still around and at 90 as intellectually involved in condemning Bush for brutalising the planet as she is in the affairs of the socially disadvantaged sections of people around her.

Our parents were not promoting secularism by not stopping us from darting across the road to Krishna Bhavan for the evening aarti. Neither did Panditji make us aware of our otherness. We enjoyed playing with the cute little bells that he gave to all the devotees. I suspect we always got a larger helping of the Prasad than others. Evidently there was nothing in the scriptures against Shia Muslim kids taking part in the puja.

The residence of the family of Babu Mahabir Prasad Srivastava faced our house. Every Holi our father would lock himself up in a room because he didn’t like getting drenched in colours that took days to wash. For Bhola and Veeru, Babuji’s nephews, we played the Trojan Horse to let them in where father was hiding. Thereafter we went all over the neighbourhood spraying everyone with colour and shouting “bura naa maano Holi hai”. We did all this and more not because we wanted to display our secular ideals, but because in those happy times we were not ever made aware of the difference in “their religion and ours”.

Perhaps we are a rare family, which did not allow our religion to dominate our conduct. Moharram in our native village Mustafabad (Unchahar) is more a cultural experience than a religious observance. Take away Mir Anis and his marsisyas, describing different facets of the Karbala tragedy in simple Urdu verse and we shall have to reinvent our observance of Imam Husain’s martyrdom.

No, I do not have any rational answers to why we did not react like other families even if someone married outside the religious fold. I do not think there are many Muslim families that accepted a Chitpavan Brahmin, a Rajput Christian, a Chinese, an American and Sunni girls as daughters-in-law. I can count at least one Sikh, several Hindu and Sunni sons-in-law in our family. It is not that there were never any murmurs of protest. They were always muted. My father was a consistent conscientious objector and did not bless mixed weddings with his presence. However, once the dust was settled the non-Muslims became as much a part of the family as the “regular” sons and daughters-in-law.

But why have I brought in my family in the debate on secularism? Because we represent the rarest of rare exception. I wish the rest of India was as flexible in relating to other cultures and faiths as we are. Unfortunately it is a long way from happening. What worries me more is the perceptible backward movement into our respective communal ghettos. We shall be making a terrible mistake if we ignore the objective reality. My family is still largely untouched by the communal virus. But beyond our domestic comfort zone is a very, very disturbing picture.

The village communities that were untouched by the communal virus seem to be buckling under the influence of the politically sponsored hate campaigns during the past two decades against religious minorities. What makes me worry more is the change in the social perception of the educated, upwardly mobile urban youth, who once used to flirt briefly with communist ideology before succumbing to temptations of the market forces! The Sangh Parivar’s vicious propaganda against the Muslims, and lately Christians has managed to breach the centuries old secular shield of the villages and influence urban Hindu youths. Not surprisingly their hate campaigns gave Muslim madarsas undeserved legitimacy.

The secular space is now sought to be appropriated by the political lumpen. The process started immediately after Independence. I can give a thousand reasons, by quoting chapter and verse from the data on communal violence compiled by the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy, to make secular India hang its head in shame.

The anti-Sikh riots, the Babri Masjid-related acts of communal mayhem, the Bombay blasts, the Gujarat pogrom are just a few out of the countless instances of the secular State’s failure to provide the promised security to “we, the people of India” from the enemies of civil society. The day is not going to come in the lifetime of our grand children when the likes of L. K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Narendra Modi, Bal Thackeray, H. K. L. Bhagat, Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar etc will be brought to justice for their crimes against humanity.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is an honest man and secular too boot. So is Sonia Gandhi. However, which one of them will take responsibility for the entry of the Shiv Sainiks, in recent times, in the Congress? It is the continuing compromise with communal elements that is responsible for the present mess. The political leadership should have banned all forms of public display of religion after Independence. That is what secularism is supposed to do. A secular State’s primary function is to provide equal private space, without let or hindrance, to both believers and non-believers and come down ruthlessly against those who try to violate this cardinal principle.

What will become of India if secularism is discarded? This question is best answered by a counter-question. What was India before secularism was adopted as State policy? India is the only country that allowed all the religions of the world to grow and flourish on its soil. This happened much before the birth of secularism. Simply put, to be Indian is to be secular. By the same logic the votaries of communalism, or those who seek to create religious or sectarian ill will are not Indians. They are enemies of the State and should be charged with treason and hanged.

Raghupati Sahai “Firaq” summed up the essence of India in this verse –

Sar zameen-e-Hind par aqwaam-e-alaam kay “Firaq”
Karvaan bastey gaye, Hindustan bantaa gaya.


lakkan said...

Hope u folks will take the trouble to read and join the debate

Pareshaan said...

The worrying part is that things have reached a state that reasonable folks like Mr. Naqvi have to start pleading with Indians, to regain their sanity.
It is sad that despite expressing his suspicion of people who wear their secular credentials on their sleeves, Mr. Naqvi is forced to make an example of his family to drive home his point, and establish his secular intent. Have things come to such a pass?
A very well written essay,simple, poignant and concise. Thank you Mr. Naqvi.
And thank you Dilip, for posting all these essays. Certainly, they have given me a lot to think about.

Vinod Khare said...

Really thought provoking essay. It made me understand that on a day to day basis we do not deal with others as hindus or muslims. We just treat them as people. We just talk to them as friends, family, neighbours or just a good man on the street. It really does not matter what religion or caste a person belongs too. It is time that the society matures to a level where everyone is judged individually and not according to a particular group that he belongs to. If there is one thing that I've learned in the 20 short years of my life, it is this - men are just men and each one should be judged in his own right.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Pareshaan, all I can say is, there are too many times when I share Mr Naqvi's anguish, his need to plead. There are too many times when I find myself in despair, because I feel yes, things have come such a pass.

But then I find hope in the thoughts in his and your essay, and the other shortlisted ones, and in fact most of the 570 or so entries that poured in. Thanks for that hope, all of you.

Anonymous said...

Author says: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is an honest man and secular too boot

Remember Neille '83? 3000 muslims massacred in a one day! Now PM Manmohan Singh been around Assam for what about a decade now? Has he lifted his finger to make Tiwari commission report public, that is after 23 years? Or done anything about the 600+ legal cases and 300+ chargesheets which were dropped?

Just about a year ago his government put a gag on a seminar on this issue!!!

Secular to the boot or such secularism should be given a boot? Jai ho for such secularism. Sorry make it Amin or Amen.

Anonymous said...

Some mentions of Shiv Sainiks and Gujarat Fuhrer, none regarding SIMI or Muslim League.

Truly a secular essay.

lakkan said...

I hate responding to anonymous comments. I am hurt by the innuendo (check spelling) as much as I am by Muslims who want to meet me cause I too happen to be a Muslim or non-Muslims who tell me about their "other Mohammadan friends". If I knew of any SIMI or Muslim League politician who as chief minister did not lift a finger to stop communal mayhem, I would have been equally vehement in attacking them.

Anonymous said...

Quite a thought provoking essay. However I keep repeating that I am quite confident that many Indians -Hindus, Muslims and Christians are pluralistic and tolerant as how Lakkan has mentioned. The fact that an overwhelming majority hold Abdul Kalam, Azim Premji and Shahrukh Khan in high regard should be proof enough. Abdul Kalam in fact should be the role model for muslims. Here a poor muslim without any nawaabi background has risen to the highest post in the land. If anybody makes protests about these people or is uncomfortable with their rise, they should be made to shut up and brushed aside as idiots.
Hence I am unable to understand pareshaans comment to make the majority of Indians to regain their sanity and points of his essay as to how we will really become secular - Brahmins appreciating biryani or maulvi appreciating Ganesh processions. Being a Hindu, I can say that has never been an issue with Hindus. I know enough relatives and friends who love mutton &chicken biryani. What explains the popularity of ghazals, sufi music with many Hindus.
Hence it is odd that there are only passing references to Muslim fundamentalism while the Hindu fundamentalists have been hauled up and made the prime responsible target.
There is another phenomenon that everybody has missed out. Mainly arabisation of local muslim cultures. Lakkans family seems to be an ideal role model for an Indian muslim as how he can culturally blend with an Indian identity while retaining his Muslim values. In fact even in liberal SE Asia - there has been this slow process of arabisation- mainly increase in women wearing arab headscarves, people not listenning to music and even giving up playing their traditional instruments mainly because it has its origins in Hinduism.
Sadly even Indian muslims seem to be going this way and the 'secular governments and media' seem to be ignoring or encouraging this. A few examples:
The Imrana fatwa - barbaric and uncivilized for any modern society and the UP govt's ratification of it.
The Sania Mirza fatwa and the family's effort to show that they are good muslims.
The threat from some Muslim organisations against a famous Yoga teacher not to teach Muslims yoga due to its Hindu history.
In Calcutta, Muslims allowing women to burn in a fire than allowing male firefighters to rescue them. I thought such things only happened in Saudi Arabia. Worse is the WB govt vowing to recruit women firefighters.

Let us look back at the history of Hindu fundamentalism. These players have always been on the fringe and never became centre-stage. Even now can they ever pronounce any edict. Even if they do they will be laughed off.

The other problem is Secular fundamentalism I had mentioned earlier - The Shyam Benegal case. No, Dilip I cannot agree that this is not senility or outright lying. Let us look at the examples he mentioned
Border- The entire story only dealt with a battle during the Indo-Pak war. I do not think even Bukhari would find it anti muslim unless one does the Pak = muslim equation which is ironically what Benegal has accused the NDA of doing.
Gadar- Now this deals with partition and one can always expect ruffled feathers. Remember many years back how Tamas had been accused of being anti -hindu. If Benegal felt that these movies were communal and saffronised, why did he not take it up with the Censor board or with the Film industry bodies? Why speak about this at Aligarh Muslim University? Is this not plain mischief

Anonymous said...


>>If I knew of any SIMI or Muslim League politician who as chief minister did not lift a finger to stop communal mayhem, I would have been equally vehement in attacking them.

You haven't been "equally vehement in attacking" Neille killers. Why?
Any opinion on current riots in Mau? Or these riots don't pop up on your secular radar?

Anonymous said...

8:48 PM, Anonymous

The so called fuhrer of gujarat won 48 out of 57 seats at ahmedabad this week. muslims voted heavily with bjp whihout promises of hindu leader. in bihar paswan and lalu are campaigning around with a usama look like promising a muslim cm. now who is secular?

Anonymous said...

Dear A'mous,

...The so called fuhrer of gujarat won 48 out of 57 seats at ahmedabad this week. muslims voted heavily with bjp whihout promises of hindu leader. in bihar paswan and lalu are campaigning around with a usama look like promising a muslim cm. now who is secular?...

And I think that is exactly the point the author is trying to make in his essay...if you read carefully.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Naqvi,
I liked your essay very much but have some questions. Though your point that no one from the SIMI or the Muslim League has been in power when atrocities have happened is very valid and I totally agree with you that the responsibility of the state of safeguard it's citizens is far greater than any individual citizen's responsibility not to cause mayhem. However the minority community's ideologues who vitiate the public atmosphere do bear some part of the burden and should be equally condemned. The fatwas mentioned earlier are of course repugnant to any liberal and feminist, far worse are the Sharia courts which have been set up to resolve things according to the Quran. I am all for pluralism but this is taking things too far. Unless a large body of Muslim intellegensia come out in protest, as a liberal and secular Indian, I am hard pressed to believe in their secularism. To me, religion is something I practise (or not, as the case may be) in my home and I must not bring into the public sphere where it could possibily make others uncomfortable. Maybe the difference lies in the fact that the religion I was born into (since I am an agnostic, I do not claim it as my own) is an inclusive one which clearly states that there are many paths to the Creator/Supreme Being whereas the Abhramic religions are exclusive proclaming their superiority over all others as God's chosen children. I know that the last statement rubs a lot of people in the wrong way but I am being factual here. Of course I do not claim that all those who profess to follow Hinduism truly follow the precepts.

In my opinion, religion is the cause of so many wars, death and destruction that if there is truly a creator, he/she/it would be ashamed of what has been done in his/her/its name. I am sick and tired of these labels of religion, caste, language and god knows what else. I had a hope when I was 16 that there would come a day when an Indian child filling forms for college would asked his/her name, whether they are Indian and some identifying number similar to the ssn in the US, But now at nearly 32, I doubt it will happen in my lifetime or my children's. Sorry for the rant but felt I had to get it off my chest.

Anonymous said...

Ashutosh Singh said...
[And I think that is exactly the point the author is trying to make in his essay...if you read carefully]

do you think author would have won the prize if he and called modi secular and paswan secular? i doubt it. look at all the prize winning essays, the theme is pretty common, might be some reflection on the judges who are deciding on these essays.

lakkan said...

urmila i agree with u. there has been a reference to nelie in one of the blogs. as far as i know the massacre took place decades ago. or are we talking about a recent incident? that one was abominal. i think i wrote against it at that time. the mau riots were engineered by local mla mukhtar ansari. if i had a forum that i could use or had a voice that would be heard, i would have demanded that ansari be tried for murder and crimes against humanity. i share every rational indian's anguish over what has happened in mau. my faith in the institution of maulvis would have been restored had they issued fatwas against the shahabuddins, the mukhtar ansaris, the dawood ibrahims, the chhota shakeels, the simis etc instead of embarassing the community by asking imrana to treat her father-in-law as her husband or objecting to sania mirza's dress instead of applauding her game.

manjushp said...

well, i would not like to join the debate but it was a good opinion on secularism and i do respect his family values which did not entertain religious discrimination

Anonymous said...

Why do secularist find it always conveninent to find a choose a time frame to fit their argument?
If Neille happened two decades ago babri riots happend a decade ago, so not sure if there's a imaginary cut-off date in 90s beyond which crimes started being tagged as secular/communal.

lakkan said...

I am currently working for a new monthly news magazine called Realpolitik. You would get to read the following piece in my column in the Novenber issue.

Mau and Agra

In Mau Mukhtar Ansari, the local MLA and goon instigated Muslims to start a communal riot. In Agra, a week later, the search of a Muslim woman by the staff of a jewellery shop for a missing piece caused Hindu-Muslim friction. Both the incidents deserve to be condemned.
Mukhtar Ansari led a motorcade to Lucknow to cock a snook at all and sundry. When warrants were issued for his arrest, he disappeared. Or did he?
However, it is the response of the mob in Agra that is more worrying. This is how Godhra started. We have to isolate criminals like Mukhtar Ansari, in any community, and reach out directly to people who have been conditioned to react on communal lines.
The conduct of the jewellery shop staff must have provoked the woman to raise an alarm. Had a mixed crowd come to her help the incident would not have taken a communal turn.
Let me explain. In an emergency I boarded the Shatabdi from Aligarh for Delhi with just a platform ticket. I manipulated the coach attendant to give me a seat. In the middle of my dinner he asked me to come out for paying the fare. Quite a few passengers told him firmly to let me finish my meal first. That was a collective non-communal response to the unreasonable conduct of the coach attendant.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Lakkan, you know, the Babri Masjid itself was built half a millenium ago. Yet we are being asked to feel outraged that it was built then. In Israel, there are people who speak of how some particular tract of land was gifted byu Abraham, thus validating today's claims on it. So there is apparently no time frame when it comes to people feeling outraged and wanting others to feel it too. And I don't mean that in the least facetiously.

I just read about this Agra incident and am baffled and dismayed. What kind of tinderboxes are these places (Mau, Agra) that an argument in a shop can lead to such violence and tension?

Anonymous said...


Our secularist card holders like Dilip have a deer-in-headlight look when asked as to what triggered the mobs to pull down Babri and not say others at Kashi, Mathura, Varanasi etc. They feign ignorance as to why Babri become a issue in late 90s when it wasn't one for about 40 years of our independence. If they had an iota of decency and wanted to earn a honest days wage, they could have easily seen through communal politics of a 'secular' govt which opened the locks at Babri based on a 50+ year old court case merely as a bone to hardliners on other side after the Shah Banu fiasco.

But then that would have meant calling the secular party communal and negating everything they've writing for past decade.

Yes, there is apparently no time frame when it comes to people feeling outraged and wanting others to feel it too. Our secularist like to remember Gujarat of March 02 but forget about over 100 communal riots in that very same gujarat in 70s, 80s when seculars administered the state. One wonders if they are stuck in some time warp, but then their memory makes giant leaps going back couple centuries to remind you of the hindu atrocities against "untouchables". Turn the clock to present, their mind goes blank again about riots that happened just last week or so with "oh I 'just read' about Agra!! "

Must be were nice warm and cozy in that secularist cave where time machine ports you over selective events to ensure the 'secular' credentials.
No wonder those living in real world are going Kya lagaya hai, yeh secular, secular?

Will look forward to 'Realpolitik'. Hopefully other seculars will read it too.

Anonymous said...


Our secularist card holders like Dilip have a deer-in-headlight look when asked as to what triggered the mobs to pull down Babri and not say others at Kashi, Mathura, Varanasi etc. They feign ignorance as to why Babri become a issue in late 90s when it wasn't one for about 40 years of our independence. If they had an iota of decency and wanted to earn a honest days wage, they could have easily seen through communal politics of a 'secular' govt which opened the locks at Babri based on a 50+ year old court case merely as a bone to hardliners on other side after the Shah Banu fiasco.

But then that would have meant calling the secular party communal and negating everything they've writing for past decade.

Yes, there is apparently no time frame when it comes to people feeling outraged and wanting others to feel it too. Our secularist like to remember Gujarat of March 02 but forget about over 100 communal riots in that very same gujarat in 70s, 80s when seculars administered the state. One wonders if they are stuck in some time warp, but then their memory makes giant leaps going back couple centuries to remind you of the hindu atrocities against "untouchables". Turn the clock to present, their mind goes blank again about riots that happened just last week or so with "oh I 'just read' about Agra!! "

Must be were nice warm and cozy in that secularist cave where time machine ports you over selective events to ensure the 'secular' credentials.
No wonder those living in real world are going Kya lagaya hai, yeh secular, secular?

Will look forward to 'Realpolitik'. Hopefully other seculars will read it too.

Anonymous said...

as a hindu, i find it neccessary that me and my hindu brethren take up responsibility for crimes committed in name of hinduism. By pointing out crimes of another relegious community our crimes will not be lesser. enuf name calling... let us each look in our hearts

Anonymous said...

I do not think you need to take up responsibility. The media and others have already hauled up Hindus for any crime real or imaginary. BTW, here is an article by Gurumurthy. I may not agree with him all the time, but in this article he is spot on

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 12:40 AM
as a hindu, i find it neccessary that me and my hindu brethren take up responsibility for crimes committed in name of hinduism.

Spot on, no problem.
But will Christians take responsibility (whatever that means) for crimes committed in name of christianity? Or Muslims who did the same in name of Islam and Mohammed (PBUH)?
Or my question communal?

nikhil where is the Gurumurthy article?

pennathur said...

Is it possible to treat every criminal as a criminal and nothing else? Just as Dilip has said that a child is born human rather than a person of some faith.


Anonymous said...

>>Is it possible to treat every criminal as a criminal and nothing else?

Please! How would our journalists feed & cloth themselves and their families if there was no caste, creed, race or religious angle to all this.

Anonymous said...

We had a discussion abt how secular India was in our class a few days back and were wondering if India was really secular..Be it the constitution or law is slanting towards Hinduism..( As a student i cant say i have a better knowledge abt the constitution or law..I might b wrong sayin that its completely slanted..)
Not just politics even media looks at everything from the hindu eyes..Ads celebrate diwali ..what abt Ramzan and Id which is just around the corner..

Anonymous said...

Ads are sponsored by business which are focusing on selling their products to a specific target customer. Pure numbers will dictate where you are focusing your advertising rupees. Economics 101.
Unlike media, journalists and politicians who thrive with communal/secular tags, corporate houses will loose their shirt on Dalal street if they start playing secular or communal.

Anonymous said...

Now after all secular essays have been written,can somebody throw light on the Delhi blasts. After all there has been no riot in Delhi, there is a secular government in power. Particularly Dilip who was so happy that Pak has accepted aid.

Anonymous said...

Dilip's already blaming it on Hindus. Didn't you read the love letter he's received from Hindus?

lakkan said...

this lecture was presented by my friend sudhir chandra at a function in paris. it may kick start the deabte again.


I stand before you, with some trepidation, to deliver a lecture instituted to commemorate Daniel Thorner. That I stand here is a measure of the audacity of those who zeroed in on me. Much of their audacity must be attributed to friendship. But they are upright people. They must have had some non-extraneous excuse as well in presenting a little known lone wolf before you. I may never resolve the riddle, but I truly appreciate the honour they have done me.
But what about my own audacity in accepting this honour? Part of the answer lies in the human failing – vanity – which Solomon so disconcertingly details in the Book of Ecclesiastes. Nor is it easy for one, who loves returning to Paris, to forgo a chance such as this. I admit unabashedly that the most liberating intellectual influence on me has been that of French scholarship. If I may speak of an all but forgotten notion, it seemed a duty to present some of my ideas and anguish among practitioners of the selfsame scholarship.
There is also a very special reason. I did not have the luck to know Daniel Thorner personally. But for long years I knew Alice Thorner, of whom one cannot think without thinking also of Daniel, and I received from her an affection which she alone could give. My presence here is an acknowledgment of that affection and of the inseparability of Daniel and Alice.


I will this evening talk, within the context of a changing social consciousness, of the two Indias that I have inhabited simultaneously: independent India and colonial India. Born barely seven years after me, independent India is practically my coeval. Colonial India inveigled me, when I was a callow researcher, into what has turned out to be captivity for life. However, inhabiting one is different from inhabiting the other. Whatever the level of my immersion in colonial India, a distance fortunately always intervenes – a sense that it is past – lending a certain detachment to the immersion. But being in contemporary India involves coping with the frustrating intransigence of everyday life. Its inevitable traumas and tribulations, ever so transiently attenuated, make detachment a luxury that saints and morons alone can enjoy.
Colonial India, I said, is past. But it also persists. And, if I may so put it, independent India as well persists back in colonial India. The two interpenetrate more deeply than has been understood. To seek to understand these interpenetrating Indias, while inhabiting both, raises the issue of the place of experiential understanding in historical analysis; an issue around which has developed the fascinating niche of histoire d’ego. In bringing that niche to your mind, I am offering, you can see, an apology, perhaps a justification, for the personal inflection in this evening’s narrative.
Titles usually promise more than is in the event provided. I must, therefore, clarify that the ambivalence of social consciousness in modern India, even when discussed in terms of inter-community relations alone, is more than can be covered in the fifty minutes I have to say my piece. So, barring a brief mention of the Sikhs, I shall restrict myself to the Hindus’ ambivalence towards the Muslims.
I should like to begin with the latter half of the nineteenth century, when a social consciousness, increasingly characterized by ambivalence, began to emerge in the wake of the colonial encounter. The experience of that encounter itself was saturated with ambivalence. Once the last organised effort to forcibly expel the British had failed in 1857-58, the dominant response to the British presence came to be one that felt the pain of subjection, understood the fundamentally baneful character of the alien dispensation and, paradoxically, also hailed that dispensation as the harbinger of national regeneration. It produced a consciousness that recognised no incongruence between loyalism and nationalism. The power of this paradox never waned. The closer Indians moved to political freedom, the more irresistibly they felt drawn to the British as exemplars of Western superiority. A telling illustration of this, on the eve of the supposed liquidation of empire, is Gandhi’s tragic finale as he suffered, among other agonies, the peremptory rejection of his dream of a free India and an alternative world. Quietly nurtured by him for close to forty years since he first expressed it in his seminal Hind Swaraj, the dream was spurned by Gandhi’s own trusted lieutenants as they got ready to take charge of the country.
The ambivalence vis-a-vis the colonial connection was at the root of much of the ambivalence that manifested itself in relation to other issues. Take tradition, for example. It was used as a justification for the acceptance of foreign rule. India, it was argued, had for centuries been in a state of all-round degeneration, and God had sent the British to regenerate her. At the same time, it was tradition that helped alleviate the humiliation of subjection, provided a sense of pride, and countered the cultural aggression of the colonizers. Tradition was rotten; it was also the spring of renewal.
This divided view of tradition was articulated in various forms. These forms derived from, and in turn hardened, the prevailing community identities. Speaking of the Hindus, I shall briefly describe a most popular articulation of tradition among them. This was woven into a view of Indian history that rested on two inter-dependent myths, the myths of a golden age and of a dark millennium. The golden age postulated a period of perfection when Indians had occupied the pinnacle of civilization. The pride the belief produced was for everyone to feel.
The dark millennium was the period of what was depicted as Muslim rule. With great passion, and corresponding exaggeration, were chronicled the tyranny, horror, oppression, cruelty, debauchery – the list is endless – of the Muslim rulers. Newspapers chronicled this, history books chronicled this, literature in every genre chronicled this. A veritable folklore stalked across the length and breadth of the country, credulously repeating and embellishing sanguinary tales of children butchered, women abducted, idols defiled, temples destroyed, and Hindus forced into Islam. Castrated in their own land, the Hindus had lost their wealth, their women and their religion during the thousand years of Muslim misrule.
Their own land as against the Muslims! A mentality was forming among the Hindus that India belonged to them. It assumed, in effect, the equivalence of Hindu and Indian. I am not talking of Hindus whose ken in any case was limited to their own community. I am talking of those who, sharing the emerging national consciousness, aspired to a unity that would override divisions of caste, class, language, region, and religion. Thus Pratapnarayan Misra (1856-94), a prominent writer and sympathizer of the newly founded Indian National Congress, believed that the country belonged to the Hindus. ‘Nay, they are the country,’ he pronounced. His reasoning was:
Hindustan is ours because we are Hindus… Our progress or decline was, is and shall be the progress or decline of Bharat…. Hindustan can be made or marred depending upon whether Hindus are made or marred.
As for the non-Hindus, he remarked: ‘Although Mussalmans, Christians and Parsis, all live here, they are called Hindustanis, and that is an appellation which is derived from our name…. We are Hindus and the country is our land. All the others are called Bharatiya in a secondary sense.’
The same Pratapnarayan also believed that Hindus and Muslims were united in an indissoluble bond. In a stirring plea he advised the two communities:
Hindus and Mussalmans are the two arms of Mother India. Neither of them can exist without the other. They should, therefore, help each other as a matter of social duty. In this lies the welfare of both. No person can be happy by chopping off the left arm with the right or the right arm with the left.
The emerging Hindu attitude towards the Muslims, like the rest of social consciousness, was, thus, shot through with ambivalence. Even the remembrance of Muslim rule was not exclusively one of a dark millennium. The same period was also remembered, and by the same people, as one of creative harmony between Hindus and Muslims. Take, for example, Bharatendu Harishchandra (1850-85), a pre-Congress nationalist and foremost among the makers of modern Hindi literature. Even as he agonized over the Hindus’ purported loss of wealth, women and religion during Muslim rule, he recalled with reverence Muslim personages like Kabir, Rasakhan and Tansen, and said in a line that has become classic: ‘May crores of Hindus be offered up to these Mussalman men of God.’ These were Muslims whose predilection for bhakti had enshrined them in Hindu hearts. But Bharatendu’s appreciation extended to secular rulers as well. An article he carried in his eponymous Haris Chandra’s Magazine commended the great Mughals in the following glowing terms:
History tells us they had done all that could have been expected from the civilization and the form of government of that period, much better than the rulers of Europe of those days. They proclaimed toleration in matters of religion when it was unknown in civilized Europe.
Coming to its own day, the article exhorted:
It is time we should be co-operating with each other and making common cause, as natives of the same country, to make advances in civilization, to try to ameliorate our conditions, and to cultivate the useful arts of peace….
Of the great Mughals praised above, none received the kind of paeans which were reserved for Akbar. He was almost deified, and Bharatendu Harishchandra elevated him among mythical greats like Yudhishthira and Vikramaditya, personages with whom had departed the glory of India. But Bharatendu also insisted that Akbar belonged among ‘those mad elephants’ – Muslim rulers like Mahmud, Alauddin and Aurangzeb – who had ‘trampled to destruction the flourishing lotus-garden of India’. Knowing that his indictment of Akbar would leave his ‘dear simple Hindu brethren’ bewildered, Bharatendu explained:
He [Akbar] was such an intelligent enemy that, as a result of his cunning, you regard him to this day as a friend. But this is not so. His policy was deep like that of the English. Aurangzeb was a fool not to have understood him. Else the whole of Hindustan would today have been Muslim.
A consciousness so conflicted in its attitude towards the Muslims, could not have viewed them only as aliens or secondary Indians. Apart from being restrained by compulsions of a pan-Indian unity, the anti-Muslim segment of that consciousness had to contend with that part of itself which valued the heritage the two communities had built together. It would deny, in its more self-aware moments, the exclusionary character of its own equivalence of Hindu and Indian.
The denial, typically, took the form of a semantic enlargement of the term Hindu to mean Indian, thereby cleansing it of exclusivism. This was done pithily, like a mantra. The mantra was: ‘He who inhabits Hindustan is a Hindu.’ Its effect on the believers was hypnotic. It dispelled their discomfort about the divisive potential of the Hindu-Indian equation without in any way changing it. For, no semantic manoeuvre could possess the power to have the non-Hindu inhabitants of Hindustan accepted as Hindus, while the Hindus needed no reassuring that they were Indians.
This is not to suggest duplicity. There was, in fact, a naturalness in the assumption of the identification of Hindu and Indian. Having brought in Bharatendu Harishchandra to illustrate the Hindu ambivalence towards the Muslims, I may stay with him a minute longer. In Bharat Durdasha (1884), his most explicit political play, which deals with the pain of subjection and the yearn for liberation, a character is introduced to symbolize the country’s durdasha, or fallen state. A cruel, sword-wielding antagonist, he is pictured as ‘half-Christian and half-Muslim’. His representation as half-Christian made sense within a colonial context in which Christianity was popularly associated with the foreign rulers. He could well have been shown as wholly Christian. But his representation as half-Muslim was at the very least gratuitous. It reflected a certain uncontrollability of the anti-Muslim streak in the author’s Hindu consciousness. That portrayal, it is significant, did not seem to Bharatendu to imperil national unity.
At work in the unselfconscious exclusion of Muslims was an instinctive Hinduising of Indians. Caught off guard, even the best nationalists could betray a conditioning that responded to the stimulus of ‘Indian’ with the gestalt of ‘Hindu’. Rarely straightforward, evidence to document this is hard to come by. But when it does emerge, it lights up those dark recesses of consciousness, which historians, unlike psychoanalysts, may not place under systematic scrutiny because of the circumstances of their discipline. Of the few examples that have come my way, I shall offer you one. It relates to Gopal Krishna Gokhale (1866-1915).
According to received historiographic wisdom, which divides people and movements into binary categories, Gokhale was a secular nationalist par excellence. A dyed-in-the-wool liberal, he had nothing narrow or sectarian about him. Yet, even he betrayed traces of the kind of consciousness I am trying to bring into focus. Opposing a repressive bill the British Indian government had introduced with a view to wiping out terrorism which had erupted following the Partition of Bengal (1905), Gokhale said:
I know the question is now complicated by the fact that the Mahomedan population of East Bengal expects certain educational and other advantages to accrue to them from Partition. No real well-wisher of India can desire that any of these advantages should be withdrawn from them, for the more the Mahomedan community progresses, the better for the whole country. But surely it cannot be beyond the resources of statesmanship to devise a scheme whereby, while the expected advantages are fully secured to the Mahomedans, the people of Bengal may also have their great grievance removed.
Mark the distinction Gokhale made between the Mahomedans and the people of Bengal. He was not even vaguely troubled about having done something invidious. He had, in good faith, described a tricky political situation in which, as he saw it, the Muslims as a community needed to be mentioned separately from the people. Who were the people, if not the Hindus, against whom the Muslims were pitted in the context of the Partition of Bengal? The easy acceptance, then and now, of Gokhale’s remarks would suggest that the people were, and still are, indeed, the Hindus.
I may also in passing mention R.C. Dutt (1848-1909). He is remembered, again following the conventional binary classification, as a pioneer of what is designated as ‘economic’, and therefore secular, in contradistinction to ‘cultural’ nationalism. That image is achieved by canonizing his classic expose of the economic consequences of British rule, to the neglect of the rest of his large and varied literary corpus. Comprising fiction, translations of the Rig Veda, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata, and his History of Civilization in Ancient India, that corpus was designed, in Dutt’s own words, to place ‘before my own countrymen … the noblest heritage of the Hindu nation.’ Especially in his first four novels, all historical, he pictured the Hindus as ‘us’ and the Muslims as the ‘other’, although he never lapsed into the excesses of the dark millennium syndrome. Later, even as those novels were being translated into several Indian languages and setting afire the young educated Hindu imagination, Dutt realized the deleterious fallout of their anti-Muslim stance. He turned his back on historical fiction. Yet, the inseparability of the Hindus and the nation permeates even his social novel, The Lake of Palms.
What I described as the instinctive Hinduising of Indians actually calls for modification. A more accurate description would be the Hinduising of India. India was/is Hindu. Put plainly, Hindu India!
At this point I must introduce a figure who I would scarce have suspected of entertaining the India-Hindu identification. I do so with some hesitation. For, I have to talk about Gandhi, who strove against all narrow divisions. True, he was a Hindu. But he was a Hindu who needed also to be a good Muslim, a good Christian, a good believer of every religion, in order to be a Hindu. I cannot suspect Gandhi of a narrow impulse without recalling Lacan’s teaser: What is the analyst’s desire? Am I overinterpreting, seduced by the possibility of backing my proposition with overwhelming evidence? I hope not. And you will judge.
In the very first year of his entry into Indian politics, in a speech he had carefully written beforehand, Gandhi explicated his ideas about swadeshi. It was to all intents a statement of his agenda for the freedom struggle, of which he wished swadeshi to be both the means and the end. Apart from economics and politics, Gandhi addressed the problem of religion so as to make his statement comprehensive. He defined swadeshi as ‘that spirit in us which restricts us to the use of our immediate surroundings to the exclusion of the more remote’. Applied to the religious realm, it meant that people should stick to their ‘ancestral religion’. Having prescribed that for the followers, Gandhi examined religions as well in the light of swadeshi. Of the three great religions obtaining in India, he focused on Hinduism, and pronounced swadeshi to be its ‘underlying’ spirit. That spirit, he said, was what had made Hinduism a vibrant, mighty force. Further, that spirit had made Hinduism non-proselytizing, and therefore ‘the most tolerant’.
Gandhi’s basic premise was swadeshi, with small scale, or immediate surroundings, as its defining characteristic. But the reason for finding Hinduism imbued with the swadeshi spirit was its putative non-proselytizing character. Logically there is no essential correlation between non-proselytization and small scale. And, empirically, the spread of the pan-Indian homogenized Hinduism of Gandhi’s day far exceeded the small swadeshi scale.
Non-proselytization and proselytization can only be judged with reference to their ends and methods. But Gandhi privileged non-proselytization intrinsically. As he valorized Hinduism’s non-proselytizing character, he took for real an ahistoricized and idealized Hinduism. The ahistoricization blotted out the not always savoury history of conversion, but for which Hinduism could not have counted its adherents in millions. The idealization projected the supposed non-proselytization of Hinduism as inspired by pure tolerance. It missed the parochial intolerance and imagined superiority that hid behind apparent tolerance. Gandhi even missed, in this particular context, Hinduism’s special brand of proselytization – shuddhi – to which he was otherwise uncompromisingly opposed. The only instance that he thought might mar his valorization was the disappearance of Buddhism from India. He brushed that aside with the assertion that Hinduism had ‘succeeded not in driving out, as … has been erroneously held, but in absorbing Buddhism.’
Gandhi also missed the fallacy in his application of swadeshi to religion. Unlike the relationship between the centre of production and the spread within which material goods are consumed, the idea of immediate surroundings in religious or spiritual matters need not correspond to physical proximity. The objectively remote can be spiritually proximate, and vice versa. No one could have known this better than Gandhi himself, the Hindu who needed to be a Muslim and Christian as well.
Nothing, then, would have been more natural than his positing a multireligious swadeshi for his large and multireligious country. But, violating his own tenets, and oblivious to the violation, he did something else. What he did was not unnatural either. It harmonized with another, a culturally impregnated, popular view of swadeshi, one that evoked something belonging to the land, something indigenous, autochthonous. There was a sad irony in this. Gandhi had set out to apply his own distinctive idea of swadeshi to the religious realm. But what he discovered in Hinduism was consonant not with his idea, but with the popular view of swadeshi. In that view, Hinduism belonged to the land – while Islam and Christianity did not.
Gandhi’s belief that Hinduism was a non-proselytizing religion rested on an imagined convergence of faith and territory. Hinduism and India – the faith and the territory – were inextricably fused in a sacred geography, so that remaining by and large confined within the land of its birth ipso facto bestowed upon the faith the cumulative merits of being non-proselytizing, tolerant and swadeshi.
Am I suggesting that Hinduism in India is not swadeshi? This question may not arise here, in a West European country unused to linking indigenousness or swadeshi with the physical location of a religion’s origins. But I would not escape it back home; so pervasive is the Hindu-India(n) equation there. There the question would be hurled rhetorically, as an assertion of the self-evident absurdity of my argument. For the same reason, any suggestion that Islam and Christianity are swadeshi will appear as self-evidently absurd.
In the Hindu perceptual mode I am talking about, Islam and Christianity are naturally alien. A special effort, a different mental-moral sensibility, is required to think of Islam and Christianity – and their Indian adherents – as indigenous.
This may seem an exaggeration. It does, in any case, go against the wisdom that neatly separates ‘secularists’ from ‘communalists’. Secularists, in that wisdom, are true nationalists, untouched by sectarian considerations. So, by virtue of their historiographic placement, it would be inconceivable to fault a Dutt or a Gokhale. Opinion can be divided with regard to Gandhi, though, in that he categorically declared himself to be a Hindu. What we have, instead, seen is that at some level of their consciousness, not excluding the unconscious, even the exemplars of the imagined secular nationalism carried that deeper identification of Hindu and Indian.
I am, you will recognize, not suggesting that those exemplary nationalists were communal, in the pejorative sense that the term ‘communal’ has acquired in South Asia. I am, rather, showing how the secular-communal divide, like other similar binary divides, hinders the comprehension of that complexity of human existence in which what we perceive as opposites remain fluidly enmeshed. You will also recognize that to move beyond binary categories is not to lapse into a single undifferentiated category of ambivalence. The ambivalence of a Gokhale or Gandhi is not the same as the ambivalence of a Bharatendu Harishchandra or Pratapnarayan Misra. Ambivalence is always, and never, the same. It is inherently fluid.
Given the mercurial constituents of consciousness, and different levels of self-awareness, varying degrees of effort were made towards reinforcing an inclusive conception of India and Indian as against the exclusive ‘Hindu’ view thereof. And varying degrees of success ensued. While the conscious transcendence of the narrow conception was near complete and durable in the likes of Gokhale and Gandhi, most others oscillated, depending upon their circumstances at particular points in time.
But an effort was almost always made to rein in the exclusivist impulse. That the effort itself could result in the rationalization of exclusivism indicates how deeply entrenched exclusivism was. But it also underscores an unease with exclusivism, even shame, and an urge to be cleansed of it. In sum, then, the exclusivist Hindu-Indian identification operated during much of the formal colonial phase more as an implicit assumption than as an explicit ideology.


That implicit assumption has today morphed into the oxymoron of Hindu nationalism – Hindutva – with its bigoted ideology and perilous politics. But I shall not dwell on it, just as I did not dwell on its ancestry in colonial India. My intention here is to glimpse the more pervasive and unified consciousness that lies beneath, and often belies, the surface of almost always magnified political-ideological differences.
I am viscerally hostile to Hindu nationalism. Yet, experience suggests that self-assured secularists should also look closer to home. The progressively dehumanizing aspect of Hindu consciousness that sustains Hindu nationalism is not restricted to its unrepentant followers. It reaches far and deep. And also near.
It is a melancholy experience, causing one to alternate between self-righteous rage and self-flagellating guilt. I shall place that experience by describing three cataclysmic events that rocked India within a mere sixteen years.
The first relates to 1984. The resonance, if you are reminded of Orwell, is uncanny. It was the first forenoon of November in Delhi. A friend and I had barely stepped out when we spied a distant billow of smoke. Before we could speculate on what it was, we saw several similar billows. Evidently, Indira Gandhi’s assassination the previous day had caused this. The two of us moved about in South Delhi, the more affluent part of India’s capital. What we saw was sickening, although we were lucky to have escaped witnessing the worst of what was happening.
This, my first direct brush with communal violence, was a revelation. With the sudden lucidity that comes from existential shattering, perhaps never from reading, I saw the unpredictable volatility of collective consciousness. The worst of Sikh militancy had not, in any noticeable way, sundered the Hindus and the Sikhs apart. What subterranean layers of enmity had caused this abrupt detonation?
The Hindus, the self-styled people, had demonized the Sikhs as a community. They could be decimated with just a whisper of guilt. The pat response of even decent Hindus at that time was: ‘What happened is bad. But the Sikhs needed to be taught a lesson.’ Nothing dramatizes the severing of the Sikhs like a graffito that chillingly appeared on the walls of Delhi. It called for Hindu-Muslim unity and the liquidation of the Sikhs: ‘Hindu-Muslim bhai-bhai, Sikhon ki ab karo safai.’
The demonization of the Sikhs touched even some of those who felt scandalized by it. I vividly recall a veteran socialist who could not forgive herself for feeling afraid as she stepped into a taxi which had a Sikh driver.
Hers was a momentary lapse, one she recognized even as it happened. More typical is an observation made by Justice Ranganath Misra twenty-one years after the cataclysm. Besides having presided over the first official commission that enquired into the violence of which I speak, Justice Misra has headed the highest court of justice in India and also the country’s National Human Rights Commission. In the course of his enquiry into the 1984 violence, a massive body of evidence would have passed under his eyes. But all he can say about that violence is that Mrs Gandhi’s assassination was a major action, and it produced a major reaction. Such unconcern for justice, human rights and decency comes from the collective Hindu belief that upon them rests the nation’s destiny.
1984 demonstrated the bewitching power of the ugly dimension of Hindu consciousness. It could do anything if it could overnight cast out the very Sikhs whom, like the Jains and the Buddhists, it had accepted as its own into a larger constellation of Hindus. What that ‘anything’ could be, I could not have imagined then. The cataclysms of 1992 and 2002 have since shown me that nothing is beyond the fury of that consciousness.
First, then, 1992. It was the early afternoon of 6 December, the day the Babari mosque was demolished. I was in Surat at a research centre. The centre’s small faculty, most of them specialists of Gujarat, was together for tea. There was worry about what might happen if the mosque was demolished. However, everyone was confident that Surat would remain peaceful. From the city’s history of communal harmony and the happy-go-lucky temperament of its inhabitants, to its communally mixed business connections, they had excellent reason for their confidence.
In less than twenty-four hours, Surat, that oasis of peace, had broken into unprecedented violence against its Muslims. The explaining would now have to be of its susceptibility, not immunity, to communal violence.
As if to compensate for its previous peaceableness, the city registered a number of new depths in practising communal frenzy. For one, it turned communal violence into a sinister spectacle that afforded the perpetrators the exhilaration of a carnival. Further, it broke the psychological barrier that had kept middle-class Hindus back from actual deeds of violence, which were until then left to the under-classes and the so-called anti-social elements. Precipitating a novel trend, some Hindu middle-class men and women joined in the looting of Muslim shops. In another dubious departure from pattern, victims were in some cases betrayed by their neighbours.
This ideologically bolstered criminality was a far cry from the 19th century identification of Hindu with Indian. Reflecting a sea change in the consciousness of vast sections of Hindus, across caste and class, triumphal Hindutva was ready to dare anything.
Ten years later it unleashed State terror. That was Gujarat 2002. Never before was such barbarity released with so much flourish on behalf of Hindus. I am not forgetting, or minimizing, the Partition holocaust. But that was not a one-sided visitation. In 2002 all the putative excesses of tyrannical Muslim rulers in centuries gone by were actualized upon the bodies, souls, and properties of innocent Muslims, regardless of age and sex.
State terror does not normally represent popular sentiment. Gujarat 2002 did. Going to the polls for the provincial elections, civil society in Gujarat – that is, the majority there of Hindus – rewarded the murderous Chief Minister, Narendra Modi of BJP, with a majority of more than two-thirds. In another significant pointer to the prevailing sentiment, even the Congress, as the chief opposition party, opted for what can be called soft Hindutva in its bid to win that critical election. Besides, it chose to be led by a prominent former BJP leader.
Judging by the behaviour of the political class, similar sentiments prevailed outside Gujarat as well. Not one of the twenty odd constituents of the BJP-led coalition Government in Delhi considered it pragmatic, let alone moral, to demand an end to the butchery in Gujarat. Even the Opposition parties, ready to create impasses over lesser issues, displayed little urgency. Given their penchant for survival and their finger on the people’s pulse, political parties across the board were reluctant to frontally oppose the Hindutva terror. This was in sharp contrast to their behaviour barely half a decade earlier. Not one of them had then come out to bail out the thirteen-day old minority government of the same BJP when it had needed to win a vote of confidence to stay in power. The fear of flirting with the BJP had in five years given way to supineness in opposing even its criminality.
The changing fortunes of the BJP may be seen as reflecting the metamorphosis of exclusivist Hindu consciousness. From being on the fringe of Indian politics, in its original avatar as the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, the BJP has come to constitute, and redefine, the country’s political centre. More than changing itself, it has, in the process, changed the character of the Indian political centre. It has spread its mantle on to the Congress, which has had its own reservoir of that consciousness. Indeed, if Hinduization of Indian politics is taken as a critical variable, very little separates most political parties from the BJP, their formal secular protestations notwithstanding.


The sentiment that sustains Hindutva has advanced ominously near. Has it left the analyst unscarred? Having judged my forebears and contemporaries, I cannot not turn inward.
I have admitted to being viscerally hostile to Hindutva. That hostility I feel as a Hindu, an identity which I had in my youth found constricting and dropped. Then, ironically, my Hindu self returned to me in reaction to the ugliness of Hindutva. Hindutva, it seemed imperative to assert, is not Hindu. Gandhi was. The likes of me are.
Moral-intellectual reasons apart, my hostility to Hindutva has a solid existential base. Going back to misty childhood memories, I can recall having had regular, at times intimate, Muslim contacts. As a young man, I spent a year with a Muslim couple, being treated like their son. For twenty years I taught at two historic Muslim universities. That helped me understand something of what it feels to belong to a minority community in India. Besides, my doctoral research familiarized me with the sordidness of nationalism. In every which way, I had got over my inherited parochial identities.
So I presumed. Then, during the Surat violence, something occurred that for the next ten years I could not even talk about. I was with a friend when a neighbour, a middle-aged Gujarati woman, rushed in to announce that a train had been stopped outside the city, and some women passengers raped. As she went out, and the friend said it must be one of those rumours, I caught myself wondering if those violated were Hindu women. Before the thought could fully materialize – or so I wish to believe – I was seized with shame.
What depths of my being had darkly harboured this vile distinction between Hindus and Muslims? Where, in that one-sided devastation, was a chance for the Muslims to harm the Hindus? Howsoever inexplicable, the shameful thought had been thought. Am I purged of it now? Or is it back in hiding? Waiting to leap out again.
The only consolation is that the lapse did not compromise my resistance to Hindutva. Which is not to say that the resistance stayed uncompromised. A couple of contrasting experiences would illustrate this.
The first was during the rash of Hindutva aggression in 1990. I was returning from Aligarh. Within minutes of leaving the station, the train came to a stop. Immediately a Pavlovian reflex reminded me that during the recent violence in that city, a train had been forcibly stopped, and its Muslim passengers attacked. In a split second, the worst-case scenario flashed across my mind. Given my Muslim appearance, they would demand to know my name and, unsatisfied, subject me to the ‘ultimate’ test, whereupon my being circumcised would put me in danger. What would I do then? That long moment of debate between life and death ended decisively. Whatever might happen, I would not volunteer my ‘Hindu’ identity.
The other experience came two years later during the violence in Surat. I was to catch a train later in the day, when I was told that there had been a bomb blast in the city and trouble was apprehended. If I had to go, I should leave for the railway station forthwith. The station was far and I could run into trouble on the way. Once again the same life-and-death debate was played out. Fear prevailed this time. In case of danger, I would show them my passport.
It is distressing to be witness to one’s own moral softening. Still, I should like to believe that this was weakness in the face of evil, without being infected by that evil. It was no simple moral erosion. Rather, it represented a more alarming, perhaps realistic, appraisal of the unrestrained fury of the evil. It was no surrender, but survival, hopefully, to fight another day, maybe in another way. For, if I am not rationalizing personal timidity, martyrdom has in our day ceased to be viable. Social sensitivity and political culture have so hardened as to minimize the potential efficacy of self-sacrifice.
My own confession illustrates the continuation of ambivalence into our difficult climacteric times. That ambivalence surfaces even in popular reactions during extreme situations like Surat 1992 and Gujarat 2002. Despite the growing frequency and violence of its ugly aspect, Hindu consciousness remains an internally embattled consciousness. Its positive, richer aspect shall not be easily overwhelmed.
A good deal more could be said. But time permits only so much. That should not matter for the kind of constantly renewed self-reflexive understanding I have essayed here. Ambivalence, if I may repeat, is always, and never, the same.
What matters, and for which there is ample time and no ambivalence, is my final ‘merci beau coup’ to the Centre d’Etudes de l’Inde for their invitation, to the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme for facilitating my acceptance of the invitation, and, last but not least, to each one of you for your gracious presence and attention.

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