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[1] India: Orissa: A Gujarat in the making
[2] Book Review [ 'Divided Countries, Separated Cities: The Modern Legacy of Partition'] Displaced people in their homeland (C P Bhambhri)
[3] Book Review ['Indian Realities: In Bits and Pieces'] Reality bites (Inder Malhotra)
[4] India: Law, Crimes and Morality (Rakesh Shukla)



Communalism Combat October 2003 Special Report

Orissa: A Gujarat in the making

With little resistance to its aggressive onslaught, the sangh parivar looks well set to meet its 2006 deadline for reshaping Orissa into the next 'laboratory for Hindutva'


In Gujarat, Hindu extremists killed 2,000 people in February-March of 2002. Muslims live in fear there, victims of pathological violence.

Raped, lynched, torched, ghettoised. A year and half later, Muslims in Gujarat are afraid to return to their villages, many still flee from town to town. Ghosts haunted by history. Country, community, police, courts - institutions of betrayal that broker their destitution. This is India today.

The National Human Rights Commission recognised the impossibility of achieving justice in Gujarat. The Best Bakery murder trial flaunted dangerous liaisons between government, judiciary and law enforcement. Those who speak out are vulnerable. Outcry against the consolidation of Hindu rightwing forces in India is subdued. In a world intent on placing Islam and Muslims at the centre of 'evil', Hindu nationalism escapes the global imagination.

Orissa is Hindutva's next laboratory. This July, in a small room on Janpath in Bhubaneswar, workers diligently fashioned saffron armbands. Subash Chouhan, state convenor for the Bajrang Dal, the paramilitary wing of Hindutva, spoke with zeal of current hopes for 'turning' Orissa. Christian missionaries and 'Islam fanatics' are vigorously converting Adivasis (tribals) to Christianity and Dalits (erstwhile 'untouchable' castes) to Islam, Chouhan emphasised. He stressed the imperative to consolidate 'Hindutva shakti' to educate, purify and strengthen the state.

Western Orissa, dominated by upper caste landholders and traders, is a hotbed for the promulgation of Hindu militancy, while Adivasi areas are besieged with aggressive Hinduisation through conversion. Praveen Togadia, international general secretary of the VHP, visited Orissa in January and August 2003 to rally Hindu extremists. He advocated that Orissa join Hindutva in its movement for a Hindu state in India. 'Ram Rajya', he promised, would come.

In Orissa, the sangh parivar is targeting Christians, Adivasis, Muslims, Dalits and other marginalised peoples. The network divides its energies between charitable, political and recruitment work. It aims at men, women and youth through religious and popular institutions. The sangh has set up various trusts in Orissa to enable fund raising, such as the Friends of Tribal Society, Samarpan Charitable Trust, Yasodha Sadan, and Odisha International Centre.

There are around 30 dominant sangh organisations in Orissa. This formidable mobilisation is the largest base of organised volunteers in the state. The RSS, responsible for Gandhi's death, was founded in 1925 as the cultural umbrella. It operates 2,500 shakhas in Orissa with a 1,00,000 strong cadre. The VHP, created in 1964, has a membership of 60,000 in the state. Born in 1984, at the onset of the Ramjamanbhoomi movement, banned and reinstated since the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, the Bajrang Dal has 20,000 members working in 200 akharas in the state.

Membership of the BJP stands at 4,50,000. The Bharatiya Mazdoor sangh manages 171 trade unions with a cadre of 1,82,000. The 30,000 strong Bharatiya Kisan sangh functions in 100 blocks. The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, an RSS inspired student body, functions in 299 colleges with 20,000 members. The Rashtriya Sevika Samiti, the RSS women's wing, has 80 centres. The Durga Vahini, with centres for women's training and empowerment, has 7,000 outfits in 117 sites in Orissa.

Intent on constructing the 'ideal' woman who decries the 'loose morals' of feminism, the sangh seeks to train Hindu women to confront the 'undesirable' sexual behaviour "endemic" to Muslims and Christians. Such training endorses 'masculanisation' of the Hindu male looking to protect the fictively threatened Hindu woman.

In October 2002, a Shiv Sena unit in Balasore district in Orissa declared that it had formed the first Hindu 'suicide squad'. Responding to Bal Thackeray's call, over 100 young men and women signed up to fight 'Islamic terrorism'. The Shiv Sena appealed to every Hindu family in the state to contribute to its cadre. Squad members, it is speculated, will receive training at Shiv Sena nerve centres in Mumbai and elsewhere.

Why Orissa? The state is in disarray, the leadership labours to sustain a coalition government headed by the Biju Janata Dal and the BJP. The government is shrouded in saffron. As the sangh infiltrates into civic and political institutions seeking to 'repeat' Gujarat not many are paying attention. For the 36.7 million who reside in Orissa, Hindutva's predatory advance aggravates and capitalises on social panic in a land haunted by inequity.

Orissa houses 5,77,775 Muslims and 6,20,000 Christians, 5.1 million Dalits from 93 caste groups, and over 7 million Adivasis from 62 tribes. Around 87 percent of Orissa's population live in villages. Nearly half the population (47.15 percent) lives in poverty, with a very large mass of rural poor. Almost a quarter of the state's population (24 percent) is Adivasi, of which 68.9 percent is impoverished, 66 percent illiterate and only 2 percent have completed a college education. 54.9 percent of the Dalits live in poverty. Concentrated in Cuttack, Jagasinhapur and Puri districts, 70 percent of the Muslims are poor. In March 2002, Orissa's debt amounted to 24,000 crore rupees, more than 61 percent of the gross domestic product of the state.

In 2001-2002, the government of Orissa signed a memorandum of understanding with New Delhi to secure a structural adjustment loan of Rs. 3,000 crore from the World Bank and an aid package of Rs. 200 crore from the department for international development, the overseas development branch of the government of the United Kingdom. This is conditional assistance, laden with extensive and hazardous consequences. People's movements protested this agreement for tied aid that supports irresponsible corporatisation and works against the self-determination of the poor.

Consecutive governments, including the present coalition, have failed to address entrenched gender and class oppressions as exploitative relations endure between the poverty-stricken and a coterie of moneylenders, government officials, police and politicians in Orissa, perpetuating displacement, land alienation, and untouchability. Floods have affected three million in 2003. Agricultural labourers are faced with serious food shortages with no alternative means for income generation. Scarcity has led to starvation deaths and people have committed suicide. Infant mortality, 236 in 1000, is the highest in the Union.

In the recent past, Rayagada district has witnessed despairing efforts to survive - the sale of children by families. In Jajpur district, a mother, a daily wage earner in a stone quarry, sold her 45-day-old child for Rs. 60 this July. These measures have not evoked reflection and commitment on the part of the State. Rather, unconscionable attempts have been made to show that such action is emblematic of Adivasi and Dalit cultures.

Systematic disregard for the human rights of 'lower' caste, Adivasi and Dalit peoples is a social and structural predicament. In December 2000, Rayagada witnessed state repression of Adivasi communities protesting bauxite mining by a consortium of industries in Kashipur that is detrimental to their livelihood. The industries were in breach of constitutional provisions barring the sale or lease of tribal lands without Adivasi consent. In response, state police fired on non-violent dissent, killing Abhilas Jhodia, Raghu Jhodia and Damodar Jhodia.

The absence of adequate social reform, the disasters of dominant development, economic liberalisation and corporate globalisation further antagonise already overburdened minority and disenfranchised groups, pitting them against each other. Hindutva targets the religion and culture of the disempowered as globalisation abuses their labour and livelihood resources. Such conditions produce the contexts in which marginalised peoples embrace identity-based oppositional movements.

The sangh exploits the fabric of inequity and poverty deviously to weave solidarity built on tales of a mythic Hindu past. Hindutva defames history, speaking of Muslims as the 'fallen traitors' among Hindus who converted to Islam. This revisionist history obfuscates the severity of inequity within Hindu society that led to conversions historically. Alternatively, Hindutva misrepresents Muslims as 'terrorists' and 'foreigners', Christians as 'polluted'. Adivasis are falsely presented as Hindus who must be 'reconnected' to Hinduism through Hindutva. Dalit and lower caste people are raw material for manufacturing foot soldiers of dissension.

At the same time, caste oppression prevails in the sangh parivar's mistreatment of Dalits in Orissa, who have been assaulted for participating in Hindu religious ceremonies. In April 2001, a Dalit community member was fined Rs. 4,000 and beaten for entering a Hindu temple in Bargarh.

Poor Muslim communities are often socially ostracised in Orissa. Cultural and religious differences are diagnosed as abnormal. A Muslim community member from Dhenkanal said, "When Hindus celebrate a puja we are expected to pay our respects and even offer contributions. For them this is an example of goodwill, of how we are accepted into their society, indeed we are no different as long as we do not act differently."

A Muslim woman added, "Women face double discrimination, from men of our own community as well as from the outside". Women fear the sangh will perpetrate violence on their bodies to attack the social group to which they belong.

In witch hunting for the 'enemy within' to blame for India's befallen present, the sangh demands absolute loyalty to its tyranny, requiring an unequivocal display of obedience. The sangh dictates the rightful gods to worship, prayers to recite, legacies to remember. Hindutva imagines its actions above the law. It makes the unification of Hindus central to its mission. To do so, it organises Hindus to fulfil their 'manifest destiny', fabricating Hinduism as monolithic across the immense diversity of India.

Grassroots movements in resistance to the debacle of nation making are combating the sangh. Where Dalits, Adivasis and others are allied in subaltern struggles for land rights and sustenance, Hindutva intervenes, seeking to divide them. Grassroots democracy threatens upper-caste Hindu dominance and contradicts elite aspirations. To domesticate dissent, the sangh invigorates militant nationalism. In village Orissa, emulating Gujarat, the sangh works to create enmity between Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims and Christians. Progressive citizen's groups have initiated opposition, including the 'Campaign Against Communalism' in Bhubaneswar. Their capacity to contest despotic religiosity is linked to redressing political oppression, redistributing economic resources and overcoming injustice.

Fear of the sangh parivar runs deep in Orissa, producing acquiescence. The sangh's methods are sadistic, contributing to violations of life and livelihood. In January 1999, as the vehicle with Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons, Philip and Timothy, was torched in Keonjhar district, the mob's homage to 'Jai Bajrang Bali!' pierced the state. Then followed the murder of Catholic priest Arul Das and the destruction of churches in Phulbani district. After much delay, last month, the Orissa district and sessions court delivered a verdict on the Staines' murder case, sentencing Dara Singh, the primary accused, to death, and 12 others to life imprisonment.

The Bajrang Dal continues its virulent onslaught in Orissa. In June 2003, the Dal announced that it wouldorganise 'trishul diksha' (trident distribution), despite chief minister Naveen Patnaik's ban. Praveen Togadia planned on launching the trishul distribution campaign in Banamalipur in Korda district to provoke an area with a significant Muslim population. The Bajrang Dal plans to present trishuls to 5,000 as part of the Janasampark Abhiyan (mass contact programme) that anticipates reaching 100 million people in 2,00,000 villages throughout India.

The objective? To spread aggression. Between July and September 2003, the Bajrang Dal organised intensive programs in Bhubaneswar, Sundergarh and Jajpur. Aimed at securing a 1,50,000 membership in Orissa, this is part of a larger campaign that targets Gajapati, Phulbani, Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj, Koraput, and Nabarangpur districts.

In Orissa today, the sangh mobilises for a Ram temple among people for whom Ayodhya is a tale from afar. By 2006, the birth centenary of RSS architect Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, sangh organisations promise that Orissa will be a poster state for Hindutva. The sangh's considerable advance in rural and urban Orissa has helped the BJP consolidate its position in the state, reflected in its gains in the state Assembly from one seat in 1985 to 41 presently. In return for its support, the sangh expects the government to tolerate its excesses. In March 2002, a few hundred VHP and Bajrang Dal activists burst into the Orissa Assembly and ransacked the complex, objecting to alleged remarks made against the two organisations by house members.

Development and education are key vehicles through which conscription into Hindu extremism is taking place. After the cyclone of 1999, relief work undertaken in a sectarian manner by RSS organisations granted the sangh a foothold through which to strengthen enrolment. Today, the Utkal Bipannya Sahayata Samiti works on disaster mitigation with facilities in 32 villages. The Dhayantari Shasthya Pratisthan manages four hospitals and six mobile centres.

In offering social services and carrying out rural development work, the sangh makes itself indispensable to its cadre as a pseudo-moral and reformist force. This continues the sangh parivar's long history of implementing sectarian development. Targeting the livelihood of the 'other' is a technique of saffronisation. The Bajrang Dal has been strident in stopping cow slaughter in Orissa, an important source of income for poor Muslims who trade in meat and leather. Muslims have been beaten and threatened by Hindutva mobs. In India, amid the staggering poverty in which 350 million live, the participation of government agencies in debating a ban on cow slaughter is contemptible. This debate is not about animal rights. It arrogantly contravenes the separation of religion and state. It is anti-Muslim, anti-Dalit, anti-Christian and anti-poor.

In Orissa, egregious infringements of human rights are taking place with the disintegration of Adivasi and other non-Hindu cultures through their hostile incorporation into dominant Hinduism. Sectarian education campaigns undertaken by RSS organisations demonise minorities through the teaching of fundamentalist curricula. There are 391 Shishu Mandir schools with 111,000 students in the state, preparing for future leadership. Training camps in Bhadrak and Berhampur aim at Adivasi youth.

Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram runs 1,534 projects and schools in 21 Adivasi districts. The sangh has initiated 730 Ekal Vidyalayas in 10 districts in Orissa, one teacher schools that target Adivasis. The primary purpose of the schools is to indoctrinate villages into Hindutva. The teachers are offered Rs. 150-200 per month as honoraria, no salaries. The schools are free, supported through donations from organisations like the India Development Relief Fund. For Adivasi peoples, this facilitates cultural genocide that imperils self-determination movements struggling against a violent history of assimilation. The sangh asserts Adivasi political emancipation is a process of 'tribalism' that jeopardises the nation.

The sangh drives spiritual centres that use religious scriptures to incite sectarianism among Hindus. Vivekananda Kendras and Hindu Jagran Manch are active in Orissa together with Harikatha Yojana centres in 780 villages and 1,940 Satsang Kendras. There are 1,700 Bhagabat Tungis in Orissa, cultural reform centres run by the sangh that aim at Hindus and Christians. Another line of attack is to forcibly convert Christians into Hinduism. Churches and members of the Christian clergy are apprehensive. In Gajapati and Koraput, Christians have sought state protection in the past.

In Gajapati district, RSS and BJP workers torched 150 homes and the village church in October 1999. A Dalit Christian activist said, "RSS workers tell me that Christianity brought colonialism to India, and I am responsible for that legacy. How am I responsible? Feudalism, imperialism, post-colonial betrayal. That is written across our bodies. How am I responsible?" In June 2002, the VHP coerced 143 tribal Christians into converting to Hinduism in Sundargarh district. The Dharma Prasar Bibhag claims to have converted 5,000 people to Hinduism in 2002.

Orissa passed a Freedom of Religion Act in 1967 protecting against coercive conversions. The law, open to problematic interpretations, was overturned in 1973 and returned in 1977. In 1989, the state government activated requirements for religious conversion. In 1999, Orissa enacted a state order prohibiting religious conversions without prior permission of local police and district magistrates. Hindu fundamentalists diligently manipulate these provisions to intimidate religious minorities. Sangh organisations work with sympathetic police cadre to ensure that Hindu's do not convert.

The sangh purposefully confuses the distinction between the right to proselytise and the use of religion to cultivate hate. Hindutva propaganda accuses Christian communities of the former and labels it a crime. The sangh justifies its use of the latter in the interests of a higher truth, the 'righteous' action of reuniting Hindus. 'Reconversion' is working well among the Christian community in Orissa, Subash Chouhan says, but not with Muslims. "Muslim reconversions are going slowly because mullahs, maulvis have created mosques and madrassas in village after village, and guard their children like chickens. That is the kind of people they are and that it why it is not so easy to get them back." For Muslims, the Bajrang Dal anticipates a different approach. Mr. Chouhan said that the Dal would engage in militancy if needed to "get the job done".

Hindutva stampedes across Orissa, inciting tyranny to establish itself. As power, culture and history shape the imagination of a nation, genocide is emerging as India's brutal legacy. In denial, in silent and active complicity, we allow Hindu extremists to march to the guttural call of hate. Hindutva hijacks the nation's aspirations. Its doctrine of 'blood, soil and race' rewrites the circumstances and complex histories that produced India. While the separation of religion and State in India is attempted at the constitutional level, Hindu militancy derives consent from Hindu cultural dominance.

Hindu ascendancy is assisted by the degree to which the authority of religion and the enabling cultural and gender hierarchies are enshrined deep within the popular psyche of the nation. This dominance assumes that to restrict religion to the private realm would deny India its historical 'consciousness'.

India, a land of 1.2 billion, a profusion of peoples, is bound to the promise of a different destiny. In the flux between yesterday and tomorrow, dreams and desires, inequities and intimacies collide to infuse the hybridity that is India. Her survival is contingent upon the Hindu majority's commitment to an inclusive, plural, secular democracy. The idea of a Hindu state in India is filled with discontent, held together by force. It must never come to pass.

(Note: Information used in this article is derived from multiple sources, including interviews with persons affiliated with sangh organisations).
(Angana Chatterji is a professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies).




Business Standard
Friday, October 31, 2003

Displaced people in their homeland

C P Bhambhri

The Oxford University Press has published in a book form a Journal 'Transeuropeennes Numero 19/20, 2000-2001' which is devoted to the study of changing 'borders', displacements, collective violence during and after Partition and the sufferings of 'refugees' and especially women victims of violence-led separations and divisions.

This study includes fifteen contributions. Seven of them are from the natives of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and the narratives include Radha Kumar's 'Settling Partition Hostilities', Ranbir Samaddar, Syed Sikander Mehdi on 'Refugee Memory in India and Pakistan', Meghna Guhathakurta, Ritu Menon and Subhoranjan Dasgupta who provide narratives and oral history as told by the victimised 'women' and an interview by Mushirul Hasan.

The South Asian historical experiences dominate this volume as shown by the contributions of Seven South Asian and a French, Claude Markovits, on the Partition of India.

The Partition stories of erstwhile Czechoslovakia-Yugoslavia have been very poignantly described by Jacques Ruptnik under the caption 'Divorce by Mutual Consent or War of Secession?'

The Modern Legacy of Partition
Edited by Ghislaine Glasson Deschaumes
and Rada Ivekovic
Oxford University Press
Pages: 192/ Price: Rs 395

Cyprus and Jerusalem are also described in a journalistic manner and this book just offers a mixed bag of researchers and non researchers brought together to tell us about the Partition of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Cyprus and Jerusalem.

Except Mushirul Hasan who in an interview, refers to the role of colonial powers fathering the partitions, all others have maintained a conspiracy of silence on the tragedy of partitions which were all gifted by the colonisers.

Penderel Moon, a British historian, has very aptly summed up the role of colonisers by mentioning their policy of 'divide and quit'. Radha Kumar is engaged in offering solutions to post-Partition 'stabilisation policies' as President George Bush, Jr. is engaged in a post-aggression phase in Iraqi society.

Ranbir Samaddar has nothing to say about the pernicious role of colonisers and imperialists in institutionalisation of religious identities of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, but he is on his hobby horse that the post-colonial regimes are sleeping over the issue of self-determination of communities in new nation-states. More partitions in the name of right of self-determination are welcomed!

The best contribution is by Syed Sikander Mehdi on 'Refugee Memory in India and Pakistan' who rightly observes that the "Healing becomes all the more difficult in India and Pakistan where diverse and powerful interest groups have benefited from the business of conflict between the two post-colonial South-Asian states and where a culture of hate has been deliberately promoted on both sides of the border..."

Are the writers of the Hindutva project of history under the supervision of Sangh Parivar listening to the sane voice of a scholar from Pakistan that history based on hate will continue for ever the politics of violence! Not only this.

The past is not monolithic but it is plural and depends on its representation by colonisers and communal historians.

Mehdi rightly states: "But clearly there was another past-past which was humane and harmonising, even during the worst moments of communal frenzy - both before and after Partition."

Do we not know that victims and non-victims of Partition-linked violence receive succour and support from members of every community!

A fact which should have also been part of post-Partition memory of India and Pakistan that Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Liaquat Ali Khan met at Amritsar on 18 August, 1947, just three days after Independence, to mobilise all resources to control the ugly situation of post-Partition killings.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Nehru also held a meeting to deal effectively with the inhuman tragedy in both the countries.

Colonisers followed 'divide and quit' and let anarchy prevail but the successor state leaders immediately jumped to grapple with the new situation of human tragedy.

Further, Partition studies have been occupied by the tragic events of two divided Punjabs, it is now that the two Bengals are receiving attention and Meghna Guhathakurta of Dhaka University and Subhoranjan Dasgupta of Jadavpur University in their two chapters bring out on the basis of 'Two Family Histories' and 'Trauma and Triumph'.

Dasgupta tells us: "What is the basic structure of emotion which distinguishes these Partition women? What is the unifying bond between Somavanti in the West and Sukumari Chaudhury in the East, Chapalsundari in Brindabon and Sabitri Chatterjee in Calcutta? It is essentially dialectical, operating between the two extreme points of trauma and triumph. Neither ultimately prevails over the other. For whenever trauma terminates, its memory mellows the quality of triumph or reconciliation."

The same tragedy is described by Antoine Maurice about how do you enter Jerusalem. He states: "Entering Jerusalem from the east is in itself a political choice."

Unlike the writers on Jerusalem or 'divided women' in divided countries, Radha Kumar and Ranbir Samaddar conceal the role of colonisers in bringing about Partition. One of the solutions to difficult problems as mentioned by Radha Kumar is "A change of heart in the parent nation/diaspora support".

Radha should know, because there is enough empirical evidence, that diaspora is also manipulated and maneuvered by the imperialists in generating conflicts among 'ethno-religious groups' leading to partitions in the parent nation.

The best example is America's support to Jewish Israel against struggling Palestinians on the basis of a quid pro quo between Jews of America and Israel to act as policemen for American's in oil-rich Arab countries.

The Indira Gandhi government had 'hinted' that the American CIA was manipulating a section of Sikh diaspora to instigate secessionist movements in Punjab. Radha should know that Hindu communalists in the US are funding the fascist Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

A few contributions in this edited volume are outstanding and a few others are non-descript because Oxford University Press has compromised with its own standards of publication by converting a journal into a book without a format and a reasonable quality of an edited volume.



[Book Reveiw]

o o o

The Hindustan Times, October 31, 2003

Reality bites
Inder Malhotra

Many years ago, during a visit to Athens, I had discovered to my dismay that in Greek the expression for newspapers is the same as that for 'ephemeral'. There is no trace of transitoriness, however, in the writings, over the last half-a-century and more of Sham Lal, the highly respected former editor of The Times of India, now 91.

In fact, these retain not just freshness and resonance but also striking relevance to what is going on - and going wrong - in India today.

With his endearing modesty that he combines with tremendous erudition, Sham Lal insists, nevertheless, on drawing attention to one limiting factor: the inevitably "fragmentary character" of the exploration or evaluation of any aspect of life in "so large and diverse a society as India's" - especially at a time "when the virtual and the imaginary often pass as real". Hence the title of his second, landmark book, Indian Realities: In Bits and Pieces (Rupa), the first, A Hundred Encounters, having appeared two years ago.

The earlier book was a compendium of his famous reviews of works by the best minds that shaped and enriched the last century. The present one is an equally fascinating collection of his essays, over the last five decades, on the national scene though half a dozen pieces have been written specially for this book. Each scrutinises some aspect of Indian history, politics, sociology, economy, culture, art, literature and even the media. His range is matched by admirably thoughtful and thought-provoking content and scintillating style.

Indeed, as a wordsmith, the Grand Old Man of Indian Journalism has few equals. This should explain why his book is suffused with enlightening insights and enviable turn of phrase. Of the latter, let me cite just two examples. First, that the entire political class has conspired to see to it "that anything goes but nothing works". Second, he punctures the inflated egos of Indian intellectuals by simply stating that "there is no 20th century tyranny which has not had unreserved support from one group of intellectuals or another".

Given the staggering width of Sham Lal's canvas and the limit on the available space, one will have to be ruthlessly selective, leave out a lot and concentrate on his overview of the past and the present and forecast about the future. In 'Untidy Balance Sheet', he holds the "more than three-fold increase in food production", enough to feed the 600 million additional mouths, to be the "biggest success" of the last 50 years. The "wide diversification of the economy", a steady expansion of the middle-class, the creation of a "very large body of scientists and technologists" and a "notable" increase in life expectancy are other "substantial but less dramatic" gains.

Also high on the credit side of the ledger is the survival of democracy in this huge and developing land - except during the squalid interlude of the Emergency. But he bemoans, rightly, that institutions, imported from Britain and necessary to preserve the democratic system have almost broken down.

However, the bottomline is less flattering. "India's post-colonial history", says the author, "has been a story of frustrated hopes, sluggish economic growth, political fragmentation, increased violence in public life and a growing overload of demands on the system which the State is unable to process or mediate because of the steady erosion of its steering capacity." Herein lies a clue to his somewhat pessimistic prognosis of the future.

This might seem odd at a time when India's economy has become the world's fourth largest; most countries and regional groupings are seeking 'strategic partnerships' and free-trade arrangements with it; the eminent American scholar, Stephen Cohen, has written a book on India as an 'emerging power'; and the post-monsoon, post-Diwali 'feel-good' ambience is palpable. But Sham Lal is not taken in by the privileged elite's periodic bursts of euphoria. Calmly he sets out the reasons why he takes a different view.

He cites the baleful impact of the burgeoning population and the even more 'malevolent' side of globalisation that empowers the possessors of 'investment capital and new technologies' and enables them to "rig the terms of trade against the poor nations without the latter being able to do anything about it". At the same time, he underscores the ironic consequence of the democratic process itself - the "splintered political life", fractured electoral verdicts, hung Parliaments, political instability and a "further deepening of the crisis of governance".

Above all, Sham Lal returns again and again, just as the tongue does to the sore tooth, to the mounting dangers to national unity arising from the aggressive assertion of 'aggrandised identities' based on religious, regional, ethnic, tribal and parochial affiliations. In one of his many memorable sentences, he adds that politics today mostly draws persons with a "yen for powers of patronage and insensitive to the obscenity of the stark contrast between the newly rich and those who are without work and often without enough to eat". Indeed, he even wonders whether the "best part of the Nehruvian legacy - the main credit for giving a happy start to democratic politics goes to him - can survive for long" under existing circumstances.

Swimming against the tide as he often does, Sham Lal warns against the "puerile and unprincipled character of coalition politics" - a warning the country should heed. As he says, those with a "big stake" in a fractured polity - "how else can small groups, with a marginal presence in the Lok Sabha, have a share of the spoils of office - have exalted coalition politics into a public virtue and made a strong Centre a pejorative phrase... But a national polity, or even a national perspective on issues of concern to all, cannot emerge from a system in which not only the Centre and the states but partners in the ruling coalitions at the Centre itself work at cross-purposes".

At a time when RSS Sarsangh-chalak K. Sudershan speaks of the communal carnage in Gujarat as the "beginning of a new Mahabharata war", the Hindutva extremists' concerted attack on secularism is a matter of the gravest concern. Sham Lal addresses it with his usual forthrightness. He notes that the prime minister in his 'musings' from Goa did note delicately that the "extremists in his own ideological family" were "stoking" the fires of Hindu-Muslim hatred and "queering the pitch for their living together in amity". But once it came to Hindutva, even Atal Bihari Vajpayee sought to blur the issue.

Atalji has argued subtly and his deputy, L.K. Advani, explicitly that Hindutva and Indianness are one and the same thing. Sham Lal asks pertinently that if Vajpayee and his ideological family are keen to promote the idea of Indianness as something superseding the divisions of creed, caste and ethnicity, "why not go in for its literal equivalent in Hindi, namely Bharatiyata"? To this one might add that if Hindu and Indian are indeed interchangeable terms then what happens to the citizens of the world's only Hindu kingdom? Do they cease to be Nepali or do the cease to be Hindus?



(Indian Express October 30, 2003 - edited version)

by Rakesh Shukla

The Union Government stand on a petition in the Delhi High Court challenging section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which criminalizes homosexuality appears to be on shaky ground. The provision with its biblical overtones came into the Indian statute books through enactment by the English Parliament of the Indian Penal Code in 1872!

The precedents and judgements adjudicating as to the acts of sex which would fall within the offence created by the section are replete with archaic references to the "Sin of Gomorrah being no less carnal intercourse than the Sin of Sodom" and in concluding that "all the ill consequences (of the sin of Sodom) would equally follow in a city where the sin of Gomorrah was tolerated". In earlier times, alongwith heresy and apostasy, sodomy was considered as a form of treason against God, tried in ecclesiastical courts and punished with death in England. The Sexual Offences Act, 1967 decriminalized homosexual acts between consenting adults in United Kingdom.

At the best of times the link of societal approval or disapproval to prevalent law is not easy to ascertain. In a society riven by divisions of class, gender and caste, to put forth consensual societal disapproval as the reason to oppose the legalisation of homosexuality seems to have little substance. Phrases like 'society disapproves of it' are more often than not used to try and buttress one's own biases, prejudices and views and hardly represent a legal argument worthy of adjudication. Barring a direction to hold a referendum on the issue, an argument like 'society approves of it' and the counter-argument that 'society disapproves of it' can hardly be decided in courts which, unlike the media, are concerned with law and not conducting opinion-polls in society. The presumption of an across the board accepted set of mores or norms which have societal 'approval' in contrast to 'disapproved' acts is in itself flawed.

Again, lack of universal acceptance of sexual preference in society as a major plank to oppose homosexuality raises the question of the relation between law and the values, norms, behaviours prevalent in a society. In a society which is unequal should the right to equality not be postulated as fundamental? The logic of 'universal acceptance' in society as a sina qua non for law to advance would inevitably lead to the conclusion that the abolition of 'untouchability' under the Constitution and the enshrinement of equality was wrong and pre-mature lacking universal acceptance.

The reduction of the dialectic and complex interplay of law, society, legal norms and social norms to a linear paradigm of 'universal acceptance' and 'societal approval' would impact social reform legislations dealing with issues like child marriage, pre-natal sex determination, Sati prevention in a major way. The 'acceptance' and 'approval' thesis also betrays a lack of understanding of the dominant norm in society. The dominant norm or ideology is not to be taken to mean that the only the dominant sections share belief in the norm or ideology. The dominant norm subsumes and occupies all space leaving no room for the subaltern. The fact that a large majority of the dominated, the exploited, the discriminated internalize and accept the prevalent norm does not alter the factum of oppression, exploitation and discrimination.

Norms about a hundred different things ranging from the benign like truth, honesty, integrity to the offensive about colour, caste, class may be prevalent in any society at a given point of time. However, heterosexuality with its constricting of the fluidity and wide range of sexuality is probably the most dominant norm of them all in present times. The tremendous resistance to the acceptance of the simple fact, that just as a certain percentage of people are left-handed and the rest right-handed, people have different sexual preferences - homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual with no issues of morality and values at stake, is indicative of the deep rooted pervasiveness of the hetero-sexual norm.

Infact, 'Unnatural offences', the title of the section (377 IPC) and the use of the phrase 'carnal intercourse against the order of nature' in the main text bring us back to more or less the same basic paradigm. In times when governments are vigourously pushing condoms, intra-uterine devices (IUDs) and injectable contraceptives like net-en, to bring in the binary of 'natural' and 'unnatural' inorder to criminalize an act is indeed an irony! In the premises of this paradigm contraception is "unnatural" stopping the procreation of the human race which is "natural"as is believed by a sizable section in society! Carnal heterosexual intercourse using contraception will have to be penalized as 'against the order of nature' under the section!

The 'natural-unnatural' as well as the 'acceptance - non-acceptance' paradigm lead to the question whether acts which are deviations from the 'approved' dominant norms should be penalized as crimes by the law. Generally, a person is punished for acts which cause harm to others as in say murder or theft. However, there are certain statutorily created offences akin to criminalizing homosexual acts between consenting adults like penalizing possession of alcohol in Gujarat or of marijuana for personal use, which fall within the category of "victimless" crimes. The rationale for the criminalizing these acts is that they are considered vices which in turn are supposed to lead to crimes.

As the Union Government's affidavit puts it deletion or removal of homosexuality as a crime would open "floodgates of delinquent behaviour and be construed as giving unbridled licence for the same". In this era of science no data showing that homosexual activity leads to more crimes has been offered or it appears even been considered before making this remarkable statement on oath in court. Presumably, we are to accept this co-relation as an axiomatic, God-given, self-evident truth!

The larger jurisprudential question which it raises whether the State should criminalize what it considers to be vices needs to be opened up and debated. Indeed, more than a century ago, dissecting State sanctioned moral coercion, Lysander Spooner in Vices Are Not Crimes: A Vindication of Moral Liberty argued that the government should protect its citizens against crime, but it is foolish, unjust and tyrannical to legislate against vice.


Buzz on the perils of fundamentalist politics, on matters of peace and democratisation in South Asia. SACW is an independent & non-profit citizens wire service run since 1998 by South Asia Citizens Web ( [Please note the SACW web site has gone down, you will have to for the time being search google cache for materials]
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