The founding fathers of our Republic handed over to us a liberal and secular constitution that visualised making India a progressive democratic country, though they were aware of the inherent contradictions in a diverse, backward and traditionally unequal society, hoping that this ancient land would emerge as a modern state, serving as a model on governance for the rest of the world, neutralising the barriers of birth, caste and religion. And, after seventy years of constitutional democracy and the rules of law, India is nowhere close to realising that dream. Instead, we find many fault lines surfacing.
The Indian society is polarised on caste and religion. The Hinduism – a noble faith that drew sustenance from truth, non-violence and tolerance from the dawn of civilisation – is riddled with prejudices of caste system and distortion by self-appointed spokesmen. The Sangh Parivar is trying to consolidate the Hindu base, without addressing the inherent contradictions in Hindu Society, based on birth and gender. It is an illusion that thousands of castes and sub-caste, which mutually negate each other, could be brought under one monolithic religion and culture. An attempt is made to convert India into a Hindu Pakistan.
The Bhima-Koregaon incident is an indication that the people are more conscious of their caste identities rather than in all embracing Hinduism as a binding force. The caste inequalities could not be brushed aside. More than 200 organisations, representing different castes, came together to celebrate 200th anniversary of Bhima-Koregaon battle that defeated the oppressive regime of Peshwa Bajirao II in 1818. As per some historical account, the Peshwa had scorned the offer of the Mahars infantry to join his army. The vandalisation of the Tomb of Govind Gaikwad – a Mahar – was a willful mischief. It is believed that when Sambhaji was captured by Aurangzeb men and his body mutilated and thrown into the river Bhima, it was Govind Gaikwad who gathered the dismembered parts of his body and performed the last rites, when the Shivaji descendents were scared. The celebration was a matter of assertion and pride since 1927 when Ambedkar visited the site.
The Maharashtra Bandh on January 3 was the biggest since 1997, when Dalit organisations protested against the Police firing in Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar, Mumbai. It was evident that the Dalit imagination of communal pride and self-respect has clashed with the Sangh Paarivar’s idea of nationalism – a symptom of larger malice. The banning of a students’ meet, organised by Chhatra Bharati on January 4, scheduled to be addressed, among others, by Jignesh Mewani, was a panic reaction by the Mumbai police.
The BJP sought to appropriate Ambedkar with the government organising Ambedkar Jayanti celebrations. It elevated Ram Nath Kovind to the highest constitutional position – a tokenism – to placate the Dalits. But, its attempts to reach out to politically excluded communities among Dalits and OBCs by offering representation and forging alliances and its overtures to such social groups got ambushed by Sangh Parivar rabblerousing outfits – cow-vigilantes and love-jihad zealots – reminding us that they cannot compromise with core ideological issues for electoral gains.
The Hindutva ideology – based on the discriminatory system of caste and religion – is a fault line in Indian society. Since the ascendency to power of Narendra Modi at the centre, the developments like unprecedented rise of Hindu extremism, persecution of minorities, discrimination and assault on Dalits, forced conversions of religious minorities, ban on beef and cow slaughter, inclusion of Hindu religious books in curriculum and creation of a war-like hysteria with Pakistan demonstrate that the fundamentalists of Sangh Parivar have been promoting jingo patriotism and religious and ethnic chauvinism.
Consider this religious fault line. Rajasthan CM Vasudhara Raje in a statement released on January 8 said she would not allow the film ‘Padmavat’ – changed from ‘Padmavati’ – to be released in the state, after it is vetted by a panel of experts and approved with several cuts by the CBFC. Her statement reads: “the movie will not be screened in any cinema hall in the state. Rani Padmini’s sacrifice is associated with honour, esteem and pride of the state. We will not allow her dignity to be hurt howsoever”. She surrendered to the hawks and fringe elements. Rajasthan goes for polls this year and the BJP government wants to keep the pot boiling to reap political dividends. The other BJP ruled, particularly the poll bound states, may follow the suit.
The polarisation of majority community by taking anti-Muslim posture is a disturbing fault line. We cannot disfranchise 14 per cent of the population by playing victimhood and distorting history. The BJP’s attempt to project as the savior of Muslim women has a political connotation. What was the haste and hurry in introducing the Triple Talaq Bill in Lok Sabha and getting it passed the same day, in spite of opposition, even from the allies, against the criminalisation of the triple talaq? The Bill has not addressed the issues such as maintenance allowance to divorced women, polygamy, practice of halala, discrimination faced by Muslim women in marriage and family, leaving many other matters untouched. What is the government trying to achieve? As Hasina Khan, one of the founders of ‘Bebaak Collective’ that petitioned to the Supreme Court against the triple talaq says, the government “is not addressing the issues faced by Muslim women. Is it trying to target the Muslim community at large and mocking at the Muslim personal law? Why is it paving the way to cirminalise a civil issue? Is this not a saffronisation policy?”
There is a dichotomy of tradition vs modernity – a deadly cocktail of caste and religion – unresolved. We have numerous fault lines that block India emerging as a modern nation. A majority of people believe dictatorship is best suited to India. The younger generation continues to confirm to the obnoxious customs and traditions. They do not subscribe to liberal values. Like the orthodox older generation, they have not overcome the caste, community, gender and religious prejudices, despite having access to modern education. It is a reflection of the darker side of Indian society. What we see is intellectual stagnation, illiberal outlook, regression and cultural degradation.
The writer is Professor of Political Science and retired Principal, who published his magnum opus ‘The Trial by Fire: Memoirs of a College Principal’.