I am reading Arundati Roy’s introduction to the new compilation of her essays, The End of Imagination, and am chilled to the bone by the story of what’s happening there. I have read several of her essays, speeches, and interviews in the past few years describing the ascent of Modi and the Hindutva – Hindu nationalism – movement powered by Sangh Parivar, including her account of the horrid pograms in Gujarat and Kashmir, but the ongoing violence and harassment of dissidents is reaching frightening levels.
Essentially a phoney movement created by politicians and ideologs, Hindu nationalism is mostly composed of hatred of Muslims, Christians, and other non-Hindu groups. Though on the surface it sounds religious, it is not. It is nearly entirely secular, with the religious labels used only to incite mobs and other violence. It’s India, so it’s very complex. But it boils down to politicians creating identity politics and then whipping people into a frenzy over imagined insults, sometimes even staged events, people being captured, murdered, dressed in clothing to make them appear other than they are, and then put on public display to generate mob retaliation.
Modi and his party, the BJP, came to power by such techniques, promoting super nationalism, Hindu identity, hatred and violence against minorities, and using the military against Indian citizens as well as inciting supporters to attack dissidents.
Incidents of media manipulation, video from one incident being mixed with audio from another to make targeted dissidents say incriminating things, and other such activities have been documented. Of course, all of it is in service of exploitation of resources, vile profit, and pursuit of Empire.
But what’s really chilling is the similarity to our situation, and the portent of things to come in the wake of the US election. Early last year, Muslims in India were warned of a ‘final battle’. Roy says:
A fired-up, five-thousand-strong crowd chanted: … “Any Hindu whose blood isn’t boiling has water in the veins, not blood.” Regardless of who wins elections in the years to come, can this sort of venom be counteracted once it has entered the bloodstream? Can any society mend itself after having its fabric slashed and rent apart in this way?
What is happening right now is actually a systematic effort to create chaos, an attempt to arrive at a situation in which the civil rights enshrined in the constitution can be suspended…. We might well be witnessing preparations for a coup — not a military coup, but a coup nevertheless. It could be only a matter of time before India will officially cease to be a secular, democratic republic. We may find ourselves looking back fondly on the era of doctored videos and parody Twitter handles.
We have only just begun to see what the rhetoric of hatred can produce in this country. We would do well to heed India’s example and eschew this path.
The shrinking of Imagination is something to be concerned about. William Blake equated the Imagination with the highest spiritual self. Often hatred and violence is chosen as it is the knee-jerk reaction whereas a little forethought and imagination could ‘soften’ the initial response. It probably comes down to education (in the best sense) and loving-moral upbringing in the end. Is there any room for optimism?
I don’t have a lot of optimism. I try to maintain space for it, in case it seems warranted! It could be that we — human life — must go thru all this to break the old ties to our excessively rational approach to everything, and then be re-born, in a sense, re-invent ourselves with a more vivid, vital imaginative life.
Hi Erik – you might like the article in the link I just posted this morning… it’s a pretty good case for optimism. The writer, who is I think a Zen practitioner, tho she doesn’t talk about that much, makes some very interesting observations about how the T-man at least has the potential to deal with some of the truly dismal things the US has done, is doing, especially in terms of foreign affairs and trade. Be interested to hear what you think….