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“India,” “Secularism,” and Its Dissenting Authors Or “Der Āyad, Durust Āyad, but is this even an arrival”?
by Huma Dar
“Prominent writers in India are collectively protesting what they consider an increase in hostility and intolerance, which they argue has been allowed to fester under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, by returning a prestigious literary award.”
Referring to attacks against Muslims, including the killing of a man who had been suspected of slaughtering a cow, he said, “This is not the country that our great leaders had envisioned.” (Ghulam Nabi Khayal, Sahitya Akademi Award, 1975)
My apologies for this query, which despite seeming cynical at first blush, is actually a probing of the very problematic and exceptionalizing notions of “India as a nation” and “Indian secularism” that these authors and poets valorize, explicitly or implicitly, through this joint gesture of returning their awards or through their separate oeuvre at large. It is precisely these twin concepts of unprobed “Indian secularism” and even more foundationally, the unproblematized, dehistoricized, and normalized idea of “India as a nation” (see The Indian Ideology (2012) by Perry Anderson for a resounding deconstruction of this) that are the fecund incubating grounds of much violence – violence which is Brahminical, colonial, and Islamophobic at the core. This is true not only with regard to the acts of spectacular violence, like the mob lynching of Muhammad Ikhlaq in the current context of Dadri, at the contemporary moment of Modi-fied India, but also for the billion and one banal acts of quotidian casteist, colonial, and communal violence that fertilize the roots of the phenomenon in modern India. This is especially true for the comparably spectacular violence of the allegedly “secular” contexts – the genocidal violence of the Indian state in Kashmir, Punjab, Hyderabad, Assam, Manipur, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, in every Dalit basti et al – that preceded the current Hindutva regime (and co-exist at any given time). In fact, it can be argued that the exceptionalization of India not only papers over much of this epistemic violence by making it invisible but actually enables it by helping it elide scrutiny. Thus no gesture of protest, however “well intentioned” it might be, will bear fruit until and unless the very problematic exceptionalism that undergirds the allegedly “secular India” is deconstructed.
The “secularism” of India is easily deconstructed to reveal its Brahminical, colonial, and Islamophobic impulse. Its paradigmatic failure is in Kashmir. India has long sought to bolster its “non-Hindu” secular credentials on the backs and mass graves of freedom-loving Kashmiris. Kashmir is paraded as the “Muslim majority state” that “opted” for India “instead of Pakistan,” deliberately obfuscating facts to the contrary. The hollowed-out “democracy” as imposed on Kashmir, abundantly littered with the rubble of fudged elections, a population blackmailed into voting, and pimpish collaborators, is nothing but a facetious mask to disguise the ongoing genocidal Occupation and colonization. (And yet, most left-liberal Indians go on taking pride in “the largest democracy of the world,” especially if it can be leveraged against the Muslim-majority neighbors.) Modes of governmentality honed over millennia on Dalits, including naked parades, sexual torture, forced feeding of feces and other excreta, rapes, massacres, and arson, are deployed on recalcitrant Kashmiris fighting for our collective right to self-determination. India’s colonial genocide in Kashmir is marked by Brahminism as well as by Islamophobia. The latter comprises bans on eating beef (it being a major source of animal protein for the poorest in South Asia, as well as being the cheapest animal for the obligatory sacrifice on the Eid al-Azha), frequent bans on the mandatory Friday prayers at some of the largest and most popular Jama’a Masjids, internet bans on Eid days, torture via forced sloganeering of Brahminical Hinduism’s chants, and the selective targeting of Kashmiri Muslims in the entire Jammu & Kashmir under Indian Occupation, as well as in India itself. So ironically India’s secularism fails precisely and fully at its much-trumped out test case: Kashmir. And on all three charges: Brahminism, colonialism, Islamophobia.
This is a “secularism” where the Muslims and Christians never have the space to critique, to be full-fledged citizens. This is a “secularism” where they have to pay the price of even willy-nilly belonging to the purportedly “non-Indic” religions — the “Indic” in, and of itself, comprising multiple acts of epistemic violence — by being forced to perform “more loyal than the King.” This is a “secularism” where APJ Kalam – Gita-spouting, RSS-kowtowing, proudly-ignorant-of-the-Qur’ān, nuclear-weapons-project-heading President of “non-violent” India – can be touted as an Indian nationalist with a loud disclaimer that he is so “despite being Muslim.” This is a “secularism” where dyed-in-the-wool Indians like Shahrukh Khan or Naseeruddin Khan have to face vitriol or protests replete with “one-way tickets to Pakistan” if they ever dare to praise Pakistani cricketers or Pakistani hospitality based on their own individual experiences.
So returning back to the dissenting authors and their protests… There’s a saying in Farsi that made its way into Urdu: der āyad, durust āyad, or better (arrive) late than never. However, in this particular case, one has to ask: is this even an arrival? (In other words, you have way further to go…)