Notes for communalism

Notes for campaign against communalism among AIDWA members
The developments in Gujarat and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad led campaign for the Ayodhya Temple have been a matter of great concern to people all over the country. Some organizations affiliated to the RSS parivar including the BJP, have started a vicious campaign to justify what is happening in Gujarat. Such a campaign may cause confusion among our own ranks. It is therefore essential to explain the main points of the situation to our membership. We are proud that we have 60 lakh members, belonging to different communities, castes, religions, speaking different languages but all committed to the same goal of women's advancement. It is to protect that goal that we must ensure that women's unity on the basis of a democratic approach gets strengthened and not hampered by the current developments. These notes are only a broad framework for reporting. In different States depending on the level of consciousness of our membership we can and should add the experiences of the State and relevant examples and answer questions related to these experiences. This may differ from state to state.
Our Secular Constitution:
India is a democratic republic. It is governed by a constitution which gurantees equal rights to all its citizens irrespective of class, caste, creed and gender .It is important to remember that the rights of all groups are equally protected. This also means that any attack on one group is actually an attack on all.
Some people feel that India is secular because people of many faiths live here. Some others feel that secularism is a favour bestowed on the minorities by the majority community.
It is true that the Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Budhists, Christians and people of many other faiths live in India. While all the minorities put together constitute less than 20% of the population, their numbers are very large. Also in many States, different minority communities form a sizeable percentage of the population of that State. India has the largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia. It is through the sacrifices and struggles of all these communities that India could become independent. For a strong and united India, the protection of the security and rights of all, as equal citizens with equal rights, duties and an equal stake in the fate of the nation is essential. All must feel equally secure. Secularism is a necessary condition for all this.
But it is important to remember that even if there were no religious minorities in the country, secularism would still be desirable. Secularism means a separation of religion from public affairs. It means that unequal laws cannot be imposed in the name of religion; it means that dissent cannot be suppressed in the name of religion; it means that women cannot be discriminated against in the name of religion; it means that reactionary social practices like untouchability, sati, inhuman treatment of widows etc. cannot be justified in the name of religion. We have many countries ruled in the name of religion in our neighbourhood and elsewhere. What is the condition of women there? Do freedom of speech and the press exist there? Is it possible to agitate for the rights of workers, of the poor, of exploited sections there? No. Therefore, we have to understand how crucial the existence of a secular, democratic Constitution is to our own freedom, equality and fight for justice and emancipation.
Look at the developments in Gujarat in the context of the current situation of violence. What is happening in Gujarat is a basic attack on the constitution and the guarantees given to all citizens described above. The message to minorities particularly Muslims in Gujarat is that if they want to live in Gujarat they must live as second class subordinate citizens. This is the basis of the Hindu Rashtra slogan given by the sangh parivar.. We describe Gujarat NOT as a riot but as a one way carnage against the Muslim community organized and led by the constituents of the sangh parivar and backed by the State Government.
We strongly condemn the barbaric attack on kar sevaks and innocent women and children in the train at Godhra. We demand that justice is done and the guilty be punished. Why is the Government taking so long to identify the guilty? After Parliament attack on Dec. 13, the criminals were identified in a day, After the attack in Kolkata also the culprits were caught within a few days. But after such a big attack in Godhra that the Government says was by outside forces, why have they not been identified? The Government is deliberately delaying the whole process so that it can use it for political purposes. Meanwhile a wave of violence was unleashed against the minorities in many parts of Gujarat. The State and administration participated in and encouraged this violence. Women and children were targeted in the most vicious manner imaginable and the loss of life and property have been enormous.(give some examples)
Every person, Hindu or Muslim or any other religion, condemned the Godhra atrocity. But the Government is justifying the killing of thousands of completely innocent Muslim women, children and men as a "reaction" to Godhra. The Prime Minister himself asked the question who started it? If this logic is accepted that the violence is only in response to Godhra, then can it not be said that Godhra itself was a response to the highly provocative communal campaign on the Ayodhya temple by the Vishwa Hindu parishad. On February 25, two days before the Godhra carnage a UP paper called Jan Morcha dated 25 February reported that kar sevaks on the Sabarmati Express had attacked ordinary Muslims on the railway stations. One poor Muslim worker had been killed and several injured. Women in burkhas had been harassed. The most dirty abusive language had been used. On February 27, at the Godhra station itself, the karsevaks picked a fight with a poor Muslim tea vendor refusing to pay for the tea and attacking him. He belonged to the nearby Muslim basti which then came out and attacked only that bogey where those responsible were seated.
Then can you not say that the answer to the PMs question is that the karsevaks started it? The whole way the issue is posed by the PM and the sangh parivar is totally wrong. Nothing can justify Godhra just as nothing can justify the terrible carnage that is sponsored by the State Government and which is continuing against the Muslims. This perverted logic will destroy the country. It is very clear that this carnage and brutality is to increase polarization and communal mobilization with the sole aim of political power. Gujarat is the only state where the BJP has got a three fourths majority in the last elections but it has been losing local elections.Gujarat has also been a laboratory for the Sangh Parivar to implement its slogan of a Hindu Rashtra.
Has Hindu Rashtra got anything to do with religion?
There is a great difference between Hindu religious belief and the slogan of Hindu Rashtra of the sangh parivar. The former is a path to God for believers and the latter is the path to power. Is it not true that ordinary women who perform pujas or go to temples or keep fasts have love of God in their hearts, they pray for the well being of their loved ones. But those who talk of Hindutva , they do not talk of love but hatred. In their pravachans there is only hatred for those who practice other religions. They abuse and tell lies about others, they mobilize people in the name of Hinduism against others.
It is not easy to define religion. There maybe as many definitions as there are believers. Many people also feel that observance of rituals like fasts and pujas, haj and pilgrimages, festivals etc. are also part of religion. In any case, religion is a private and personal affair.
What then is Hindu Rashtra?
It is a State where large numbers of citizens belonging to the religious minorities, adivasis, dalits and all others who may not agree with the interpretation of officially"declared version of what is Hinduism will be denied equal rights. That could mean that one third of our country including the majority of people in many States in the border areas where other religions are practiced will be second class citizens. This will undoubtedly mean the break up of India. In any case if large sections of people are denied their rights, what is the result of this on the rights of others? WE MUST UNDERSTAND VERY CLEARLY THAT THE RIGHTS OF ALL CITIZENS ARE ULTIMATELY INTERLINKED. IT IS NOT POSSIBLE FOR MANY TO BE FREE AND EQUAL WHEN MANY OTHERS ARE NOT.
What will be the position of women? The Sangh Parivar propogates the subordinate and domestic role of women. Women should be long-suffering and sacrificing and responsible in every way for domestic peace. In UP, after the first BJP Govt was formed, a sentence was added to the Social Sciences text book that said : Ever since women were given legal rights, domestic discord has increased.
The Sangh Parivar glorifies Sati, it disapproves of widow re-marriage, it is opposed to social reform.
What will be the position of dalits? The Sangh Parivar upholds the caste system and caste segregation. It says that mixing of castes is bad for society. It glorifies Manu and Manu Smriti.
What will be the condition of workers? The Sangh Parivar believes that class differences cannot be eradicated. It has already shed its opposition to MNCs and imperialist loot. It has turned a blind eye to industrial closures, selling off of the public sector and the worst kind of corruption and scams that have ruined millions of homes.
What will be the fate of national sovereignity? It is very important to remember that while the Sangh Parivar may talk about nationalism and mouth jingoistic slogans, in practice it wants nothing more for our country than for it to become the chief sentry of US imperialism in our region.
Let the proponents of Hindu Rashtra answer the workers, the employees, the kisans, the women, the dalits: Will Hindu capitalists give up looting the Hindu workers labour in a Hindu Rashtra? Will Hindu men give Hindu women equal rights in property and stop violence against them/ Will untouchability practices against dalits stop and will they have equal rights and opportunities? Will they allow inter caste marriage between all Hindus? What prevents all this happening now? The so-called Hindu Rashtra is not just directed against minority communities. It is an assertion of political forces of manuwadi concepts that are based on reactionary texts: anti-poor, anti-dalit, anti-women.
What is communalism
There is also a very basic and fundamental difference between religion and communalism. Communalism is mobilization in the name of religion against other religions . In India the vast majority of women are religious minded. They may go to religious functions and observe any number of rituals. Are these communal activities? Definitely not. But communal forces utilise these religious sentiments, common religious symbols, language and imagery for their own ends. They want to create and impose a homogenous religious identity based on suspicion and hatred for people belonging to other faiths in order to mobilize them for non-religious purpose.
For example take the Ram temple movement in Ayodhya. Nobody has opposed a Ram temple in Ayodhya. There are already over 500 temples, another one can also be built. Those who believe that Ram was born in Ayodhya also know that no one can say where the exact spot was. But the VHP to create hatred against the Muslims say that it was where the Babri masjid stood and so they destroyed the masjid. Now ten years later just before the UP elections once again they started the movement and threw the country into a crisis deliberately spreading communal hatred as they did in 1992. But this time the people did not respond and they were defeated in the elections.
Their actions show that their movement has nothing to do with the temple. That is why their General Secretary Pravin Tagodia announced that now even if Ram asked them to stop their campaign they would not listen. For example while bhoomi pujan is part of temple construction, where is there any mention of shila pujan and shila dan in any Shastras? Yet the VHP defied all the laws and court orders in the name of performing shila pujan. How could the shila dan be made to an IAS officer? Shri Ramchandra Paramhans claims to be a Hindu religious leader yet he announced that he would not give the shila to one particular IAS officer because he was a bania by caste which is why another caste officer was sent. Can such casteist men be accepted as religious leaders? Then what about the infighting that is going on within the religious leaders? One important section has said that the VHP has appropriated hundreds of croroes of rupees collected in the name of the temple. Another mahant whose temple was used without his permission to place the so-called holy shila said that he would throw it in the drain because the VHP was out to capture his temple!! Clearly these sants and mahants have little to do with the religious feelings and everything to do with the politics of power and money. The people of this country do not want bloodshed in the name of a temple or masjid. Both can be built. But the politics around the present VHP led ram temple movement is political, it is communal, not religious. This is what we must understand.
All shades of Communalism seeks to strengthen a united religious identity by stressing common religious practice to conceal the highly unequal relations which actually exist within different religious groups. Communal forces never address the exploitation within the community. For example of the sangh parivar constituents will never condemn anti-women or anti-dalit practices as then I will be weakening according to them, a so-called Hindu unity.. On the contrary the attempt to homogenise religious identtity is accompanied by strengthening religious practices and rituals that may be anti-women and anti-dalit as being attempted through the teaching of Karmakand in universities. For example so many son-preference rituals are now being advocated in a much bigger way. Communalism also thus destroys possibilities for reform in religion to eliminate retrograde rituals and practices within religions.
But communalism does not only advocate and propagate hatred towards other religions but also creates prejudices based on stereotypes about those who practice those religions to further divisions between communities. In fact culturally speaking there would be much more in common for example between a Muslim and Hindu living in Bengal then between a Bengali Muslim and one from a south Indian State. It is this cultural affinity, including similar languages that the sangh parivar campaign wants to break. For example there is widespread propaganda that riots are started by Muslims. However the truth can be found in all the Government enquiries and commissions set up that almost all the malor communal conflagrations in India whether the post demolition 1992-93 riots, the Bhagalpur riots, the Bombay riots etc. have all been provoked by RSS affiliated organizations. Yet another example is that all Muslim men have four wives whereas the truth as shown even in Government census figures is quite the opposite, as it is shown that the highest number of bigamous marriages are of upper caste Hindu men.It is also said that minorities never practice family planning. Again this is a lie. Kerela has the highest minority community population in India at 45 per cent, yet it has the best rate of family planning. Clearly it is not religion but issues of development that determine family size. This is the reason why the worst family planning record is in the State of Uttar Pradesh among the poor of all sections. The propaganda that Muslims are more violent is equally absurd. Every year over 6000 women are burnt to death within their homes by Hindu men. Does that mean that we say that all Hindu men are violent?
Using the examples of Sept. 11 and Dec. 13, the current propaganda of the communal forces is that all terrorists are Muslims and that all Muslims are terrorist. But what is India's own experience of terrorism? Two of our Prime Ministers were killed by terrorists who were not Muslims, they belonged to other faiths. Terrorism in Punjab took a heavy toll. Terrorism in the North-East has been a fact of life for more than 50 years. There are social, economic conditions that give birth to terrorism and foreign imperialist forces regularly utilise this phenomenon for their own selfish interests.
The fact is that within every community and social section there are different types of people. To label an entire community in a negative light is one of the deliberate methods of the communal forces. It is also true that one type of communalism strengthens another and such methods are used by communal forces working in minority communities against Hindus. Democratic organizations like AIDWA have to equally fight agsint the communal and fundamentalist forces working within Muslim, Christian or other minority communities. It is essential for women's organizations like AIDWA to effectivevly counter such prejudices whether it is against Muslims or Christians by Hindu fundamentalist forces or against Hindus by Muslim fundamentalist forces. Prejudices are created and fed by ignorance. They can be removed by a) recognising that they exist, b) learning more about members of other communities by social interaction and common struggles, c) realising how dangerous prejudices can become.
Majority and Minority Communalism
Fundamentalist or religious extremist forces are not limited to any one religion. Women's movements oppose all such fundamentalist forces that seek to use religious texts and their own interpretations to determine public life. The experience of States like Pakistan and Bangladesh are an example. The position of women, the poor etc. have been determined by anti-women interpretations of Islam. The people and women in particular have been deprived of their democratic rights. Women in these countries are in struggle for equal rights that we strongly support.
It is also true that often terrorist groups and individuals often act in the name of religion. For example the terrorist acts in the US were by Islamic terrorist groups as was the attack on our own Parliament. It is true that the Pakistan agency the ISI is reacting and supporting some of these groups to destabilize India. We strongly condemn the ISI and such acts of terror. But instead of improving the functioning of our own intelligence agencies, the Government wants to further its own agenda by discrediting a whole community. No religion gives sanction for such acts. It is the criminals who are to blame not the religion. In India the worst acts that took the lives of two Prime Ministers and the Father of the Nation were committed one by a Sikh, the other by a Sri Lankan Tamil and the third by an upper caste Hindu Brahmin. This does not make the religion of Sikhism responsible just as all Sri Lankan tamils or all Hindus cannot be blamed.
In our own country also, we have seen various religions being exploited for communal mobilization which are inimical to our secular fabric. But the greatest danger is from the exploitation of the religion of the majority community for communal and political mobilization, that is from the campaign of the Sangh Parivar for the establishment of a Hindu Rashtra. This is not because Islamic fundamentalism is any better, but only because it is the political forces representing majority communalism that can actually seize and use State power for its ends. It is only majority communalism that can masquerade as nationalism, a nationalism that condemns all its opponents as anti-national traitors. And it must be remembered that these opponents are not only the minorities but all those who oppose the policies of the Sangh Parivar - the policies of economic and social exploitation and of perpetuating terrible injustices.
How have women been affected?
Women's roles in the Gujarat developments are at three levels: as victims, as aggressors, or in some cases as saviours. We have seen the effect as victims. Unfortunately in their role as saviours there were only too few examples. But shockingly, the sangh parivar has through its systematic hatred campaign succeeded in mobilizing a section of women as aggressors which has extremely dangerous implications for women's movements for justice. In Gujarat for example women in areas of Ahmedabad were directly involved in inciting violence, looting etc.
Such mobilization directly and deeply affects all women's struggles for justice by destroying the unity so essential for our movements. It also directly strengthens those forces that are inimical to struggles for equality and emancipation. By subsuming other identities of women as workers, as citizens affected by Government policies to a religious identity based on hatred, it weakens the very basis of democratic mobilization on basic issues affecting our livelihood.
For example all these recent events took place not only in the context of elections and BJP defeats but also in the context of the placing of the Annual Budget - a tremendous attack on all sections. But the protests so essential were overshadowed by the Gujarat and Ayodhya developments as a result of which not only was the struggle greatly weakened but the vested interests that benefited from the budget could succeed in their exploitation of he people. The diversion of popular anger against ecnomic deprivation that result from anti-people budgets for example into communal channels is precisely the aim of the BJP Government and the communal forces.
Strength of pluralistic traditions
All around we see the glories and strengths of our pluralistic culture. In monuments. In music. In literature. In dance and song and are and everything that makes life beautiful.
The freedom from slavery that we enjoy today is the fruit of our National Movement to which all sections of the society contributed. Can we think of Rani Laxmibai without thinking of begum Hazarat Mahal and bahadur Shah zafar? Can we think of Ram Prasad 'bismil' without remembering Sardar Bhagat Singh and Ashfaqullah Khan? Can we think of Nehru and Gandhi without remembering Maulana Azad who opposed Jinnah and his two nation theory tooth and nail without even thinking of the risks involved? And today - would not our social, cultural, artistic and sports scenes be poorer without the outstanding contribution of those from the minority communities?
Sufi and Sant religious leaders who recognised the true nature of our society laid down pluralistic traditions which they knew would strengthen the unity of our people and their social fabric. To give one example. The most popular pilgrimage in South India is the Sabarimala pilgrimage. Thousands and thousands of devotees follow a difficult and arduous path to the top of a mountain to worship Ayappa. On the way, there is the mazaar of Waavar. Obeisance to the mazaar is part of the pilgrimage. Darshan of Ayappa is not possible without going around the mazaar. Why is this so? After all it could have been said that this mazaar is polluting 'our' pilgrimage so remove it, break it. But no, it is part of the pilgrimage. An intrinsic part. This is because the truly religious leaders knew that bringing people together, making them respect each other's faiths, helping them to participate in each others devotional activities was true religion and would strengthen human bonds.
If you think about your own village or neighbourhood, you will find so many similar examples that you should discuss. And then contrast this with what religious fundamentalists with a political agenda do - they destroy each other's religious symbols whether it is the Babri Masjid or the Bamian Buddha statues, they destroy symbols of a composite culture like mazaars.
Tasks for AIDWA
In such a situation it is essential for every AIDWA committee for every AIDWA member to actively counter propaganda directed against particular religious communities. For example if an AIDWA member in a public place hears someone commenting in a derogatory manner about Muslims or vice versa, she must immediately react in defence of unity and against such propganada. By keeping silent, not only are such communalists strengthened but others may also get influenced. It is also necessary to actively mobilize in defence of secularism and women's unity. It is necessary to show that unity in demonstrations on common demands in which women of all communities participate. At the same time a conscious campaign against communalism and also the sangh parivar should form part of the struggles. Anti-communal struggles can and should be linked to economic struggles or struggles on livelihood issues but the latter cannot become a substitute for the former. In 1992 after the destruction of the masjid and the ensuing violence across the country, a joint document of women's organizations had stated that the fight against communalism must become an intrinsic part of every struggle waged by women for their advance.
This is even more true today. Let all AIDWA units take he lead in such struggles and assert our unity.
Long Live Women's Unity! Down with Communalism! Long Live AIDWA!