The Telegraph
Friday , April 14 , 2017

Evil design


Assiduously researched and deeply committed, this book explores the close, in fact, integral connection between communal conflagration and sexual savagery. The author, Megha Kumar, concentrates on Ahmedabad, which has experienced many riots, and dissects the violence of 1969, 1985 and 2002 with clinical insight. She breaks new ground by stating that these carnages were not merely inspired by militant Hindutva ideology. Riots were also fomented by "economic, political and social dynamics in operation at the local level". To offer one concrete example, the rapid and irrevocable decline of the textile mill industry in and around Ahmedabad made a significant contribution. The decline led to the unemployment of thousands of workers, who were lapped up by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal. This, in turn, created a strata of lumpen proletariat who revel in violence during communal riots.

The chapter on the violence perpetrated in 1985 outlines these varied causes with precision. Kumar begins with the "Closure of Textile Mills and the Predicament of Mill Workers". Then she analyses the abortive politics of the Congress, which wanted to posit the KHAM (Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis, Muslims) alliance; and finally Kumar focuses on the anti-reservation issue, which, in fact, played a crucial role in instigating riots.

Kumar is impartial. She mentions more than once that the 1985 riot did not incite sexual savagery because the battle lines that marked it were different. On the one hand stood the Dalits and the Muslims, who together put up a spirited resistance against the upper caste Hindu brigade. The latter was tooth and nail against an increase in reservation. The joint resistance of the Muslims and the Dalits gave an unusual dimension to the carnage and sexual abuse was limited to lewd vocabulary and vociferous intimidation. A special trait of this outbreak was the highly offensive behaviour of the police force directed against upper caste women.

The State-sanctioned slaughter and rape of religious minorities in 1969 and 2002 were thus different from the outrage in 1985. During the riots of 1969 and 2002, the battle lines were clearly drawn between the Hindus and the Muslims, with the Hindus enjoying a field day against the heavily outnumbered minority community. For the marauding Hindus, defilement of the woman's body was the most glaring signal of victory.

Dissecting the hundreds of rapes, Kumar has said, "On the one hand, perpetrators seek to impregnate Muslim women with the seed of the 'superior' Hindu race... On the other hand, the evisceration of Muslim women's reproductive organs destroys the reproductive autonomy of Muslims, in order to diminish the Muslim population." One should note in this context that not a single voice of criticism, protest or condemnation emanated from the sangh parivar while the carnage raged in 2002.

What shocks and stupefies us is the crass duplicity of the leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party. On the one hand, they shed copious tears on the fates of Nirbhaya and Gudiya; but, on the other, they did not utter a syllable of sympathy or condemnation on what transpired for days and nights in Gujarat. It is as if the sexual carnages just did not take place in Ahmedabad, Naroda Patiya and Dahod. While Narendra Modi openly expressed condolences and regret with regard to the Nirbhaya case, he did not have a word to say on the carnage that blackened Naroda Patiya. Similarly, Sushma Swaraj neither visited the relief camps in the aftermath of the 2002 massacre, nor called for tough sentences for those accused of raping Muslim children. Nevertheless, she visited Gudiya in hospital and asserted emphatically, "Nothing short of death sentence in cases of rape of children and cases involving brutality and barbarity will help."

In all probability, Kumar is the first social scientist to have forged an intrinsic connection between the exhortations of Hindu nationalist ideology and sexual violence. Quoting copiously from the writings of ideologues like Veer Savarkar, K.B. Hedgewar and, above all, Guru Golwalkar, she has exhibited how their inflammatory statements have influenced and inspired the aggressive Hindutva brigade to commit nefarious crimes against the vulnerable minority community, women in particular. In the words of Kumar, "[t]his instigation to rape and molest Muslim women was effectively predicated on the idea that women's bodies are the carriers of community history, constituting the site on which past historical wrongs (imaginary or otherwise) can be corrected." This 'retributive' rape is given a fallacious historical dimension by the ideologues who preach that it is perhaps the best way to assert vengeful, Hindu manhood.

We close this excellent book by placing the dangerous theoretical perspective promulgated by Savarkar and others against actual rapes and slaughters committed in Ahmedabad in 1969 and 2002. Feeling direly helpless against this double-edged weapon of theory and action, we pronounce the agonizing query, in the words of T.S. Eliot, "After such knowledge, what forgiveness?"