By Seema Chishti
May 9, 2017
A dairy farmer got lynched in Alwar, Rajasthan, for ferrying cattle. In Assam, two men were killed in the name of cow protection. So is goon-justice the “new normal”? Or, are those looking for patterns exaggerating things? Is the murder of Ghulam Mohammed, 65, by a gang in UP, for allegedly aiding a 19-year-old Muslim boy elope with a Hindu girl a law and order transgression? Or, is something more serious going on?
Young people from different social, religious backgrounds bridging the gap dramatically, and often sublimating differences in romance, is the oldest story in the world. There are a million cases in modern India that pay homage to love finding expression and fulfillment, despite deeply divisive circumstances and contexts.
In popular art, especially cinema, though, gender stereotyping has come to the rescue of those brave enough to speak of inter-community love, in so far as the “girl” is usually of the minority community. So, whether it is Bombay, Ghadar or Veer-Zaara, the boy is Hindu and the girl can be Muslim. Expectedly, when the Pakistan film industry made a counter to Ghadar, it was a Muslim boy and a Hindu girl. This trope used to portray inter-community love is generally accepted at the box office.
An inter-faith or inter-caste marriage is fully sanctioned under the Indian Constitution. The Special Marriages Act does not ask who the god you pray to is (or if you pray at all). Most recently, a couple from rural Meerut, Sachin and Khadija, fought the tyranny of the lower courts ignoring the fact that they were adults. In a landmark judgment (Sachin Pawar and another vs the State of UP), the Supreme Court, on August 2, 2013, directed that Sachin and Khadija, who got married legally, be allowed to live “peacefully” like any other married couple. Yet, to escape the heat of western UP, the couple lives hundreds of kilometres away.
Breaking taboos by personally violating them and encouraging personal ties that challenged old prejudices, religious or caste, has been a credo of leaders of a certain vintage. The role of Jawaharlal Nehru and Left activists has been written about. B.R Ambedkar had radical ideas of inter-caste and community marriages, which Mark Lindley calls the “structural antidote” to hierarchies and differences. Ambedkar said the real remedy to caste prejudice is intermarriage. Fusion of blood can alone create the feeling of being kith and kin, and unless this feeling… becomes paramount, the separatist feeling — the feeling of being aliens — created by caste will not vanish, he wrote.
Gandhi had come around to this view by the 1940s. Socialist doyen Ram Manohar Lohia even advocated that inter-caste marriages be a prefential qualification for government employment.
But the India of 2017 has witnessed a steep gradient downwards when it comes to personal choice as a libertarian idea or one that connects to social reform. Changed words mean a lot in this sliding world. So now, inter-faith marriages are routinely termed “love jihad”. Those murdering fellow citizens — dairy farmers, cattle herders, grazers who have been doing this for centuries — are dignified with the title of “Gau-Rakshaks”, which takes the sting away, like “eve teasing” to violent harassment of women and efforts to push them out of public places. The evidence around us illustrates vividly how sharp the collapse can be, once these new terms gain currency. Words provide acceptability and a veil for these vile acts — Gau Rakshaks for murder or love jihad or anti-Romeos for inter-faith, legal marriages.
In a landmark essay in Dawn, Pakistani intellectual Pervez Hoodbhoy discusses the idea of Heiliger Schauer (‘Holy Shiver’) put forth by Konrad Lorenz, who won a Nobel for medicine in 1973. The idea of the holy shiver is a chilling one — it is the feeling that races down a human being’s spine just minutes before (s)he primes to kill. Hoodbhoy speaks of killing not just as a base animal instinct. He links the pattern of killing, for blasphemy in Pakistan, and for cows/inter-faith marriage in India, as being intimately linked with politics wilfully encouraging it. “Backed by the formidable power of the state, Hindu India and Islamic Pakistan have vigorously injected religion into both politics and society,” he writes. “The result is their rapid re-tribalisation through ‘meme transmission’ of primal values. A concept invented by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, the meme is a ‘piece of thought’ transferable from person to person by imitation. Like computer viruses, memes can jump from mind to mind. Memes containing notions of religious or cultural superiority have been ‘cut-and-pasted’ into millions of young minds,” he writes.
Once we turn a blind eye to the pattern and tiptoe around the politics that calls for pushing the stunning diversity of India onto one straight line, we may as well be just rapidly filling in the colours in the “meme” that Dawkins spoke of. The “cut-and-paste” may have bloodier consequences than we can ever imagine. Killing “them” can never be the “new normal”: “New” it may be, but “normality” will elude such societies for ever. It gets us all in the end. Ask the bloggers in Bangladesh.