Written by Sandeep Theophil.

There was a time when Indians could boast of their culture of tolerance and unique experimentation as a secular state. However, today we bow our heads in shame because of the cancerous growth of communalism which has inflicted an irrevocable blow on the nation. It is imperative that we make a genuine effort to understand this problem. In this piece, I discuss the present reality in the context of the Empire that continues to consolidate its control through its tool of communalism.

It has been years since the September 2008 church attacks in Karnataka’s Coastal Belt and things have not changed much. Division on communal grounds has deepened. During the recent election to the legislative assembly, ‘temple runs’ (visits to various religious worship centers) by politicians were the new norm and is believed to have helped political parties consolidate their respective vote banks on the grounds of religiosity and community sentiments. Further, with an increase in the instances of immoral policing, cow vigilantism, hate speech and ‘Myth of Hindutva Martyrs’, communal provocation in different shades on a daily basis has further thickened the line of communal divides.

Suresh Bhat, who has collected a chronology of communal incidents captures more comprehensive reports of hate crimes. Instances of ‘immoral policing’ (reported as ‘moral policing’ in general) by Hindutva vigilant groups increased from 73 instances in 2010 to 125 in 2017 while immoral policing by Muslims vigilanti groups increased from 2 instances in 2010 to 5 in 2017. Instances of cow vigilantism have increased from 4 in 2010 to 2017. Instances of hate speech increased from 2 cases in 2010 to 8 in 2017. Additionally, Karnataka, had on average, more than five political murders every year and a total of 90 killings in the last 17 years. These are not isolated incidents which can be neglected. These incidents pose the question: Has human life and the emotions of communities become a commodity in the election market?

The war for control on communal grounds continues to be our reality.

Today, the challenge for an ordinary citizen is to understand the context and discern the sign of the times. In 2008 communal violence thrived in the shadows of political control and in 2018, the situation has not improved. The war for control on communal grounds continues to be our reality.  We need to realize that this ‘reality’ is the making of the Empire, where the Empire continues to colonize our minds, our bodies, our worldviews, and our land. Communalism has emerged as another face of the Empire.

The massive amount of misinformation that advanced the ‘Myth of Hindutva Martyrs’ as a communal agenda was enough to create a communal divide and successfully influences the decision-making ability of the people as voters. Communalism as a tool of the Empire creates an indiscriminate mixing of fundamental religious views with politics along with identity politics, caste struggles, and growing economic interests to achieve control over political power and economic resources. This is furthered, not only by extending its control geographically, politically, and economically but also intellectually, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, culturally and religiously.

Empire (which is a configuration of power) is characterized by the conjunction of economic power and certain political, military and civic organizations, as well as government structures. The coercion of these united forces then, controls and restricts the public sphere. This dominant power further modifies the conditions of citizenship, which Nestor, Joerg, and Jung call ‘the democracy of the empire’ in which the people are reduced to an ‘idol’. Giorgio Agamban (borrowing from Walter Benjamin) defines this as ‘bare life’. In the context of communalism, people are reduced to objects, who are then ‘represented’ in order to be dominated. Nestor et.al point out that in such a situation there are some self-appointed ‘priests’ who claim to speak as their representatives. For example: the Sangh Parivar claims to be the only guardian of Hindutva. They further argue that in the context of the Empire, nobody represents, nor can anyone ever represent, the voiceless. Democratic discourse is emptied and replaced by the powerful voice of the market. The representatives of the people remain captive to the business ‘lobbies.’

To be relevant to the context, our responses and priorities in India lie in our ability to create resistance through movements against all forms of division and manipulations, oppressive powers and politics of the empire. Even as the divided state of Karnataka reflects the communal face of the Empire, movements such as ‘Not in My Name’ (demonstrations against mob lynching and other acts of unconstitutional and illegal violence) and ‘I Am Gauri’ (protests condemning the murder of Gauri Lankesh – a voice of resistance against divisive Hindutva politics) are example of how people are configuring themselves as a collective to express their resistance. Such forms of people’s collective action that creates a public sphere reflecting the voice and power of the people can be an alternative in resisting communalism.

Sandeep Theophil is from Mangalore and is presently pursuing his Ph.D. in the Department of Theology and Development at the University of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. Image Credit: CC by Communalism/ Wikimedia Commons

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