The ghastly communal violence which flared up in Delhi in February 2020 are horrific reminders of the pogroms of 1984 in Delhi and 2002 in Gujarat. In both these pogroms, there was active support of the State apparatus to kill innocent people. Similarly, in the present Delhi mayhem, the State facilitated ‘the letting loose of terror’ on the people, as reports published in the media quite vividly show. Some of the former police commissioners have gone to the extent of saying that no pogrom can be carried out without active support of the State apparatus. One of them even went ahead and said, had he been at the helm of affairs, he would have arrested top leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party as they made inflammatory speeches. Nothing of the sort happened.
In the pogrom in Delhi, two journalists had a narrow escape. They were asked to show their identity cards which said that they were Hindus. But that was not enough proof for the killer gang. So, they forced these journalists to undress and it was only after looking at their genitals that they were allowed to go. This was the atmosphere prevalent in the national capital where people were killed because of their identity. I would like to term this feature as, “a licence to live in Modi raj”. This license to live is not accrued from the Constitution of India under Article 21, rather the license accrues from the identification of the genital organs and tattoos on one’s bodies. Such travesty of life is shocking, where, whether one is allowed to live or has to die, is decided by looking at their genitals or tattoos.
Just imagine the environment that the national capital and the country is passing through. Earlier, Prime Minister Modi, in one of his speeches, had mentioned that those protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) can be identified from their clothes. The killer gangs have taken it further to removing the clothes to identify who should live and who should not!
Another example of license to live are the temporary tattoos inscribed on the neck and arms of a few people. The shocking part, according to a media report, is that in Maujpur area in Delhi, temporarily inscribing ‘RSS’ and ‘Sanghi’ on the neck and forearms protected some people from the violence. What is more disturbing and shocking is that this was not only a license to live but also used as a pass for safe passage in the locality. The mere inscription, according to reports, was sufficient proof of entry and exit in the area, where the police by just looking at the tattoo (RSS/Sanghi) allowed people to move freely. This was probably one of the codes for the attackers of the killer gang to enter the city and kill people with impunity.
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This also exposes the role of the police, which could not have been managed just at the local level. Rather, it was a pre-planned pogrom managed by a few at the helm of affairs, and, as rightly pointed out by one of the writers, “to not just to polarise but also to teach a lesson”. The police were completely complicit in the Delhi pogrom, which could easily have been avoided, had they intervened timely.
The picture is rather grim now. At least 46 have died, though sources said the figure may touch 100 as there are many who are missing since the pogrom began. Hundreds of people were injured and the two SITs formed by the government are already under massive clout due to the profile of the in-charges of these SITs.
This has, and will further consolidate the ghettoisation of the city spaces into ‘Muslim’ and ‘Hindu’ bastis, and will put an end to mixed colonies where people of different religions and castes co-exist. This is exactly what the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh wants to do in the country; to polarise the people and not allow them to share each other’s customs, food and practices. This ghettoisation is strongly exhibited in Gujarat, one of laboratories of the Right-wing forces for communal polarisation, and this model is being developed in other parts of urban India.
In urban India, there is a rise in the Right with a commensurate weakening of the Left, owing to the diminishing strength of the organised working-class. This working class had served as a bulwark in challenging the ideology of partition and ghettoisation—as all kinds of workers coming from different demographies fought together collectively in the past. But now, that conventional strength of the working class has substantially reduced. Cities that used to be the hub of manufacturing bases have now been transformed for the development of the service sector. Interestingly, real estate in many cities has become the primary sector of capital accumulation. In this transformation, there is also a transformation in the working class. We have a large service sector, which has the largest share of the workers, who are mainly unorganised. Some of the forms of employment in these sectors are: the service delivery boys and girls, domestic helps, street vendors and so on. This new working-class is hardly organised and become potential victims of the ideologies of hatred.
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The potential to bring back the people to their basic issue of livelihood and to link it with their communal amity still exists. This is also being developed in the united struggle against CAA and NRC. Shaheen Bagh has become a new laboratory of protest where the Indian Constitution, a symbol of brotherhood and secularism, is the tool of struggle. The right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party desperately wants to get rid of it and the best way is to polarise the people on communal lines and destroy the gains made in the recent months in the overall polity of the nation. This is what we are experiencing and probably with the State apparatus and tools at their command, we shall have to be prepared even for worse.
Hence, to live in Modi’s Raj, one’s identity with and without clothes counts. This is one of the most scathing attacks on the Constitution of India. But such nefarious designs have been defeated in the past and so shall they be, even now!
The author is former Deputy Mayor of Shimla, Himachal Pradesh. The views are personal.