Monday, January 8, 2007

Get Your Facts Straight: These are Hate Crimes, Not Communal Violence

In a time when pitched battles are being fought to create a single Konkani language for a single Konkani people, it would not be out of place to focus our attention on Mangalore. An area occupied by a good amount of Konkani speaking people, Goans, or at least some Goans, share a very strange relationship with the Konkani speakers of Mangalore. It’s a relationship that is imbued with some amount of fascination and some amount of dread. In passing one could hazard a guess, that this fascination and dread emerges probably because they represent the Other to us, what we are not, or have not become, and should not. But the dynamics of this relationship is not the focus of this essay at all it is the happenings in Mangalore that should be of greater interest to us.

Mangalore is at most times a sleepy little town. Despite the huge amount of industry and building that has overtaken it in the past few years it just can’t seem to get rid of that sleepy town image. Perhaps it’s all that humidity which simply weighs down their spirit! It is because Mangalore is otherwise such a sleepy and peaceful place that the horrific events over the past few weeks have come to most as a surprise. A surprise, even though a good number of civil society activists in Bangalore have been warning us for sometime now that Mangalore was tethering on the brink of large scale communal violence.

To begin with, we need to find another word to describe the kind of violence that we see erupting with alarming frequency all over the country and often at the most unlikely places. The phrase ‘Communal violence’ is too rooted in a past which suggested that there was some sort of mutual animosity between members of communities that were seen as naturally constituted by religion. The ‘communal violence’ that we see today is nothing of that sort. (Whether the communal violence of the past was in fact constituted in this manner is another question that we should perhaps leave for historians to answer). The ‘communal violence’ we see today are unprovoked attacks by violent and hate-filled members of Hindu rightist organizations against any one who does not toe their arbitrarily drawn lines. You could be Muslim, Dalit, Christian or woman. Refuse to abide by their arbitrary diktat and heaven help you. Heaven alone can help, since the police and state administration often refuse to.

What was the provocation in Mangalore? As per the saffron ruffians (and given that they aim to kill, this word is too mild for them) they object to the slaughter of cows. It is time we called halt to the manner in which an entire nation is being held hostage to the whims of a few. A good proportion of this country eats meat, and they eat beef with relish. And, they have a right to. There can be no arguments on that front. To call for a ban on cow slaughter is similar to asking that there be a ban on idol worship in India since it is, textually atleast, an obnoxious practice to the Christian and Muslim citizens of this country. Put this way the illogical nature of the call to ban cow slaughter becomes obvious does it not?

There have been a number of calls by organizations from around Karnataka to write to the President and Prime Minister to take notice of the situation. And this is necessary, urgent and important. What is troubling though is that in keeping with the understanding of the episode in Mangalore as ‘communal violence’, the episode has been constructed as violence by Hindu rightists against the Muslim community. This is only a partial view of the situation. It is violence by Hindu rightists alright, but not solely against the Muslim community alone, even though they have borne the brunt of this round of attacks. There have been, in the recent past, attacks on Catholic restaurants that serve beef. Attacks on churches as well. Let us get it straight then; this is not violence that stems from mutual animosity. This violence is unprovoked violence, hate crimes against those that are different. The Muslims are just the first and favourite target, the rest will follow, surely but steadily.

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

--Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892-1984)

(published in the Gomantak Times, 2006)

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