Thursday, October 18, 2007

Pointing Fingers at Fascists

A fortnight ago I had occasion to visit and write about an exhibition at the Kala Academy that, in my opinion, amounted to trying to create a genocidal, Gujarat-like situation in Goa. Subsequent to its publication the essay was ‘commented’ on by the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti- the organizers of the exhibition, and a few others. The more substantial of the criticisms against the column accused me of being Fascist and preventing a peaceful organization from exercising their right to speech. This particular criticism is an interesting one to respond to since it is this single argument that often underlies a number of contentious issues.

Thanks to the Constitution of India, the right to the freedom of speech and expression is the fundamental right of every Indian. And yet, this right is not an absolute right allowing us to say and express everything that we think and feel. The same Article that guarantees us this fundamental right also places restrictions on this right. We may not exercise this right to speech and expression if it threatens to, among other things, impinge on public order or act as incitement to an offence. It was my opinion that the exhibition in exhorting Hindus (and Hindus alone) to hate Muslims and view every single one of them as a potential terrorist was clearly exceeding the rights under the Constitution and entering into the realm of hate-speech. There can be no fundamental right to hate-speech. To allow for hate-speech under the Right to Speech and Expression is to make a fetish of this Right to the point of its loosing its meaning. In fact it would be a fascist tendency that would argue that it has a right to hate-speech, allowing me to turn around and ask my accusers if they and not I are more worthy of the label they award me.

The criticisms also accused me of being a Hindu-hater for asking that their exhibition be banned. Nothing could be further from the truth; on the contrary most of my best friends are Hindu! The exhibition purported a concern for the situation for the Hindus in Kashmir, and truly there is reason to be concerned for the daily violence and bloodshed in Kashmir. It is true that a number of Hindu families have been forced to leave the valley and this is not just tragic but condemnable. But this is not a Hindu tragedy alone since it is also Muslim families and those of other religions that have been forced to leave the valley thanks to the frenzy of violence that engulfs Kashmir. To ignore this dimension of the problem is not to solve the problem, but to only compound it. Any solution to Kashmir must necessarily ensure that all these affected groups are returned in peace to their homeland. The violence in Kashmir is one that should concern any individual not just Hindus. It is the appeal to Hindus alone, thereby excluding others from even expressing concern, or denying their possibility for concern- as indeed is what my critics are doing to me- is what is disturbing about the exhibition and its organizers. What is disturbing about the appeal to a ‘Hindu’ consciousness is that it is based on the denial of all other identities- gender, caste, region, syncretic- and the recollection of historical wrongs that are sought to be redressed in the present. Thus, it wasn’t surprising that responses to the column dragged up the issue of the Inquisition and the destruction of temples in Goa. In doing so, once more the issue was constructed as only a Hindu issue. What these critics forget is that the primary target of the Inquisition was those persons who became Catholic and whose lives subjected to greater stricture than those who managed to retain, through negotiation with the Portuguese state, their religion. This historical recollection of wrongs then, is only a partial recollection, and it is this partiality that we must question to realize that there is something deeply problematic with the construction of a ‘Hindu’ consciousness.

The problem of ‘Hindu’ consciousness is not a unique problem though; it shares more in common with fundamentalist and radical Islam and Christianity that it realizes. Which is why, when we are called to contest Islamic radicalism and the manner in which these radicals begin to define Islam, we are similarly called on to contest Hindutva proponents who seek to tells us that they know Hinduism better than us, and Christian fundamentalists who pervert the religion in their bid for State power. Hindu-Muslim-Sikh- Isai, Sab hain bhai-bhai, went a now forgotten nationalist slogan. It appears that the moment to forge the Brotherhood anew is upon us as the fight with these dark fascist forces looms large on our horizon.
(Published in the Gomantak Times as 'Right to free speech is not Absolute' on 19th October 2007)


shri8131 said...

Jason Fernandes,
First accept that KASHMIRI PANDITS were forcedly thrown out of valley because they are Hindus. Muslims and other people may be leaving valley due to to bad condition. Certainly these bad condition of valley not created by Hindus.

"those persons who became Catholic and whose lives subjected to greater stricture than those who managed to retain, through negotiation with the Portuguese state, their religion."
These is totally false presumption. Hindus were not allowed to practice their religion. There was not a single temple in and around panaji till start of the 20th century. People tell the stories about hardships they faced to construct the Mahalaxmi temple. Please note even at that time Majority of Population in and around Panaji were Hindus. To get Marry Hindus has to cross the river and go to New cabizad areas. Do you remember what it means " damucha lagnak veta"
Is it not the fact that Kashmir Valley, Nagaland and many of the district which were Hindu dominated at the time of our independence are now minority dominated.
But I totally agree with you that HATE RECIPROCATES WITH HATE. HJS could have presented same exhibition in far better and simple way.

Jason Keith Fernandes said...

Thank you for your comment Shri (is that your name?). And thank you for agreeing that the exhibition was a violent one.

I still find the rest of your comments disturbing, but for now we can agree to disagree.

I will however request that you consider that the problem is not really of Hindus vs. Muslims, but a much larger political problem that is being cast as Hindu vs. Muslim (or otherwise) thanks to the politics of nationalism, which is primarily the problem.

Unknown said...

Wow - its a fine piece of writing and argument. I agree. The only part of your argument that makes me smile is the somewhat trite defence about some of your best friends being Hindu. I don't know why many of us use our filial and friendly ties as proof of our concern for entire groups of people, based on their race, religion, political views etc. etc. If that red herring of a defence could have been eliminated, the argument would stand even stronger. But thats just me, being picky!


Jason Keith Fernandes said...

Thanks Roy, I'm glad you fished out that "my best friends are hindu". I was using it provocatively. This "my best friend is..." argument is used by India's upper caste/class to defned themselves when the attack Muslims, Dalits, other minorities. I was throwing the argument back in their faces!

Unknown said...

Ah! Then you should have either underlined or italicised or single
quoted them to underscore your irony. I completely thought you had
fallen into your own trap - with little sign of provocation - using a
defence that your foe uses, but exactly the same way. Would have
loved to have seen more of that inner bitch! Maybe denying that you
are using the 'best friends' lame excuse before you actually then use
it, could also serve the purpose.

Jason Keith Fernandes said...

for more information about the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti....