Saturday, August 21, 2010

Goa’s Fascist Future: The aesthetic objections of the Hindu Janajagruthi Samithi

This column is often-times critiqued on the basis that it offers too complex a fund of words for the average Goan to understand. ‘Simplify!’ is the advice offered in the course of such handing out of critique. I am however, not convinced as to the intellectual inabilities of the ‘average Goan’, who is in any case a much sinned against creature. If on the one hand the Chief Minister of the State perpetrates his shenanigans in the name of this beast, then on the other you have kindly Samaritans requesting their intellectual burdens placed on this animal to be lightened. What is however most amusing, is that the Samaritan purveyors of this advice, invariably indicate that they themselves are perfectly comfortable reading what this column hands out. It is not for themselves that they request simplification, but for the ‘simple-minded’ ‘average’ Goan reader.

But given that this charge has been laid, one must, dutifully and conscientiously seek to respond. In the course of a public meeting the term fascism was used numerous times by the respected Konkani activist Eric Ozario. He was using the term to refer to the claims of the Nagari activists, who sought to unite all Konkani speaking people under the slogan of “One language, one script, one people”. Such a slogan he argued, was fascist!

What is fascism however? And how does one understand it? Eric Ozario used the term in the context of the totalitarian imagery of the Nagari activists. Totalitarianism may have been a feature of the fascist leaderships of Europe between the Wars, but this term does not exhaust the meaning of concept of fascism. In the context of the attack of the Hindu Janajagruthi Samiti (HJS) on the Xavier Centre for Historical Research (XCHR) a couple of weeks ago, dwelling on the articulation of the meaning of fascism by Walter Benjamin was, I thought, a suitable choice for this week’s column.

Benjamin argues that “Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; fascism seeks to give them expression while preserving property. The logical result of fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life”.

Benjamin locates fascism in the history of capitalism that converted peasants who were rooted to their land, into workers for industries. With their traditional life-style changed, and deprived of their property in land, the peasant became the proletarian worker. While the human being is not necessarily inclined to absolute equality, radical inequality, such as was present in the industrial towns of Europe, and indeed in India today, is offensive to the human being. This is especially true, when these proletarian workers continued to hold not-so-distant memories of their more secure past. Once we understand the weight of the term proletarian, the force of Benjamin’s elaboration of fascism strikes home. Fascism seeks to organize the proletarian masses, and provide stability to the new (capitalist) order that has been formed. Fascism definitely speaks to the hungry, angry and deprived masses and in doing so effectively manages them. But it does so, not by recognizing their right to change property relations. On the contrary it distracts them from the demand of this right by providing them with an aesthetic that they are told gives expression to their inner being.

Is the membership of the HJS composed essentially, or even largely, of proletarians in the classical sense? Of this I am neither sure nor certain. However, if one has a look at the website of the HJS, and has a look at the string of protests that they have been involved in, you begin to see that their attack is on the aesthetic. There have been attacks on Dr. Jose Pereira, Dr. Subodh Kerkar, and support for the hounding of M. F. Hussain. All of these three dared to depict India and Hinduism in a manner that they disapprove of. The HJS has disapproved of the popular celebrations of Ganesh Chathurti on the basis that it is not sattvic or pure enough. Similarly their website, presents ‘sattvic’ interpretations of the Hindu pantheon that they approve of as valid.

This obsession with the aesthetic I believe tells us something about the HJS and the manner in which they must be dealt with. It would be possible, even to be sympathetic to them. Sympathetic, because you realize that the support they get, is because the passion which fuels their membership is drawn from the upset with the nature of property relations, both in Goa and India. If a segment of the Goan Catholic protests real-estate development, a segment of the Goan Hindu joins the HJS. Both are protesting property relations, but doing so via the aesthetic.

A focus on the aesthetic, also indicates to us why the HJS must be effectively dealt with, and their victims supported and protected The Goa Police has thus far instructed HJS victims to follow the HJS line and take down the ‘offensive’ artworks. To keep doing this will be to suffocate entirely, creative production in the State, and destroy any meaningful understanding of the Freedom of Speech and Expression. Bear in mind that control over the aesthetic is what the HJS seems to be gunning for. And because the aesthetic itself is not what bothers them, but property relations, the attack of the aesthetic will continue, till property relations are eventually addressed. But this too, as we can clearly see, will not be done.

This then is what the fascist turn in Goan society will look like. An obsession with the aesthetic, even while unjust and inequitable property relations are not addressed. Unless this inequity is dealt with, this tendency towards the fascist will continue. And while banning the HJS may seem desirable, it will not work, until the equity issues underneath it all are effectively addressed.

(First published in the Gomantak Times 18 Aug 2010)


Neelima said...

Goa's Fascist future...funny. Has the writer forgotten Goa's Fascist past when the Portuguese were slaughtering Hindus? Or when the Pope disdained to apologise to the Hindus for the Goan inquisition that some would say was worse than the Spanish Inquisition (for which the Pope apologised) I wonder where are these uphoalders of "secularlism" when a Christian no less than the Pope says on his state visit to India "he wants to convert every Hindu"....I guess fascism against Hindus don't count...after all they are not a minority vote bank...are they?

Jason Keith Fernandes said...

Dear Neelima,

I fail to see the need for this response, primarily because I dont think you seem to have got the point I am making.

I am trying to articulate a sympathetic argument to understand the HJS, even while I disagree with them vehemently.

Goa did indeed have a Fascist past, but that was much later - from the 1940's - 60's - than the period you have in mind.

I wont deny that there was some temple destruction and harassment of Hindus. But I am also convinced that the reporting of it, is much more closer to us in history, and terribly exaggerated.

And as for focusing only on Hindus, do read the essay again, and observe the reference to the Catholic segments similar obsession with aesthetics.

Your comment serves the purpose of creating a wounded Hinduism, but it serves no point in looking toward a happy, and just future.

Neelima said...

May I remind you that India was the first country to ban Satanic Verses (congress) and ban the play "me Nathuram Godse bolti" (congress)...intolerance breeds is only thanks to the acceptance and respect that Hindu philosophy gives to other religion that India is the country it is...otherwise look at Pakistan to say the least and Christian US which is refusing a mosque in New York and thinks it is OK to do that...I can bet that had it been Muslims or Christians who had been treated like Hindus were in Goa by the Catholic Portuguese then there would have not been the peaceful co-existence that is there today...

People should be grateful for Hindus for not imposing their religion on others but should in return at least respect Hindus and not try to convert, kill or insult them.

Neelima said...

Dear Jason, Hinduism is wounded: may I remind you of John Paul II's historical visit to India where he held in a mass in a stadium and pledged to "convert all Asians"....wonder where people like you are do then? No jumping to the defence of Hindus for their rights?

And "some temples were destroyed" and "harassment"..I think you need to do more research. Hindus had their eyelids cut off so they could watch their children/wives being raped..

And lastly, with all due respect, being a journalist myself if you kept your writing a tad bit simpler than perhaps the point of your article would be more clear.

Neelima said...

So you have the last word, do you Jason?

Neelima said...

So you have the last word, do you Jason?

oskeladden said...

Neelima: I don't understand your point. What connection are you trying to make between the Goan Inquisition and the HJS? Are you saying that because Hindus were persecuted in the past, they're justified in restricting the freedom of expression of those they believe to be their persecutors' descendants today?

Jason: Walter Benjamin was essentially criticising art for its inability to represent man's moral essence, and arguing that art was only worthwhile when the artist created for a politically moral purpose. Wouldn't his critique apply as much to the aesthetic that the HJS is targetting as it does to their acts? The former - and the idea of 'artistic freedom' invoked to justify it - is a paradigmatic example of the "l'art pour l'art" which he found revolting. I agree that his thinking is complex, so I'm really only trying to figure out exactly how you're reading him in the context of Hindutva (a topic about which I have fairly strong views, as you may remember - and they haven't changed much in the fourteen or so years since we last spoke).

Neelima said...

Jason: Though your argument is interesting may I suggest using "The Last Temptation of Christ" to illustrate your point? The 1988 Martin Scorsese film was banned in India after protest from fascist Christians. I thought considering your own Christian background you would be able to bring a insider's knowledge into the whole debate.

Oskeladden:I would say it is case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Hindus have always been tolerant - even under grave provocation - eg the Pope saying he wants to convert every Asian.

But I would say faiths like Christianity and Islam are the ones who have set the trend of muzzling freedom of expression in India simply by using the minority card. From Satanic Verses to The Last Temptation of Christ - all are banned so as not to hurt the sentiments of minorities. Hindus are a minority in Goa...perhaps same sensitivity should be shown to them?

Jason Keith Fernandes said...

Dear Neelima,

I dont know where to begin to respond to your rather interesting comments. But perhaps the best place to begin would be to point out how painfully apparent it is that you know nothing of what you are speaking about.

1. 'Hindus' have been a majority in Goa since the mid 1800's - so your latest assertion that the minority Hindus in Goa be offered some respite makes no sense.

2. You do not realise that you are not backing regular Hindus, but a particularly virulent group of them who are embarassing a vast segment of Goan Hindus.

3. Hindus had their eyelids cut off so that they could see their children and wives being raped? Where did you get this information from? It is definitely news to me.

For these reasons, I am led to believe that you are in fact not really interested in a dialogue, but in hamming up some idea of Hindus under attack. I am afraid I am unable to see such an attack.

About these groups asking for the banning of this and banning of that. I agree that there is problem in the secular Indian state, that did amount to 'appeasement'. I find ridiculous the idea that either the Satanic verses or the last temptation should have been banned. Now everyone seems to be running around asking for bans! Bizzare!

Finally, we all have the right to convert others. And if the Pope would like to see every person (not just Hindus, since Muslims also need to see the 'light') then we must remember that is his job! If we are secure in our faith, there is no need to take him seriously.

stay well.

Jovit DePinto said...

@Jason well said, love the arguement and the articulation.