Seven decades later, the memory of partition violence is being replayed in the minds of Indian Muslims, the country's largest minority, opening the ‘settled’ questions of belonging and unbelonging.
There is a tenacious link between history and memory, where the past shapes the present and the present exhumes and retells the story of the past. The tenacity of this relationship is more intense and overpowering when accompanied with violence. The partition of the Indian sub-continent and the culmination of two independent states of Muslim-dominated Pakistan and the Hindu-majority India on August 15, 1947, is an example of one such relationship where memory of the partition violence is invoked and re-invoked to shape the present political identities. The turmoil and the trauma that followed is vivid in the imagination of those who survived the sanguinary partition carnage on both sides of the divide.
While the birth of the two nations was painful, the trajectories that they took were ‘different’ on the surface and had an eerie similarity at a deeper level of politics and society. It is no secret that Pakistan assumed military dictatorships with a state sponsored Islamisation process in the 1970s that pushed the religious and sectarian minorities to the periphery of statecraft and mainstream sociality. What is fascinating [from the outside] and disturbing [from the inside] at the same time, is to explore the slow and simmering rise of the Hinduisation that has left an imprint on institutions and the society, which saw its full culmination with the Prime Minister of India laying the foundation of the Ram Mandir at the disputed site in Ayodhya on August 5 earlier this year.
Personal is Political
This moment was celebrated with zest and fanfare among the larger Hindu community across the country and the diaspora. The jubilation took me back to my early years, when I grew up in a cosmopolitan setting of Lucknow’s elite missionary school, where my 18-year old steady friend from an upper caste and upper-class family in her most nonchalant way replied to a question in a school beauty pageant contest, “My role model is Atal Bihari Vajpayee because we know he is there for we Hindus.” It is this consciousness of being a Hindu and finding a saviour in a Hindu political figure that resonates even today - but with even greater velocity and thrust. This statement made by my friend shook me from within because it was my first personal experience that made me aware and conscious of my Muslim identity, more ubiquitous today than ever before. I became a Muslim overnight.
While the signs of Hindu pride, assertion and protection of the so-called Hindu identity were always present below the surface, the current display of Hindu supremacy has taken an abrasive form where the leadership of the country claims that India has always been a Hindu nation and aims at prioritising the rights of Hindus, irrespective of their citizenship. The foundation laying of the Ram Mandir is a blatant articulation of that supremacy. It was a conscious and calculated political move by the Prime Minister that left Muslims of the country, across classes, in a historical juggle – back to the dilemma of belonging - a Muslim Pakistan or a ‘secular’ India?
Diversifying Forces of Violence
All those who chose to stay back in post-partition India – the largest Muslim minority of the country - continue to live with this bloody legacy of the partition with the forms of violence reimagined and diversified in the last seven decades. The violence inflicted by the Indian state on the body of the Muslim minority is not limited to unending bloodbath and pogroms like the Hashimpura riots of 1987, the post-Babri riots in 1992-93, the state-sponsored Gujarat riots of 2002, and the most recent Delhi pogrom of February 2020 that was a demonstration of hatred for Muslims and the symbols associated with their identity. There is a diversification of the forces of violence, from mob-lynching vigilante groups, to systemic persecution at the hands of the police and the law that enables and empowers the most bigoted and intolerant impulses of the ‘nation’ and militarises those identities.
What we see today is the state turning into an enabler of violence and hate, where the names of Gods, particularly Lord Ram, is an incitement of mob violence against the minorities. Most of the victims of these state-supported lynching are Muslims, who comprise 15 percent of India’s 1.3 billion population. The others being Dalits and Adivasis. As the Hindu chant becomes a murder cry, the cow-vigilantes gain strength in their agenda of maiming an entire community in its larger ideological aim to remake India into a Brahmanical state for the ‘Hindus’. The rise of the vigilante groups in Modi’s India amidst the larger silent or conformist corporate upper-caste majority is terrifying. The lack of condemnation to hate crimes and state-backed violence from the upper-middle class, who are the upper-castes, is the same privilege that I encountered 17 years ago. Those voices articulating minority rights face the same systematic targeting as their Muslim compatriots. This exposes the Indian state’s deep contempt for the Muslim ‘other’.
While the vigilante groups are the good ally of this liberal Hindu fascism, the Indian police, which is the repressive arm of the state, has enacted as the handmaiden of Hindutva in targeted killings of Muslims with full impunity. The macabre of police violence seen in parts of Uttar Pradesh and Jamia Milli Islamia University in December 2019 as part of anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests, speaks volumes about the criminal complicity of the law enforcers in fulfilling the divisive agenda of the state – the relentless pursuit of a Hindu Rashtra.
In this praxis of political desire, the state and society are dogged with the most revile form of governance, where the catastrophic repercussions of dispossessing the minorities, Muslims in particular, of their rights, liberties and material possession, has made the country cross the Rubicon of communal politics. The changes are palpable, the future bleak, and the history of partition lives on with memory of violence.
Politics of Erosion & the Question of Belonging
What is ironic to see is that the government, in its pursuit of a Hindu Rashtra, is playing a dual politics of erosion. No conversation on the issue of Hindutva politics is complete without the mention of the most brutal reality of the abrogation of Article 370, a provision in the Indian constitution that governs the relationship of the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir with India. On August 5, 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government eroded the Kashmiri identity in a forceful submission to India by diminishing the state’s special status and rights in a single sleight of hand. At another level in India, there is a continuous thread of political repugnancy built around the image of the ‘mainstream’ Muslim, who is fighting a battle of blood and soil to restore his faith in secular equality and dignity that lies wounded and mercilessly eroded.
While on the one hand, the Indian state puts a group of people under forceful submission against their will, on the other, it ruthlessly distances itself from a population that historically belongs to the nation in spirit, commitment and faith. In this display of politics, the memory of partition violence is replayed in the minds of many, opening the ‘settled’ questions of belonging and unbelonging.
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