Home » Prose » Looking East – Real lessons from the Bangalore Exodus 2012

Looking East – Real lessons from the Bangalore Exodus 2012

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(Appeared in Shillong Times, September 8th, 2012)

Well there we have it. The rest of India does not care about us. Sad but true; anyway life goes on. I can’t pretend not to be affected by these events because my younger cousin came back home and is back to annoying me. We have to learn the lessons of this Exodus, but not the lessons that the mainstream media perpetuates.

I never blame media – such is the common practice these days and a vague target really – but rather I blame certain corporate houses for not analysing a situation further, for not having priorities about coverage and for being purely sensational. All done to further their own agendas.

I think media is invaluable to society but I also think we certainly deserve higher standards. When you question the “mainstream” media about the way they do things, they say that most people (excluding you, of course) won’t get the complexity of situational analysis or some such condescension.

I loathe Times Now, I hate Headlines Today etc. They supply very little information, analyse simplistically and recourse to using bright images, colour coordination, loud sounds (Arnab Goswami) and other cheap tricks to get people’s attention to the screen.

Alternative outlets have come to understand today that we need to cover fewer stories but cover them well, from a variety of perspectives.

Our dependence on corporate media houses should be broken. Our need is to read further into a situation by comparing what the national media houses have to say with more detailed local point of view. I am sure for the most part we would learn more from the latter.

With all this loud noise (O, Arnab) about Muslim infiltration, Bangladeshi invasion and the failure of the Centre to ensure peace and equality, we forget that below the surface is an undercurrent. I urge you to be very suspicious of simplistic understanding of situations. I become more sceptical when I am not directly involved in the creation of my own opinion, when I have no astute knowledge of a thing.

Some of my politically correct friends insist on the view that the problem of illegal Bangladeshi immigration is not a problem with an anti-Islamic dimension. I do not agree with them. The notion of the “invading” Bangladeshi national is closely tied in with the fact that they are not “national” and which for certain powerful organisations is inseparable from the fact that they are Muslims as well.

Religion is one of those underplayed (but nonetheless, often, convenient) cards that a number of Liberal-minded people shy away from. This does not mean it is not a real issue or even, a problem at times. Just because some have a distrust of religion, they have pretended not to see it as a powerful force in this country.

Rather than take the hardline of actually being truly secular, Centric forces have been content to project false tolerance. Such as when we saw ”tribal” leader PA Sangma jump at the opportunity to offer prayers at the Golden Temple, Amritsar. This is common practice. Most “educated” people would never discuss religious faith openly in “polite” society. They would simply decry religion and leave it at that. As though there is such a thing as religion without its social, political, economic and psychological dimensions.

But to simply condemn and not analyse is very dangerous for us. We are not draining fundamentalism of elan by dismissing it from our thoughts, we are actually strengthening it. We can see that India vs. Pakistan is really Hindu vs. Muslim. It is my belief that the diplomatic machinery between the two countries breaks down often because of this inability to understand the other’s faith or the problem of importing false beliefs about the other’s faith. Things at bureaucratic level are so different from ground realities.

Everyone seems eager to voice out their take on why thousands of people from our part of the country were forced to flee homewards.  Yet again it was tragic-comedic the way it played out because on the one hand, you had the real hardships being faced by the migrants while on the other hand you had senior politicians sharing sage words of wisdom – The Centre is unstable, The Centre cannot hold.

Very little of the ongoing dilemma was analysed. All we got were shots of refugees and interviews with the “bosses”. Let us look closely at the Kokrajhar incident. The exact motivations, for people inciting these events, are undoubtedly multiple but what is really interesting is how this has all panned out in favour of the Hindu Right.

What I have been watching, with bated breath, is how being a Bangladeshi (foreigner -with darker skin colour) is automatically equivalent to being anti-India. Why they would be anti-India, in the first place, when they come here to make a living is something no one has explained to me.

Of course, some will say that these Right wing forces are defending us from outside invasion but it is xenophobia that reeks from within this defence. Between the tribal cultural defenders and the extensive para/military presence we have, I really don’t see it being too likely a possibility. Army men are far worse than Bangladeshi labourers in my opinion (but that is probably because it is fashionable to say this).

It is easy to hate Bangladeshis because firstly, they have no rights in our country and secondly, they are poorer than us. For the Hindu and Christian alike, there is now this common enemy –Muslim, of course – that allows some unity and some cooperation. It is little surprise that our mistrust and hatred find their targets in the dispossessed poor (after all wealthy Bangladeshis have no reason to leave). In their quest for a livelihood, the Bangladeshis have become the much maligned enemy of both local and Bharat nationalists. It is a telling sign when Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar start to talk about such things openly and actually bother about what is happening in other parts of the country. As I said it is a tragic-comedy.

Coming on the back of the troubles at Kokrajhar, the problems that led to the Bangalore Exodus could not have been at a worse time for the Muslim community. At Kokrajhar, the camera crews ran after the elusive enemies without success. We could not see who these people really were. It was very easy for fabrications to be borne out based on the large number of Bangladeshis there. It would have been harder to admit that Assam is a hotbed of cultural tensions. It would have been harder to admit that ethnic tension has been a major spark for insurrection there.Compound this with the struggle for diminishing resources and you have a pressure cooker of violence waiting to burst in the face of an imposed external authority.

The Muslim community in Karnataka foresaw what the implications would be for Muslims in the country. They were quick to dispatch messages calling for peace and condoning violence. They were quick to offer help to the fleeing population. However, they were not quite as fast as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). In what seemed like a carefully planned manoeuvre, the VHP had in a matter of hours, set up a helpline to help their North Eastern “brothers and sisters” and had also managed in a cunning way to implicate its hated Muslim targets.

On the faceBOOK page of the group “Stop Discriminating People from the North East” there were a few who immediately suspected the gesture and heated arguments ensued. The troubling sign, however, is that most were content to assume that the Bangalore incidents were just the work of “jobless, ignorant people” and that the VHP were sweet Samaritans. We cannot assume such innocence.

I say troubling, and I mince no words here, because the Hindu Right is a great threat in this country. They are as manipulative and conniving as we refuse to believe they are. To think simply that the Hindu Right is busy pottering in its own little back-garden and has no grand designs for the rest of the rest is an illusion. Unlike Bangladeshi labourers, they have money, power and the will to implement their schemes. They can wait (and will wait) for the rusty cogs of their ideological machinery to turn as they subsume, under their jingoistic Hindu rhetoric.

But why did the VHP suddenly care about what was happening to the North Easterns? It wasn’t something that had been reflected in any noticeable measure in their earlier work. They have had a presence in Assam for a while, of course, but not really known in any measure in the other 6 states.

It has become apparent that just as policymakers are shifting gaze eastwards, another set of (saffron) eyes is looking this way too. This is not to say that the Hindutva household hadn’t been thinking about the North East before but now it seems to have reassessed the glimmer of the region.

In this regard, one of the shrewdest operators in cross-cultural politics has got to be the so-called non-political Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). They have adopted many stock means of penetration in the North East such as funding schools, building dispensaries etc, and crucially, have allied themselves with the indigenous religious institutions, which were adversely affected by the introduction of Christianity in the region, some 200 years ago.

The indigenous religions have had to strike an alliance in order to survive Christianisation, much to the glee of the Sangh. The Sangh and company are experts at indoctrinating tribals in underdeveloped areas. The mutable nature of Hinduism allows for a convenient reinterpretation of what both the scope and definition of “Hindu” is. It has become an all-encompassing and over-arching grand narrative for the Hindu Right, which includes within its schema the local indigenous ways of being and even religions. These all become aspects of Hinduism, not complete, beautiful systems in their own right but mere parts.

There is another third, more indirect reason why the RSS and co. have gained ascendency in the NER in the last decade. Again it is owing to a neighbour, not a fellow Paki nation though (let’s be honest, we’re all Pakis outside the Subcontinent). It is the emergence of China as the puissant Asian overlord that has abetted this interest in North East India. To many Bharat nationalists, the thought of losing the North East to China must seem a clear and present possibility. It would seem like a further insult if the Chinese managed to defeat India again in open conflict.

On this I think both the Right and Centre are in agreement over. Arunachal Pradesh, even touristy Sikkim for that matter, are heavily militarised zones. China is now viewed as a nasty expansionist human rights abusing tyrant and must be kept at bay. This fuels nationalism further among the members of the Hindu Right. Hand-in-hand with the militarisation of the North East is fear mongering and speculation. It does not help that both sides –India and China- are equally suspicious and inept at defusing. This is why the North East is now such a nice round gem for the Hindu Right parliament/think-tank. The region is important as a buffer zone, crucial at containment.

For a while, it seemed that the idea of a truly successful North East campaign for the RSS and co. was a laughable pipedream. This is not so in our current time. Part of the reasoning that helps the RSS is, of course, dictated by current affairs today. The very real, though perhaps not biblical, issue of immigration is one that is sensitive and draws the nationalist RSS into the fray.

By raising the anti-Muslim banner, they can even win support from otherwise suspicious Christians from the North Eastern states. By touting border disputes and accusing non-nationals, they can win over the undecided political set and perhaps some from the Liberal camp. By sounding the alarm against the Chinese, they can envelope the North East in trepidation and uncertainty.

The wonderful thing for the RSS is that these banners need not even be flagged in specific geographical areas but can gain currency among people, who unknowingly, carry the parasite messages homewards.Recently, we saw this in real life as a number of Shillong youth came back home having favourable things to say about the charity of the Sangh and the Parishad. (This was until the local cultural strongmen gave them a resounding admonishment)

Through their brilliant PR campaigns, the totalitarian dreams of the Sangh are slowly seeing the light of day. Like at any theatrical show, I cannot help but sit upright and clap my hands when I see good acting.

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