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None did the Dalit girl rape, none did the Masjid vandalize and none did the Mahatma shoot

None did the Dalit girl rape, none did the Masjid vandalize and none did the Mahatma shoot

Babri Masjid demolition, Image credit: PTI

This happened long ago. At a time, when Kerala was as mad about caste as Yogi Adityanath's UP now is. To be precise, it happened even before Vivekananda described our blessed home state of Kerala the very same piece of land that Parasurama, the ruthless Kshatriya slayer, carved out from sea, as a nut house because of the rampant casteism here. The great sage Sankaracharya was passing through a village, tucked away somewhere in the lap of the Western Ghat, during his periodic wanderings. A cow, ignorant of the great saint's identity as well as the profundity of his thoughts, driven by some sudden animal passion, threateningly approached the saint, its horns poised for an assault. The Acharya, alert as ever, panicked and took flight. His agile limbs helped him save his skin from the bovine fury. A bystander who recognized the famed savant, asked him, why the Acharya had panicked and fled, when according to his philosophy the cow was merely a maya or illusion.

Acharya was however not one who could be cowed down by a question or two. His retort was quick: All that happened here or all that you felt did happen was a mere maya. Neither did the cow attack me nor did I take flight ...all that you felt as having taken place is a mere illusion !!

When the special court under CBI, the august institution that had its immaculate conception on an uneventful fool's day in 1963, pronounced all the Parivar leaders as innocent of all crimes attributed to them, we ordinary mortals, like the famed Acharya have to convince ourselves that all that we witnessed in the last two decades, i.e. the parivar leaders highballing across their country in their Toyota chariots, drumming up support for the temple, sanctifying bricks for the Mandir and galvanizing the mobs for pulling down the mosque, were nothing but maya. As part of learning a new survival skill for the altered times, let us try to convince ourselves it was indeed the case; but unfortunately there is a whole litany of things we will have to thus convince ourselves. We will have to persuade our sceptic selves into believing that no Mahatma Godseji killed any Gandhi, nor any knickered, club-wielding sevak distributes sweets on that day. If this places a real strain on our limited ability to delude ourselves, there are more things to be done to tidy up and sanitize our everyday memory: thus, we will have to concede that none did actually rape the Dalit woman in Hathras or slash her tongue or smash her skull or burn her body under the cover of darkness or cordon off the village, or bar journalists from there or threaten her family or...: All these and much more we will have to convince our sceptic selves, because all these are nothing but part of cosmic maya. But do not press the pause button yet; it is not only that. All those staggering statistics, lying frozen in the records of all the police stations and even the National Crime Records Bureau, we have to assiduously convince ourselves to be part of the same cycle of colossal illusions.

According to the famous Indologist Wendy Doniger, though the future is eminently predictable for Indians, the past here is subject to constant revisions and alterations. Nohing else can be truer of Narendra Modi's India. Both the past and the present here are being constantly recast in order to suit the present expediencies. But this is not being done in a random fashion but in accordance with a well-devised template. According to this, we the people of Vedas and Smiritis, were a cucumber and carrot-eating vegetarian bunch busy with our vows of Grihasta and Vanaprasta and had kept our libido firmly under yoke with yogic austerity. All the rape, rapine, pillage and you name the crime, were brought here by the foreign invaders whom we are determined to identify and flush out. A Kurukshetra or a Kalinga, said to have happened eons ago were either illusions or mere aberrations, just as illusory as the claims of saffron-clad vandals pulling down the domes of the Babri Masjid or as colossally chimerical as Godseji having gunned down Gandhi with an Italian pistol acquired with the help of Savarkarji.

Let's however return to the more fashionable cows. In her The Ministry of Utmost Happiness Arundhati Roy metaphorizes the fanaticism that grips current India through the figure of a horde of cows and bulls that undergo some mysterious genetic transformation and start behaving like rabid dogs. In CP Surendran's Lost and Found, the same menace is allegorized through the figure of a dominatrix cow that muscles its way along the stairs of Mumbai high-rise. But, we have to hand it to Sankaracharya, for he had recognized the threat of unbridled bovine fury much before anyone; that was why he chose to flee, despite the certain knowledge that the cow was mere maya. After all, the saint, well-versed in Vedas and epics, knew well how Kamsa had variously disguised himself as a bull and cow to finish off even the great Krishna.

But if Ambedkar, the architect of our constitution were asked for his take on the matter, he would have doubtlessly said that the Acharya shouldn't have run and the cow should have gored him. For Ambedkar made no bones of his dislike for the Acharya, whom he considered to be responsible for driving out Buddhism from the country and reviving the caste-ossified Brahminism. Once during a meeting with MO Mathai, Jawahar Lal Nehru's Malayali personal secretary, Ambedkar fumed how Kerala could never absolve itself of the sin of having produced Sankaracharya, who was singlehandedly responsible for revivifying caste and Brahminism in the country, leading to the dehumanization of Dalits and other marginalized people. According to Dalit historians like Prof. Jayaprakash, the atrocities unleashed on Buddhists and Jains in India under Sankaracharya were marked by a ruthless savagery. The city Aluva near Acharya's hometown, according to him, acquired the name since the place was the site of brutal inquisitions making use of poisoned (Alum in Malayalam means poison) stakes on which the Buddhists were impaled. It was because of Sankara's role in these atrocities that Vivekanada described him as indomitable genius, who allowed not an iota of space for mercy or kindness in his heart.

It is actually the same casteist Brahminial virus that, as Ambedkar rightly identified, which contributed to the making of the psychology that created those vicious spectacles in contemporary India from the Babri demolition to the Hathras incident. After all, Manu had long ago stated that the region north of the Vindhyas belongs to the twice-born and the territory south of it is where the barbarians inhabit. Those upper caste vandals who killed a Dalit man for riding a horse in UP and their kinsmen who savaged a Dalit girl whose shadow spilled onto their path in MP and those Parivar leaders who broke into hysteric frenzy upon the demolition of the Babri Masjid all epitomize this sinister mindset. They draw their bile from Savarkarji, who gloated about vandalizing a mosque in the company of his playmates at the tender age of twelve. Theirs is not the Hindu faith of Gandhiji that preached love, empathy and compassion.

What is most distressing is that this is happening in a country that had since time immemorial taught the world lessons of cosmocracy and accommodation, at a time when people in many parts of the world are coming to realize the values of camaraderie and symbiotic living. Even in a country like the UAE, which has not a single Hindu as its citizen, the Government is providing land and means to build a temple for the Hindu residents there; and what not to say, even Pakistan a traditional hotbed of religious extremism is making provisions in its government budget for a Hindu temple and in a region as prone to atrocities against minority Christians as Gojra in Pak Punjab, the majority Muslim peasants are raising a fund using their paltry earnings to rebuild a church vandalized during a communal conflict. When, though isolated, such pinpricks of light are emanating from the rest of the world, our own leaders seem to be too hardened and sclerotic even to utter an Insha Allah harbingering better times in the spirit of Joe Biden, the American presidential candidate.

(Umer O Thasneem teaches in the department of English, University of Calicut. His recent book Orhan Pamuk and the Poetics of Fiction has been published by Cambridge Scholars, UK)

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