Hindu militant groups disrupted Christmas celebrations and vandalized decorations in parts of India this season, local media report. The most serious incident was in Silchar, in the northeastern state of Assam, where apparent followers of the Bajrang Dal "manhandled" Hindu youth who attempted to join observances at a Presbyterian Church on Christmas Day. In a video posted on social media, one follower said: "We have nothing against the Christians who have every right to celebrate Christmas. Our issue is with the Hindus who went against their dharma to sing Merry Christmas instead of observing Tulsi Divas." Dec. 25 is recognized by some Hindus as Tulsi Divas, dedicated to the spiritual significance of the basil plant—although it appears to be a recent invention, aimed at helping Hindus resist the lure of Christmas. Bajrang Dal is the youth arm of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), a right-wing organization allied with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The VHP has been named as one of the groups involved in the 2002 Gujarat genocide.
Unemployed migrant workers left stranded by the COVID-19 lockdown have repeatedly clashed with police in India's industrial hub of Gujarat state, and the situation is fast escalating. Protesters demanding transport back to their homes were again attacked by police at a market on the outskirts of Surat on May 4; tear-gas canisters were met with pelted stones. (NDTV, GulfNews) Riots yet again erupted four days later in Ahmedabad, as security forces attacked residents defying stringent lockdown orders. (AFP, FirstPost)
It's certainly an irony that with police-state measures mounting worldwide to enforce lockdowns and contain COVID-19, Trump is now claiming sweeping executive power to lift lockdowns in the US in spite of the pandemic. Asserting his prerogative to override state governors and order economies open again, Trump stated April 13: "When someone is president of the United States, the authority is total." After requisite media outcry, he later reiterated this assertion on Twitter. (NYT, The Guardian) The response in media and the Twittersphere has been to call this out as blatantly unconstitutional. While it is, of course, necessary to point out the illegitimacy of Trump's pretended power-grab, it is also side-stepping the real threat here: of the pandemic being exploited to declare an actual "state of exception" in which constitutional restraints are suspended altogether—perhaps permanently.
At least 27 are dead in five days of communal violence in Delhi that coincided with Donald Trump's first visit to India as president. The violence began as protests against India's new citizenship law sparked a reaction by Hindu militants, who began attacking Muslims and torching Muslim-owned shops. Delhi judicial authorities have opened an investigation, and ordered police officials to view video clips of incitement by local leaders of the ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). (Jurist, India Today)
In Episode 47 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg speaks with Punnag Tej Hazarika of the Brooklyn-based small-press imprint Coolgrove and affiliated BorderTalk blog, which explores questions of cultural intersection. Among Coolgrove's recent titles is Winged Horse: 76 Assamese Songs, a collection of translated lyrics by Tej's father, Bhupen Hazarika, the "Bard of Brahmaputra," who campaigned through his music for a dignified place in India for the peoples of Assam and other minority ethnicities. Last year, Tej traveled to New Delhi to receive the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian award, on behalf of his late father. But the honor came with India—and especially Assam and the restive Northeast—on the cusp of exploding into protest over the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act. The politics of the situation, and the dilemmas of interculturality from Assam to New York, are discussed in a wide-ranging interview. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
The Supreme Court of India issued a unanimous ruling Nov. 9 in the decades-long Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land case, finding for the Hindus. A small plot of land, of about 1,500 square yards, in the city of Ayodhya in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh has traditionally been believed by Hindus to be the birthplace of the god Ram. The location is also venerated by Muslims because it was the site of the Babri Masjid, a mosque built in the sixteenth century by the first Mughal emperor Babur. Both religious communities have fought over ownership of the site since the beginning of the British Raj in 1857. The current case came out of appeals of four different suits filed from 1950 to 1989.
Amid moves toward mass detention of Muslims in Kashmir and Assam, a growing atmosphere of terror, and persecution of government critics, India's arch-reactionary Prime Minister Narendra Modi cynically places an op-ed in the New York Times extolling Mohandas Gandhi on his 150th birthday. In Episode 40 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg calls this out as Orwellian propaganda, and documents the historical reality: Modi is not the inheritor of the tradition of Gandhi, but that of his assassin. Those who assert that Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party has fascist roots are factually correct. Progressives in recent years have been rethinking the sanctification of Gandhi, and that is one thing. But Modi should not be allowed to get away with wrapping himself in the legacy of a man who was the antithesis of everything he represents. And US political figures like Tulsi Gabbard who pretend to be progressive while embracing the fascistic Modi must be exposed and repudiated. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Protesting the flogging of a Dalit ("Untouchable") family in Una, Gujarat state, for skinning a dead cow, thousands of Dalits gathered in state capital Ahmedabad July 31 to declare a new mobilization for their rights and diginity. They announced a cross-county march from Ahmedabad to Una, to arrive on Aug. 15, India's Independence Day. Leaders asked Dalits to stop disposing dead cattle and cleaning sewers to "send a strong message" to the state government. The Una Dalit Atyachar Ladat Samiti (UDALS), which is organizing the march, accuses the BJP government in Gujarat of giving a free hand to gau rakshaks—Hindu fundamentalist "cattle vigilantes" who have launched a series of attacks on Dalits, Muslims and others to enforce reverance for the sacred cow and their proclaimed ban on beef consumption. (Indian Express, Aug. 1; Indian Express, July 31)