Anti-Hindutva frenemies

J Devika | Updated on January 09, 2018

Control + Save: ‘The openly partisan position of the police against Muslims in the ‘protection’ offered to Hadiya reveals the spread of Hindutva influence among them.’ File image shows KM Ashokan (second from left), father of Hadiya, with the police officers standing guard outside his house at Vaikom   -  Reuters/Sivaram V

United against majoritarian hegemony but riven by internal distrust — a small but vibrant section of Kerala’s civil society is unwittingly helping entrench the security state

Living in Kerala, one often gets the impression, not entirely false, of being insulated from the worst horrors of Hindutva elsewhere in India. It is an impression often fostered by the dominant left, particularly the CPM, which takes credit for the protection of ‘secularism’ here. Many of us have been sceptic: for all of CPM workers’ unending tussles with Sangh supporters in north Kerala, the CPM, in recent times at least, has been definitely half-hearted in fighting majoritarian Hindutva ideology. There are others who point out that, surely, Kerala’s centuries-long history of communities of different faiths living together harmoniously cannot be reduced into a blatantly anti-religious, but equally proselytising secularism that imagines itself to be the essential truth to be recovered after the destruction of all other faiths. I am not convinced by this either, since I am also sceptic about the precise effects of, and terms set by this ‘harmonious’ mode of tolerance. It is hard for me to forget that Syrian Christians, Jews, and Muslims were ‘harmoniously’ integrated into medieval Malayali society under the control of Hindu rulers committed to maintaining the order of caste.

For me, the sense of relative distance from the worst of Hindutva came from the presence of a small but vibrant anti-Hindutva civil society consisting of radical critics of the social, political, and cultural fundamentals of the entrenched order here. These include rebels of all sorts — environmental activists, queer people, resistant feminists, dalit activists and intellectuals, Muslim organisations, intellectuals, and activists. However, ironically, one cannot help wondering whether it is not this civil society that is indeed helping entrench the security state in Kerala.

Tragically enough, this formation seems so riddled with internal distrust and disagreement that after every round of contest, the only winner seems to be the Hindutva-hegemonised, expanding security state in Kerala. Inhabiting this space are the so-called ‘secularist-rationalists’, and the Islamicists and Muslim activists, and their cohabitation has been terribly rocky, to say the least. In better times, perhaps, they would have positioned themselves as outright foes. Hindutva violence throws them together, but they cannot come together. Worse, each side is often not loath to side with the state against the other: if, during the Kiss of Love protests of 2014, we saw some Muslim and dalit organisations side with conservatives and even justify the state’s violence against the secular radicals who led the protests, now, in the wake of the Hadiya case, we see exactly the opposite — the latter siding unabashedly with the state unleashing Islamophobic attacks on the Popular Front of India, an organisation that sheltered Hadiya after her conversion. In both, it is the state that gained.

Between 2014 and now, even as the elected government announced its commitment to women’s empowerment and the rights and welfare of transpeople, the police routinely attacked and humiliated less-privileged citizens. Recently, the Kerala police arrested a woman who left her sons with her husband to seek work elsewhere, trying to escape domestic violence. They used child rights as a pretext. Violence against transpeople by the police has been almost normalised. Yet it is interesting that we continue to believe that the state in Kerala is on the side of liberal freedoms. Nor do we have any evidence that the state here is secular. Violence against Muslims by the police is surely not news, but the openly partisan position of the police against Muslims in the ‘protection’ offered to Hadiya reveals the spread of Hindutva influence among them.

In the recent Hadiya case, the secular-rationalists were in flagrant alliance with the CPM, which endorsed Hindutva wisdom about a woman’s conversion to Islam and her choice of a partner from that faith. They cheered on the anti-terror National Investigation Agency’s (NIA) effort to implicate Hadiya’s partner, ignored the violence she suffered at home, and endorsed NIA interpretations. However, when just a few days back the Kochi police terrorised a young woman for being out at night, all secular-rationalists were protesting against the state! In other words, we like the state when it attacks people we dislike, but definitely expect it to protect our freedoms.

This, I think, explains the puzzle of the intensification of the conservative, Islamophobic, security-obsessed state, now almost wrenching free of the control of the elected government in Kerala, though majoritarianism is still not an indomitable force here. Yes, it is true that the dominant left has fostered it through short-sighted political calculation. But oppositional civil society is potentially strong enough to counter Hindutva onslaught and would have held it off, if only we were less naïve about the state. Unless we — secular radicals and Islamicists — find a way to settle our differences without leaning on the state, we will only be feeding the monster which will swallow us all. Women on both sides ought to have taken a lead, perhaps; we lose the most in Hindutva’s high-tide.

J Devika is a historian and critic based in Thiruvananthapuram

Published on December 15, 2017

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