The Reach Of Hindutva. I shiver in my boots.

Let’s get straight to the point. When Barack Obama announced his transition team, to us Indians, the name Sonal Shah stood out like a beacon. We were finally getting there-or so perhaps. That is until three Indian-American groups protested the appointment. So what’s the big deal? We Indians know very well that we have a crab mentality and who goes up must be pulled down. So there were Indians in America who were probably jealous of Sonal. Oh we are like this only! Right? Wrong! The three groups, Indian Coalition Against Genocide (CAG), Indian American Coalition For Pluralism and Non Resident Indians For A Secular And Harmonious India were not pulling Sonal down. They were pointing towards Sonal’s links with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the right wing, Hindutva propagating, fundamentalist organisation. (Also established as The Hindu Council in various countries including New Zealand.) The CAG was instrumental in getting Narendra Modi’s visa to the U.S. revoked in 2005. Who is Narendra Modi? Just do a Google search. (Narendra Modi + Gujarat or Narendra Modi + Gujarat riots 2002).

Anyway, Vijay Prashad first wrote about Sonal’s links in an essay on 7 November and then followed it up with another on 13 November. Meanwhile the Indian media picked it up and then Indian communities and boards online went haywire. Those against Sonal’s association with VHP and those defending Sonal Shah.

I agree Vijay Prashad’s first essay was not a well-written piece. He was cautioning but not in a well thought out way. I know, I have been there. Last year when I spoke about the Hindu Council of New Zealand and the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS, the ‘foreign’ version of the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh), there was much hissing and hate mail floating around. Everyone from ethnic poster-children of Aotearoa to hush-hush PC liberal types to religious ‘peaceniks’ thought it was improper for me to say it especially in the way I said it. All mostly with no or little knowledge of complex Indian politics and the methodology of the Hindutva brigade. Vijay Prashad was hauled over the coals. Not by the fundamentalists-no they are proud of Sonal and her association and they are not fond of him anyway
Vijay Prashad was criticised by, whom I have figured out as, 1.5 or second geners who are proud to be brown and Indian but who have no idea of the methodology of the right wing parties in India. Oh they abhor the killing of the Muslims and the Christians and they think the Bajrang Dal is vile but that is just one aspect of their modus operandi. What about the slow, insidious indoctrination, the casual spread of hatred?

Please let me reiterate. I grew up in the middle of it all. And it is not easy to separate the ‘wheat from the chaff’…if you know what I mean. Here and now at my workstation in Auckland I can talk openly. Back home, in Girgaum, Mumbai, I would be shouted out – or cowered into silence!

If Sonal has done all that work to serve the poor millions of India and she has all those high qualifications then it neutralises her parents’ hardcore associations with the American branches of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and to Narendra Modi or even her own membership of VHP-A (She was the national co-ordinator and her membership has now expired apparently). How could Sonal have anything to do with the killing of ‘other’ Indians? Ridiculous! She has been hired for her work with Google, not her association with the VHP! (If I was a Nazi or associated with Al-Qaeda would I be hired for any job in spite of a grand resume?) I suppose raising funds in the US for relief work and all that in India is not yet being seen as translating into funds for Hindutva ideology. For people like me who have witnessed first-hand the insidious growth of Hindutva ideology amongst friends and neighbours it does translate into just that.

Anyway, to be fair to Sonal, she released a public statement to clarify her ties. It is classic. Put on the backfoot she says she has never been involved in Indian politics. One does not have to, living overseas. It is about influencing others to believe in the singular Hindu identity of India. It is about saying ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (the world is a family) but only Hindus please, thank you! She says she does not agree with divisive politics but has never come out denouncing the riots in Gujarat openly. Her do-good organisation Indicorps sends volunteers to work at Ekal Vidyalayas. Good idea to educate tribals, you know, and make sure they never leave the fold of Hinduism. (Yet still treat them like s*^t.) It fudges the issue. The classic methodology of the Hindutva people. Obfuscation. Just like Sonal’s statement. It is not hard. She may have grown up learning it – consciously or subliminally. What does the gora/pakeha know? Or the 1.5/second geners? Surely they are not aware that the stalwarts of Hindutva are avowed, unabashed devotees of Adolf Hitler? That their nationalism is not just about Hindus but about ethnic cleansing?

Now I am not a secular intellectual by any chance. I merely express worry. Maybe Sonal is not guilty by association. How can she be responsible for ‘Hindu terrorists’ (oops, I said it!) or the Malegaon bomb blasts? It is the intelligent, subtle use of the ideology and the covert enmeshing of government and related agencies that is troubling. (Just like New Zealand Police recruiting candidates from the Indian community via the Hindu Council.) For Sonal she is not doing anything wrong. Education does not necessarily change an outlook, especially if one grows up with it. However this is the time to reflect upon them as part of Obama’s transition team. It is the time to see how minute and complex the connections of the Hindu right wing parties are to various grassroots, community, corporate, service and even intelligence agencies; to see the methodology of disseminating fear, insecurity, hatred and violence. Just as bad as any other religious right-except that it comes from the platform of ‘successful, educated, rich and middle class Indians’.

PS-I wonder how much new ‘ethnic affairs minister Pansy Wong knows about these convolutions of the South Asian diaspora here? I worry that she may actually be seeking advice from them without knowing about it… She called me stroppy… ‘you are that one who talked about the Hindu Council…my you are stroppy’ 😀

Frogs In A Pond-1

Raj Thakeray has done it again! We, the Marathi people, dither between agreeing with the ‘Mumbai-being-taken-over-by-the-North-Indians’ idea and abhorring the methodology of getting rid of them. Before I pontificate there are a few things to clear. My current city of residence is Auckland, New Zealand. I choose to live here. My hometown is Bombay/Mumbai. I am a daughter-of-the-soil. Hardcore. My grandfather was born in Bombay in 1899. He was a municipal corporator in the Bombay Municipal Corporation in the first post-independence elections. There is a street junction named after him. My father was involved with the Sanyukta Maharashtra movement. I was born in Bombay/Mumbai and have lived almost all my life in the family home at Girgaum (where my grandfather lived since 1928). I also spent some years in Dadar. Both Maharashtrian enclaves. Most of my family and friends live in Bombay/Mumbai. Serious, white collar middle-class. Yes. Mee Marathi. I belong to the state of Maharashtra; I am a Bombayite, Mumbaikar. But it is only one part of my identity; of who I am. In this post-globalised world, where mobility and migration are taken for granted, I am many things; I have multiple identities.

Unfortunately, like all fundamentalists, Raj Thakeray believes in the concept of a singular identity. He also believes in fanning the insecurity of his own people to enable his rise to power. How visionary is that? To generate fear in your own people; to take them backwards and create hatred for other people because they are ‘taking over’? Why just him, the government of Maharashtra has abdicated its responsibility towards its people in the name of populism and with an eye on the next state and Lok Sabha (general) elections. Raj wants power, the government wants to get back into power, they both want to eliminate Uddhav Thakeray from the race…so why not sacrifice Mumbai Aai, Mother Mumbai? She does not have a voice anyway. I am intimate with many of those bang in the middle of this madness. All sons and daughters of Maharashtra. The lone voice of sanity I spoke to and who can possibly take action is also relatively helpless because there are forces she cannot control. Such an emotive issue this is. If I was in Girgaum at this moment the discussion would be all about the bhaiyyas who ran away back to North India. Jai Maharashtra!

Instead I am going to try and analyse the problem. Purely from the point of view if being a migrant, from being a Bombayite and a generally opinionated person 🙂 It is very complex from my p-o-v and not just about North Indian migrants. It is about the Indian democracy, the bureaucracy, the attitude of the Indian public to democracy; it is about caste, community, culture, aspirational values, money and the Indian politicians.

In a crazy, chaotic, multilingual, multicultural democracy like India where Indians can travel to and live in any part of the country it becomes more complicated. There are bound to be tensions and problems within the diversity and between people of different states. Such is the structure of India.

Those North Indians that come to Bombay are ready to do any job and work any number of hours and anywhere in the city. They come because there is absolute poverty in their states. Maharashtrians on the other hand rarely travel outside Maharashtra. I generalise here because even within Maharashtra there are regional differences. The Kokanis, those from Vidarabha, from Pune-side etc etc.  But we Maharashtrians are relativey unambitious, unadventurous, keeping our heads down, nine-five kind of people. Many of us are lazy too. And we complain a lot. On the positive side we have great wit, humour, theatrical traditions and we are a progressive, socialist kind of people who treat women well. Of course there will be friction.

Then there is the lack of infrasctructure in Bombay. The state ignored her, the centre ignored her and the people-the locals-the sons and daughters of the soil showed no sense of ownership. That Bombay has problems of gigantic proportions is not new. How much can one milk a strip of land made from seven islands along the Arabian Sea? There is no place for expansion, there is the Land Ceiling Act (now repealed) and greedy politicians who don’t love the city. Rarely have the people of Mumbai protested against all this. Oh there have been bandhs and rail rokos and other kinds of mob protests against the ruling government (and mostly instigated by Shiv Sena) but not a civil discussion about how things can change/should be changed. Democracy in India is about ‘civil disobedience’ and this civil disobedience is about riots and vandalism; about beating up people. We lack a sense of history and heritage as well.

That money rules Mumbai is also not new. How many Maharashtrians can afford a place in their own city? How many Maharashtrian ‘developers’ exist? (That Raj Thakeray and Manohar Joshi are developing the Kohinoor Mill Compound in Dadar is interesting-wonder who many ‘marathi mansa’ will be able to afford flats there?) Besides the city has always been built ad hoc. None of the old textile mill compounds now being developed have allowed for green spaces or to accomodate redundant textile mill workers and their families-who incidentally are part of the mobs that Raj incites. They look at the highrises and resent the outsiders. It is human nature. Even I get irritated at the Marwaris that are now buying the chawls in Girgaum and converting them to ‘vegetarian only’ building societies. Only because they have the money to buy prime South Bombay land.

Also we Mumbaikars have rarely tried to own our city. It is always someone else’s fault. The bhaiyyas now sell fresh fish door to door because the native fisherfolk of Mumbai don’t do it any more. Their young ones are now at university. That is just how the social order changes with time. When the Shiv Sena was ruling the state after the 1992-93 riots, ‘the boys’ were given licences and permits to run their street food stalls. Pav Bhaji, Vada Pav, Chai…the staple diet of the man on the street and employment for ‘the boys’-the locals. All Mumbaikars know and I have it from the mouth of those-that-pay-obeisance-to-the-Thakerays ‘the boys’ rented these food stalls to others (South and North Indians) and are back to being unemployed. That is how the social order is maintained ya? Through laziness. So that ‘the boys’ can hang out at the galli nakas and be ready to beat up anyone at the drop of a hat. Now that is hard work!

Because Indian democracy is crazy the way it is and the bureaucracy and politicians deliberately maintain the divide between them and the ‘common man’, the regular citizen is unable to engage with the powers-that-be. On the other hand we common citizens merely vote and leave the rest to the government thinking it is the government’s job to make things happen. It is a bad situation. And then we have those that are the frogs in a pond. Those who never get the bigger picture because all they want is power and money. Like all Indian politicians.

(There’s more to come in another blog.)

What I learnt in Melbourne

This blog is long overdue. I know the elections of the world are around the corner and the elections of this little country called New Zealand are on 8th November…there is much happening everywhere. The ‘ethnics’ in South Auckland are unhappy with the way their problems are being handled. Deliberate ghettoisation and fragementation of communitites, pitting one against the other…as a friend mentioned. Hmmm…now where have we heard it before? Divide and rule? Anyway, there is much to write about if I want to. Elections are always exciting times but really I leave it to the experts. I know I will vote and for whom I am going to vote. Then maybe I shall make noise another day. This blog is about my trip top Melbourne almost a month ago. What with crashing hard drives and looming deadlines it has been tough to find time to blog. I want to discpline myself and blog at least once in fifteen days…maybe after the elections?

Right now it is all about what I learnt in Melbourne. I love Melbourne. This was my fourth trip to the city. I love hanging out at Federation Square, taking the local public transport-bus/train/tram to different parts of the city and just walking in CBD. I love sitting by the Yarra on South Bank and see the world go by. Yeah I love Melbourne. This time I encountered a very interesting person with a very interesting family history that is deeply connected to the world of Indian cinema. It is not a story that I can tell-yet. All I can say is that I was privileged to see the private collection of a person that brought out fond childhood memories for me. Those days of watching ChhayaGeet/Chitrahaar on Doordarshan and Sunday evening Hindi films when that was the only entertainment in good old India. Might sound boring now but looking back I think it gave us (or at least me) a sense of history. That is why when I saw this collection of pictures, photographs and movies I knew how important this story is and why it needs to be told. A story that spans continents and is full of high drama. A story that is like a typical masala Hindi film with action, emotion, drama, comedy, tragedy, romance, colonialism…get the gist? A story that has affected the lives of the most unlikely people. I know, intriguing. But in today’s time when the meaning of ‘Bollywood’ is usurped by capitalists and those-that-want-us-to-be-exotic or those-that-want-us-to-consume only, when you don’t know where you come from this identity-defining story can give the shivers. I then looked up Youtube for old Hindi film videos and-thanks to those passionate people out there who have uploaded absolute gems. Remember this song from ACCHUT KANYA? Did we get bored of this on ChhayaGeet or what? Now I taught it to my nieces. This story also has the strangest connection to a British music composer of Indian origin. To digress a bit there is this generation of musicians in the UK who have been inspired by Indian film music. Stuff that teens today may not know that comes from way back. Just one example. This song from the film YAHUDI made by Sohrab Modi (Minerva Movietone) was remixed by Nitin Sawhney for THE NAMESAKE into a completely different context and it worked!

I also saw an amazing exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. This place never fails to surprise me. Last time I visited Melbourne I saw the Guggenheim Collection and this trip I got a glimpse of Art Deco from all over Europe, from America and also Australia and New Zealand. I love Art Deco. There are many buildings in Bombay inspired by the concept. Heritage structures that might not survive if Raj Thakeray and other forces have their rule over the city. Anyway I did not know that Art Deco had a nationalist basis and in spite of being called only decorative, I could see the colonialism in the concept too. The Egyption inspired Cartier jewels and the Japanese inspired furniture, the African inspired clothes…then France had a major Art Deco exhibtion in Paris in 1925. This confirmed France’s place in the world as a premier ‘arts’ nation.

The streets of Melbourne are so vibrant and multicultural that it sort of belies the ‘White Australia’ that is portrayed in the Australian media. It may not be officially so now but television in Australia is all about blokes and big haired blondes that speak and behave ‘Stralian’. There is no place for other migrants that may have built the nation. Apparently Melbourne has the highest number of Greeks outside of Greece. But do we see them on the telly?  Or so many Italians that live in Melbourne? The culture on television is all ‘Anglo’ and ‘Stralian’. In Auckland, on a daily basis, I see Maori every where. I see them on television too. On the ‘white’ channels and on Maori Televivion but I saw maybe two aborigines just once on my first trip to Melbourne. Shuffling through the streets, in rags and smelling of alcohol; a defeated attitude to them. This is what Australia has done to her natives. I saw them and was struck with guilt for my middle class, post-colonial existence that allows me an education and mobility across the world. I wonder if third world migrants to Australia ever think of the aborigines or how systematic suppression, racism and colonialism has destroyed one of the oldest peoples in the world?

I try and learn something new everyday. I learnt on my various trips to Melbourne how all the people of the world are connected to each other and to the past. What happens in one part of the world affects people somewhere else maybe decades later. What the Western world does to stay in power, what parochial politics does to local people has resonance somewhere else. We may have our cultures, religions and languages; we may have our countries but we have this world, this universe and sisterhood first.