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Militarization of Civil Society: Theodicy, Double-standards, and Schizophrenia

by Sualeh Keen, 13 July 2016

print version of this article print version - 13 July 2016

What we are experiencing today is a militarization of the mindset of civil society all across. And Bhagat Singh bhakts lead the way. Kashmiri rebels cite Bhagat Singh and ask if he is a freedom fighter (like them) or a terrorist (like them). It is actually a redundant question: he is both. And so are they. Holding the gun against someone’s head or one’s own to get things done is same: it is extortion, it is blackmail, it is violence, it is extinction.

But ethical ambiguity / cognitive dissonance arises when something that is considered evil today was also done by some past Hero / Prophet against whom no criticism is allowed. Unless we arrive at a universal and standard definition of evil that we can use at present (which, of course, we may need to be updated tomorrow), we will always have people using ’relativism’ to justify almost anything under the sun.

In India, we have a tradition of creating pantheons in which the Preservers as well as the Destroyers are equally great, and so it is the case with the myriad freedom fighters of India (a pantheon in itself) who are conferred equal Greatness / Godship and sung songs of, portraits hung of, and saluted everywhere. This appeal to a particular Great Man that matches our extremist ideology is what has allowed people to justify anything and everything and call it Greatness. No wonder, Kashmiri and Khalistani terrorists, Sanghi terrorists, and Maoists claim the same ’greatness’. This is the main problem afflicting India; there are too many ’greatnesses’ pulling it apart. These old habit of seeing good in evil (’theodicy’) has to be given up, even if it means that some heroes become zeroes. But who is ready for that?

"Our Blessed Homeland," cartoon by Tom Gauld for the Guardian Review (1 March 2015)

Come to think of it, in nation states where the influence of institutionalized religion on the state has waned, a new kind of religion has emerged: the religion of nationalism. In theocracies, it was a ’great achievement’ to die or kill for religion; in the new secular nations, it is a ’great achievement’ to die or kill for the country. Note the similarity in terminology: Shaheed, Amar, Martyrdom, Glory, Praise, Service, Sacrifice, Eternal Reward / Gratitude, The Nation Salutes You, Shaheed Ki Jo Maut Hai Woh Qaum Ki Hayaat Hai ("A martyr’s death gives life to the nation"). One can argue till the cows come home the different paradigms of Maqbool Bhat and Bhagat Singh (and there are many), but do you expect kids and uneducated people to discern the difference?

A few years ago, some Kashmiri separatists suggested that they seek help from foreigner anarchists and fascists or whoever will be ready to help in the holy cause. As a justification, they are taking a page out of Subhas Chandra Bose’s flirtations with Hitler. Which Netaji fan has a moral right to criticize these separatists for ’fascistic connections’? Patriotic movies like ’Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey’ is another case in point wherein the use of firearms and violence by children is glorified, even as we advise our children in Kashmir not to engage in violence, not to pick up guns, not to pelt stones. Do citizens like Ashutosh Gowariker have no idea how many insurgencies are raging in India, and what message he is sending by glorifying violence among the impressionable youth?

If one were to go by the expansive definitions of terrorism, even mainstream political parties who have at one time or another caused a riot or used methods of intimidation are ’terror’ groups. Congress, BJP, Shiv Sena, etc. are are implicated. No wonder violence has become normalized in the sub-continental polity. It is about time we re-evaluate every Great Tom, Dick, and Harry thrust upon us in the name of nationalism, common interest/ greed, or any self-righteous emotional cause. It is time to evolve a universal code of conduct for the entire humanity.

Like many of the so-called National Heroes, Savarkar was a bundle of contradictions. Savarkar as the president of Hindu Mahasabha was not in favour of independence of India and he and his party did not participate in civil disobedience movements, etc. In order to get out of prison, he signed a plea for clemency in which he renounced revolutionary activities, which makes him a Kaayyar (coward) for some, not a Veer (brave). Savarkar opposed partition but strongly endorsed the ideal of India as a Hindu Rashtra (despite his double-talk, his strong Hindutva posturing played a direct role in partition). He was a critic of non-violence and one of those accused in the assassination of Gandhi. Now, tell me: How come Savarkar is considered a freedom fighter at all? How come his portrait is there in the Parliament? How come any sane citizen would accord Savarkar the same stature as that of his adversary Gandhi *at the same time*? Cognitive dissonance in its classic form.

It is not only in Kashmir that shameless double-standards snuggle side by side in the form of the adjacent graves of Mirwaiz Moulvi Farooq and his assassin, Hizbul Mujahideen commander Abdullah Bangroo, with epitaphs dubbing both as the "Shaheed to the Kashmir Cause." It is about time that rest of the Indians audit our list of National Heroes as well, or every Indian has a free license to borrow from the ’greatnesses’ of terrorists like Bhagat Singh and fascists like Savarkar and become a terrorist or a fascist, the two scourges destroying peace in India.

Sualeh Keen