Daya Varma


The recent attack on writer Rohinton Mistry is part of a grand design to transform India into a Hindu fascist state.


I receive lots of electronic messages. However, there were none about the burning of Rohinton Mistry’s “Such a Long Journey”, the threat to his life, the withdrawal of his book from Mumbai University syllabus and other acts of censorship. Surprisingly, the first time I heard about this episode was from a news item in Globe and Mail (Canada’s New York Times) of October 16. I did not hear it from the array of leftists in India and abroad, not from human rights activists, not from champions of communal harmony, not from defenders of secularism and democracy. I am sure many would have responded if they thought that the implications of this episode ran beyond an attack on a fiction writer.


It was a far cry from the news about Singur, Lalgarh, real or fabricated misdeeds of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Binayak Sen, murder of the Maoist leader Azad, Arundhati Roy’s encounter with comrades, Intifada in Kashmir, and the High Court verdict on Ayodhya to name just a  few episodes. For these reasons, Graeme Smith’s coverage of the burning of  Rohinton Mistry’s  book  and the role of Shiv Sena  on the front page of Globe and Mail  was a progressive act from a bourgeois establishment. Perhaps Globe and Mail would not have bothered about this episode either if Rohinton Mistry was not a resident of Canada.


Rohinton Mistry is not a Hindu but a Parsee. He wears a beard so American authorities reportedly treat him like a dangerous Muslim.  He was born in 1952 and migrated to Canada in 1975. This means that he spent the first 23 years of his life in India, most probably mainly, if not only, in Mumbai. He has studied mathematics, economics, philosophy and English. He cancelled his tour to the US in 2002 because he and his wife were harassed at every check point.


I do not know if Mistry ever traveled to Indian villages in eastern UP. But in his book A Fine Balance, he gives a vivid description of the life of a low caste family, which is so accurate that I wonder how he became so familiar with it. Of course his description of the social life of Parsees in his Tales from Firozsha Baag  is understandable because he is a Parsee. I have not read Family Matters. His latest book The Scream is really not a book  but a short essay in a book format, which befits a literary magazine; it describes the saga of old age beautifully but still producing it as a book seems like a commercial venture.


I am of the opinion that you get to know or rather should be able to get to know the literary quality and political sensitivity  of an author from just one or two books.  For example, Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in literature, writes very well but you could figure out  that he is a bigot.


Thanks to English education, many Indians write books in English.  Most of the times they write because of their command of the English language but most of the time you know nothing about India by reading their books just as you cannot know India by watching Bollywood movies.  Mistry’s books stand out because almost each sentence tells something about India, not only about Mumbai, not only about the social life of the Parsees but about rural India as well and its working people. His sensitivity is unmatched.  He is not a Maoist but he is not a Tata either. In my view he is a progressive secular writer and that is one reason he is under attack.


Mistry’s book was set afire by those who have not read it, if they have read anything at all. But so was Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. Deepa Mehta’s shooting of Water was blocked without any investigation into what the film was all about. This simply shows that it is not the book or film but something else under attack.


Rohinton Mistry  responded to the episode in an article “Oh, what a sorry book-burning spectacle” in the same newspaper Globe and Mail of  October 20, 2010. But he is concerned about the book burning and Mumbai University’s decision to remove the book from the syllabus. He does a good job at defending a point, which unfortunately is not the issue at all. If burning a book of fiction was the only issue, the silence of the leftists and human rights activists on this issue would not be such a big mistake. But that is not the main issue just as the self-imposed exile of the celebrated artist MF Husain is not the issue. The issue is India and India’s future.


I wrote a letter to Globe and Mail on the treatment accorded to Mistry’s book in Mumbai. The substantially edited version of the letter is as follows (Globe and Mail, October 22, 2010):


“Not Mistry but India


Rohinton Mistry’s response to the burning of his book at Mumbai University (Oh, What A Sorry Book-Burning Spectacle-Oct.20) evades the real issue. The issue isn’t burning his book or threat to his life, but rather India’s secular democratic fabric. Shiv Sena and other organizations of Hindu extremists who demolished the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in 1992 and blocked the filming of Deepa Mehta’s Water,   want to replace a secular vibrant India with a Hindu nation.”


In the rest of this article I am elaborating the point made above.


One would have expected that soon after the division of India into India and Pakistan in 1947, which was accompanied by senseless killing of both Hindus and Muslims, there would be great hostility towards Muslims in predominantly Hindu India. But this was not the case. In general Muslims did not feel themselves to be unwanted remnants of a community which had divided India. In schools and workplaces, Hindus and Muslims mixed with each other as in the past. The Muslim ethos is depicted in the film Garam Hawa of which the author as well as most of the characters are Muslims.


However, with  the relentless efforts of the Sangh Parivar over last three decades, things have changed into “us” and “them”. In today’s India, discrimination against Muslims is almost universal in schools, workplaces and housing.  A new norm of civic life has been established. So just as the Communist Party of India and, to a large extent, the Indian National Congress as well, had built an all-inclusive culture, up to the 1950’s, the Sangh Parivar has reversed it since then. The beginning was the murder of Gandhi.


First there was only a tiny Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). Now there are many.  Shiv Sena is one of them, which operates from the citadel of Indian capitalism. Collectively these organizations have two clearly laid out objectives. One is to culturally transform India from a secular democracy to a fascist Hindu state.  The second is to capture political power which so far they have tasted only once at the national level although they are ruling in several of India’s states.


INSAF Bulletin has respect for the integrity and intelligence of Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. But we have always disagreed with his formulation that Maoists pose the greatest threat to India. As well we deplore his inability to restrain Indian police and army at sensitive places like Kashmir and far East.  Instead the greatest threat to India is posed by Hindu revivalists and extremists. Here is why we think so. And here is why we think India would be unlivable if Sangh Parivar rules supreme.


As far as the Maoists are concerned, India is much too different from pre-revolutionary China for the Maoist strategy to succeed.  India is far too developed economically, politically and administratively. The minimum conditions for armed overthrow of the state do not exist in India; perhaps they do not exist anywhere at this juncture of history.  However, all developing economies simultaneously create conditions for deviant forces resorting to unusual steps including armed banditry. The current generation of Maoists belong to this category and they will eventually dissipate by a combination of internal contradictions and state repression. They might already be on the decline.


On the other hand revivalism and religious fanaticism is quite compatible with economic development. In India, the steps to replace a secular democratic framework of governance by a unitary religious orthodoxy started with the founding of RSS.  Conditions were not ripe for its growth because the national mood for independence was far too strong to be replaced by divisive forces. Indeed if sufficient time was given and prudent steps were taken by the Congress leadership, even the division of India could have been avoided.


It is true that majority of India’s population is Hindu. It is also true that Indian culture is still feudal and   religion remains a uniting vehicle. Indian ruling parties have catered to capitalist development without taking steps to promote secular culture. On the contrary, since the death of Nehru successive governments have appealed to the imaginary spiritual supremacy of Hinduism. Within this climate the RSS multiplied into numerous fronts. Now they have well-knit organizations for carrying out cultural crusades, promoting Hinduization of the society, fostering and organized religious zealots and developing an international Hindu brotherhood. There is a basis for making Hinduism, historically a decentralized and non-revealed religion, the uniting ideology for a fascist India and these aberrant organizations know how to use it skillfully.  There are variable levels of lack of civility among fascist Hindu organizations with Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena as the musclemen of this brigade.


They foment issues with the same single purpose—that is to transform India into a Hindu nation. First it was Babri Masjid, then MF Husain and now Rohinton Mistry. Unless we identify these single acts as a part of a well laid out plan, we will be caught napping. When we get up, it would not be the same India.

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