Good science, the acceptance of truth and unity alone can pull us out of the crisis that the pandemic has created for us. This is what Azim Premji, the founder of Wipro, advised the audience of the online Positivity Conference organised by the RSS on May 12.
In normal times you’d call this a platitude. But now these words sound profound. Science cannot exist without the acceptance of and quest for truth. We need science in this hour. It is not only good science that will save us but also a scientific attitude towards life and the world. In earlier times, this was known as a scientific temper.
A scientific temper helps us not only in matters of health but also in our societal affairs. For example, a scientific temper would keep us away from all theories of racial or religious supremacy or even national supremacy. The young Bhagat Singh preferred Nehru as the leader of the youth of India because of the Congress leader’s scientific temper and his insistence that there could be no greater folly than to imagine that our nation has something unique and superior to offer to the world.
Apparently, Azim Premji assumed that he was addressing an intelligent audience and they would themselves expand and elaborate on his succinct message. That is how it should be. You should not talk down to or talk at people. You need to give them respect while talking to them. At least, respectful people do that.
One can understand the relationship between truth and science. But what is the relationship between truth and unity? Azim Premji talked about good science, truth and unity in the same breath. But he spoke in generic terms. One can understand that he could not risk sharing specifics with the organisers of the conference and the audience about the truth we need which is being denied to us. This leads to disunity. One wishes that he could have gone one step further. But he could not have told them that it is not only our inability to understand what truth is proving detrimental in our fight against corona, but the active manufacture of lies that is killing us.
A psychological disease
It is not our cognitive limits that prevent us from comprehending the truth. Active damage is being done to our cognition by the incessant generation of lies; a virtual carpet bombing of lies. This shatters our cognitive faculty, which in turn distorts our affective abilities. Premji could have told his audience that the inability to comprehend truth or access it is a different thing. It can be overcome. But when you willingly and knowingly generate lies, you make it very clear that you are simply not interested in truth at all. You inflict a mental and psychological disease on society.
To expect Azim Premji to delve into the matter in this manner is similar to expecting Einstein to tell Hitler that the lies he was spreading about Jews were dangerous for German unity. We know what his fate would have been. So let us not expect Azim Premji to do it from a platform created by the RSS.
We, however, have the luxury to speak from the point where Premji left. For instance, Premji could have shared examples of what lies can do. He could have started from his city, which aspired to be a city of the future. He could have shown what the lies are doing to it, how they are tearing it apart, how they are hollowing it at a time when it needs to remain together, strong.
One of Premji’s examples could have been the most recent invention of a lie by the president of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, the youth wing of the RSS, who is also an MP from the city itself. MP Tejasvi Surya barged into the COVID war room of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike’s south zone and read out the names of the Muslims working there. Why were so many Muslims there? Was it a madrasa, was the question. This led to the summary suspension of 17 workers. Not only that, they were taken to a police station and an inquiry was constituted against them.
His lies, his history of lies has led to an atmosphere of suspicion and hatred against Muslims. Not only in the city, but in the state and the country as well. It has consequences. It is true that a quick investigation by the employers has given a clean chit to the people targeted by the BYJM president, but the incident has left a scar on them. They feel insulted. Five of them have refused to return. Others have been asked to present themselves to the police whenever they are required to.
This lie has undeniably disrupted the unity of the people who work day and night to support the people of their city. It has also fractured the larger unity, if there was any left.
Veracity and belief
Tejasvi Surya is only a product of the ecosystem of lies that has enveloped India and also the Indian diaspora across the world. The RSS network is creating this lie ecosystem. Let us see what is being done in West Bengal.
More than 15 people were killed in senseless political violence in West Bengal after the assembly election results were declared and the BJP found itself with only 77 seats. There is no evidence to prove that this political violence was a clash between Hindus and Muslims. But the BJP continues to insist that the violence was communal in nature.
What we call a lie is presented by the RSS and BJP as their belief. Since it is their belief, it does not need proof. If you expose the lie, it means you are insulting their belief. However, these “beliefs” can endanger the lives of others. This time the scale and spread of anti-Muslim lie-making is so gigantic that no fact-based rebuttal by India’s tiny independent media can mitigate the hatred it has wreaked. Moreover, there are direct calls for immediate revenge and the mass slaughter of Muslims. Apart from the BJP’s massive IT cell, India’s mainstream media has chosen to deliberately push these dangerous lies as facts. There are even reports from several countries of protests by pro-BJP diaspora groups against a fake ‘Hindu genocide’.
Another constant lie being propelled by the BJP is that of mass rapes of Hindu women by ‘jihadi’ men under TMC chief Mamata Banerjee’s patronage. Top BJP leaders have made sure that all their messages mention ‘reports of many rapes’. The VHP has blamed this violence on ‘jihadis’ attacking the dignity of ‘Hindu sisters’ and asked Hindus to ‘exercise their right to self defense’. Notably, Muslims were also attacked by the alleged TMC goons. And incidentally, four of the five TMC men allegedly killed by pro-BJP mobs were Hindus.
The RSS network never misses the opportunity to communalise violence. Communalising sexual violence, real or fake, easily ensures mass polarisation amongst Hindus. In West Bengal alone, hundreds of rumours about ‘jihadi men’ attacking Hindu women have been circulated in recent years.
For example, after the 2017 Baduria riots in Bengal, BJP supporters claimed that Muslims had attacked the accused’s mother. It was then found that the accused man’s mother had died several years earlier. Kailash Vijayvargiya, the BJP general secretary who recently shared a misleading video about ‘Muslim goons attacking Hindu women’, also shared a screenshot in 2017 from a Bhojpuri film made in Bangladesh with the caption, ‘Hindu daughters are being raped’.
Recall the support for the rapists and murderers of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua. First, they mobilised all their might to prove the incident was fake. Zee News and Dainik Jagran published fake news about it. Then senior ministers of the BJP in Jammu took out tiranga (tricolor) rallies in support of the rapists. Their logic: ‘Hindus can’t rape’.
Recall how the brutal gangrape and murder of a woman in Hyderabad was communalised because one of the four perpetrators was a Muslim. Recall the propaganda about the murder of a young woman in Aligarh’s Tappal town that almost provoked riots.
All this is in line with the agenda to purge Muslim men from any kind of social life in India, to represent them as savages violently eyeing Hindu women. It is also to justify the regular display of violent Hindutva manhood in the form of lynchings and other episodic tortures on frail and weak Muslim men who can’t fight back. This cowardice is then glorified as a natural retaliation. Just last month, we saw a young Muslim teenager being brutally beaten for entering a temple. His assaulter justified his criminal act in retrospect. Another man called Shambhu Lal Raiger hacked to death and burned the body of a Muslim labourer named Afrazul. His defense: “Afrazul committed love jihad”. We saw militant-style support for Raiger. But he had lied. His supporters also know that he was lying.
Until recently, lies relating to ‘love jihad’ had been confined to the WhatsApp conversations and pamphlets of right-wing groups. Now as many as six states in India have relied upon this lie as the foundation of the infamous ‘Love Jihad’ laws. These laws have incarcerated scores of helpless young Muslim men. Sadly, we don’t see any mass repulsion amongst the Hindus about these brazen lies that are ultimately weaponised against Muslim men.
Using the lie of ‘vulnerable Hindu women’ and demonising Muslim men to provoke pogroms is not new in India. On February 28, 2002, the lead story on page 1 of the Gujarat Samachar carried the headline, ‘3-4 young girls kidnapped’. The story had no sources. On page 10 of that edition, a report quoted VHP leader Kaushik Patel as claiming that 10 girls had been kidnapped. The newspaper had not bothered to cross-check with the police. The report had not mentioned the names of any of the abducted girls. Its immediate competitor, Sandesh, was not far behind in provoking violence. It published reports that said things such as, “A mob of ‘religious fanatics’ (read: Muslims) who were abducting tribal women had to face the wrath of the people”.
When a fact-finding committee asked the chairman and managing director and de-facto editor in chief of Sandesh about a Sandesh banner headline about the breasts of two Hindu women having been chopped off by mobsters at Godhra, he replied that the information had come from the deputy superintendent of police, Panchmahals. This was promptly contradicted and the contradiction appeared in the Gujarat Samachar. This, we were told, was a fall out of ‘competition’ between the two rival papers. Sandesh’s own policy was “not to carry corrections and clarifications”.
So it was very clear that lies were being spread deliberately and the editor was not at all sorry about their consequences for Muslims.
That was in 2002. This is 2021. The men who ruled Gujarat in 2002 are ruling India today. With the monstrous IT cell at their side, they now boast of the ability to make any message, whether real or fake, go viral. And their supporters have just one demand: “Repeat 2002”.
A society of sociopaths
Beyond Bengal, the BJP wants all Hindus to believe that their enemies (Muslims) will decimate them if the opposition parties are voted to power. This is the only way to scare the Hindu electorate into voting for the BJP. We may recall how BJP leaders used similar scare tactics before the polls in New Delhi. Parvesh Verma, a senior BJP leader and an MP, had said just before the polls in Delhi that if you don’t vote for Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, nobody will come to save you. “Lakhs of people sitting on dharna there [Shaheen Bagh] will enter your homes and rape your sisters and daughters,” Verma had said.
The losses in the West Bengal and Delhi assembly elections are two huge dents in Modi’s invincibility. Not strangely, the public memory of these two sour defeats has been carefully crafted to make them anti-Hindu events.
The RSS is not only not interested in truth in any form, it wants Hindus to seek the lies it is producing for them. There are some foundational lies that serve as the basis for all the lies that are woven constantly. The foundational lie is that the first people of India are the Hindus. That Muslims and Christians are intruders and do not constitute the core of Indian culture. That we had all the knowledge of the world at one time. That Sanskrit is the mother of all Indian languages. That we have been modern since eternity.
These lies have softened our minds. They have turned the active followers of the RSS into potential criminals. Many of them harbour murderous thoughts about their fellow beings. They have been converted into sociopaths. A huge population with such sick hearts and weak minds cannot make a great nation. Nothing positive comes out of this deliberate induction of lies in society.
It is for the Hindus to decide what kind of people they want to become. But others cannot allow themselves to be victims of these lies. It would fracture Indian society into separate worlds of ‘truth’. The ‘truth’ that the RSS fabricates leads to the alienation of Muslims, Christians and Dalits and also their elimination. This is what the lies or ‘truth making’ prove. This needs to stop. Not only in the pandemic, but for all time to come.
Alishan Jafri is a freelance journalist based in Delhi and Apoorvanand teaches at Delhi University.