Who Gets to Kill Whom in the Union of India?

The country is witnessing the law of the living in the space of death.

File photo of Bajrang Dal activists burning tyres and shouting slogans outside the BJP office during a protest against Jammu and Kashmir MLA Abdul Rashid over his ‘beef party’. Credit: PTI

The holy mobs in the Union of India kill men without any conflict with the law, as though the killing took place in an abattoir. The belief that beef is more sacred than human flesh has come to be a religion of the abattoir. What does it mean to kill in the Union of India? This obscene question, looming over us, was brought to attention by the incisive essay written by Apoorvanand.

This question is important especially now that the government of India has objected to the province of Ontario in Canada legally recognising the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom as genocide. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which leads the government, has kept talk of the 1984 pogrom alive only so that its loudness covers over the anti-Muslim pogroms of 1989, 1992, 2002, and the anti-Christian pogrom in Odisha of 2007-2008. Assuredly, recognising 1984 as genocide would also draw attention to the role of Hindu nationalist organisations and other dignitaries of today in that event. It would also set the precedent for terming as genocide the events we are now only able to whisper of as “2002”. But it might be that much more is expected in the near future of the same hue.

From Lebensraum to Todesraum

Who gets to kill whom in the Union of India? We need to survey the conditions under which we are to ask this question. There is the indecent innocence with which the apologists of Hindutva rue that ‘development’ is being eclipsed by the killings. They would like some balance between broken eggs (the killings) and the omelettes (mining contracts and bullet trains) on the table.

There is no alarm on television about the tales of holy-mobs expressing with murder and loot their devotion for whatever is holy for the day – the flags, the national house wife, beef, cremation, anti-love, the heroes of old television serials. We have become adroit at not hearing the essential electoral question today: ‘Shamshan (cremation grounds) or Kabristan (burial grounds)?’ Although we do know that the former is to be built upon the latter, and that it is the ideal image of the Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation state). We stand in awe before this invention by the Hindu nationalists, of a difference with their spiritual fathers: the Nazis asked for Lebensraum while the advocates of a Hindu Rashtra are asking for Todesraum, space for death.

On television, the hate speeches were kneaded with “it is just election speech, don’t take it seriously”. Then people began to die and the dead meat in the refrigerator was interrogated. The slain are investigated and their birth – Muslim, Dalit, South Indian, North-East Indian – is on trial. There are television news anchors who are better spokespeople of the Hindu Rashtra than its politicians. That the holymobs kill Muslims, Dalits and Christians in order to prepare death-room for the Hindus is a fact that has eased itself into the living room of the Union of India.

Life and living: genocide and ethnocide

The question “who gets to kill who?” leads us to the meaning of the state in the Union of India. There are several ways to enter the problematic of the state. In its modern form the state is the first order condition for there being many ways of living and an openness to the inventions of ways of living. In the classical sense the state is that institution which received the right to use force from everyone by an accord to which it refers for the legitimacy of its exercise of force at each instant. It ensures that there is life so that there can be ways of living; the securitisation of the state refers to this concept.

The precise way to think of the state in the subcontinent or anywhere else would be as that institution which has appropriated to itself the right to kill. That is, individuals do not have the right to kill, the state reserves this right for itself, as in the provision of capital punishment, in its immunity from prosecution in the territories it ‘disturbs’ under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, and in its obligation to protect the weak in the case of pogroms, where it in fact does not exercise this right.

Members of Durga Vahini, the women’s wing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, show their self-defence skills with firearms at the concluding ceremony of a weeklong women’s training camp on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. Credit: Reuters/Amit Dave

Corresponding to life and living there are, following the anthropologist Pierre Clastres, two distinct crimes — genocide and ethnocide. The former is the killing of a people and the latter is the destruction of the ways of living — such as the freedom to love, the many expressions of love, food, clothing — of a people. The Hindutva mobs have been working towards both goals, as is evident from the destruction of the ways of living of the Dalits and the Muslims through legislation, displacement, killings, and intimidation.

The progressive delegation by the state of the right to kill to Hindutva mobs reveals the meaning of this institution. The killings may appear sporadic, such as the recent beef killings and floggings in Dadri (of a Muslim), Alwar (of a Muslim), Una (of Dalits). In fact, every decade since the 1960s has seen incidents which should be termed pogroms.

In 1984 the anti-Sikh pogrom took the lives of more than 3,000 people. Then there was the pogrom of Malliana and Hashimpura in 1987. As pogroms under the Congress party’s rule and with its leaders implicated in it, these events – and especially 1984 – are used to justify all the other pogroms led by the Hindutva mobs ever since. Perhaps it should have been the sole responsibility of the Congress-led UPA government to see to the completion of the legal proceedings against its own members and former members who took part in 1984. Certainly, other parties have shown no particular interest.

Somewhere along the way, we have all forgotten the pogrom in Bhagalpur, Bihar in 1989. It was initiated through the movement organised by the BJP and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to build a Ram temple in place of the 16th century Babri mosque in Ayodhya. On December 6, 1992, the mosque was demolished by the holy mob led by the BJP and the VHP. In what was then Bombay alone, the subsequent pogroms would kill over a thousand.

One of the most notorious pogroms took place in 2002 in Gujarat, which in the narrative of the Hindutva organisations is linked to the Ram temple movement. The most recent one in Muzaffarnagar (western Uttar Pradesh) killed dozens of Muslims, displaced thousands of them from their homes and destroyed their livelihoods in 2013. The central government (then led by the Congress) and the state government (then led by the Samajwadi Party) did little to prevent this pogrom which is seen as a precursor to the BJP’s electoral victory at the centre in 2014 and now in Uttar Pradesh this year.

The state and the grounding law of the living

By naming pogroms “riots” the Union of India has been suggesting something – that it is a failed state. If a state cannot exercise force, which it has appropriated from individuals, to protect the minorities – religious or otherwise – it has no legitimacy. This failure is not innocent, in the way an unarmed man is as he stands helplessly before the holy mobs there to kill his family. Rather, the mighty Indian state – as we are reminded everyday on television – has allowed itself to be instrumentalised by the Hindutva organisations and, in the event of 1984, by the Congress. Today, when the “Hindu nation” is being ushered in, the state is becoming the holy-mob. We are told that this is a strong state led by strong men. But political theory tells us that the stronger a state becomes the more forsaken it is of any legitimacy.

The legal discourse and the institutions of law are complicit in this failure of the state to protect individuals. By acquitting the guilty despite the evidence and in delaying and denying verdicts, the legal institutions have removed their blinds. The Supreme Court recently expressed its wish that the Babri Mosque issue be settled outside the court rooms. As in Kafka’s parable “Before the Law”, the house of law leaves its gates open at all times only to tell you that you cannot enter it and make your case. In the Union of India, don’t the minorities stand before the law anymore?

The holy-mobs can reach anyone as they are adept at finding a way. In the University of Hyderabad and JNU it was nationalism and beef. In Kerala it was public expressions of love which drew out the holy-mobs, which were then opposed by the inventive protest movement “Kiss of Love”. In Muzaffarnagar the holy mobs militarised the love between Hindus and Muslims by calling it “Love Jihad”. They will find a way eventually into every home.

When the legal institutions fail, another law, the grounding law of the living — the law which legitimises the legal institutions — shows itself and reigns: You shall protect your own life and that of your loved ones. The accord which created the state was possible only because we entrusted to the state this grounding law — that we must protect ourselves — such that the state exercises this right on our behalf without failing in any instance. This fact is evident in the constitution — the individual has a right to defend himself — and is hence unchallengeable.

A failed state is an interesting place for political thinkers, since it is where the grounding law — we must kill in order that we are ourselves not killed — becomes visible. In states which more or less function, the appearance of the grounding law is an obscenity, like the entrails of the living laid outside an abattoir.

The command that “you shall not take the law into your own hands” is as dreadful in these circumstances as Gandhi’s advice to the Jewish people that they should let themselves be killed by the Nazis. The obedience to it is meaningful so long as the state functions. In a failed state this command should be translated as “you shall let yourself be killed when our people come to take your life”. Instead, as Apoorvanand said, Muslims — and Dalits — must refuse to be killed.

The choices in Todesraum

With the exception of Kerala, the Hindutva mobs have been able, everywhere in India, to disrupt, assault and kill with impunity, without fear of state action or of retaliation. In Kerala, the RSS program began, as it did everywhere, through hate speeches and campaigns against the Muslims. It culminated in 1971 in events known as the “Tellicheri riots”. According to the report of the Justice Joseph Vithyathil Commission which enquired into the riots, “In Tellicherry the Hindus and Muslims were living as brothers for centuries. The ‘Mopla riots’ did not affect the cordial relationship that existed between the two communities in Tellicherry. It was only after the RSS and the Jana Sangh set up their units and began activities in Tellicherry that there came a change in the situation”. In Kerala, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has retaliated in kind against the RSS since then.

The recent escalation of the killings of CPI-M workers and RSS members by each other is holding off religious bloodshed in Kerala. CPI-M workers in effect act out the grounding law of the living— you shall kill the ones who seek to kill those you love. The unison of the media in condemning the CPI-M indicates that the norm is being violated — that the Hindtuva mobs shall run their human abattoirs without any distractions.

The scenario where two organised groups kill each other is termed civil war. When an organised group of people kills another group which it identifies under a religion, caste, or political position, it is termed genocide. Apoorvanand brought into the open this choice now available in the Union of India — genocide or civil war. This choice would deny the meaning of living or of the ways of living for a whole generation. Instead, they will be forced to dwell on to remain alive; to find ways of remaining alive each day in order to defer death for another day — fleeing, arming, hiding, slaying, dying.

Perhaps it is still not too late in the night for this choice to seize us. After all, the people of the Union of India are the bravest of all, who stormed the gates of the residence of the president and brought parliament to a halt several times in the recent past during the Congress rule. Such moments, named ‘civil society movements’ and ‘the people’, might be staged again by the same courageous actors. However, we must not wait idly for the mysterious ‘people’ to appear again.

Divya Dwivedi and Shaj Mohan are philosophers based in the sub-continent.