Monday, July 17, 2017

India: the difference between formal and real citizenship - By Vinay Lal // Lynch mobs are implicitly meeting approval from higher-ups - Sanjay Subrahmanyam

What we see in India is the difference between formal and real citizenship: Historian Vinay Lal
What is the kind of signal that a political dispensation like India has now sent to the law enforcement machinery?
I think the problem is twofold. What do you do when the state becomes somewhat thuggish? So, people targeted are not just Muslims, but also Dalits and Africans. We should be attentive to it because there are groups of people whose very lives are at risk. Signals in all authoritarian states happens downwards. We don’t need to take the example of Hitler’s Nazi Germany or Stalin’s totalitarian state, you can turn to authoritarian states present now where you can see very clearly, it is same attitude at the top, middle and bottom. 

These problems are not distinct to India today, we see a similar repression and acute intolerance, including in the US. Turkey is in dire straits. China, Russia, [Rodrigo] Duterte in the Philippines… this could be attributed to what they are terming the ‘strongman’ phenomenon. But I feel the problem is ‘nationalism’. It shows the limits of the nationalist project and what a disease it is. Now this is very hard for the newly independent formerly colonial countries to accept, which fought for freedom on the basis of the idea of nationalism, but wherever you had nationalist movements, you have had to rethink the nationalist idea. It has become the only kind of political community which we have to all pay obeisance to. What we see in India — and which is clear in a large number of other countries, especially US – is the difference between formal citizenship and real citizenship on the ground. In the US, African-Americans are only formal citizens without the rights of a citizen on the ground. This is the case for a large number of people in India.

So how does one un-thug the state? It’s always a difficult question... read more:

Lynch mobs seem to know nothing will happen to them, they’re implicitly meeting approval from higher-ups - Sanjay Subrahmanyam
These lynchings are a form of communal violence that is different from what we have seen before. Firstly, they are apparently decentralised. Earlier, organised acts of mass violence were repetitive in character and there was a pattern, e.g. processions were attacked or the violence was timed with public festivals. This was so even in the time of the Mughals. Then, post-Independence, there have been largely urban, organised forms of violence, where various political parties have provided protection to the perpetrators. So, the people on top knew and acquiesced, while the middle leadership was actually active, as in 1984. But what we are seeing now is not at a single place, there are fewer numbers attacked and it is decentralised, done by little groups all over the place. 

These groups are either being told, or imagine that they have been told to act in this way. Further, after the event, no one in authority is clearly telling them the contrary. There is also an aspirational quality to the violence. It is low-level… if journalists don’t choose to report it, it may not even register if one isn’t vigilant. But the curious thing is that the perpetrators want it to be known. After all, some of the people doing this are even videotaping it. They make sure the information is circulating, intended as a warning, as a signal and controlling device for the social behaviour expected of minorities. It is a form of violence which can pop up here one day and there on another. It is never mass killings, but based on the existence of grassroots kind of organisations which believe in doing this, and also to an extent on copycat behaviour. So even if it is decentralised, there is a larger context.

What is that context?
The actors seem to know that for all intents and purposes, nothing will happen to them, and they know they are implicitly meeting approval from higher-ups. People are using this to probably build political careers, a CV-builder of some kind. It is in part aspirational and cynical violence, of killing because you can do it. But note that there are parts of India where it happens and other parts where it doesn’t. If a strong regional political party is in power, which does not believe in this, it magically doesn’t happen.

So is there a message that follows, down the line from the top leadership?

One has to infer this. In regimes which are semi-authoritarian and yet operate inside a democracy, no one may want to take away the trappings of democracy, and elections can go on at all levels. But the reality is, it is all based on doublespeak.. read more: