Pulwama attack aftermath: Othering, civilising processes and life as an Indian Muslim today

In the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack on 14 February, the thought of avoiding civilisation altogether did cross the mind. After the Holocaust, sociologist Zygmund Bauman, unsettled by the brutality, redrafted theories of society, modernity and civilisation. In his writings, he presented the irony of the Holocaust and that it was indeed the failure of civilisation, yet modern civilisation is "its necessary condition".

At this moment in history when 'national security' is a card played in electoral politics, modernity's conditions of civilisation and the civilising processes need to be revisited. Whether it is Donald Trump's US-Mexico border wall or Narendra Modi's accentuation of the India-Pakistan enmity — inflated by terrorism, national security has been used as trump card to widen their respective electoral bases. Pulwama attack is one that the BJP will use in its messaging during the upcoming election, in order to reconstitute what it lacks as a party.

The Muslim as the Other in the existing condition of the civilising process

In constructing India's intolerance to terrorism around the axis of its act following the Pulwama attack, the pre-emptive strike — lauded in the international arena — is delivered as a process of civilising the world. What lies beneath the international applause and strategic affairs analysis consumed as entertainment is the traumatic truth that civilisation and civilising processes are symbolic and barbaric, insomuch as they profit leadership and electoral politics. The global war against terrorism is the condition of today's civilising processes that threaten a Muslim and the categories of 'Terrorism' and 'Muslim' are constantly conflated.

The only fitting responses to such civilising processes that seek a symbolic enemy — here, the Muslim — are the feelings of people who live in the borderlands. Mohammed Jalleel, who lives in Chajla along the LoC, is enraged listening to "politicians talking about war". He adds, "They can’t even imagine how it feels." Feelings that traumatise modernity are the only reminder of how tragically insensitive our civilisation and its civilising processes are. In revisiting how we feel about the Other, who is now the enemy of our civilization, we need to understand the many ways the idea of the Muslim as the Other in India was constructed.

As India, Hinduism and Indian culture and, Pakistan, Muslim and Terrorism are conflated as two disjunct categories, the first victim becomes the Indian Muslim. With nowhere to belong, the Indian Muslim remains heretical in Modi's India today or to the eyes of a fundamentalist Muslim organisation. Here, the attack on Sufi shrines by the Islamic State in 2017 may be recalled. The attack revealed that Sufi shrines, as an epitome of syncretism and pluralistic ways of living, are more of a threat, not especially to Muslim or Hindu religious groups, but to fundamentalism. It is the desire for fundamentalism and the threat of Islamic fundamentalism that came in handy in the need to construct the Indian Muslim as an 'Other' to Bharat Mata.

 Pulwama attack aftermath: Othering, civilising processes and life as an Indian Muslim today

Representational image. Reuters

Psychoanalysing modern Hinduism

The Arya Samaj and other Hindu reform movements, anxious about the probable mass conversion of Hindus to Abrahamic religions, reorganised Hinduism on the line of monotheism, evangelism and universalism. Moses gave "his Jews [the] monotheistic idea", as Freud puts it in Moses and Monotheism, while Swami Dayananda gave his Hindus a monotheistic idea and the result of which is a fundamentalist and reductionist view of Judaism and Hinduism respectively that shape today's optics of the religions.

The desperation for one land (pitr-bhumi), one nation-state and one father comes out of the historic project to render Hinduism as masculine monotheism. It is sustained by the 'national security' rhetoric exploited by Modi in his campaign for a Hindu Rashtra. Hinduism and its people are in fact struggling with this transformational shift from pluralistic ways of living to a singular version of itself. The historiography of this shift is in fact constructed drawing from sociologist Shiv Visvanathan's words, "The fear of the stranger" is deeply "the fear of change". This struggle seeks the blood of the Other as Hindu society and its foundations are transformed by the BJP, RSS and other fundamentalist groups. Mobs become the harbingers of this exercise enacting their anxiety through lynching, reemphasising Visvanathan's words.

In the need to destroy pluralist Hinduism in order to reinvent a modernist Hinduism, Muslims today have become quite ironically and symbolically the baqra. It is in the killing of the son of flesh — here the Muslim as an imagery of Prophet Ismail — can Hinduism attain a Semitic significance. Following the Pulwama attack, every Indian Muslim has to confront a series of questions about his patriotism, nationalism and identity which makes him feel like a goat waiting to be sacrificed. In the everyday series of questioning the Other, Muslims in the North and a few states in the South are asked to "go back to Pakistan", while in Tamil Nadu, Muslims are asked "to go back to Arabia" as shown in Natchiyaar, a Tamil film.

These rhetorics signify the extent of fundamentalist inclination in the North as against Tamil Nadu. If North’s construction of the Muslim as the Other is cartographic, Tamil Nadu construction of the Other is fundamentalist. As the meaning of nationalism in Tamil Nadu metamorphoses between ethnic and national, especially after the return of Wing Commander Abhinandhan Varthaman, the communal polarities shaped by fundamentalism stay repressed making them vulnerable to the influence of religious extremists. One doesn't even want to imagine the catastrophe if the repressed returns.

Between event and everydayness

The everydayness of an Indian Muslim today has become a story strangled by the constructed history of Hindu nationalism. Caught in the flow of epic events, from Mughal rule to the Ram Mandir, the everydayness of the Indian Muslim has become a reality of lynching, anxiety and concealment. To say Hindu nationalism as that desired by the extremists is to ignore the everyday saffronisation of the Indian electorate.

Lok Sabha Election

This ignorance, that is deeply ignored, is the non-knowledge that has the formative power of shaping knowledge about the election, let alone, the future of Indian Muslims. While the Opposition victory is what is thought about as the huge hurdle ahead, reconciling the Hindu and the minority communities in India is the actual struggle. One is reminded of Rahul Gandhi's quote, "Will take the hatred out and turn it into love". The forthcoming election is only the tip of the iceberg waiting to be noticed as a critique of today's electoral politics. Beyond the election, one hopes the Opposition strategises the sublimation process of hate into love as a civilising process.

In this turmoil, one need only look as far as Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Hindu right-wing fringe groups in India as frogs in the same pond, magnified by their objective, operating on the grounds of religious fundamentalism. Any effort to say Hindu fundamentalism is more driven by nationalism is an illiterate act of categorisation and conceals the everyday peril of the Indian Muslim. The formation of hate against Muslims is deeply rooted in Islamophobia and colonialism.

Muslims of today must engage with the Partition and the repression of religious hatred it created and more so with the religion's fundamentalist lure constructed by others, branching from its Abrahamic roots. This needs to be complemented with Hinduism's embrace of paganism and polytheism. The tensions of the modernising project of Hinduism has a huge cost, and it is Indian civilisation itself.

This article is constructed out of threads pulled from a dialogue among members of the Truth and Reconciliation Group, Sonipat. The author would particularly like to acknowledge that conversations with Aditi on Hindu Reform Movement, Amit on psychoanalysis of religion and Shiv Visvanathan helped further an understanding of religion in today's India.

Updated Date: Mar 09, 2019 20:55:16 IST