Subscribe to Secularism is a Womens Issue

Secularism is a Women’s Issue

Home > Resources > India: ’Partitions of the Heart; Unmaking the Idea of India’

India: ’Partitions of the Heart; Unmaking the Idea of India’

Book Review

Friday 1 March 2019, by siawi3


Why reading Harsh Mander’s Partitions of the Heart is the need of the hour

Abhilasha Chattopadhyay

March 1, 2019

“There is a well-known story about a frog, which when thrown into boiling water, reacts immediately by jumping out. By contrast, if the frog is placed into lukewarm water which is slowly heated, it does not react or resist even as the water gradually boils, and the frog ultimately dies.†“The frog in this metaphor is, of course, the democratic rights to equality and freedom of minorities in Indiaâ€
– Harsh Mander, Partitions of the Heart; Unmaking the Idea of India (2019)

Partitions of the Heart; Unmaking the Idea of India is an insightful social commentary and critique on the growing violence and hatred against Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis and ‘other’ discriminated sections of the society. Mander’s work offers a painful, yet detailed reflection of the contours of hate and violence legitimized by “hyper-nationalism” and the politics of escalating communalism. The work becomes compelling today, as systematic endeavours to muffle dissenting voices, are being made.This puts the idea of India enshrined in the Constitution as a secular republic binding all citizens equal before the law in grave danger.

Mander’s book begins by asserting that there are moments in history which compel future generations to ask, "what did you do at that time?†His strong belief that we are “living through one such moment†calls for our immediate attention. This is not only true of India but country after country, around the world; where the public is electing those who stand for, legitimize and valorise hatred and bigotry. Over the last few decades, Hindu nationalists have led several rallies and protests claiming that their religion was under threat and have blamed the authorities in power for their failure in protecting the rights of the Hindus. For instance, the recent call for a ban on cattle slaughter has only aggravated the harassment of Muslims and Dalit communities, who are often engaged in the meat trade. Since beef is consumed largely by religious and ethnic minorities, political leaders have (mis)used this occasion to win Hindu voters. They have also made venomous public statements about on cow vigilantism, which appear to legitimise communal violence.

Mander emphasized during the launch of Partitions of the Heart that, he was “intensely worried about where we were going as a people,†given the present political climate where hate and bigotry prevail in the name of patriotism. He appealed to each one of us to take cognizance of our actions and question our silence. He says in the book, “our biggest battle, after all, is the battle with silent bystanders, ones we call our own, and lastly and most importantly, the battle with ourselves.†The normalisation of hatred, its celebration and valorisation by our political leadership is rampant and often remains unquestioned by citizens. Thus, the problem does not solely lie with the leaders but also the citizens who brought them to power. Times like these indicate a crisis of the very foundation of our republic (justice, liberty and fraternity). For Mander, too “one of the biggest crises that we are facing today is that of a fraternity.†By fraternity, he refers to “bandhutta†or an “ideology of love and friendship†as stated in the Preamble of the Indian Constitution.

In Partitions, Mander quotes from a survey of cow-related hate crimes that have been reported in the English language press since 2010. Its findings revealed that "97 per cent of such attacks occurred after Modi came to power, and more than half were in BJP – ruled states. More than half the attacks were against Muslims, but 84 per cent of those killed by lynching mobs were Muslim.â€

According the a report in the Human Right Watch “In addition to beating up cattle traders and transporters that have caused serious injuries, even fatalities, cow protectors have reportedly assaulted Muslim men and women in trains and railway stations in Madhya Pradesh state, stripped and beat Dalit men in Gujarat, force-fed cow dung and urine to two men in Haryana, raided a Muslim hotel in Jaipur, and raped two women and killed two men in Haryana for allegedly eating beef at home.â€

In an interview with Newsclick, Mohsin Alam Bhat explains how hate crimes are different from other crimes, on accounts of the identity of the victim determining the motivation behind the attack. These murders committed by alleged “mobs†are in fact systematic killings targeting Muslim and Dalit populations across the country. When tried, the perpetrators of this form of violence are only persecuted under milder sections of the IPC such as 34 (Common Intention), 141, 149 (Unlawful Assembly), 147 & 148 (Rioting) and Criminal conspiracy (120 B) which do not justify the gruesome murders. In many instances, complaints have been filed against family members of victims under laws banning cow slaughter to intimidate and deter them from pursuing justice. In fact, often the police arrest the victim’s family and relatives under more serious sections such as the National Security Act (NSA) a repressive law that permits detention without charge for up to a year. This shows that as the police officials see cow-killers to be their top priority, even as instead of/ while murder and rioting can wait.

In July 2018, the Supreme Court issued a series of directives for “preventive, remedial and punitive†measures to address “lynching†—the term used in India for killing by a mob. Considering the Hindu religious sentiments that the so-called cow vigilantes attach with cow protection,, the Supreme Court denounced the violent attacks , saying: “It is imperative for them to remember that they are subservient to the law and cannot be guided by notions or emotions or sentiments or, for that matter, faith.â€

One of the most horrifying aspects of these instances of lynching is the impunity with which the attackers record the killings, and share them online. This is what happened when Shambhulal Regar killed and burnt Mohd Afrazul. If that wasn’t enough, the accused are often congratulated, defended and garlanded by political representatives of right-wing parties for carrying out violent attacks. In the same horrific incident of Mohd Afrazul’s death, Mander points out that the video was being shot by Regar’s adolescent nephew whose stood steadfastness through the entire incident reflects in the visual clarity of the video. Professor Apoorvanand had commented upon the Hindu society’s “fond familiarity to violence†as being witnessed in the last five years. “The danger†of such an approach, according to him was that not only were we getting habituated but also “seeking pleasure in watching and learning about violent attacks.†This was a symptom of our addiction to hatred and bigotry†as revealed through “[our]fearless dissemination through various mediums like WhatsApp and other social media channels.†According to him, these videos ensure that one no longer needs to commit a crime to derive pleasures of killing the ‘assumed enemy’, the invitation to watch and share violence visually brings similar simulation if not the equivalent joy of committing a brutal murder in the daylight. Harsh Mander’s Partitions of the Heart also underline that the “degree of hatred in a performative act†is conveyed to his own community by the attacker, “as an act of valour†. His courage to not only commit a crime but also reveal his identity during the act, calls for him to be celebrated as a hero. A legitimization of such heinous crimes cloaked as nationalist; ensure, impunity, valorisation and celebration only if the victim is Muslim, notes Mander

In times of “the brazen changing of India into a majoritarian Hindu country, – a land where minorities must submit, else blood will flow,†Mander questions our complicity, “Is it that we are too frightened to speak out? Or are we simply indifferent? Or is really that we actually support the hatred and persecution of other Indians because of their faith and caste?â€

For Apoorvanand the issue is no longer confined to silence, but quoting Gandhi (1947) on goondaism, he says, “open goondaism we see on the streets is not possible without subtle goondaism that lives in our hearts.†As per him, today, "we are addicted to this subtle goondaism†which is “gradually crushing the souls of our Hindu community.†This is not only demonstrative of the failure of political leadership but also its failure to speak in the language of love and compassion, or openly call out hate. Apoorvanad also asks why is it that the opposition too is only whispering their dissent against hatred? According to him, the heart of the problem lies in the nauseating pandering to the Hindu community before elections.

Moreover, the blatant denial of the dominant systems of power, be it the media or the state, is illustrated, in the way the instances of mob lynching are reported and recorded. Mander adds “the numbers do not justify the data representing the number of people killed in lynchings over the last few years†, which he suspects is deliberately been presented inaccurately. Though civil society has tried to fill this gap through counter-narratives, yet the numbers do not present a clear picture of rising communal violence in India. He outlines the lynchings into three broad categories: the purely spontaneous, the rough justice (that stems from little or no belief in the justice system), and hate violence, (which attacks someone not for what they have done, but for who they are).

Once reading on/about lynching in South America, Mander had come across moving lines which read “Every lynching was a thousand lynching†. He recalled how for him every lynching reverberated across the land, across the rivers, across the mountains and into the heart of every minority community. Sadly, the violence continues to has instilled fear so deeply into the hearts of many who are now afraid to openly embrace their culture, religion, eating habits, faith, or even political opinions for the fear of being lynched. “It’s now frightening to travel with an open Muslim identity in a train,†Mander recalled one of his colleague’s family’s concerns. “The need to express, verbalize and address these concerns is high-priority before we cause another Junaid, Akhlaq, Mohammed Mazlum Ansari, Imteyaz Khan, and many more who we owe an apology of a lifetime and our solidarities.†Mander emphasizes that he will continue to tell us stories that shake our consciousness because they ought to, for those who faced the brunt were also our very own.

During the event, writer Natasha Badhwar asked then, “is there any hope left’? To this, Pamela Philipose reassured that the tireless works of the likes of Mander may seem like a “pebble in the pool of indifference,†but “if we keep throwing pebbles of this kind, we would be able to perhaps change the narrative.â€

Mander’s appeal for solidarity is reflected in the efforts of Karwan-e-Mohabbat an initiative, that extends solidarity to families of those affected by communal violence, and not only involve offering legal aid and other forms of legal and moral assistance to fight for justice but also a political act to of telling the story from the victim’s family. As Natasha Badhwar rightly highlights, ‘[The]Karwan is not just a symbolic performance, of “counter-speech†which poses as an alternative., but most importantly, since it does not stop there; it becomes a political process.

The need of the hour became pretty clear. As citizens, the onus lay upon us; to continue the struggle for justice through (re)building solidarities, employing compassion against hate and love against fear. “In the rising darkness in India, is this radical love that has been lynched-whether by fear, indifference and hate…. We must fight before it is too late, to locate within ourselves our collective capacities of radical love…. Darkness can never be fought with darkness, only light can dispel the enveloping shadows. And so also a politics of hate can only be fought with a new and radical politics of love and solidarity. In battling ideologies that harvest hate, we can win only equipped with this love. We need to garner across our and a plentitude of acts of love†(Mander, 2019: 233)