The rise of Hindu Nationalism, Gita Sahgal (Bradlaugh Lecture 2018 Part 1)

The rise of Hindu Nationalism, Gita Sahgal (Bradlaugh Lecture 2018 Part 1)


okay good afternoon hello good afternoon
welcome to the natural secular societies 2018 Bradlaugh lecture my name is
Stephen Evans I’m the chief exec of the National Secular society it’s great to
be back in Manchester in the rain again only seconds Bradlaugh lecture the name
of this lecture series is in recognition of the founder of the NSS chose Brundle
and for those of you who don’t know who he is
Bradlaugh was a leading 19th century atheist free thinker and radical who
founded the society back in 1866 since that time the OSS and its members have
pioneered many social reforms which have in many ways transformed society indeed
the journalist Edward Pierce said that much of our modern mindset is Bradlaugh
creation but Bradlaugh is probably most well-known for his struggle to enter
parliament he was refused his seat in parliament on account of his atheism
despite being elected by the people of Northampton to represent them in 1880 as
a known atheist he was refused the oath of allegiance which entails swearing to
God and he wasn’t allowed to affirm because
that right didn’t extends radius that right was the very most reserved for
Quakers at the time the fight to take his rightful place in Parliament went
off for many years involved him being fine numerous times even a period of
incarceration inside the clock tower of Big Ben it was only on his fifth
election to Parliament in 1886 that he was allowed to actually finally take his
seat and it was his own act of 1888 which extended the right to a thesis to
affirm or to the course is a right that’s enjoyed by a mini MPs not really
just MPs to this day and I’m not sure if you’ve seen it already but you can find
rad log hanging in the stairwell outside this room wait at least a portrait of
Brandon you’re actually find a drawer hanging
although if some of the 19th century Christians have their way then well
maybe you would but as an MP Brad wore took a keen interest especially interest
in the plight of the people of India under the rule of the British Raj
so much so in the fact that in India Bradlaugh was fond and regarded as the
member for India when he died in January in 91 his funeral was attended by three
thousand mourners which included a young mahatma gandhi who later of course went
on to be assassinated by a right-wing hindu nationalist which rather neatly
brings me on to contrive may be but rather neatly brings me on to you
today’s lecture the man who killed gandhi and to deliberate we’re delighted
to be joined by a steen human rights activist author and NSS on air show
associate geeta cigar geeta is a founder the founder of the Center for secular
space a passionate and committed defender of the human rights of women
and minorities and a thorn in the side of religious fundamentals
so I’m also proud to say very closely at the NSS so I know you’re going to give a
very warm welcome to Peter sagal Thank You Steven and thank you all for
being here on this rainy afternoon it’s uh I I left England with a little bit
sweet wave and spent a very exciting month in India watching its unfolding
and so it’s a bit of a shock to come back suddenly to rage we’ve got months with these things with that so I’m not
sure me to do it exactly as it should be done but mainly I’ve brought pictures to
look at while I talk so I feel the slides every now and then so it’s a
great honor and a great responsibility to be asked to give this lecture on the
religious political movement known as Hindutva in Britain the election in
India 1914 of the far-right party the BJP was accompanied by widespread
rejoicing on all sides of the political spectrum if there was one thing that
United and pleased across neighbor and conservative benches of our divided
Ireland it was a spectacle Prime Minister Modi’s visit even though his
government or organisations close to him were alleged to be implicated in the
killing of three British men killings which occurred in the course of a mass
murder and displacement of Muslims in Gujarat in in 2002 and which have been
designated by some human rights groups as genocide or murders even though that
was the case what was it state was too important to dim the celebrations apart
apart from of course a few killjoys so the territories of the Ovilus network
old friends who I had worked with at the time that
we ever set work took up all kinds of religious fundamentalism projected this
image onto Parliament the home sign converting into a swastika and Modi with
a sword the photographs our body carrying a sword with a turban now I’m
particularly pleased today to give this lecture in the name of Charles Bradlaugh
who founded the secular movement in Britain his extraordinary life is a
reminder that the origins of secularism the fight against religious privilege
was also allied to the great causes of our time one of these was women’s
emancipation Bradlaugh and annie besant who later became a famous indian
nationalist were tried for obscenity through promoting contraception another
was Brad nose challenge to the British Empire as well as supporting Irish Home
Rule he was known as member for India in Parliament where with the support of
early Indian nationalists he raised the issue unjust terms of trade with India
and exposed the British government’s inaction over a famine successfully
forcing relief measures to be taken he was invited to speak to the fifth
session of the Indian National Congress in 1889 and in his closing speech called
for unity across the subcontinent in this movement he said let there be no
force save the force of brain no secret union let all be opened Frank and before
the law then if mischief touch you so far as one man may and so far as one
man’s speech can English Liberty shall put itself on the side of yours
Brad lo died in England soon after and a young law student named Mohandas
Karamchand Gandhi attended his funeral in a world where the very notion of
secularism is rejected by Imperial nostalgics on the one hand as a God
godless attempt to destroy Christianity judeo-christian traditions and by
anti-imperial post-colonial theorists as part of an inferior despot knot or other
Western discourse which was mimicked by hapless natives who know no better Brad
knows life and work sings to us today so I am extremely grateful to the National
Secular society for choosing this topic usually ignored by think tanks on
extremism and terrorism and for their principle support for victims of every
kind religious abuse from victims of church abuse and victims of rooming
gangs to challenging religious privilege and schools opposing draconian
counter-terror legislation which threatens our liberties and supporting
the earth rights the rise of far-right populist movements cannot really be
understood without studying Hindutva at the risk of sound sounding like
something out of goodness gracious me which some of you might remember was a
Indian program a British Asian comedy in which old Indian men always claimed that
India was invented everything first I’d say that a new fundamentalism is one of
the foundational far-right movements of the 20th century that it is coming oh
that has only come into its own in the 21st century is because it has always
been exposed by nationalist movements which challenged Empire anti fast
movements which ravaged the extreme hierarchies of Orthodox Hinduism and a
variety of rationalist humanist and Left movements all these movements fed
strains of secularism which enabled religion to be tapped head-on and
without apology I say religion and not simply fundamentalist religion because
caste and the attempt to escape obliterated the story of all religious
movements in India as well as the story of secularism Buddhism Jainism anti
Brahmin movements of South India the mystical party and sufi movements and
many conversions to Islam and Christianity can all be read as a
challenge to Ramana order and an attempt to escape the
straitjacket of caste and indeed him Buchla itself is an attempt to become a
cross caste movement unlike traditional hinduism studying the throw also
challenges the assumption that religious fundamentalist movements can only come
from monotheistic and Abrahamic religions it is a perfect study in the
postmodern post modernist art of balancing opposing and apparently
contradictory message with an arrow and determinist worldview it is I hope to
show the preoccupations of this movement have remained remarkably stable over a
century where India has undergone profound change loss recovery and deep
social reform so I define religious fundamentalist movements as modern
translation political movements of the far right using media and technology to
advance their aim which refer to a perfect mythical past which they’re
trying to reclaim it for the future upon Filat written by his worthless
scholars against Marxist historians who at the forefront of challenging one of
the central Kindles work lays in this case whether Rama was a historical
figure or just an ethnic mythical figure whose birthplace could be evidenced from
historical and archaeological sources in the three historians stated crossly but
the hallmark of Marxist historians was not only that they want to rewrite the
history but also want to change not only the future history but also the past
history pleading guilty to want to change the future start with the
remarkable events that have taken place in India over the last few days and end
at the beginning of the in Boothville view of the world the dawn of the age of
the Aryan many of you will be aware of the remarkable Supreme Court judgment
which established that consent in same-sex relations and private which we
decrypt decriminalized the courts eloquent judgment ruled on grounds of
privacy as well as Liberty inequality on social and economic as well as political
rights majoritarian views and
you know morality cannot dictate constitutional rights it said it is a
very wide-ranging judgment covering the right to be a minority the protection of
privacy in individual rights the right to equality before the law and the court
argued that the Constitution is a living document that must be interpreted in the
right of the light of the times comprehensively dismissing an earlier
judgment that has stated that small minorities do not deserve protection and
that this was a matter for parliamentary reform but this extraordinary message
came at a time when some of the nationally known human rights advocates
are under unprecedented attack two major events happened within days of each
other one was young apparent unraveling of the mystery of who had shot four
well-known rationalists over a period of time they weren’t shot at the same time
Narae Maharashtra who had founded a grassroots rationalist movement was
killed by unknown assailants in 2013 he was followed by woven woven pants are a
communist who in denounced of workers murder and then professor Cal gori gori
Lankesh was the last journalist who was assassinated a year ago almost exactly a
year ago in 2017 these four murders which have remained unnamed unsolved but
a police investigation found that the murders of the four prominent
nationalists were related and the people involved in cow protection movements
which is one of the other signature movements of the movement at the moment
had been groomed to hate by watching videos in ways that are familiar to
other students of extremism these allegations by national police forces of
a wide-ranging conspiracy brought together the targeted assassinations of
known individuals with the lynching by mobs of unknown people two separate
campaigns it appears may be related in what has
become known as whatsapp lynchings the fury of
has been provoked by the transmission of messages on whatsapp with allegations
such as child kidnapping or illegal transportation of towers in 2017 they’ve
been 11 deaths and 37 hate incidents related to cars and to other to other
things on the left on the right we have two people who were killed in two of
these lynchings on the right we have Junaid who was a 16 year old boy would
eve have gone to buy clothes basically for a lovely outing with his family’s
brothers to have some fun to pick up some perfume some new fresh roads and so
on it was coming back on the train and education they were accused of being
beefeaters an anti-national and so on and stabbed and thrown off the train on
the left that’s better no Khan who was beaten to death in a video incident and
in the middle there’s a man who beat another man to death and burnt him I
said he was doing it in the name of preventing loved being in fact in fake
marriages and and forcibly converted but just as people had begun to digest this
breakthrough or parent breakthrough that by the police the local police of the
state of Maharashtra launched a nationwide campaign to arrest senior
human rights advocates whom they termed urban Lutz’s nuts well being a word for
the Marxist Leninist movement which is an insurgency a very dangerous
insurgency across India but the people some of whom came very close to home
movie we know if you’ve been involved with the human rights movement were
people who defended the rights of other masses of people living in the tribal
areas and pilots and yes there were some revolutionary poets who write and speak
about revolution which it is a perfectly normal thing to do just as it’s going to
speak about wanting a Hindu state which is of course the goal of the movement
but they were suddenly accused of being involved in happenings of the ballots
Rani a major rally around 25,000 people which had actually pledged never to vote
for Modi and to defend the constitutional which is actually led by
two former judges there had been violence at that rally but the people
who’d be named in the violence had been activists of the Hindutva movement
suddenly these other people who were not even present at the rally were being
arrested in raids that happened simultaneously all over India to the
media police said because it wasn’t at all clear from the charges that were
brought that the police said they were part of an anti-fascist front that was a
charge and they also said there were plots to assassinate them the Prime
Minister and to bide high-grade weapons from one comrade Prakash on the for the
benefit of the natural emergency now these were treated differently by the
familiar because Indian media ban lodge has become pretty toxic and I can recall
city in India watching in LTV one of the more right-wing channels where the hosts
Arnab Goswami had said you look directly into camera and he said there’s no way
of dealing with these people other than to eliminate them and I in my room never
heard a clear at all for people to be killed but there were other media that
said what’s going on and that would defense experts say it’s you know very
unlikely that people would be writing uncoated letters you know just the facts
of the case seemed odd and then the courts became very angry because these
matters were brought immediately by other human rights defenders to the high
courts of the Supreme Court to try and prevent people being carted off to jail
and they were put under house arrest and the Supreme Court and the Bombay High
Court and various other courts said we’ve got the matter in front of us why
are you giving interviews to the media and the Supreme Court observed that
there was a right to defend dissent that it was a safety valve in a democracy
without which the pressure cooker might blow up so who are the organizations
representing him in that Hindutva what is known as the Sun Valley violets a
family of organizations the key organizations of three which have the
largest initials over there so the I think the RSS really is central and it
is a huge perhaps one of the largest organizations anywhere in the world with
volunteer groups all over Britain all over many other countries right across
India it’s a very strong disciplined paramilitary organization was founded in
the 1920s the vhp was founded later as a more traditional in the window
organization using Hindu Swami’s and others to promote various goals and
campaigns and also operates abroad and the BJP ethos is a political party which
took power with a very convincing victory in
the elect the last elections in India but there are dozens of other related
organizations which may not be formally related but which have links to these
three main organizations or which share if they don’t have links a common
ideology so every Prime Minister of the BJP the former prime minister atal
bihari ba how much file died recently and is much mourned in fact in in there
is a very different Prime Minister from the current one
provide Prime Minister Modi in power but even the relatively liberal Vajra Prime
Minister Modi have cut their teeth as organizers in the RSS movement and every
BJP government even with an absolute majority and p.m. as powerful as Moody’s
reports to the RSS it is both organiser and conscience of the movement and the
the at the moment in in there you have the president the vice president the
Prime Minister and the number of other ministers who are all members of the RSS
I mean that has never happened before that is quite unprecedented and in fact
I think as we speak the Vice President is in America at the world Hindu
Congress which seems to have strong PHP and RSS makes and is speaking over there
and there was a bit of a kerfuffle in in here where they first announced it on
the Foreign Office Foreign Affairs website and then took it off because
there were a lot of questions as to why the Vice President was actually
attending such a major religious political event in Britain the RSS is
known as the HSS Bannister everybody including its own supporters internally
and you know other people who who criticize
and watch it accept and you talk about this later the Charity Commission which
which hasn’t sort of noticed the make and there many organizations which be
set up to defend particular issues with names like Hindu awakening protection of
thous they’re also people who work on history and rewriting history
they conversion organizations and and protection of the honor of women and
they’re also very modern media gurus and techie support workers trolls and I fax
you know the American model of fund collecting
who have influenced elections in various countries certainly here and in America
have been active and the think tanks particularly in the world of security
studies with former you know senior security advisors generals and so on the
historian Dilip Simeon has talked about this he is now a Gandhian after a long
journey including me actually another nutzy and having written about it quite
scathing in a novel revolution highway when having been observed violence and
taken to organizing against communalism as many people have in India being
through that political journey and he’s written the characteristic feature of
modern political reality is the predominance of extremism paradoxically
noted the extremes but in the very heart of the established order sentiment is
invoked constantly to intimidate government and to justify hooliganism
controlled mobs are kept in waiting to be unleashed at the appropriate moment
to build and consolidate constituencies of sentiment private armies and militias
are commonplace he says the very distinction
to be lawful conduct and legitimate practices on the one hand an unlawful
contact and in legitimate practices on the other seems to have been lost
leading the charge is in ruling a leech comprising powerful corporate executives
high-level elected officials and civil service officials of whom the latter to
carrot captain categories are sworn to uphold the law the established order is
extremist and terrorism is etcetera at processes and he it seems like strong
words but I can’t describe how violent these particular sets of killings of
being and how they come in after a range of other largest set-piece killings so
in the 90s we had the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in which British Indians who
are very active in whose work to hear raising money and getting Rick’s blessed
golden breaks to be sent back to India in order to build a temple and there was
actually a a film made in the early 80s by a company that I worked for channel 4
called Bonnaroo fire my friend Basu Tojo she was part of it well long before what
happened in the nineties which was most structure was torn down and huge
huge riots happened in its wake where the V HP Envy RSS and the then
Home Minister Barney went on what’s called a raffia through a sort of
reception with a big chariot and in the wake of this procession there were major
riots all over India and including for days and days in Bombay and there was
coffee over in there and being a feud in Calcutta where you don’t normally accept
her so that kind that nobody doesn’t hit it so there was mass violence then then
in 2002 and the more these Watchers prime minister as chief minister and
goodra there were there was a train of the activists who were involved with the
the RAM the Ram Janmabhoomi movement which burnt killing many many people
there were a lot of arguments about whether this is the fire was
deliberately set there were definitely fights between Muslims on the platform
and these activists of the Hindutva movement and many people died and in the
wake of that there were huge the killings boosters with very very
organized groups so there were electoral registers people had there were attacks
on businesses that were not obviously most of in businesses where maybe one
partner was Muslim in a business there were attacks in its knowledge that was
attack attacks on the legislator legislature was killed it went right
across class and there were mass rapes of women at that time and at that time
or they had just become Prime Minister Chief Minister of the state and these
happened under his watch over police standing by and refusing to do anything
about it now what’s interesting about that is that
the first election actually faced was after these massacres and he came in
with a good majority and and immediately his room I mean it was already fully
mature but it has continued to this is even though the last election it had it
was a little bit cut down so that those knowledge set pieces are rather
different from what we’re seeing as and then 2008 there were attacks on
Christians very poor Christians in the western state of erisa
again after the killing of a holy man possibly by Marxist Leninist is not very
clear and there were attacks on churches and very very poor convert to
Christianity who are still living in miserable conditions so the the
lynchings that we see now and these killings of these famous rationals but
also many of the killings of other journalists people who are not so well
known for provincial general administration for regional papers that
don’t hit the headlines are happening all the time but it’s speaking of
individuals rather than the major set-piece killing so I think people do
actually learn from their errors which is to say that they change attacked it
doesn’t mean that the that the ideology has necessarily changed but the tactic
has so what is the movement that brought about these these these these various
killings it’s the one of its ancestors was in the 9th
and 19th century movement called the Arya Samaj to the society of areas which
was a revivalist movement as there were many revival movements across the world
at that time neither dis revival movements that were
concerned about challenging colonial systems in the countries that they came
from and but also looking at things that were happening
internal to that society so this was a movement it was concerned both about
purifying Hinduism but also about conversions to Islam and launched it was
called the should the movement to make sure that the population of Hindus
didn’t decline because it was worried about conversions and these issues have
remained pure preoccupations to this day but the term Hindutva itself is a term
invented less than a century ago and is generally taken to refer to the social
and political ideology which is aimed at establishing a Hindu state Hindutva the
the term was invented in 1923 by VD sufferer

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