Facing Violence

In a week during which several deaths have been recorded in India – in each, the perpetrators belonged to a social group who did not wish to enter an economic or social contract with individuals from another social group perceived as simultaneously inferior and locally oppressive, and wherein each symbolic action (words, raising the national flag on Republic Day) was the offensive trigger for violent retaliation (Chandan in Kasganj, Manjunath in Bangalore, Ankit in Delhi) – I connect the news to an incident I witnessed in Kolkata.

On Jan 28th, 2018, late at night in Kolkata, India, I observed three women being threatened with violent communal retaliation by an Uber driver because one of these women questioned the driver’s peremptory ride cancellation after the car was loaded and the trip had started. The driver told them to get out, physically intimidated them, declared he would block their street departure location with his car all night, and if the women didn’t shut up he would bring people back from Kidderpore. (The driver obviously guessed enough about his passengers to threaten them with violence from a different religious community). All this under the benign and smiling presence of local traffic policemen, who blamed the women because they couldn’t detain the driver.

Violence becomes real when it is personal. Up close, it is also a large emotion, inciting us to large actions. If we have learned to exteriorize and blame all our misfortunes on the ‘Other’ and its deliberate malice (person, group, entity, event), we enter the justificatory realm of virtuous scapegoating.

If I say my city has changed in 20 years, I will likely be called a bigoted bhakt or worse in India, a vile Islamophobe in the U.S., and a Modi-moron in my old discursive academic world (which told me to leave since I was an un-progressive settler colonial anyway). My good interlocutors will throw Ayodhya, Kashmir, NE India and Trump at me (lumped under an imagined category in their heads that they mis-read from Anglophone media; they still ask, ‘You speak Hindu?’ To which I say I don’t).

In that accusatory and reformist narrative, women such as these in the Uber tale are collateral damage in the necessary revolution of the world and the righting of historical wrongs.

In my reasoning, retaliatory justice is short-sighted and unpardonable, especially when supported by history shortened to 500 years. Violence, no matter how ‘halal,’  neither purifies nor resolves.

And yet this is how the world begins to burn again. I invite you to think on this article: https://www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/civility-and-rebarbarization

The PhotoBooth app on iPad tells you in childlike ways how the user’s face can be distorted and changed. The world is the same. How we see distorts what we see.

An Abrahamic barter of memes

Being Hindu and Indian is too often conflated with being pro-Trump, anti-Muslim and far-right. This byte (link) below is hardly news to me, or will be to you, dear reader. I have had several instances of being TOLD that “all Indians support Trump.” I was never asked if I really did, but had to make clear I was not a citizen and could not vote. I surmise I am not an isolated case.
This sort of ‘search and destroy’ tactic reminds me a bit of being told in graduate school by brown, black and white-skinned academics alike that if I didn’t study Kant or Hegel or knew how to read French and German, OR could claim to be a minority specialist as a ‘native informant,’ I didn’t know anything.
That is, your understanding of the world and the world’s achievements must be cast in the accepted mode of moral politics in academia (which asks that if you cannot show your credentials as a liberated minority member, you must accept your stained status as guilty oppressor, then redeem yourself, and finally stay in submission to the reversal of the power structure).
Why are the two types of ‘attack’ similar? 
Because many of the assumptions about Hindus prevalent among those academics who are driving political protest across the world now, in tech-savvy language and mode too similar to discount, are driven by one of the laws of the left that say ‘majority bad, minority good.’
This is a deliberate teaching mode that turns the public into righteous soldiers of the new revolution, and maintains the status quo of academic power in relation to policy, media and influence on local politics. It sacrifices with glee the adherence to truth-seeking (not outing), ethics (not revenge) and the opening of young minds (not coercing them into power-savvy support) that one might have once associated with intellectual enquiry and the idea of a university.
To me, to sit quietly in the face of such carelessly mean questioning is like taking an oath of allegiance to a totalitarian ideology. A religion by another name. I prefer my independence. For expressing which position (independent) I have paid the price in academia and society.
What is worrying to me now is the willing participation of many who capitalize on their ‘Indian’ origin to happily conflate inherited, Occidental (largely Anglophone) lenses on ‘Hinduism’ and ‘India’ with all that is ‘bad’ in politics, and literally write and author a peer-reviewed revisionist history of the subcontinent into policy, for the sake of acceptance into the halls of fame and power.
Do what you want, and ‘problematize’ as many revolts and resistances into news as you desire, but don’t pretend this is about making the world a better or more diverse place.