Peoples’ Alliance for Democracy and Secularism
Statement on Fundamentalist Violence in South Asia
30 May 2016
PEOPLE’S ALLIANCE FOR DEMOCRACY AND SECULARISM (PADS)
30 May 2016
Peoples’ Alliance for Democracy and Secularism Condemns Fundamentalist Violence in South Asia
The past few years have seen an alarming increase in violent attacks on the democratic rights of ordinary people all over South Asia. Fundamentalist groups are attacking and/or killing people whom they perceive to be challenging their beliefs, or ’hurting their sentiments’. For the past two years India has had a Central government that has fraternal relations with fundamentalist Hindutva groups that are widely perceived to be sympathetic to or involved in violence. There is no lack of revenge-filled rhetoric from representatives of and/or allies of the ruling dispensation. Cattle traders have been attacked and killed in the name of protecting cows. A man was killed in his home because of rumours that he was eating beef. Three well-known elderly intellectuals: Dr Dabholkar, Dr Panasare and Prof Kalburgi were murdered for holding views on religion that displeased certain fanatics, and more than a year later the police have not tracked down the culprits. Localised violence against ordinary citizens of minorities, and oppressed strata continues.
The past year has also seen brutal attacks in Bangladesh. Islamist fundamentalist forces have expanded their target beyond secular authors and bloggers. The most recent killings have involved academics who may have promoted folk music, gay rights activists, student activists and ordinary Hindu and Buddhist citizens of Bangladesh. Citizens of Pakistan have been facing fundamentalist violence for many decades. Even provincial governors and ministers have been killed by extremists. The most recent attacks have been on a polio vaccination center, a university, gatherings of religious minorities and sects within Islam, and on human rights activists, lawyers, and trans-genders.
Religious fundamentalists are on rampage in all the countries in South Asia. Their ideas and organizational methods are no secret. They do not believe in the equality of all citizens, nor that people have a right to differing beliefs. They do not respect the ideal of a non-violent and/or legal resolution of conflicts. All countries of South Asia now have popularly elected governments, which do at least pay lip service to democracy. Every attack produces popular revulsion, and in many cases has led to protests in solidarity with the victims. If fundamentalist violence continues despite this, we must conclude that the entire region is faced with deep political crisis.
It would seem that the authorities all over South Asia have stopped protecting citizens against fundamentalist violence. Instead of catching the killers, the Bangladesh government is arresting bloggers under Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act. After the murder of secular blogger Nazimuddin Samad, the Bangladesh Home Minister remarked that ’no one has the right to attack religious leaders and that the blogger’s writings will be scrutinized by the government’. In India, while cattle traders are being killed, BJP-led state governments are criminalising cow slaughter, indicating that for them that protecting cows is more important than upholding the criminal justice system as regards human beings.
The degradation of Indian justice over the years, and especially under the current government, indicates the criminalization of the polity and a creeping ideological coup d’etat against the Constitution. The violent assaults upon the JNU president by pro-BJP lawyers inside court premises in Delhi in February; the fact that numbers of witnesses in the Ajmer Dargah (2007) and Samjhauta (2007) blast cases have rapidly turned hostile; that the chief public prosecutor in the Malegaon blast case stated that the NIA asked her to go soft on the accused – all this indicates that the Modi government wishes to encourage the criminal conduct of members of the Hindutva political fraternity. The turn-around by the NIA in the Malegaon blast case and asking for the acquittal of Sadhavi Pragya and others, is the latest and most obvious face of this degradation. They have gone so far as to accused the late IPS officer Hemant Karkare of fabricating evidence against Hindutva activists – an allegation that has shocked retired and serving members of the police officer cadre.
Communal bias in the functioning of the police, investigative agencies, prosecution and lower judiciary is an alarming phenomenon. This degradation creates an environment in which violent fundamentalist forces feel safe and secure. But we should remember that such violence does enjoy some popularity and/or silent complicity. The political culture of South Asia appears to be moving towards the normalization of violence, especially violence in the name of religion. The countries of the region have suffered much sectarian violence in the past, including the violence and forced migrations of 1947, and communal killings since then. Mass culture has deep patriarchal and caste-related roots. Economic, political and geo-strategic developments in the entire region have not led to more humane institutional arrangements, but rather, pushed these societies in an anti-democratic direction. Such changes have variable causes in the different countries of the region. India possesses a constitution, which despite its flaws, remains democratic in its basic structure. This statute is under attack from a section of the ruling elite. A focus on the independence of the judiciary and upholding of the rule of law are essential components of the struggle to resist fascism and to defend democracy. This struggle will need to be carried out at various levels, inside families, mohallas, educational institutions, and through popular protests and mobilizations.
Democratic forces also need to address the relationship of the neo-liberal economic order with the recent regressive turn. The collapse of public education and the shift towards commercialized education has encouraged the spread of religion-based educational activity among marginalized communities and the poor. Marketisation of education also encourages depoliticisation of those who can pay for it. The same is true of privatisation of health, disaster relief or social welfare. The neo-liberal political economic order is an attack on the rights of citizens to education, health, employment benefits and self-organisation.
Democratic and secular forces of South Asia cannot remain content with demanding incremental advances, rather it is time to stop a dangerous slide. People of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Nepal need to begin a cooperative dialogue for the cultural isolation of fundamentalist and revengeful ideas; the political isolation of authoritarian forces and for democratic unity at the broadest level. The defence of democracy in India includes struggle against patriarchy, caste oppression and for the economic welfare of workers, self employed persons and peasants. The struggle against fundamentalism needs to develop a vision of popular democracy that goes beyond the market-driven logic of neo-liberalism, and that is grounded in the principle of the political equality of every citizen.