Orissa: A Gujarat
In The making
By Angana Chatterji
02 November, 2003
Gujarat, Hindu extremists killed 2,000 people in February-March of 2002.
Muslims live in fear there, victims of pathological violence.
torched, ghettoised. A year and half later, Muslims in Gujarat are afraid
to return to their villages, many still flee from town to town. Ghosts
haunted by history. Country, community, police, courts institutions
of betrayal that broker their destitution. This is India today.
The National Human
Rights Commission recognised the impossibility of achieving justice
in Gujarat. The Best Bakery murder trial flaunted dangerous liaisons
between government, judiciary and law enforcement. Those who speak out
are vulnerable. Outcry against the consolidation of Hindu rightwing
forces in India is subdued. In a world intent on placing Islam and Muslims
at the centre of evil, Hindu nationalism escapes the global
Orissa is Hindutvas
next laboratory. This July, in a small room on Janpath in Bhubaneswar,
workers diligently fashioned saffron armbands. Subash Chouhan, state
convenor for the Bajrang Dal, the paramilitary wing of Hindutva, spoke
with zeal of current hopes for turning Orissa. Christian
missionaries and Islam fanatics are vigorously converting
Adivasis (tribals) to Christianity and Dalits (erstwhile untouchable
castes) to Islam, Chouhan emphasised. He stressed the imperative to
consolidate Hindutva shakti to educate, purify and strengthen
dominated by upper caste landholders and traders, is a hotbed for the
promulgation of Hindu militancy, while Adivasi areas are besieged with
aggressive Hinduisation through conversion. Praveen Togadia, international
general secretary of the VHP, visited Orissa in January and August 2003
to rally Hindu extremists. He advocated that Orissa join Hindutva in
its movement for a Hindu state in India. Ram Rajya, he promised,
In Orissa, the sangh
parivar is targeting Christians, Adivasis, Muslims, Dalits and other
marginalised peoples. The network divides its energies between charitable,
political and recruitment work. It aims at men, women and youth through
religious and popular institutions. The sangh has set up various trusts
in Orissa to enable fund raising, such as the Friends of Tribal Society,
Samarpan Charitable Trust, Yasodha Sadan, and Odisha International Centre.
There are around
30 dominant sangh organisations in Orissa. This formidable mobilisation
is the largest base of organised volunteers in the state. The RSS, responsible
for Gandhis death, was founded in 1925 as the cultural umbrella.
It operates 2,500 shakhas in Orissa with a 1,00,000 strong cadre. The
VHP, created in 1964, has a membership of 60,000 in the state. Born
in 1984, at the onset of the Ramjamanbhoomi movement, banned and reinstated
since the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, the Bajrang Dal has
20,000 members working in 200 akharas in the state.
Membership of the
BJP stands at 4,50,000. The Bharatiya Mazdoor sangh manages 171 trade
unions with a cadre of 1,82,000. The 30,000 strong Bharatiya Kisan sangh
functions in 100 blocks. The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, an
RSS inspired student body, functions in 299 colleges with 20,000 members.
The Rashtriya Sevika Samiti, the RSS womens wing, has 80 centres.
The Durga Vahini, with centres for womens training and empowerment,
has 7,000 outfits in 117 sites in Orissa.
Intent on constructing
the ideal woman who decries the loose morals
of feminism, the sangh seeks to train Hindu women to confront the undesirable
sexual behaviour "endemic" to Muslims and Christians. Such
training endorses masculanisation of the Hindu male looking
to protect the fictively threatened Hindu woman.
In October 2002,
a Shiv Sena unit in Balasore district in Orissa declared that it had
formed the first Hindu suicide squad. Responding to Bal
Thackerays call, over 100 young men and women signed up to fight
Islamic terrorism. The Shiv Sena appealed to every Hindu
family in the state to contribute to its cadre. Squad members, it is
speculated, will receive training at Shiv Sena nerve centres in Mumbai
Why Orissa? The
state is in disarray, the leadership labours to sustain a coalition
government headed by the Biju Janata Dal and the BJP. The government
is shrouded in saffron. As the sangh infiltrates into civic and political
institutions seeking to repeat Gujarat not many are paying
attention. For the 36.7 million who reside in Orissa, Hindutvas
predatory advance aggravates and capitalises on social panic in a land
haunted by inequity.
Orissa houses 5,77,775
Muslims and 6,20,000 Christians, 5.1 million Dalits from 93 caste groups,
and over 7 million Adivasis from 62 tribes. Around 87 percent of Orissas
population live in villages. Nearly half the population (47.15 percent)
lives in poverty, with a very large mass of rural poor. Almost a quarter
of the states population (24 percent) is Adivasi, of which 68.9
percent is impoverished, 66 percent illiterate and only 2 percent have
completed a college education. 54.9 percent of the Dalits live in poverty.
Concentrated in Cuttack, Jagasinhapur and Puri districts, 70 percent
of the Muslims are poor. In March 2002, Orissas debt amounted
to 24,000 crore rupees, more than 61 percent of the gross domestic product
of the state.
In 2001-2002, the
government of Orissa signed a memorandum of understanding with New Delhi
to secure a structural adjustment loan of Rs. 3,000 crore from the World
Bank and an aid package of Rs. 200 crore from the department for international
development, the overseas development branch of the government of the
United Kingdom. This is conditional assistance, laden with extensive
and hazardous consequences. Peoples movements protested this agreement
for tied aid that supports irresponsible corporatisation and works against
the self-determination of the poor.
including the present coalition, have failed to address entrenched gender
and class oppressions as exploitative relations endure between the poverty-stricken
and a coterie of moneylenders, government officials, police and politicians
in Orissa, perpetuating displacement, land alienation, and untouchability.
Floods have affected three million in 2003. Agricultural labourers are
faced with serious food shortages with no alternative means for income
generation. Scarcity has led to starvation deaths and people have committed
suicide. Infant mortality, 236 in 1000, is the highest in the Union.
In the recent past,
Rayagada district has witnessed despairing efforts to survive
the sale of children by families. In Jajpur district, a mother, a daily
wage earner in a stone quarry, sold her 45-day-old child for Rs. 60
this July. These measures have not evoked reflection and commitment
on the part of the State. Rather, unconscionable attempts have been
made to show that such action is emblematic of Adivasi and Dalit cultures.
for the human rights of lower caste, Adivasi and Dalit peoples
is a social and structural predicament. In December 2000, Rayagada witnessed
state repression of Adivasi communities protesting bauxite mining by
a consortium of industries in Kashipur that is detrimental to their
livelihood. The industries were in breach of constitutional provisions
barring the sale or lease of tribal lands without Adivasi consent. In
response, state police fired on non-violent dissent, killing Abhilas
Jhodia, Raghu Jhodia and Damodar Jhodia.
The absence of adequate
social reform, the disasters of dominant development, economic liberalisation
and corporate globalisation further antagonise already overburdened
minority and disenfranchised groups, pitting them against each other.
Hindutva targets the religion and culture of the disempowered as globalisation
abuses their labour and livelihood resources. Such conditions produce
the contexts in which marginalised peoples embrace identity-based oppositional
The sangh exploits
the fabric of inequity and poverty deviously to weave solidarity built
on tales of a mythic Hindu past. Hindutva defames history, speaking
of Muslims as the fallen traitors among Hindus who converted
to Islam. This revisionist history obfuscates the severity of inequity
within Hindu society that led to conversions historically. Alternatively,
Hindutva misrepresents Muslims as terrorists and foreigners,
Christians as polluted. Adivasis are falsely presented as
Hindus who must be reconnected to Hinduism through Hindutva.
Dalit and lower caste people are raw material for manufacturing foot
soldiers of dissension.
At the same time,
caste oppression prevails in the sangh parivars mistreatment of
Dalits in Orissa, who have been assaulted for participating in Hindu
religious ceremonies. In April 2001, a Dalit community member was fined
Rs. 4,000 and beaten for entering a Hindu temple in Bargarh.
Poor Muslim communities
are often socially ostracised in Orissa. Cultural and religious differences
are diagnosed as abnormal. A Muslim community member from Dhenkanal
said, "When Hindus celebrate a puja we are expected to pay our
respects and even offer contributions. For them this is an example of
goodwill, of how we are accepted into their society, indeed we are no
different as long as we do not act differently."
A Muslim woman added,
"Women face double discrimination, from men of our own community
as well as from the outside". Women fear the sangh will perpetrate
violence on their bodies to attack the social group to which they belong.
In witch hunting
for the enemy within to blame for Indias befallen
present, the sangh demands absolute loyalty to its tyranny, requiring
an unequivocal display of obedience. The sangh dictates the rightful
gods to worship, prayers to recite, legacies to remember. Hindutva imagines
its actions above the law. It makes the unification of Hindus central
to its mission. To do so, it organises Hindus to fulfil their manifest
destiny, fabricating Hinduism as monolithic across the immense
diversity of India.
in resistance to the debacle of nation making are combating the sangh.
Where Dalits, Adivasis and others are allied in subaltern struggles
for land rights and sustenance, Hindutva intervenes, seeking to divide
them. Grassroots democracy threatens upper-caste Hindu dominance and
contradicts elite aspirations. To domesticate dissent, the sangh invigorates
militant nationalism. In village Orissa, emulating Gujarat, the sangh
works to create enmity between Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims and Christians.
Progressive citizens groups have initiated opposition, including
the Campaign Against Communalism in Bhubaneswar. Their capacity
to contest despotic religiosity is linked to redressing political oppression,
redistributing economic resources and overcoming injustice.
Fear of the sangh
parivar runs deep in Orissa, producing acquiescence. The sanghs
methods are sadistic, contributing to violations of life and livelihood.
In January 1999, as the vehicle with Australian missionary Graham Staines
and his two sons, Philip and Timothy, was torched in Keonjhar district,
the mobs homage to Jai Bajrang Bali! pierced the state.
Then followed the murder of Catholic priest Arul Das and the destruction
of churches in Phulbani district. After much delay, last month, the
Orissa district and sessions court delivered a verdict on the Staines
murder case, sentencing Dara Singh, the primary accused, to death, and
12 others to life imprisonment.
The Bajrang Dal
continues its virulent onslaught in Orissa. In June 2003, the Dal announced
that it would organise trishul diksha (trident distribution),
despite chief minister Naveen Patnaiks ban. Praveen Togadia planned
on launching the trishul distribution campaign in Banamalipur in Korda
district to provoke an area with a significant Muslim population. The
Bajrang Dal plans to present trishuls to 5,000 as part of the Janasampark
Abhiyan (mass contact programme) that anticipates reaching 100 million
people in 2,00,000 villages throughout India.
The objective? To
spread aggression. Between July and September 2003, the Bajrang Dal
organised intensive programs in Bhubaneswar, Sundergarh and Jajpur.
Aimed at securing a 1,50,000 membership in Orissa, this is part of a
larger campaign that targets Gajapati, Phulbani, Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj,
Koraput, and Nabarangpur districts.
In Orissa today,
the sangh mobilises for a Ram temple among people for whom Ayodhya is
a tale from afar. By 2006, the birth centenary of RSS architect Madhav
Sadashiv Golwalkar, sangh organisations promise that Orissa will be
a poster state for Hindutva. The sanghs considerable advance in
rural and urban Orissa has helped the BJP consolidate its position in
the state, reflected in its gains in the state Assembly from one seat
in 1985 to 41 presently. In return for its support, the sangh expects
the government to tolerate its excesses. In March 2002, a few hundred
VHP and Bajrang Dal activists burst into the Orissa Assembly and ransacked
the complex, objecting to alleged remarks made against the two organisations
by house members.
education are key vehicles through which conscription into Hindu extremism
is taking place. After the cyclone of 1999, relief work undertaken in
a sectarian manner by RSS organisations granted the sangh a foothold
through which to strengthen enrolment. Today, the Utkal Bipannya Sahayata
Samiti works on disaster mitigation with facilities in 32 villages.
The Dhayantari Shasthya Pratisthan manages four hospitals and six mobile
In offering social
services and carrying out rural development work, the sangh makes itself
indispensable to its cadre as a pseudo-moral and reformist force. This
continues the sangh parivars long history of implementing sectarian
development. Targeting the livelihood of the other is a
technique of saffronisation. The Bajrang Dal has been strident in stopping
cow slaughter in Orissa, an important source of income for poor Muslims
who trade in meat and leather. Muslims have been beaten and threatened
by Hindutva mobs. In India, amid the staggering poverty in which 350
million live, the participation of government agencies in debating a
ban on cow slaughter is contemptible. This debate is not about animal
rights. It arrogantly contravenes the separation of religion and state.
It is anti-Muslim, anti-Dalit, anti-Christian and anti-poor.
In Orissa, egregious
infringements of human rights are taking place with the disintegration
of Adivasi and other non-Hindu cultures through their hostile incorporation
into dominant Hinduism. Sectarian education campaigns undertaken by
RSS organisations demonise minorities through the teaching of fundamentalist
curricula. There are 391 Shishu Mandir schools with 111,000 students
in the state, preparing for future leadership. Training camps in Bhadrak
and Berhampur aim at Adivasi youth.
Ashram runs 1,534 projects and schools in 21 Adivasi districts. The
sangh has initiated 730 Ekal Vidyalayas in 10 districts in Orissa, one
teacher schools that target Adivasis. The primary purpose of the schools
is to indoctrinate villages into Hindutva. The teachers are offered
Rs. 150-200 per month as honoraria, no salaries. The schools are free,
supported through donations from organisations like the India Development
Relief Fund. For Adivasi peoples, this facilitates cultural genocide
that imperils self-determination movements struggling against a violent
history of assimilation. The sangh asserts Adivasi political emancipation
is a process of tribalism that jeopardises the nation.
The sangh drives
spiritual centres that use religious scriptures to incite sectarianism
among Hindus. Vivekananda Kendras and Hindu Jagran Manch are active
in Orissa together with Harikatha Yojana centres in 780 villages and
1,940 Satsang Kendras. There are 1,700 Bhagabat Tungis in Orissa, cultural
reform centres run by the sangh that aim at Hindus and Christians. Another
line of attack is to forcibly convert Christians into Hinduism. Churches
and members of the Christian clergy are apprehensive. In Gajapati and
Koraput, Christians have sought state protection in the past.
In Gajapati district,
RSS and BJP workers torched 150 homes and the village church in October
1999. A Dalit Christian activist said, "RSS workers tell me that
Christianity brought colonialism to India, and I am responsible for
that legacy. How am I responsible? Feudalism, imperialism, post-colonial
betrayal. That is written across our bodies. How am I responsible?"
In June 2002, the VHP coerced 143 tribal Christians into converting
to Hinduism in Sundargarh district. The Dharma Prasar Bibhag claims
to have converted 5,000 people to Hinduism in 2002.
Orissa passed a
Freedom of Religion Act in 1967 protecting against coercive conversions.
The law, open to problematic interpretations, was overturned in 1973
and returned in 1977. In 1989, the state government activated requirements
for religious conversion. In 1999, Orissa enacted a state order prohibiting
religious conversions without prior permission of local police and district
magistrates. Hindu fundamentalists diligently manipulate these provisions
to intimidate religious minorities. Sangh organisations work with sympathetic
police cadre to ensure that Hindus do not convert.
The sangh purposefully
confuses the distinction between the right to proselytise and the use
of religion to cultivate hate. Hindutva propaganda accuses Christian
communities of the former and labels it a crime. The sangh justifies
its use of the latter in the interests of a higher truth, the righteous
action of reuniting Hindus. Reconversion is working well
among the Christian community in Orissa, Subash Chouhan says, but not
with Muslims. "Muslim reconversions are going slowly because mullahs,
maulvis have created mosques and madrassas in village after village,
and guard their children like chickens. That is the kind of people they
are and that it why it is not so easy to get them back." For Muslims,
the Bajrang Dal anticipates a different approach. Mr. Chouhan said that
the Dal would engage in militancy if needed to "get the job done".
across Orissa, inciting tyranny to establish itself. As power, culture
and history shape the imagination of a nation, genocide is emerging
as Indias brutal legacy. In denial, in silent and active complicity,
we allow Hindu extremists to march to the guttural call of hate. Hindutva
hijacks the nations aspirations. Its doctrine of blood,
soil and race rewrites the circumstances and complex histories
that produced India. While the separation of religion and State in India
is attempted at the constitutional level, Hindu militancy derives consent
from Hindu cultural dominance.
is assisted by the degree to which the authority of religion and the
enabling cultural and gender hierarchies are enshrined deep within the
popular psyche of the nation. This dominance assumes that to restrict
religion to the private realm would deny India its historical consciousness.
India, a land of
1.2 billion, a profusion of peoples, is bound to the promise of a different
destiny. In the flux between yesterday and tomorrow, dreams and desires,
inequities and intimacies collide to infuse the hybridity that is India.
Her survival is contingent upon the Hindu majoritys commitment
to an inclusive, plural, secular democracy. The idea of a Hindu state
in India is filled with discontent, held together by force. It must
never come to pass.
is a professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the California
Institute of Integral Studies).
used in this article is derived from multiple sources, including interviews
with persons affiliated with sangh organisations).