THEMES

Communalism Combats Tenth Anniversary - 1993-2003
September 1, 2003
Communalism Combats Tenth Anniversary - 1993-2003
To our readers

When we left our full-time jobs in The Sunday Observer and Business India magazine in 1993 to start Communalism Combat, many friends and well-wishers believed this was a hasty and unwise step. Why leave the mainline media to start a niche publication whose reach would necessarily be far more limited?

But we believed we were taking the right decision. Working in the mainline media, we could at best remain full-time journalists where not all of our work would be limited to the communal question. But with Communalism Combat we could be journalists-cum-social activists. Not only could we then attempt journalism of a different kind, we would also have the opportunity to intervene in the ongoing public discourse on the issue through other means and in other arenas – mass campaigns, education, advocacy, litigation…

Ten years later, we are happy we took the decision that we did in 1993. That is what we think, but what about others?

We thought that the 10th Anniversary of the publication was an appropriate occasion for us to subject it to serious external evaluation. Which is why, for this issue, we approached well-known individuals from diverse professions and with different priorities – media, politics, law, civil liberties, human rights; historians, educationists, Dalit intellectuals, women’s rights activists, religious leaders and grassroots workers – urging their frank assessment of the role played by CC in the larger battle against creeping fascism.

We are extremely grateful to all those who so readily responded to our plea and took time off from their pressing schedules to send us their evaluation. To be honest, we are overwhelmed by the feedback and hope that we are able to live up to the high expectations we seem to have raised. The feedback has also given us a lot of food for thought, as readers will concur.

Regular readers of CC will have noticed the sharp drop in the even otherwise meagre advertisement support the magazine enjoyed, since the BJP’s rise to power at the Centre. Since our need to rely on reader support to sustain the publication is that much greater today, for the first time in 10 years, we are compelled to raise our subscription rates.

We remain committed to continue to bring before you the best that we are capable of. But we also need your strong support, dear reader.

— EDITORS

‘Hindu India must be won over’



 
Notwithstanding the positive role played by Communalism Combat in rehabilitating the "face of the Gujarat carnage" (Kutubuddin Ansari), notwithstanding the role played by the publication in producing and presenting Zahira Sheikh to the nation, notwithstanding the outstanding work the magazine performs in aiding and assisting those who have actually suffered in riots, Communalism Combat’s true function is to help win the information war that is being currently waged for the hearts and minds of Hindu India. It is this function which needs to be discussed and amplified because it is this war which, according to me, will determine the fate of secularism in our fragile republic.

I stress Hindus since it is they who will eventually decide which way the pendulum swings in the stand-off. For too long all of us who are on the side of the angels have been preaching to the converted. We urgently need to reach out to those who are confused, perplexed and bewildered by the high-decibel propaganda campaign being carried out in order to fundamentally alter the nature and ethos of Indian society. There are pessimists, of course, who believe the war is already lost, that India has been irredeemably and irrevocably communalised. The alarmists are wrong. The situation is dangerous but not hopeless. And they forget that finally secularism will triumph because secularism is the only device through which a political party or a coalition can rule a country as large, diverse and heterogeneous as India. Protection of secularism in India, therefore, is not a luxury but a pre-requisite for those with an eye on Delhi.

Information is the critical component in the aforementioned war. It can and will finally decide who wins and who loses. What we are seeing today is not just the distortion of reality, the truth is not merely being embellished or exaggerated, what we are witnessing is the systematic propagation of falsehood. Myths and prejudices are being paraded as facts and empirical data. Whether it is polygamy or conversions or demographics or madrassas, or the role of Indian Muslims in domestic and international terrorism, fact and fiction are freely mingled to conjure up a pre-arranged construct. If the facts don’t fit the case, start backwards – make the case fits the facts.

Communalism Combat has been performing a positive role as a corrective in presenting truth as it genuinely exists. And if I can be so presumptuous to offer gratuitous advice, this is the area where the publication needs to concentrate and use its admittedly limited resources to debunk myths and prejudices with verifiable and credible data. Armed with this data, truth can confront falsehood.

Take polygamy for instance. The received wisdom is that polygamy is practised largely among Muslims – the one-man-four-wives syndrome. Mr. Narendra Modi managed to convince most of Gujarat that this was an incontrovertible actuality in their state. However, the reality is markedly different. While a tiny, tiny minority of Muslims practise polygamy, it is the Hindus (from Dalits to rich Gujarati businessmen) who, in numerical terms, are the real "villains". The same species of misinformation prevails about birthrights among Muslims.

I am not unmindful of the role of the secular media. As the events in Gujarat showed, the random, unscripted aligning of press and TV to expose the real culprits was a powerful weapon in contradicting the version being put out by vested interests. If such a ghastly event were to occur again, I am certain the media would once again rise to the occasion and provide accurate and independent coverage. Sadly, the media has a notoriously short attention span, it seldom revisits a communal tragedy to re-check whether promises made for relief and rehabilitation have been honoured. Most crucially, numerous other news events loom enticingly on the horizon beckoning its attention.

It is only a publication like Communalism Combat, which has a completely different agenda and which, hopefully, does not rely on market forces for survival, that can single-mindedly and consistently focus on communalism and provide the editorial inputs — culled from a diverse variety of sources – to ensure that bigotry always gets a fitting reply in terms of facts and figures.

One of the problems a magazine like Communalism Combat faces is distribution. How do you reach it to the uncommitted – those sitting on the fence, the Don’t Knows, the undecided. I do not have a readymade answer to the problem but all of us fighting to preserve and strengthen secularism should put our heads together to see if we can help in any way. On the tenth anniversary of Communalism Combat there is no better gift we can give the magazine.


Archived from Communalism Combat, August-September 2003, Anniversary Issue (10th), Year 10, No. 90-91, Media 2

‘Space for scribes to speak without fear’
It was a typical Delhi party. A sprinkling of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen, all part of one large parivar. As I entered, there was a brief silence, and then a voice from the corner, "Here comes the anti-national!" I smiled, but the voice continued to taunt: "So, now you’ve got the Best Bakery case to attack the Gujarat government. How about focussing on the anti-Sikh riots and what the Congress did for riot victims then for a change?"
 

I was hugely tempted to tell the gentleman that we had just done a programme with the widows of the 1984 riots, but chose to avoid a confrontation. Arguments like this are often self-defeating, and it is perhaps best to sit in a corner and sip one’s Bacardi-coke. The fact is that we live in an increasingly intolerant society, one in which any form of dissent or attempt to question the conventional wisdom only earns the label "anti-national" or a questioning of one’s faith. (I’ve always believed that those who question patriotism should do a compulsory one year service at Siachen, but then that’s another matter).
 

Unfortunately, the media too is trapped in this growing polarisation of the mind. The prevailing philosophy of the ruling elite (and this is perhaps as much true of the Congress as it is of the BJP) is to believe that journalists must be either seduced or else intimidated. Those who are seduced are promised Rajya Sabha seats, appointed on various committees, or else guaranteed Padma awards. Those who are intimidated are threatened with criminal suits, ostracised from social events and denied access to information.
 

The polarisation of the media makes Communalism Combat important as an outlet for some form of protest in the prevailing atmosphere of "manufactured consensus". In a sense, it forces people to look into a mirror at a time when there is a concerted attempt to keep the images of hate and violence as blurred as possible. There is a need to be reminded that the tragedy of the child who lost her mother in the Godhra train burning is no different to that of the infant who lost her family in Naroda Patia; that the terrorist who maims a girl at a bus stop in Rajouri is no more heinous than the one who wields a trishul to torment another community. The fact is that in a society which attempts to rationalise violence as some kind of action-reaction process, there is a need to condemn ALL kinds of violence as unacceptable in a civilised society.
 

This, of course, is easier said than done. As one has seen in Gujarat, in Mumbai, in Jammu & Kashmir, it isn’t easy defying the establishment. In all instances, there is a sustained attempt to shoot the messenger. In Kashmir, it has taken the more dramatic form of journalists being intimidated at gun-point. In Gujarat, the television camera became the "enemy", with camerapersons being routinely assaulted. Since Mumbai happened in the pre-television era, there wasn’t the prying camera to attack, but there are enough instances of reporters who found themselves being threatened by the political bosses of Mumbai.
 

But whatever be the form of intimidation, there is an urgent need to carve out some space (call it a sanctuary if you will) where mediapersons can express themselves with some sense of freedom from fear. Hopefully, Communalism Combat will provide that ultimate sanctuary for those who still swear by the Indian Constitution.
 

This article was posted on Sardesai’s blog on February 12, 2010.

Archived from Communalism Combat, August-September 2003, Anniversary Issue (10th), Year 10, No. 90-91, Media 2
 
‘Impacting public discourse on communalism’

 

As a publication, Communalism Combat’s circulation may be low when compared to so-called mainstream newspapers and magazines but its reach and impact should not be underestimated. This is because CC has had a considerable impact on the public discourse on communalism in India, both in terms of conscientising the wider body politic about the dangers of sectarian, divisive politics, and in putting forward proposals to make our public institutions and arms of the State free from a communal or anti-people approach.

If CC has been less successful on the latter front, this is only because communal politics and violence have become an intrinsic part of the way in which our political class thrives and rules. The Bharatiya Janata Party is perhaps the most obvious example of this phenomenon but virtually every other party or formation, from the Congress to the ‘Third Front’ and Bahujan Samaj Party, is implicated in this in one way or another. The Left parties are pretty much the only exception, but their lack of political confidence leads them to tail behind parties like the Congress and take only an epiphenomenal view of the phenomenon of communalism.

Needless to say, none of the parties involved in building an anti-BJP front is particularly exercised by the ease with which state institutions can be subverted and used to foster violence. None has seriously attempted to introduce reforms that would make the executive branch, and particularly the police, accountable for all acts of omission and commission during riots. None has attempted to prosecute those involved in organising and carrying out communal massacres, whether in Delhi (1984), Meerut (1987) or Bombay (1992).

If Communalism Combat is to play an ever more pro-active, interventionist role on the subject, it must sharpen its attack on the institutional and political mechanisms within the Indian State which allow innocent citizens to be hunted down and killed in broad daylight. CC has done excellent work already – for e.g., by highlighting the need for police reform, or looking at the long-term strategic issues of pedagogy and school curricula – but there is room for a lot more.

Another front on which CC has contributed considerably is on breaking down the media discourse on communal violence. Thanks to virtually real-time investigation and intervention, the magazine has helped shatter the myth that communal violence is about "rioting" between amorphous mobs of "Hindus" and "Muslims". What happened in Gujarat was a calculated and well-orchestrated political attack on the state’s Muslim citizens.

The instigators and attackers were not "Hindu" in any meaningful sense, even though they tried to justify their acts of cruelty by appealing to Hindus as a whole. I think today, partly as a result of CC’s work but also because of the openly pogrom-like character of communal violence, most newspapers have shed their traditional coyness about identifying the victims. I wish, however, that newspapers would avoid glib and misleading references to the attackers as "Hindus", "Hindu mobs" etc.

Why should a mob that consists of political activists (be they Congressmen in 1984 or sangh parivarists in 2002) or of lumpens motivated or paid by politicians, be allowed to take on the protective cover of a religion? I think this is something one needs to pay careful attention to, because it is precisely the semantics of media discourse that allows groups like the sangh parivar to cultivate a siege mentality amongst ordinary Hindus and equate themselves with Hindus as a whole.

Archived from Communalism Combat, August-September 2003, Anniversary Issue (10th), Year 10, No. 90-91, Media 3