A Case for Fractured Solidarities and Skepticism: Ghazala Jamil in response to Nivedita Menon on Anna Hazare
Guest post by GHAZALA JAMIL
On August 17 at 5:30 in the morning I sat up to follow the latest developments on Hazare front (for sleepless nocturnal souls like me it helps that Ramzan are on). Logged into my facebook account and found that I have been labelled ‘a cynic’ for my status updates and posts on Hazare mobilisation. Got into a facebook ‘discussion’ argument with a friend abroad (All my homesick friends abroad have been smelling wafts of the ‘Arab Spring’ in all this).
Okay, so we have already heard a lot about the reservations the ‘cynics’ have about Hazare’s leadership, his views, ideology, methods and demands. “Unfortunate that Hazare praised Narendra Modi… but he retracted the statement, didn’t he?” ask my friends and students who exhort me to be more ‘reasonable’. “It’s very tragic that no political party can claim to be really clean. They all have blood on their hands. Congress, BJP, even the Communists. So who should he align with for us to trust him?” another friend quizzed me? “Anna is old. He looks honest. He has no family that he may want to benefit. He has been working in field when we (apparently ‘left intellectuals’) just sit in AC rooms and discuss” they go on.
Mobilisations and utopias also come in different hues. Hazare’s utopian village has been brought about by flogging people who drink alcohol and use tobacco. In his earlier limited area of influence his vision has been shown to be tinged with authoritarian ideas. More over now that he has come on the larger arena it is clearly tinged with saffron. He has made his contempt of democratic processes pretty well known. His methods preclude any possibility of dialogue. We know how Hazare and group broke away from the larger civil society alliances and are bent on pushing their version of Jan-lokpal down everybody’s throat.
Then came an explosive argument from within- I was disturbed to read Nivedita Menon’s write-up on Kafila.org blog that IBN7 liked so much that they did not just link it to their website but republished it in its entirety. I have learnt so much about nuancing my stances on feminist discourses in India from her writings and could not really believe my eyes that she is succumbing to the lure of numbers. I know the frustration of going to numerous ill-attended marches, dharnas and demonstrations year after year and feeling queasy to see the large mobilisations of anti-Mandal campaigns, Ramjanmbhoomi campaign and violent Bajrang Bal, ABVP mobs imposing their version of ‘Bhartiyata’ on streets and university campuses across India. In 2002, Gujarat saw ‘numbers’ mob-up and kill Muslims to punish them in a state-legitimised twisted version of communal relations. In subsequent elections Gujaratis have turned in ‘huge numbers’ to reward Modi and vote him to power.
It is a surprising and strange argument that ‘we’ should piggyback any mobilisation that has numbers- ‘come together and go their separate ways when their campaign succeeds’- as Nivedita Menon puts it. Let me just try to understand this argument in light of already raised point of view regarding space for Muslim participation in Hazare’s movement against corruption. First, as we all know the definition of corruption as money changing hands and ending up in ‘foreign accounts and politicians lockers’ that the movement forwards is limited. It does not take into consideration of another sense of corruption- that of the executive, bureaucracy, police and judiciary literally not doing anything for the victims of, say, the Gujarat 2002 and other earlier pogroms against the Muslim community in India. Second, from all the above mentioned ‘bloody hands’ of political parties Hazare chose to pat the back of the bloodiest of them all- Modi for good governance! I’m pained for having to point this out but till real justice remains to be done to the victims of Modi’s ‘good governance’. I am not convinced by any strategic retraction of statements. Nivedita Menon, you are right about the Muslim fear of BJP coming back to power at the centre in any of its coalition-combination-avatar but that’s just one part of the story. Also, till the point that this kind of corruption is addressed, Modi and Gujarat 2002 will remain a festering sore for Muslim community. Remember Vastanvi? Third, Jamat-e-Islami and Muslim Personal Law Board have issued statements but since when have they been accepted by anyone as representatives of Muslim people in India.
And last, but really the core argument that I want to put forwards is that Muslims are required to leave their own issues and questions behind when their participation is solicited for this movement. My friend Pushpanjali who is researching on Jantar Mantar as a state designated site for protest reports that during Hazare fast – part I at Jantar Mantar a team from Aligarh Muslim University that had representatives of students and teachers came to express solidarity with his movement against corruption. When a sherwani clad teacher spoke of the composite culture and need to build solidarities across communities he was heckled by some saffron clad ardent supporters of Anna by loud cries of Vande Mataram. The AMU teacher made desperate appeal from the microphone to ‘Anna’ to ‘respond to the divisive elements within his movement’. Hazare chose to only smile his trademark smile to both the heckler and the heckled. In part-II at Ramlila Maidan Anna team resorted to the symbolism of organising Iftar for Muslims. But the point is to just add numbers not really build real or even strategic solidarities. Some Muslim are rendered visible while offering namaz at Ramlila Maidan but are their issues welcome there?
I’m quite tired of this burden of building solidarities that always lies with the most marginalised within the margins. Nivedita helped me saw a parallel through her writings. Mainstream women’s movement in India has been opposing reservation within reservation for OBC (and Muslim) women. Why? She asked, “are OBC women are not women?” OBC women are sure that a largely upper caste, upper class north Indian Hindu women movement would never afford them any space, they never have. Muslim women keen to build solidarities with the ‘mainstream feminists’ are asked to jettison their fears, suspicion and issues which are never addressed beyond the personal laws discourse vis-à-vis Muslim women. This is not to say that there are no ‘Muslim’ feminists within this mainstream but they are well assimilated into the discourse and oppose the ‘division’ of their movement solidarities on caste and religion lines. OBC and SC women feel that they must defend the right of upper class women to go freely to pubs and wear whatever they want to wear a-la Pink Chaddi and Slut Walks but when backward women are gang raped by upper caste mobs and their bellies cut open to kill their feotus where are these pub crawlers?! Just because we lack the requisite skills and competence to attract media gaze to our issues through maverick ideas that they seem to be bubbling with, we are reduced to just ‘numbers’. And now we are being called upon to build solidarities with Anna mobilisation because they are telling us it is the patriotic thing to do and all problems of displacement, hunger will get solved once the money stashed away in foreign accounts is brought back to India. I’m sorry but thats just more of the same.
A law against communal violence is also in the process of being drafted, so is one on social security for the unorganised sector. Why is the Hazare discourse not even mentioning these? Poor in India are slowly wasting away of hunger, their children are trying to escape and landing up on streets. Ten years ago when I began associating with urban shelter rights movement- we had homeless individuals on Delhi streets now there are entire families. We don’t yet have research to prove it but just from my own experience and that of many of my collegues and students I can tell you that almost all street children, homeless individuals and families on Delhi streets are Muslims and Dalits. Yet Muslims are told that their issues are those of personal law, fundamentalism, terrorism etc. Hazare has hit upon an oversimplified logic to mobilise casteist and communal India. It cannot be clearer to me that this mobilisation feeds on the same streams of ideology that talk of merit when it comes to backward sections asking for their fair share, killing and harassing youngsters in institution like IITs and AIIMS, the ideology that talks of Bhartiyata and hindutva in same breath.
Nivedita, if large mobilisation were to become the only requirement for our support that would be a sad day indeed. We would then be required to support Anti-reservation movement and communal mobilisations that say implementing Sachar commission recommendations is appeasement. Having followed and participated in movement against communalism I am not going to align with anything remotely saffron no matter how large it becomes and how alluring their symbols and discourses. I am comfortable with fractured solidarities- some solidarities cannot be and must not be built. Call me a skeptic if you will.