terror tactics

Why saffron terror is not a myth

By shielding Hindu terror suspects, the Modi government is making a big mistake. It should learn from Pakistan’s blunders.

The National Investigation Agency recently decided to drop all terror related charges against the 2008 Malegaon blast accused, Sadhvi Pragya Thakur. The decision of the NIA to overlook earlier findings of investigative agencies against Singh has been along predicted lines under the Narendra Modi regime.

In recent days, the NIA has also diluted several serious charges against Army officer Shrikant Purohit and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh member Swami Aseemanand – two high-profile faces accused of committing terror acts targeted at Muslims, including the Samjhauta Express bombing in 2007 in which 68 people were killed. However, the decision to drop all charges against Thakur has given Hindutva groups the opportunity to paint saffron terror as a myth.

The Sangh Parivar always accuses the Congress of being soft on terrorism. However, when the Sangh uses the word terrorism it actually means Islamic terrorism. When it comes to terror activities of Hindutva groups, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Bharatiya Janata Party refuse to even accept that it exists.

Battling saffron terror

In the post-Gujarat riot days, some Western commentators wrote about the threats from Hindu terror groups to minorities in India. However, the parlance did not reach India till 2010, when Home Minister P Chidambaram described the threat as “saffron terrorism” to a gathering of intelligence officials. Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time. Taking a swipe at Chidambaram, Modi asked him to name the colour for terror in Kashmir. The Hindu Hridaya Samrat even organised a Bhagwa Gaurav Andolan (saffron pride campaign) in his state following Chidambaram’s remarks.

But Chidambaram was not the first one to raise this saffron flag. In December 2010, WikiLeaks cables revealed that a year before, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had warned the American ambassador in Delhi about the potential threats from Hindu terror groups “which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community”.

In 2013, Chidambaram’s successor Sushil Kumar Shinde again brought the danger of saffron terror into the public domain, but the Opposition led by the BJP forced him to retract his statement. Though Shinde retracted it, his home secretary and the present BJP MP RK Singh had confirmed that Shinde’s statement was based on findings from NIA investigations.

Investigating agencies had found out in 2013 that at least 10 people who had strong links with the Sangh Parivar were involved in various terror activities in different parts of the country. At that time, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat accused the Congress of conspiring to tag his outfit as a terror organisation. Hindutva cohort Sri Sri Ravi Shankar also took exception to the use of the term saffron terror.

Though the RSS takes strong objection to the use of the term saffron terror, it does not find anything wrong with the term Islamic terror. In 2001, Modi in a TV debate had branded the Twin Tower attacks in New York as an act of Islamic terror.

The RSS often makes the point that Hinduism is the most tolerant religion in the world, so saffron and terrorism are two opposite terms and cannot be bracketed together. Former BJP ideologue Govindacharya argued that the term saffron terror was akin to describing milk as black in colour. Last year, Home Minister Rajnath Singh accused the Congress of inventing Hindu terror to appease Muslims. Are Hindus incapable of taking up terror as a tactic to win in a conflict?

Not localised

Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers were among the most dangerous and deadly terrorists the world has ever produced, and they were also Hindus. In 1984, many years before Al Qaeda’s anthrax attacks, the United States was subjected to bio-terrorism by the followers of Rajneesh, a Hindu self-styled godman. So, the argument that Hindus are incapable of committing terror acts does not hold.

Of course, like any other religion, the Hindu religion does not promote terrorism. But when a religion is interpreted as being exclusive in character and shows its predatory nature, its evil side sets in. Each and every religion in the world has been distorted to justify war and violence at some point or another, and the Hindu religion is no different. Hindutva groups under the Modi government’s patronage have now pushed Hinduism to that precipice.

Immediately after Independence, the RSS castigated the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, for being soft on Muslims. This led to Bapu’s killing. The Mahatma’s assassin Nathuram Godse was a Hindu, and a former RSS member.

In the post-Independence years, the Congress kept Hindutva forces at bay for several decades. However, with the decline of the Congress, particularly in the post-Ayodhya movement days, the strengthening of Hindutva groups has brought back the threat of saffron terror again.

This was manifested when Australian Christian missionary Graham Staines and his two young children were burnt alive in a remote village in Odisha in 1999. Dara Singh, who committed this heinous act in the name of protecting Hindu religion, was an activist of the Bajrang Dal, the aggressive youth wing of the nationalist Hindutva outfit, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

The recent killings of rationalists like Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi point the finger of suspicion towards Hindutva groups, who were hunting for them for hurting Hindu sentiments.

In a taped interview to the Caravan magazine, which he has denied later, Swami Aseemanand said that a series of deadly blasts between 2006 and 2008 were sanctioned by the RSS.

The arrival of Modi as Prime Minister in Delhi has strengthened the resolve of Hindutva groups. In Uttar Pradesh, a 15,000-strong Dharma Sena of Hindu youths armed with swords and guns has been created to press for a Hindu state. Several training camps have come up, particularly in western and northern parts of the country to train Hindu youths in military-style combat in order to promote Hindu supremacy. Nisha Pahuja’s documentary The World Before Her shows that a large number of Hindu women are being trained in these camps too.

The Pakistan Army’s patronisation of Islamic terror groups for a strategic advantage against India has swiftly boomeranged. The Modi government is making the same mistake by shielding Hindu jihadis. No doubt, these “snakes in our backyard” will soon pose a bigger threat to India’s peace and security.

The writer is professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.