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Footprints of fascism in India? Encouraging violence, hatred, 'igniting' civil unrest

By Anhad Team* 
A webinar, attended by close to 300 people on Zoom and Facebook, organized by Anhad to observe May 9, the day Hitler’s forces surrendered, focused on the current state of the country, which is quite worrisome and tragic. The atmosphere is filled with rage, despair and loss, and yet in these difficult times, it was felt, critical conversations must be had to remember the context within which we are living.
The webinar was chaired by Prof Mridula Mukherjee, the former chairperson of the Centre of Historical Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), and panelists included Prof Prabhat Patnaik, eminent economist and political commentator; Charanjit Singh, retired professor at the Centre of Russian Studies, JNU; Prof Ram Puniyani, formerly from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and an ardent social activist; Vani Subramaniam, a documentary filmmaker and a member of the Saheli Trust; and Gauhar Raza, scientist by profession but also a poet and social activist.
The webinar began with an understanding as to why May 9 is an important day. On this day, the German armed forces unconditionally surrendered and the Second World War came to an end. Hitler’s fascist powers were defeated and those who supported him were arrested and tried for crimes against humanity.
The conversation was begun by Prof Mridula Mukherjee who said, “We are incredibly troubled right now, in a way we are all affected, suppressed and tired of this pandemic. However, it is important for us to find and ignite more will amongst our people. We must reflect on our histories and take inspiration that through the worst of times, conversations and struggles have been the fuel to generate a stronger resistance. Having these conversations are important and a matter of urgency and necessity.”
Prof Prabhat Patnaik shed light on the link between economy and fascism. He said, “The growth of fascism is inextricably linked to periods of high unemployment.” He added, fascist ideas usually thrive on the fringes of society, but through its calculated efforts they extract corporate support, loyalty from media and igniting class anxiety over an imaginary loss. 
According to him, “Fascism is a contender for state power; it reverts all accountability onto the people and the blame on social others.” By way of example, he said, only 1% of India’s GDP is being put into pandemic related work, while enormous amounts of taxes are being used to build concrete jungles even as people are dying in mass numbers. Essentially, fascism breaks down any source of unity amongst people, thus leaving them powerless to resist. In conclusion he insisted, “Fascism will depend on spreading hatred, encouraging violence and igniting civil unrest.”
Prof Charanjit Singh enlightened the audience about how May 9 came to be the day that Hitler’s army surrendered. He traversed through history, traced the erstwhile Soviet Union’s role in stalling Hitler and brought to light the political and military decisions that were directed to defeat fascists in Germany.
He said, “People are not witnesses to war, they are also a part of it. Men, women and children are involved as seen in the then Soviet Union.” He showcased some historical pictures that traced the history of the Second World War, elaborating upon the measures which the Soviet Union took to save the country’s citizens by shifting more than 2 crore people from areas under attack. The industry was shifted to safer places so that war efforts could continue. Along with all big industry and people, the Soviet Union shifted lakhs of artifacts to other safer places.
He talked about the Leningrad blockade and how ordinary people of the Soviet Union fought along with the army to defeat the fascist forces. The Second World War left a deep impact on the Soviet society and hundreds of films and songs were made on it. The Soviet Union lost 2.6 crore people in the war against fascist forces.
Prof Ram Puniyani spoke at length to an enthralled audience about the state of fascism in India and how it rose in various times in history: “Fascism is very unique in India and some of the patterns are not similar to what is found in other countries. Indian fascism will be fought by those in this country, it cannot be fought by foreign powers or aids.”
Women are seen as vessels in fascist ideologies. They are seen as pure Hindu women submissive to men and to state's patriarchal nature
He spoke about how fascism is a result of hurt feudal attitudes and mindsets: “The then feudal lords, zamindars, savarna folks couldn’t tolerate progression of those whom they saw as less than human and non-Hindu. Dalits choosing education, women going to school and cultural awareness were points of contention and a threat to their dominance in society.”
He talked specifically about RSS while referring to the rise of fascism in India. “Organisations like RSS transform dying orthodoxy into fascist powers”, he said. “Their fascist tendencies are not top-down, rather they are spread like wild fires amongst local communities by their foot soldiers, who propel suspicion, hatred and dogma as the only way to live.” He added, “India’s fascism has been chronic, palpable at every moment in history, but only with corporate support and other arms of the state being twisted into submission have they manage to take seat in a democratic country.”
He concluded by stating how fascism has a gender bias: “Women are seen as vessels of their fascist ideologies, a pure Hindu woman who is submissive to the man and to the patriarchal nature of the state is the one that can be lauded.” He closed his discussion by recognising the power that lay in people’s movements, women’s movements and political opposition, insisting, a unity between different forces is the only solution to prevent the spread of fascism.
Vani Subramaniam spoke about how fascism is not only discriminatory but also extremely manipulative: “The core of fascism is a gendered, abliest, racist and casteist ideology. It excludes everything that doesn’t fit into its worldview. Unless the leadership is with a male and a Hindu, it has no important role to play, but it must submit or be destroyed.”
She believed, fascist ideas condemn anyone who doesn’t fit into the binary, it has no place for unproductive individuals as can be seen with the treatment being meted out to people with disabilities in the current pandemic. “Muslims, Dalits, women, children, trans persons are being attacked for attempting to grow out of the box the feudal powers trapped them in.”
She condemned the pomp with which the symbols of power are being built in the middle of a humanitarian crisis: “Supremacy of some vs equality of all is what fascism is about. Independent thoughts, free thinkers are enemies of the fascist state and ideology. Those who disobey are thrown into jails, tortured, maimed and brutalised for attempting to be anything more than what the fascist ideologies force on them.”
Prof Gauhar Raza raised very pertinent points about cultural resistance and the need to safeguard the rights of free thinkers and artists: “Fascism has always been around, in seemingly harmless conversations, in whispers, even in spaces that are meant for democracy. The rise of fascism is very methodical. It starts with a struggle of ideas, it starts with the suppression of free voices, the voice of the artist, the intellectual, the theatre actor, the dancer, the poets and the writers.
He underlined, ”Artists of all kinds have always been the first to speak out against dominant forces that are exclusionary. Since they have the power to influence the larger public, they are a serious threat to the ideological bombing that fascists tend to engage in.”
He spoke about how within fascist tendencies, it is fashionable to be anti-intellectual, “since cultural expression is so tied to the emotions and attitudes of people, any expression that condemns autocratic powers, any one that attempts to raise their voice against fascist powers is condemned as anti-state and thus anti-national.”
The only cultural expressions that are allowed are those of the dominant religious group. Despite the pandemic Kumbh Mela was allowed to take place, resulting in a massive spread of infection across the country, whilst even minor or non-existent gatherings by other religious groups were advertised as anti-national.
Concluding the session, Prof Mridula Mukherjee began by saying, “Resistance has to start from the people, no one knows and talks about the people more accurately than artists and intellectuals, and they must be protected against the onslaught of anti-intellectual hate.” With the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the nationalist Hindu attitude, so have risen the cases of violence against eminent scholars, renowned universities and especially students and individuals who belong to underprivileged communities, she said
“All fascist forces rely on conspiracy and misinformation. They glorify a mythic past, instill racial and nationalist pride in its people and design a framework that resorts to violence when held accountable for their oppression”, she added.
She insisted, we must be aware and active against even the smallest topics of suppression; we must agitate at the smallest signs of attempt to control public and people’s voices. It is important to recognise that our own history has shown us that even in tremendously difficult times, people’s resistance was strong enough to overcome hatred and violence.
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*Shabnam Hashmi, Dev Desai and others. Click here for recording of the webinar

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