The Law of Force: The Violent Heart of Indian Politics

The Law of Force is a searing critique of the illiberal and violent forces that continue to dominate our everyday life a

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The Law of Force: The Violent Heart of Indian Politics

Table of contents :
Half-Title Page
Title Page
Copyright Page
A Note on Names and Characters
Introduction: Violence in Three Scenes
1. On the Moral Force of Violence
2. Democracy, Policing, and Public Order
3. Sacrifice, Death, and the Political Theology of Indian Democracy
Epilogue: Is India’s Democratic Revolution Devouring Democracy?

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Also by Thomas Blom Hansen Majoritarian State: How Hindu Nationalism is Changing India (ed.) Melancholia of Freedom: Social Life in an Indian Township in South Africa Cool Passion: The Political Theology of Conviction Sovereign Bodies: Citizens, Migrants, and States in the Postcolonial World (ed.) Urban Violence in India: Identity Politics, ‘Mumbai’, and the Postcolonial City States of Imagination: Ethnographic Explorations of the Postcolonial State (ed.) Wages of Violence: Naming and Identity in Postcolonial Bombay The BJP and the Compulsions of Politics in India (ed.) The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India

ALEPH BOOK COMPANY An independent publishing firm promoted by Rupa Publications India First published in India in 2021 by Aleph Book Company 7/16 Ansari Road, Daryaganj New Delhi 110 002 Copyright © Thomas Blom Hansen 2021 All rights reserved. The author has asserted his moral rights. The views and opinions expressed in this book are those of the author and the facts are as reported by him, which have been verified to the extent possible, and the publisher is not in any way liable for the same. The publisher has used its best endeavours to ensure that URLs for external websites referred to in this book are correct and active at the time of going to press. However, the publisher has no responsibility for the websites and can make no guarantee that a site will remain live or that the content is or will remain appropriate. No part of this publication may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in a retrieval system, in any form or by any means, without permission in writing from Aleph Book Company. ISBN: This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published.

CONTENTS Half-Title Page Title Page Copyright Page Contents A Note on Names and Characters Introduction: Violence in Three Scenes 1. On the Moral Force of Violence 2. Democracy, Policing, and Public Order 3. Sacrifice, Death, and the Political Theology of Indian Democracy Epilogue: Is India’s Democratic Revolution Devouring Democracy?


In keeping with a long and established tradition in anthropological scholarship, all names of persons and characters mentioned in this book have been changed and otherwise anonymized in order to protect their identity, dignity, and safety. This convention has served anthropologists well for many years and it is all the more important to adhere to in the present political climate in India where those critical of the government and the ruling party all too often are subjected to abuse and threats.


PUNE, 16 JULY 1989 I sat under a tree in a small park in the Old city in Pune. I was in the early stages of what was to become an almost decade long period of research on the Hindu nationalist movement. Next to me sat a greyhaired man dressed in the signature Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) uniform—white shirt and khaki shorts. He was a long-standing pracharak—a full-time RSS worker—who had devoted his life to the movement. He was a mild-mannered man who spoke in a low but intense voice, frequently smiling, eyes twinkling with excitement. I was struck by the violent eloquence of his words that seemed quite unusual at the time. Here is an excerpt from my notes from that day: We in the RSS are often called ‘extremist’ but that is wrong. We are simply trying to teach Hindus to stand up and defend their own house. Our Mother India has been raped by invaders for a thousand years. The invaders are still here and their mentality is still arrogant. But Hindus are the majority in this country, it is our country, not theirs, and we need to show them strength. That is all they understand. ….If every Hindu man and boy respects our Hindu culture and is physically courageous, our enemies have no chance.

He gestured at the boys and young men in RSS uniforms playing kabaddi in the park behind us. ‘We will beat them back, shed blood if necessary, but we will show them their place. Today they are guests in our house, and must behave like that. We Hindus are tolerant and forgiving, but if they don’t respect the rules of hospitality, they must be taught a lesson.’

In the years to follow, I would hear endless variations on these themes as this type of violent speech and action entered the mainstream of Indian public life. CENTRAL BOMBAY, 25 JANUARY 1993 The gigantic city was still eerily quiet. The curfew had been lifted in most parts of the city and the jawans from the Rapid Action Force (RAF), a specialized wing of the Central Reserve Police Force of India (CRPF), had withdrawn after the violence—mostly attacks by Shiv Sena supporters and the police on Muslim areas and houses—had stopped ten days earlier. I was sitting in the house of my friend Asif, a gentle and refined writer, journalist, and occasional cartoonist. Everyone in the family was relieved to be able to move around again after almost two weeks of curfew. Asif asked me to come for a walk, as we usually did in the early hours of the evening. ‘I want to show you what happened here,’ he said. We walked down towards the main junction. The street was quiet, people were watching us, apprehension and fear still written on their faces. Asif pointed to the walls behind us. ‘Look what they did,’ he said. There were large letters sprayed on the wall ‘Babur ki auladon, bhago Pakistan aur Kabristan’ in Hindi, and in English ‘Muslims, Pakistan or Kabristan’. Asif could not suppress his always bubbling wit, ‘The Shiv Sena did us great honour here. They even brought one of their two-three intellectuals here to write this in English—must be the case, no, the spelling is perfect!’ We laughed and he said, ‘Tell me the one about the three policemen.’ He loved this Russian joke: Why do Russian cops always move in threes? One could read, the other could write, and the third was to keep an eye on those damn intellectuals! We both laughed heartily, too loudly for the general sombre atmosphere around us. People looked at us, as we walked on. As always, Asif insisted that this was actually a story about Indian cops. As we walked back, he showed me burned down houses and told me how many died in each of them, his voice laconic, his face sad and motionless. We turned a corner near his building and he pointed to a makeshift dwelling on the pavement, now abandoned. ‘There was this little boy calling for his father, from down here, for days. At some point, I could not bear it any more so at night I went down to give the boy milk

and biscuits. He was all alone and very frightened….’ Asif’s voice broke, ‘now he is gone.’ An elderly man came up to us and wanted to shake my hand. He looked disturbed, as if in shock, saying, ‘Shukriya, shukriya’, again and again. Asif pulled me along, distressed, ‘There are so many people like him, just walking around. What they must have done to that old man.’ AURANGABAD, 8 JANUARY 2018 It was early evening in Nagsen Nagar, a predominantly Dalit slum area near the railway station in Aurangabad. Some of my young Dalit friends had taken me to meet one of the hundreds of victims of extreme police violence that was unleashed against Dalit protesters. A week earlier, hundreds of thousands had come out in protests across Maharashtra, following the attacks on Dalit celebrations of the Mahar regiment that was central to the defeat of the Peshwa empire at the village of Bhima Koregaon outside Pune in 1818. A young man was lying on a mattress on the floor, his face, arms, legs, and body severely bruised and swollen. He told his story slowly and calmly: he had not been in the protests himself but two of his brothers had been there, one of them now in jail, the other had gone to relatives in a village. He had been beaten during one of the nightly ‘combing operations’ where the police would roam through Dalit neighbourhoods in search of ‘troublemakers’ and ‘extremists’ who the police claimed to have identified in video and cell phone footage during the protests. The young man had been at home with his mother and sister when the police broke down the door to the house and rushed in to find him. They immediately started beating him with lathi, dragging him out of the house. One of his friends showed me footage on his cell phone of what had happened. The friend had been hiding on the terraced roof of his house right opposite and he had been filming, intermittently, anxious not to get spotted. In the footage, one sees the young man’s mother and other women trying to stop the beating. The policemen, many of them concealed behind face masks, shouted invective, calling the women randi (whores), ganda log (dirty people), and deshdrohi (traitors). One can hear glass shattering as the policemen drag out a flat-screen TV, attack a new scooter, smash a laptop, and at the end bring out a brand-new bathroom sink which they smash to pieces. ‘They even broke our new toilet bowl, and confiscated our cell

phones.’ As the cops were busy destroying the TV, the young man gets up and flees into the darkness down one of the many alleyways. ‘I have a degree and a job, I support my family—what did I do wrong? In moments like this I wonder, what are we really to these people? Nothing, worse than dirt.’ I asked my young Dalit friends to keep the footage and share it with one of the many Dalit lawyers who had come forward to help the victims. A week later, a local magistrate ruled that in accordance to the Indian Evidence Act that only video footage certified by a person of ‘authority’ can count as admissible evidence in court. The cell phone footage one finds on every social media site was no defence, just another weapon at the hands of the police and the state. Less than a month later, the Supreme Court of India clarified the conflicted interpretation of Section 65B in the Indian Evidence Act. The court held that, ‘The applicability of requirement of certificate [by a person of authority] being procedural can be relaxed by Court wherever interest of justice so justifies.’ 1 Although softening the requirements of the Evidence Act somewhat, it had little effect. It was still at the discretion of a magistrate, or a judge, whether to accept electronic footage as evidence and local courts were not budging. Most of the young Dalit men remained in jail for many weeks until released, ostensibly on the grounds of insufficient evidence. DEMOCRACY WITHOUT DEMOCRATIC VALUES? This book explores how and why public violence of many kinds have moved to the centre stage of India’s political life. The story of India’s democracy is often narrated as the miraculous birth of a democratic Constitution against all odds and probabilities. 2 From this moment of great promise, Indian democracy gradually changed from high-minded idealism and ambitious nation-building in the Nehruvian era to the present mass politics marred by pervasive corruption and cynicism, and a more recent turn to violent majoritarianism. This book seeks to challenge this common story line by pointing out that violence has been of foundational importance in Indian politics and practical governance and policing for many decades. Indian democracy has been very effective in making the moral force of majority rule a foundational value

in public life, but it has been less effective in translating the spirit and values of the Constitution into a foundation for the country’s political life. On the face of it, India is a proper democracy with incredibly dynamic electoral politics at all levels, a judiciary that still retains a measure of independence, and a Constitution that guarantees fundamental rights and liberties as well as the rule of law. The Indian Constitution is a capacious and far-sighted document that has been able to creatively accommodate group rights and has been appropriated by many groups in Indian society in their quest for inclusion and fuller citizenship giving the Constitution a vigorous social and political life of its own. 3 But it is equally true that the democratic and procedural norms outlined in the Constitution have only in part penetrated everyday political life and the way most Indians understand the essence of what politics is about. To many ordinary Indians, the world of politics is not necessarily captured by the high Sanskrit term ‘rajniti’ (the proper exercise of power). The vernacular use of the English terms ‘politics’, and ‘politics karna’ (doing/playing politics) is far more common as Mukulika Banerjee has pointed out. 4 ‘Politics karna’ conveys a deeply realist and often quite cynical ethos of desiring, having and exercising political power, perhaps better captured by the Urdu term ‘siyasat’ with its connotations of strategy/trickery. This is, I believe, a fairly indisputable social fact. Yet, it would be a mistake to interpret this state of affairs as a sign of an enduring civilizational rift in political philosophy and cultural values between East and West, between a Hindu social order supposedly based on society and dharma, and a European tradition based on naked power and the state. Though surprisingly widespread from Left to Right in Indian political spectrum, this type of polarity reflects a nationalist misreading of both the philosophical traditions, and the complex histories of South Asia and Europe. 5 Posing the question of democratic values in terms of enduring civilizational differences fails to address the most pressing question of the day: how has seventy years of democratic politics, activism, and rambunctious electoral democracy in practice shaped and transformed

the way in which political power, and legitimate public authority, are understood and transacted in India today? It is questionable that the Indian Constitution, as it stands, would find favour in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha in 2020. There are deep reservations about several elements of the Constitution among many members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as evidenced by calls from senior BJP ministers for removing the term ‘secular’ from the Constitution. 6 Besides, the organicist ideological core of the RSS sees ‘Hindu society’ as a naturally hierarchical order that ensures harmony. The desire for a strict social order, and abhorrence of democratic and egalitarian norms, is reflected in the hierarchical and authoritarian organization of RSS itself, and its mission to constitute itself as a de facto police power within Hindu society, dressed for the part in fatigues modelled on the colonial police. 7 Over many decades, neither Congress nor the mainstream Left parties deployed the promise of liberties and the rule of law as major campaign planks. Many on the Left were sceptical of the value of the ‘negative rights’ guaranteeing individual and collective freedoms enshrined in the Constitution. Negative rights and the assertion of individual rights and property were seen as emblems of a bourgeois ideology of liberal freedoms and had never been prominent in mainstream anti-colonial nationalism during the freedom struggle. Instead, a language of ‘duty’ dominated, as pointed out by Niraja Gopal Jayal in her pioneering book Citizenship and Its Discontents: An Indian History. The nationalist mobilization of ‘the duty to disobey’ was turned into the duty to become a virtuous citizen. From the 1940s onwards, both Congress and the parliamentary Left began to convert the powers of the state into an instrument for reform and removal of ‘social ills’. Many of these projected ‘positive rights’—social and economic to development, education, and social upliftment—appeared in the Directive Principles of the Constitution. 8 In the decades to follow, centrist and left of centre forces in India built themselves as defenders of India’s sovereignty against the ubiquitous ‘foreign hand’, and as guarantors of pluralism, social reform, modernity, and development. In everyday political discourse, it was

progressivism (pragativad), emphasizing equality, reform, and modernity that became the unifying rallying point, rather than the more contrived and ‘rightist’ notion of liberalism (udaravad), understood as economic freedom and individual rights. The only exception to this general tendency was the activism in defence of civil rights that blossomed during and after Indira Gandhi’s imposition of Emergency rule that led to the imprisonment of thousands of opposition leaders and activists in 1975–76. This was the first, and only, time in the history of independent India that the government turned its full force against members of the upper middle class and the political elite, a process incisively documented by Gyan Prakash in his book Emergency Chronicles: Indira Gandhi and Democracy’s Turning Point . However, it was impoverished Muslims and other marginal communities that bore the real brunt of the violence and reformist zeal to ‘clean up’ India’s cities, combat corruption and curtail what was seen as runaway demographic growth among the poor. 9 After Indira Gandhi’s return to power in 1980, civil rights concerns receded from centre stage to a more marginal if still vocal activist community. Both of India’s most prominent civil rights organizations were founded during these years—the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (founded in 1976 by J. P. Narayan, among other people), and People’s Union for Democratic Rights (founded in 1977) date from this period. In addition to a vocal activist community, including feminists and LGBTQ groups, the only larger communities in India that today consistently appeal to the Constitution, and consistently advocate the rule of law and protection of human rights, are the country’s recognizable minorities—Dalits, tribals, Muslims, and communities in Northeastern India. The protests in late 2019 against the BJP government’s amendment of the Citizenship Act, 1955, made the Constitution a highly visible and explicit rallying point for protesters at Shaheen Bagh in Delhi as well as student groups and concerned citizens across the country. Today, those groups appear akin to an Indian version of what Jürgen Habermas and other theorists of democracy have called ‘constitutional patriotism’. 10 But even that is a problematic label, considering that each of these groupings emphasize and defend only particular aspects of the Constitution’s provisions—such as secularism, freedom of religion, reservations, etc. Few of these socio-political

formations, or communities, can be said to enthusiastically embrace the democratic spirit of the Constitution in their own community practices. A 2017 Pew Research poll asked people across the world about their faith in democracy and related questions. The responses from India (sample size: 2,464)—mainly urban and educated households as is the norm for Pew polls—make for interesting, if confusing, reading of how democracy is viewed by a small, if influential, slice of the population: 75 per cent of those asked in India supported representative government (the lowest in all of the Asian countries polled); 65 per cent supported direct rule by experts (one of the highest in all the countries polled) and more Indians supported autocratic rule by a ‘strong leader’ (55 per cent) than in any other country polled, surpassing Russia by 7 points, Turkey by 15 points. By comparison, only 22 per cent of Americans thought such arrangement to be good, and only 27 per cent of Brazilians. As many as 53 per cent of Indians also thought military rule to be a good idea. 11 How does one explain what can only be called a general diffidence about the Constitution and its basic values in political discourse in India? How does one explain the following paradox: It is indisputable that democracy in India has deepened in the past decades by affording previously excluded and denigrated groups a growing role in the electoral process. At the same time, this process has been accompanied by a gradual weakening of democratic norms, such as respect for rights, political equality, the rule of law, cultural difference. A part of the answer to this question, I suggest, can be found in the crucial role of violence in public life in both colonial and independent India. THE VIOLENT HEART OF INDIAN POLITICS As British rule consolidated across the subcontinent in the nineteenth century, colonial officials found themselves in a constant state of worry about possible outbreaks of violence among the massive and infinitely diverse populations they now ruled. Officials mostly interpreted such bursts of violence as a manifestation of religious fanaticism that nineteenth century observers saw as common throughout the ‘Orient’. The East India Company’s informers and intelligence sources were tasked with keeping an eye on disobedient local rulers as well as itinerant fakirs, mendicants, and godmen of various stripes. However,

they failed to detect the resentments that eventually manifested themselves in the great rebellion of 1857. The rebellion caused a massive shock across the empire. An earlier breezy confidence in British superiority now gave way to new forms of governance, and more intensive policing. The potential for popular violence was now regarded as a permanent threat to British rule. This threat was countered by gradual incorporation of native elites into deliberative bodies, combined with harsh policing on streets, cities, and towns. The Indian Penal Code of 1860, to this day remains the matrix for criminal law in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, contains multiple sections that allow the authorities extensive use of force against any form of collective action deemed detrimental of ‘public tranquillity’. Colonial manuals of policing recommended that resolute force be used against populations supposedly attuned to the harsh and despotic form of rule in the East. By the beginning of the twentieth century, it was strife between religious communities, notably Hindus and Muslims, that emerged as a prominent concern for colonial officials. Riots and other disturbances were routinely attributed to the work of irresponsible fanatics, badmashes, and criminals. In the eyes of the authorities, the growing urban populations across the subcontinent constituted an unstable and volatile environment, prone to excitement and irrational passions. Police officers and observers began to refer to such popular sentiments as a ‘cauldron’ or a karahi, a large and dangerous compound that had to be kept under control in order not to boil over. This constant possibility of an uncontrollable, even irrational, popular violence was also fundamental to anti-colonial thought and political action. The Indian freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak staged Hindu festivals such as Ganpati Utsav in the 1890s as a new physical mass politics that could both counter and emulate the mass spectacles of the Muslim Muharram. 12 Later, Mahatma Gandhi constantly mobilized mass action, and sought to control its potential for violence. While satyagraha and other forms of non-violent politics were initiated as a moral challenge to the overwhelming force of the colonial state in South Africa, Gandhi’s deployment of non-violence and public fasting in India focused on controlling the threat of all out violence between Hindus and Muslims. As has been pointed out by Faisal Devji in his book The Impossible Indian: Gandhi and the Temptation of Violence , Gandhi’s

thought and action revolved around the ‘temptation of violence’ and the recognition of violence as a form of irreducible ‘truth’ of politics, and popular sovereignty. The moral force of non-violent action rested precisely on its supposed capacity to control and keep in check the potential of a much larger, and more catastrophic, form of violence where communities would set upon each other and ignite an endless cycle of anger and vengeance. 13 In this perspective, Partition was not a catastrophic aberration. It was precisely the eruption of this ghastly ‘truth’ of political life, and its attendant political and social consciousness, into public violence on an almost unimaginable scale. In her new and deeply original book, Violent Fraternity: Global Political Thought in an Indian Age, Shruti Kapila proposes to see Partition as foundational to Indian political life in several ways. It was a culmination of a form of politics built on what Kapila calls ‘fraternal antagonism’ between Hindus and Muslims that began with Tilak, Savarkar, and the RSS. In Kapila’s words, what marked modern politics in the subcontinent was that ‘the foe or enemy was discovered as the intimate brother and kinsman with a potential for destruction.’ 14 It instituted a logic of enmity that enabled Hindus to create a political unity that promised to overcome the deep social antagonisms of a caste and untouchability, antagonisms that in Ambedkar’s view would forever prevent Hindus the formation of a proper society. To Gandhi, Partition stood as a massive failure of his political ethos of non-violence. For the Hindu nationalists it was an incomplete victory in their project of constructing a Hindu nation. For Ambedkar it demonstrated that only a Constitution based on a broad definition of popular sovereignty could contain India’s many social hostilities based on caste and turn them into agonistic relationships that could be articulated through electoral politics. Or in Kapila’s words: Ambedkar’s political vision was staked on the reproductive capacity of political ideas through an institutional design in which the subject— national and Dalit—was embedded in popular sovereignty. Agonism or the recognition of hostile distinctions as opposed to their violent eradication or wilful neglect, in effect became the nonviolent condition for the life of the Indian nation and democracy. 15

Neither the Constitution nor the launching of universal franchise solved the problem of the threat of violence as a constant companion, and underlying force, in political life. If anything, it made the potential of violence more than ever present and constant. From the point of view of practical politics and administration, Partition had proved just how dangerous, but also potent, the ‘cauldron’ of popular sentiments really was. In the decades following Independence, public violence was deliberately turned into a question of adequate policing and administration. The older colonial ideas of riots and the disturbance of ‘public tranquillity’ being caused by fanatics and criminal elements were now supplemented by the category of the ‘anti-national’ element, that is those who cause division and discord by unnecessarily stirring the ‘cauldron’ of public sentiments and unleashing mass violence. The widespread protests and mobilization of students and many others under J. P. Narayan’s call for ‘total revolution’ in the early 1970s caused concern among government officials and many others for precisely this reason. The protesters were accused of being divisive and anti-national. When Emergency rule was imposed in 1975 by Indira Gandhi it happened in the name of ensuring public order and protecting national sovereignty against a supposed threat of mass violence from within, and from the instigations of the dreaded ‘foreign hand’. From the late 1980s, Indian politics entered a new and intensive phase marked by three distinct developments: 1) the transformative mobilization of lower caste communities claiming visibility and presence in the public domain on an unprecedented scale, bringing demands for dignity and recognition of marginal communities into the heart of political life; 2) the emergence of powerful regional movements and political forces in states across the country; and 3) the growth of the Hindu nationalist movement around demands for the ‘liberation’ of Lord Ram’s alleged birthplace in Ayodhya. This movement resulted in a dramatic escalation of communal violence in many parts of the country. Together, these developments contributed to what is often called a ‘deepening of democracy’ or what Christophe Jaffrelot has called a gradual ‘silent revolution’. 16 These developments were accompanied by new forms of protests, assemblies, demands and indeed, incidents of public violence that escalated from the 1980s to consistently high levels

in the 1990s and 2000s. Reported caste violence also escalated in these decades as upper caste and dominant caste communities retaliated against what they saw as lower caste ‘arrogance’ and political assertiveness. The mobilization by the Hindu nationalist movement in the 1990s was in large measure a ‘conservative revolution’, pushing back against increased public visibility and prominence of lower caste constituencies and social and religious minorities. 17 Today, politics is everywhere and virtually every dimension of Indian society has become an object of political and ideological debate, interpretation, and contest. This ‘hyper politicization’ has been magnified by several factors. Firstly, the electoral and the legislative processes in India are today separated in a comprehensive way that is unknown in other major democracies. Because of the complex legacy of a nervous colonial bureaucracy suspicious of the subject population that the Nehruvian state turned into a highly centralized and command driven technocratic bureaucracy, the vast majority of policymaking and implementation is completely separated from the electoral process. The vast majority of elected politicians neither make laws nor drive legal reform. They generally run on highly emotional and symbolic issues, or base their own reputations on their ability to represent and give dignity and hope to their community, and their constituents. Conversely, most public officials across India see elected politicians as a constant threat to their ability to implement laws and policies. This threat can manifest as demands for bribes or the possibility of administrative transfer. The net result of this alienation of electoral politics from law making and the distribution of public goods, is that the domain of public contestation is dominated by emotional and ideological issues, as well as symbolic gestures concerned with collective dignity, protests against excessive violence and abuse, commemorations, martyrdom, etc. Secondly, public violence and the performance of anger and outrage have become ever more accepted languages of political life in India. While Indian society remains deeply hierarchical in terms of a deference to social status and wealth, decades of dynamic electoral politics have gradually established popular sovereignty as a dominant idea: only those who can win the hearts and support of the majority will be able to rule, and manage the expectations, the anger, and the potential for violence, of this majority.

Before I delve deeper into the emergence of a decidedly non-liberal form of democracy in India, let me briefly consider how this constant threat of public violence in India, the dreaded ‘cauldron’ of public sentiments, has shaped Indian democracy. THE PEOPLE AS A SLEEPING SOVEREIGN In The Social Contract (1762) Jean-Jacques Rousseau launched a distinction between ‘sovereignty’ and ‘government’ that were to become foundational in most modern democracies. 18 Sovereignty, Rousseau argued, is indivisible and expressed in the ‘general will’, a force residing in the ‘people’ as such, a force that is both constitutive of all power and inalienable, that is, it cannot be given or granted to anyone else (least of all a monarch or dictator). Sovereignty, for the same reason as makes it inalienable, is indivisible; for will either is, or is not, general; it is the will either of the body of the people, or only of a part of it. The will, when declared, is an act of Sovereignty and constitutes law. 19

By contrast, a government is merely an executive function, serving to administer and maintain liberty and order and to ‘secure correspondence’ between subjects and the sovereign. What then is government? An intermediate body set up between the subjects and the Sovereign, to secure their mutual correspondence, charged with the execution of the laws and the maintenance of liberty, both civil and political. 20

Later in the The Social Contract , Rousseau concedes that the actual sovereign and its ‘general will’ are always elusive, evoked, and interpreted through consultation, assembly, and possibly a majority vote, or a plebiscite. Yet, the force of sovereignty has to be present, as an omnipresent constituent power that enables and empowers all legitimate government. Its main function is to be what Richard Tuck suggestively calls ‘a sleeping sovereign’. 21 Rousseau’s distinction between sovereign and government corresponds well with the distinction between ‘raj’ and ‘sarkar’ in India,

with sarkar (the ‘hands of the head’) being a more precise expression of Rousseau’s understanding of government than the English term, and the Hindi term raj corresponding with Rousseau’s notion of the sovereign as the underlying source of power. 22 The ‘We, the people of India…’ of the Preamble to the Indian Constitution invokes precisely this: the people as the constituent power of modern India, a sleeping sovereign ideally only to be awakened during elections. Rousseau recognized that while the ‘general will’ requires careful legislation by enlightened men, the actually existing people may well be a problem. The general will is always right and tends to the public advantage; but it does not follow that the deliberations of the people are always equally correct…. The people is never corrupted, but it is often deceived, and on such occasions only seem to will what is bad. 23

This warning against the actions of a ‘deceived people’ would have resonated all too well with many of the framers of the Indian Constitution. A few years earlier, Partition had demonstrated on a grand scale that the actual ‘people of India’ at this time, to use Rousseau’s words, actually ‘will what is bad’ and could not be said to embody a ‘general will’ in a way that came close to Rousseau’s ideal. Shruti Kapila urges us to consider Partition and the violence that followed across the subcontinent in the first years of India’s independence not as an aberration but instead the constitutive and violent moment where the ‘general will’ of the Indian nation was defined. If Partition, with all its moral ambivalence and horror, was the violent truth of the birth of the nation, it follows that India’s ‘sleeping sovereign’, the people, is an equally dangerous and morally ambivalent force. With independence and democracy, the dreaded ‘cauldron’ of public anger had to be managed but also taken seriously in new ways. It was precisely this fear of violence and manipulation that motivated the formation of the Election Commission of India, one of the most empowered and autonomous of its kind anywhere in the world, capable of disqualifying and excluding candidates breaking the famous ‘Model Code of Conduct’. 24

In a landmark case in 1995, the Supreme Court of India barred Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray from electoral campaigning and found him guilty of spreading ‘communal enmity’. The judges admonished Thackeray and reminded him that: …leaders (must be) more circumspect and careful in the language they use…for maintaining decency and propriety…and for the preservation of the proper and time honoured values forming part of our cultural heritage. 25

As is well known, such strictures on public speech during election campaigns have not prevented the proliferation of many forms of hate speech in India despite the rather stringent provisions in Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code that bans ‘deliberate’ and ‘malicious’ outraging of communities, and ‘insults to the religious beliefs of a class of people’. In the early 1990s, a young magistrate in Pune explained the problem to me in the following way: Many of these people say that they just talk straight from the heart. How can we prove that to be malicious and a crime? Only during election time can one say that whatever people say or do are done with the intention of winning votes. That is why we have all these cases during election times.

Postcolonial India inherited a rich repertoire of political actions and rituals from the nationalist movement. At the heart of this political vernacular was an assertion that the voice of the people was always just and that every effective political action had to stage this ‘people’ or a community in significant numbers to make a point. Crowds—angry, mobilized, determined, or disciplined—became an ever-more powerful currency of political transaction in India. The bigger the crowd, the stronger the argument. In an important article, Dipesh Chakrabarty has argued that in the first decades of the life of the new Indian nation state, senior bureaucrats, against all their instincts, had to appear from time to time in front of angry crowds in order to apologize for the non-delivery of some government service. 26 As Indian democracy matured and diversified, this political vernacular of numbers and the performance of public anger, became more complex.

From the 1990s onwards, the idea of mobilizing, or representing, majorities—in states, in elected bodies, as caste coalitions, as religious communities—became an ever more powerful idea. It gradually began to challenge the older ideal of political parties attracting votes across different communities and minorities in order to consolidate a legitimate political majority. The notion of majority itself—bahumat—also began to acquire a stronger affective and moral force. In Sanskrit, bahumata literally means ‘esteemed by many’ and it seems that by the 1990s, this aspect of bahumat/majority as something that in and of itself has a moral force began to acquire an effective and visceral reality on the ground. The moral force of a majority—whether defined as a pre-given cultural entity or understood as an electoral proof of the superior force and truth represented by a political formation—emerged in no small measure from regional politics across India. The linguistic movements across much of India of the 1950s and 60s had mobilized powerful sentiments on the assumption of an inherent superiority, and naturalness, of a polity based on the linguistic affinities of a majority. They had also demonstrated the political potential of mobilizing emotional bonds around language and a generalized rhetoric of cultural intimacy and relatedness. Prior to the rise of Hindutva, most of the morally charged rhetoric of sacrifice, of ‘treason’, of emotional outrage and attachment, often accompanied by physical attacks on newspapers and public figures, emerged in states where strong linguistic and regional polities had come to dominate public life. The linguistic movement in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, and other states spearheaded this new kind of passionate and confrontational style of street politics that today has acquired a near dominant position across India. More than any other political formation, it was Bal Thackeray and the Shiv Sena that framed this new politics of direct and violent action. The movement styled itself as a collective representation of popular fury (raag), valorizing pride and short temper and claiming to act as the ‘seedha marpeet karna’ (force of straight beating) of ordinary workingclass people in Maharashtra. The actions of Shiv Sena vigilantes constantly alluded to the movement’s capacity to unleash much larger and more unmanageable forms of violence. With his usual penchant for wordplay and punning, Thackeray claimed to replace lokshahi (rule by the people) with thokshahi (rule by beating). Frequent attacks on

political opponents, or what the movement saw as recalcitrant or ‘arrogant’ bureaucrats, served to maintain the Shiv Sena’s reputation. From the 1980s to the 2000s, the Shiv Sena also called for bandhs on a regular basis, sometimes to achieve particular goals but as often to demonstrate its ability to shut down the city of Mumbai, or large parts of the state. The effectiveness of these bandhs said less about active support for the party in the state and more about its claim to control public space, and control the source of public violence. The Shiv Sena’s innovation was, in short, to permanently weaponize the sleeping sovereign . The Shiv Sena claimed that the movement and its leaders were able to interpret and express popular anger, to control and project this anger as mass violence, but also to curb and transform this force into real political power when needed. That proved to be an almost irresistible formula for popular politics and for political entrepreneurs, and aspiring political ‘bosses’, across South Asia as has been demonstrated by a number of scholars and observers in recent years. 27 THE ENJOYMENT OF VIOLENCE AND THE LICENCE TO KILL Decades of scholarship on violence in India and South Asia has tended to focus almost exclusively on incidents of dramatic communal violence. The powerful insights in the literature on communal riots notwithstanding, these moments are almost inadvertently turned into exceptional moments of extreme violence, and near-pathological cruelty. This same view has been shared by officials and police officers for many decades. It continues to inform the longstanding policy of using live ammunition against certain ‘rampaging mobs’ in such situations, out of a fear of rapid all out escalation. Evidently, the shadows of Partition and the fear of the ‘cauldron’ of public anger remains a powerful motif in policing, but as we shall see, the application of force and police power on the streets of India is profoundly shaped by who makes up the crowd. What is less well understood is just how widespread and accepted the use of violence, or the threat thereof, has become in political and public life. In the chapters to follow, I mobilize ethnographic stories, statistics, official reports, and existing scholarship to argue that violence has moved to the centre stage of Indian public life. For many observers, commentators, and theorists of democracy in India and elsewhere, this

development signals a deep problem, a deformation and a pathology that may present a danger to the future of democracy. I agree with this assessment especially in light of the general political weaponization of public anger as a legitimate expression of popular sentiments by the Hindu nationalist movements and its many affiliates. But this also begs the question why so many ordinary people in India today seem to either tacitly endorse, or actively participate in public violence? From the killing crowds in Delhi in late February 2020, the gauraksha vigilantes across the country, the lynch mobs, and the millions of respectable middle-class Hindus who are thrilled that someone is ‘finally teaching the Muslims a lesson’. Why is violence, or the threat of violence, so powerful and intoxicating, also for the bystanders? Most common-sense perceptions attribute public violence to the work of young, frustrated, or deprived men for whom destruction, noise, and inflicting physical harm is a form of compensation for their own weakness and marginality in everyday life. There may be some truth to this but the best studies of violence, and its (mostly) male perpetrators, have decidedly demonstrated that perpetrators of extreme violence are rarely the most deprived or marginalized. Rather, perpetrators are driven by the experience of power, fraternity, and freedom when engaging in violence and violent organizations. 28 These are precisely the kind of experiences that ‘doing politics’ (politics karna) may offer: the sense of being involved in something bigger than oneself, of being protected and acting with impunity, the enjoyment of the strange suspension of norms during riots and pogroms, or the voyeuristic pleasure of bystanders to violence who often cheer on ‘our boys’. My proposition here is that the legitimacy of public violence in India today is directly connected with an experience of empowerment. ‘I don’t have much but at least I know that I live in the strongest and richest country in the world’, an elderly man living in a mobile home in one of America’s poorest states told the sociologist Francesco Duina. In his book Broke and Patriotic: Why Poor Americans Love Their Country , Duina shows in compelling detail that American citizenship itself gives the poorest in America and experience of power and freedom, despite their utmost marginality. 29 A very similar logic seems to be at work in contemporary India. It is precisely the promise of inclusion into an

empowered majority, a fleeting sense of freedom when in a crowd, or a sense of having been given ‘permission’ by one’s leaders to act, to hit, and to abuse that are the most powerful ingredients in public violence today. These ingredients are most clearly articulated in the projection of the ‘angry Hindu’ defending an ‘injured majority’ against its many enemies, but they are also present in other political formations as well. Here is what Amit Shah, Narendra Modi’s number two man, had to say at a rally in Uttar Pradesh on the eve of the 2014 elections, following deadly attacks on Muslim communities in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh: ‘A man can live without food or sleep. He can live when he’s thirsty and hungry. But when he’s insulted, he can’t live. Apmaan ka badla toh lena padega .’ (We will have to take revenge for the insult). 30 Sigmund Freud’s darkest book, Civilization and its Discontents, was written in 1930 as a commentary on the rise of fascism. Freud suggests that one of the conditions driving the support for fascism is the promise of freedom, the ‘permission’ to act without constraints and moral injunctions. 31 The German title Unbehagen in der Kultur actually suggests a ‘discomfort’ (unbehagen) with the rules of polite society. Freud argues that more civilized forms of life and sociality have produced discomfort and unhappiness because Kultur in the German sense, as civilized and refined behaviour, implies a deeper regulation of everyday conduct, and a more refined taming of the basic drives—death and eros. The more injunctions, the more instincts curbed, the more discomfort (unbehagen ) is experienced as limits on freedom. To Freud, freedom is neither a part of being civilized nor modern. Civilization or Kultur is the art of postponing, sublimating, and refining the energy of the drives in order to put them to good use. To Freud, unfettered freedom is in fact the very enemy of civilization because the venal rumbles right under the thin crust of civilization. Freud quotes Heinrich Heine’s little story to argue that cruelty and violence are inescapable companions of happiness: ‘Mine is a most peaceable disposition’, writes Heine. My wishes are humble: a small cottage with a thatched roof but a good bed, good food, the freshest milk and butter, flowers before my window, and a few fine trees before my door. And if God wants to make my happiness complete he will grant me the joy of seeing some six or seven of

my enemies hanging from those trees. Before their death I shall, moved in my heart, forgive them all the wrong they did me in their lifetime. One must, it is true, forgive one’s enemies—but not before they have been hanged.

To Freud, the greatest threat to civilization, or sociality as such, comes from the attachment to experiences of immediacy, and bodily and sentimental authenticity. Freedom could be found in two ways: either experienced as a fundamental truth—such as the Nazi romance with the immediacy of the Volk and the crowd—or, assiduously constructed as a cultural and transcendental truth acquired through processes of cultivation and restraint. It seems to me that Freud’s reflections speak quite directly to contemporary Indian society. Decades of economic growth and urbanization have mobilized an enormous desire for improvement— becoming a little wealthier, more educated, more modern. For the vast majority, changes are slow and hard won. However, there are many smaller experiences of freedom and enjoyment available, from social media, movies, fashion and consumer objects, to the smaller freedoms offered by political rallies, meetings, informal activism. Among millions of young and underemployed people, it is passing time and capacity to enjoy, or enjoi in Hindi and other Indian languages, that counts as freedom. While in the past, political activism, rallies, and demonstrations articulated political convictions in a language of attachment or selfsacrifice, today it seems that political life promises another experience of freedom to activists, patriots, and vigilantes: the freedom of enjoi and maza—to be given permission by political leaders to command the street, to attack and punish the enemies of the people and the traitors to the nation.

1 The Supreme Court of India in Shafhi Mohammad vs. The State of Himachal Pradesh

on 30 January 2018, . 2 Madhav Khosla, India’s Founding Moment: The Constitution of a Most Surprising

Democracy, Harvard University Press, 2020, Ornit Shani, How India Became

Democratic: Citizenship and the Making of Universal Franchise , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. 3 Rochona Bajpai, Debating Difference: Group Rights and Democracy in India , Delhi:

Oxford University Press, 2011; Rohit De, A People’s Constitution: The Everyday Life of Law in the Indian Republic , Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018; Niraja Gopal Jayal, Citizenship and Its Discontents: An Indian History , Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, and New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2013. 4 Mukulika Banerjee, ‘Rajneeti Or Politics?’, Outlook , 25 June 2010. 5 In their book, Ideology and Identity: The Changing Party System of India , Delhi:

Oxford University Press, 2018, Pradeep K. Chhibber and Rahul Verma argue that this civilizational polarity between a ‘virtuous societal dharma’ and an ‘immoral force of the state’ was foundational to early Hindutva ideologues like Karpatri Maharaj and M. S. Golwalkar. In his 2010 book, Indian Politics and Our Thought , Delhi: Ocean Books, the BJP leader Rajnath Singh describes the goal of the Hindutva movement as the embracing of proper rajniti based on Indian values, instead of the corrupted and westernized ‘politics’ in the present. 6 See statements by Union Minister Anant Kumar Hegde at a meeting in 2017

organized by Brahman Yuva Parishad. ‘I feel happy because he (the person) knows about his blood, but I don’t know what to call those who claim themselves secular’, PTI, ‘Union minister Hegde hints at removing “secular” from Constitution’, Economic Times , 26 December 2018. 7 Jyotirmaya Sharma, A Terrifying Vision: M. S. Golwalkar, the RSS and India , Delhi:

Penguin Books, 2007. 8 Jayal, Citizenship and Its Discontents, pp. 1–24, 136–162. 9 Gyan Prakash, Emergency Chronicles: Indira Gandhi and Democracy’s Turning

Point , Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019; Emma Tarlo, Unsettling Memories: Narratives of the Emergency in Delhi , Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. 10 Jürgen Habermas, A Berlin Republic: Writings on Germany , Lincoln: University of

Nebraska Press, 1997; Jan-Werner Müller, Constitutional Patriotism , Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007. 11 Richard Wike, Katie Simmons, Bruce Stokes, and Janell Fetterolf, ‘Democracy

widely supported, little backing for rule by strong leader or military’, Pew Research Center, 16 October 2017, available at < >. 12 Jim Masselos, ‘Change and custom in the format of the Bombay Mohurrum during

the nineteenth and twentieth centuries’, Journal of South Asian Studies , Vol. 5, No. 2, 1982, pp. 47–67; Raminder Kaur, ‘At the Ragged Edges of Time: The Legend of Tilak

and the Normalization of Historical Narratives’, South Asia Research , Vol. 24, No. 2, 2004, pp. 185–202. 13 Faisal Devji, The Impossible Indian: Gandhi and the Temptation of Violence ,

Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012. See also, Ajay Skaria, Unconditional Equality: Gandhi’s Religion of Resistance , Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016. 14 Shruti Kapila, Violent Fraternity: Global Political Thought in the Indian Age ,

Delhi: Penguin Random House, 2020, p. 7. 15 Ibid. 16 Christophe Jaffrelot, The Silent Revolution: The Rise of the Lower Castes , New

York: Columbia University Press, 2003. 17 Thomas Blom Hansen, The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in

Modern India , Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999. 18 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract and Discourses , translated with an

introduction by G. D. H. Cole, London and Toronto: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd, New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1923. 19 Ibid., p. 50. 20 Ibid., 74 21 Richard Tuck, The Sleeping Sovereign: The Invention of Modern Democracy ,

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. 22 Thomas Blom Hansen, ‘The state as an object of ethnographic inquiry’,

Contributions to Indian Sociology, Special 50th Anniversary issue published as Critical Themes in Indian Sociology , Delhi: SAGE Publications, 2019. 23 Ibid., p. 53. 24 For the current version of these rules, see. 25 P. K. Kunte vs. Bal Thackeray , A.I.R, New Delhi: Supreme Court of India (1994:8). 26 Dipesh Chakrabarty, ‘In the Name of Politics: Democracy and the Power of the

Multitude in India’, Public Culture , Vol. 19, 2007, pp. 35–57. 27 Lucia Michelutti, et al., Mafia Raj: The Rule of Bosses in South Asia , Palo Alto:

Stanford University Press, 2018; Bart Klems and Bert Suykens, ‘The Politics of Order and Disturbance: Public authority, sovereignty, and violent contestation in South Asia’, Modern Asian Studies , Vol. 52, No. 3, 2018; Tarini Bedi, The Dashing Ladies of Shiv Sena: Political Matronage in Urban India , Albany: State University of New York Press, 2016 and New Delhi: Aleph Book Company, 2016. 28 Bill Buford, Among the Thugs , New York: Vintage, 1991; Klaus Theweleit, Male

Fantasies , Vols. 1 and 2, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977/1987; Parvis Ghassem-Fachandi, Pogrom in Gujarat: Hindu Nationalism and Anti-Muslim

Violence in India , Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012; Stanley Tambiah, Leveling Crowds: Ethnonationalist Conflicts and Collective Violence , Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996; Julia Eckert, The Charisma of Direct Action: Power, Politics and the Shiv Sena , Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003; On Thackeray, enjoyment, and charisma see Thomas Blom Hansen, 2001, Wages of Violence: Naming and Identity in Postcolonial Bombay , Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001, pp. 70–101. 29 Francesco Duina, Broke and Patriotic: Why Poor Americans Love their Country ,

Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2019. 30 Quoted in Jaya Sharma, ‘The Politics of Hindutva and its Erotic Charge’, Kafila , 24

June 2019. 31 Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents , New York: W. W. Norton and Co.,




y central proposition in this book is that the performance of public violence, or the threat thereof, has become of ever more crucial, if not constitutive, importance to politics and public life in India. At the same time, the nature of what constitutes ‘public’, and how sentiments and information are disseminated and shared are rapidly changing towards a more deeply segmented landscape of multiple and parallel publics, each defined by their vernacular, and each addressing and projecting communities of religion or caste. This in turn has implications for how violence is defined, performed, justified, and legitimized across widely differing linguistic and social worlds. Whose public is it? Who is listening and looking? And for whom is anger, resentment, and protest performed? Let me begin with a small incident that I witnessed during fieldwork in the Muslim majority districts of Central Mumbai in 1996. One of the formerly elected members of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) was arrested on charges of racketeering and corrupt practices. The man in question was a small businessman who had been elected on a Congress ticket. He was known as an affable, decent, if somewhat ineffective man and rumour had it that he had lost his seat because he was not willing to pander to the builders and crime bosses in the area. His wife cried foul. She claimed that he had been framed on false charges and beaten savagely by the police. She announced a hunger strike to demand his release from custody. With a somewhat ‘filmi’ gesture she had decided that she would stage her protest in front of a well-known kebab restaurant in South Bombay. ‘Otherwise, no one will take any notice,’ the wife told me. The next day, she camped on the

sidewalk, surrounded by friends and family with banners and placards denouncing injustice and criminal politicians, written in English, Urdu, and Hindi. The gesture seemed to work: the hunger-striking woman got a brief mention in one of the city’s English language tabloids that in a somewhat ironic tone focused on the ‘choice location’ of the action; quoting a police source a big-selling Marathi daily bluntly described her husband as ‘a notorious criminal’, while the local Urdu press was almost entirely focused on the arrest of the husband as yet another instance of police bias against Muslims in the city. The action lasted all but four days and produced no results. Already by the second day, people’s attention had shifted. Commuters hurried past the woman and her placards on the busy sidewalk. In the Muslim neighbourhood, snickering jokes about the cruelty of fasting amidst the smell of kebab subsided after a few days. Soon, the incident was seen by the locals as just another tragic, if not comic, example of the isolated and inept character of local Muslim politics. This is a small and banal example of a failed public performance. Political activists know fully well that failure, oblivion, or half-failure, are common experiences and outcomes of campaigns or public gestures. Yet they persist in their attempts to win public attention and support for their cause or grievance. These persistent efforts and repeated gestures are what produce and solidify the legitimacy of certain registers of conduct and performance. But form and content do not always match. Public authority, whether built on fear, respect or sacrifice, is always brittle and based on the persuasiveness of gestures and reputations in the eyes of a certain putative audience. Staging a public fast is a risky and complex affair because its symbolic success depends entirely on, firstly, whether the fasting event is sufficiently public and noteworthy to large numbers of people; and, secondly, if enough people deem the fasting body to be sufficiently morally ‘clean’ and innocent to deserve not to suffer. In our case, neither of those conditions was met: the ‘public’ was divided by almost incommensurable interpretations, and the moral standing and reputations of the arrested man, and his wife, were not such that their suffering at the hands of the police, or the fast, were considered excessive and unjust. From this little example, we can draw at least two conclusions that I will address in detail below. Firstly, publics in India are not just divided

by language—vernacular versus English—as has been the major theme in the literature on modern publics in South Asia. There are multiple parallel, segmented publics defined by community, political persuasion, religion, and caste. These publics may be expressed in the same natural language but their structure and mode of address, the emotions, myths, and moral universe that define them are either unintelligible or unacceptable to those inhabiting an adjacent public. Secondly, while these publics share a number of ritual and normative conventions regarding how authority is generated and performed (such as public fasts, dharnas, strikes, crowd protests, public oratories) there are also important differences between them. The most defining differences between these publics in contemporary India concern what I propose to call ‘the ‘moral force of violence’, i.e. how different kinds of violence (say state sanctioned violence, crowd violence, spontaneous violence, retributive violence, historical/structural violence, etc.) are experienced and valorized. SEGMENTED PUBLICS: FROM INSTITUTIONAL NETWORKS TO COMMUNITIES OF EXPERIENCE In September 2015, the authorities in several cities in Gujarat and Haryana decided to shut down the mobile phone network for twenty-four hours in response to the continuing protests by members of the Patidar and Jat communities, demanding that their communities be included in list of communities entitled to reserved seats in educational and other public institutions. The justification was to ‘prevent mobs in the city centre’, a police source told Business Standard . 32 At one level this was but a technological upgraded version of the methods of curtailing press freedom, shutting down television reporting from flash points that the Indian state has deployed for many decades in order to control and limit civil disturbances. Since 2015, the shutting down of mobile and internet networks has become a standard measure among police authorities in India (and in countries such as China, Iran, and others). This measure found its most extreme use in the protracted, punitive digital isolation of Kashmiris after the state was put under the direct jurisdiction of the union government with the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A in August 2019.

At another level, this also tells us that the uses and popular experiences of being part of a ‘public’ today are rather more dynamic and amorphous than what can be gleaned from most scholarly accounts. Today, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook constitute vernacular publics of unprecedented scale, velocity, but also evanescence. For the average user of phone-based apps with limited storage, messages, pictures, and other content do not stay on devices for more than a few months. This amorphousness and fluidity are most pronounced around instances of violent protests, attacks on public property, and other performances of anger that take place in a legally grey zone. Footage and messages on phones can be rapidly shared but can also become liabilities, proof of complicity or incitement of violence should a device or account be subject to police investigation. 33 There is a distinguished body of scholarly work tracing the emergence of what one can call ‘modern publics’ in South Asia. One body of work focuses on what Sheldon Pollock has called the ‘Sanskrit cosmopolis’, the range of debates and discourses that unfolded in distinct publics in precolonial and early modern South Asia however circumscribed they may have been by rank and limited access to Sanskrit or other formal languages. 34 Another body of work has focused on public rituals, processions, and religious festivals as distinct forms of public expression and contestation and that became the focus of much colonial anxiety and regulation, as well as mobilization of anti-colonial sentiments and protests of many kinds. 35 Some of these works have shown in compelling detail how these mass rituals have been adapted and captured by contemporary political forces. 36 A third body of work has focused on the emergence of an institutionalized public sphere in colonial and postcolonial India defined by vernacular newspapers, language standardization, the development of distinct styles of oratory. 37 Much of this work has demonstrated the emergence of powerful language ideologies that drove movements for purification and reinvention of modern vernaculars that could overcome traditional diglossia, that is the gulf between high/pure and low/coarse language styles that were defined by social class and caste. This, in turn, also helped address the sense of inferiority vis-à-vis English that was

reproduced on a daily basis in the vernacular press and in institutions of government, science, and higher learning. 38 In combination with a continuing hegemony of English as a language of reason, polite society, law, modernity, big business, and what today in India is known as so-called ‘world class’ standards, 39 these effective language movements have had the peculiar effect of enabling the vernacular publics to be experienced as culturally intimate in a way that is historically unprecedented. The vernaculars across India’s many states now constitute a medium which can be shared and mobilized with many strangers as a medium of intimacy and solidarity vis-à-vis outsiders, as in the case of the regional movements in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu. It may also be the medium of a less restrained and more nakedly majoritarian sentiments as indicated by Arvind Rajagopal in his well-known analysis of how a public split between a more formal English speaking public and a more intimate Hindi sphere became a central enabling condition for the phenomenal expansion of Hindu nationalist sentiments and discourse in the 1980s and 1990s. 40 In his analysis of the Hindi newspaper scene in North India, anthropologist Per Ståhlberg has indeed shown that many local newspapers and journalists pride themselves as being ‘closer to the emotions of the people’. 41 Such split publics enabled the vernacular to be a vehicle less restrained and more nakedly majoritarian sentiments, a more intimate vernacular sphere. 42 as shown in Parvis GhassemFachandi’s incisive analysis of the strongly communal tone of Gujarati papers prior to the pogrom of 2002; or in my own analysis of Bal Thackeray’s provocative rhetoric. The vernacular language itself, its grammar, the joy of speaking it, the sharing of references, and the sense of community it enables are in many cases a site of condensed emotions and a thick sense of community, as Bernard Bate has shown for the non-Brahmin movement in Tamil Nadu. 43 Clare Talwalker’s analysis of language community among middle class Marathi speakers demonstrates that the sharing of both modern and classical Marathi enable what she calls ‘kinfetishism’—an imagined world of familial intimacy and commensality where everyone becomes uncle, sister, brother, etc. This world thrives, she argues, on its supposed contrast to what is perceived to be a more

alienating world of stranger sociality that characterizes a world of rapid urbanization and economic transformation. 44 This sense of a vernacular as a shield against a larger, often hostile, world is also very powerful among many Muslims for whom Urdu has become what Asif Khan, late cartoonist and journalist in Mumbai, acerbically called ‘our ethnic language’. In one of our many conversations, he clarified: ‘Urdu used to be the second national language of India. A generation ago, everybody spoke it, like a kind of common Hindi with many Persian or Arabic words in it but most people did not care where the words came from. Today, most of my educated Hindu friends insist they don’t understand it. And no one else but us reads our newspapers.’ For Asif and many others, Urdu had become culturally intimate, a familial almost anachronistic code in a diminished and often isolated public, enjoyable and infuriating, just like kin. If the spectacular success of vernacular media—newspapers, TV channels, and websites—in recent decades has produced an enhanced sense of vernacular cultural intimacy, the same process has also produced a distinct unease with the putative kinsmen included in the language community. As Talwalker indicates, kin fetishism has distinct limits and vulnerabilities because it is founded on a pre-existing, if unstated, premise of social and ritual compatibility among upper caste Hindus. Some of the most inventive and irreverent writers in Marathi in the past decades were indeed Dalit writers and public intellectuals such as Baburao Bagul, Namdeo Dhasal, Arun Kamble, Urmila Pawar, and others, some of whom are today included in the literary canon of modern Marathi. For these figures, mastery of the vernacular was both a platform for critique and a claim for recognition, not through cultural intimacy but through the creation of a parallel Dalit public sphere, marked by festivals, institutions, and symbols that are neither generally known, nor recognized by the average caste Hindu in the state. 45 Like many other segmented publics, the Dalit public sphere is perfectly knowable but not generally known. It is technically public in a linguistic sense but not a general public in a social sense. What holds such publics together is rather a shared experience of stigmatization, a shared moral universe, and a claim for recognition as full citizens and humans that cannot be fully captured through a conventional idea of a public sphere as a network of institutions, texts, and linguistic performances. The Dalit

public sphere, like other emerging lower caste publics, is centrally organized around the assertion of democratic and constitutionally guaranteed rights against the cultural and social hegemony of upper caste Hindus. In those senses, these publics are indeed ‘counter publics’, deriving energy and motivation from direct challenges to the often hidden and naturalized social life of caste distinction. 46 This became very clear after militant Hindus in early January 2018 attacked the annual celebration of the valour of the Mahar soldiers in the defeat of the Peshwa empire in 1818 at Bhima Koregaon. The attacks led to widespread protest by Dalits across the state but it also suddenly made this key element in the annual calendar of events in the Dalit public sphere visible to a much larger audience. These events had been public throughout, but never noticed and much less understood in a wider public in the state until violence on a large scale made them visible. However, the fragmentation of publics in this sense of smaller and discrete ‘communities of experience’ is a more fine-grained affair that most of the time exists somewhat removed from the rough and tumble of public protests or electoral politics. Let me return to the notion of a diminished Urdu public that is lamented among many educated Muslims in Central Mumbai. In these quarters the decline of Urdu is experienced as a loss of a certain cultural sophistication and refinement. In its stead has been a new public prestige of a more Arabized forms of Muslim pious speech promoted by organizations like the Tablighi Jamaat, as well as coarser and more popular forms of culture, comportment, and patterns of speech associated with the substantial number of migrants from Bihar, and Bhojpuri-speaking areas in North India. Relentless pressure from Hindu majoritarian forces have also contributed to make the marker ‘Muslim’ the most, if not only, defining feature of public life in these historical neighbourhoods. Majid, another local Urdu journalist put it like this to me: ‘In the mainstream press we are all lumped together as Muslims, we are all seen as clannish and half criminals…no matter what I say or do, people will only look at my name and say, oh, but he is Muslim. I am already guilty.’ For this journalist and many others, this represented a decline from an earlier time in the life of the postcolonial state where one could inhabit a wider public sphere created by the nationalist movement. Perhaps never quite the ideal figure of the unmarked citizen conjured up

in normative theories of the public sphere, but at least a member of a larger public where one could speak on behalf of a neighbourhood, a demand, a profession, or a political persuasion without a priori being reduced to one’s cultural or religious identity. The politician’s wife in the story I began with naively assumed that she could perform her role as a disaffected citizen, unjustly victimized by police brutality and corruption. That position, my friends explained, was not available because as a Muslim she was ‘already guilty’. To make matters worse, they added, ‘her husband was not seen as a good Muslim so the pious ones did not support her either.’ To sum up: the vague ideals of a ‘general public’ in the postcolonial nation are still alive in Bollywood films, commercial advertising, and other media but have been challenged by the spectacular success of multiple vernacular publics and the intensification of cultural intimacy and intense political community along linguistic lines. This vernacularization of political sentiment has in turn reinforced another kind of segmentation of discrete publics along lines of distinct social and cultural experiences of caste and community, or more fleeting and situational publics coalescing around shared feelings of hurt and deprivation. It is to the central role of violence in connecting different segments of public life that I will now turn. VIOLENCE AS A GENERAL EQUIVALENT Unlike many other countries in the region where coups, civil wars, and prolonged armed conflicts define political life and public memory, violence in India has primarily been associated with more dispersed forms of ‘public violence’ such as communal riots, or with clashes between protesters and police. Less noticed has been a steady increase in ‘routine’ public violence such as the destruction of public property— buses, police vans, offices, schools—by protesters of many kinds. It is difficult to open a newspaper today without reading at least one daily story of what police records describe as acts of ‘vandalism’. Most often protesters describe such events as the inevitable effect of pent up anger and outrage, as if the scale of physical destruction is an index of the depth and intensity of their rage. Protesters want the government and various publics to take note, and the reactions are invariably mixed if not contradictory. Let me return to the case of the 2015 protests by Jats,

Patidars, and later Marathas demanding reservations for these less educated but politically powerful communities. The protests and the ensuing violence were roundly condemned as vandalism by the authorities and most of the English and Hindi language press, yet a point was being made, and a point was being registered: there is considerable anger and frustration with the reservation system as it currently works. Among these dominant caste communities, the very scale of the rallies and protests were in themselves projected as victories and they catapulted a new and young leadership into unprecedented positions of authority and influence within their respective ‘caste publics’. The same logic applies to a wide range of similar instances of performing anger in public, an anger invariably presented as emanating from hurt collective emotions. Such language of outrage and hurt pride have today become the predominant modality of public violence in India as argued by Amélie Blom and Nicolas Jaoul. 47 It came to the fore in the movements for linguistic states whose martyrs are celebrated to this day from Tamil Nadu to Maharashtra and Assam. It was the Shiv Sena that developed fury (raag in Marathi) and anger (gussa in Hindi) into a public virtue, an increasingly legitimate style of politics. This sentiment is directly relayed by the name of Shiv Sena’s newspaper Saamana (confrontation) which for decades has been pivotal in making a coarser style of colloquial Marathi acceptable and legitimate, if often dismissed as poor taste among the traditional upper caste and middle class communities who claim to uphold core cultural values of the language community. Hindu communal politics was conventionally and historically framed as self-defence against fear of Muslim aggression. However, since the 1980s, Hindutva discourse has increasingly adopted a style of forceful anger that foregrounds hurt sentiments—for example, the historical humiliation of Hindus by the very existence of the Babri Masjid on the birthplace of Lord Ram—or the theme of hurt pride (garav) that was so prominent during the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat. 48 In these public actions, even excessive and cruel violence is purified and made just and moral by the imputed injury to a community or a collective emotion that provoked it in the first place. Violence is purely reactive, spontaneous, and therefore just.

This modality of forceful and violent action that appeals to a ‘general public’ as well as more specific publics defined by movements and distinct communities is only one of several ways in which violence and injury have come to play a pivotal role in public life in contemporary India. But let us not forget that two other major, and more celebrated, traditions in Indian political life are equally focused on violence, albeit in a different manner. One is the Gandhian tradition of non-violence (ahimsa) performed either as passive resistance or as fasting and hunger strike. In this modality the willingness to suffer blows of the lathi or the pains of hunger reverses the force of violent action (hinsa), reveals the cruelty and excess of the perpetrator’s action. This form of public sacrifice depends squarely on the dominant presence of violence by the state or other powerful entities. It is only effective, however, when the suffering body a priori can be defined as inherently moral or possessing moral and political authority. If that is not the case, as in my initial example where the fasting woman was faulted for being Muslim, but not Muslim enough, there is no authority to be derived from such a reversal of violence. I shall return to this theme below. A related register of political action and public performance focused on violence is that of the martyrdom of the suffering body. This is a theme of deep religious significance in various Hindu traditions, in Sikhism, the Shi’ite tradition, Christianity and a powerful discourse among radical Islamists, Sikh militants, and the contemporary Maoist movement in South Asia. 49 Interestingly, a less heroic modality of this discourse has become central to diverse movements and public performances that project the suffering and deaths of marginalized and oppressed communities as a form of sacrifice. I shall return to this theme in the last chapter of this book. In the Dalit movement, the motif of the dead and wounded body and the remembering of those killed as martyred (shaheedi) have become central to the calendar and choreography of public events. 50 Similar valorization of those killed in confrontations with police, or displaced and disenfranchised as victims and martyrs have become extremely widespread throughout India and the rest of South Asia. While a morally compelling and powerful strategy that makes violence a central motif and force in political life, some communities also harbour doubts about occupying such a readymade ‘victim’s slot’. To many of my Muslim friends and

informants in Central Mumbai, shaheedi has to be connected with action and with courage (sahaas), not merely with victimhood. They deplore the fact that the heroic stature of the shaheed has been so successfully claimed by radical Islamists, while ordinary Muslims are reduced to victims without scope for action. As a young Gulf returnee told me: ‘What is there to do when they (the Hindus) attack us—we have let ourselves become qurban (a sacrificial animal/object).’ Violence has, I propose, become a form of ‘general equivalent’ in India’s multiple publics, akin to Marx’s notion of commodities, prices, and money as the general measures of value of otherwise disparate objects (objects, labour, commodities, capital, debt, etc.). With Marx, we can think of equivalence as a form of translation and conversion mechanism, a mechanism whereby otherwise unintelligible and disparate objects, or events, appear intelligible because they can be apprehended through similar measures. Acts of public violence generate wildly disparate experiences and interpretations—avenging, retributive, sacrificial, or victimizing, etc. Often, the experiences of violence are entirely incommensurate with one another, as in the reckoning after major communal riots and other crowd violence where the perspective of the perpetrator, the bystander, and the victim are almost incommensurable. At other times, violence is invisible and incomprehensible to an adjacent public and social world, as in routinized atrocities against Dalits, or the systematic, structural violence visited upon Muslims across the country. 51 Yet, and here is the point, these experiences and real events can be presented, and performed, as public violence—that is transgressing a tacit or explicit norm as extralegal, excessive, and exceptional. This enables them to become visible and intelligible across otherwise deeply segmented, and antagonistic, public worlds. While the thick social context and experiences of violence are difficult to translate, the figures of bereaved and violated victims, of angry and outraged crowds, or of the self-sacrificing activist facing senseless violence, the brutal police action against a crowd—these can transcend deeply segregated and segmented social and cultural worlds because they all bear the mark of an excess. In democracies such as India where there is at least a rhetorical commitment to a measure of civility in public life, public violence is neither a particular physical act, nor a routine social form. It is a moral transgression, however justified

by anger or duty, that can be translated, generalized, and justified beyond the specific context and motives that drove it. Therein lies its monstrous and almost irresistible political force. Thinkers of modern democracy like Hannah Arendt, Habermas, and many others see violence as the limit, if not negation, of political life and civil political discourse. However, it is clear that violence has become a completely routinized and integral part of the political life in India’s many diverse publics. Violence is a form of ultimate action that demands attention, a form of experience that generates reaction. It is one of the most powerful forms of communication and a repertoire of public performance that has become deeply intertwined with the more formal, mediated, and institutional aspects of India’s modern publics such as newspapers, news channels, and social media. As Francis Cody has shown in compelling detail, newspaper reporting and op-eds in the Tamil press always factor in the possibility of violent reprisals in the wake of controversial statements. 52 Similarly, Saamana and other right-wing newspapers are explicit about their reporting bias (or ‘truth’, as its reporters insist), and they routinely taunt its readers to take ‘direct action’ against their enemies. In actual practice in contemporary India, the street and the editorial office are not categorically different, one civil and objective, the other partisan, violent and rogue, but rather parts of the same vernacular publics where the public performance of anger and fury is every bit as legitimate as a sarcastic op-ed. In contemporary India and much of South Asia, violence is no longer politics by other means. It is political life itself, by all means. This, I submit, is a deeper and long-term process that must be factored into our understanding of how Indian democracy actually works.

32 ‘Hardik Patel detained, mobile internet banned in Gujarat’, Business Standard , 19

September 2015. 33 In 2018, the Supreme Court of India issued a clarification on the Indian Evidence

Act, Section 65B, regarding the admissibility of electronic evidence (CCTV, phone footage, etc.). The court ruled that only electronic evidence certified by persons occupying a responsible public position will be admissible. See, PTI, ‘Courts can rely

on electronic records without certificate: Supreme Court’, Economic Times , 4 February 2018. 34 Sheldon Pollock, ‘India in the Vernacular Millennium: Literate Culture and Polity,

1000-1500’, Public Spheres and Collective Identities , 2001; Shmuel Eisenstadt, Wolfgang Schluchter and Björn Wittrock (eds.), New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2001, pp. 41–74; Christian Lee Novetzke, Religion and Public Memory: A Cultural History of Saint Namdev in India , New York: Columbia University Press, 2011. 35 Sandria B. Freitag, Collective Action and Community: Public Arena and the

Emergence of Communalism in North India , Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1993; Gyanendra Pandey, The Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India , Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1990. 36 Raminder Kaur, Performative Politics and the Cultures of Hinduism: Public Use of

Religion in Western India , London: Anthem Press, 2005; Tapati Guha-Thakurta, In the Name of the Goddess: The Durga Pujas of Contemporary Kolkata , Delhi: Primus Books, 2015. 37 Francesca Orsini, The Hindi Public Sphere 1920-40: Language and Literacy in the

Age of Nationalism , Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009; Anindita Ghosh, Power in Print: Popular Publishing and the Politics of Language and Culture in Colonial Society , Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006; Farina Mir, The Social Space of Language: Vernacular Culture in British Colonial Punjab , Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010. 38 Veena Naregal, Language, Political Elites and the Public Sphere: Western India

under Colonialism , London: Anthem Press, 2001; Lisa Mitchell, Language, Emotion and Politics in South India: The Making of a Mother Tongue , Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009; Rama S. Mantena, ‘Vernacular Publics and Political Modernity: Language and Progress in Colonial South India’, Modern Asian Studies , Vol. 47, No. 5, 2013, pp. 1,678–1,705. 39 Ravinder Kaur, Brand New Nation: Capitalist Dreams and Nationalist Designs in

Twenty-first Century India , Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2020. 40 Arvind Rajagopal, Politics After Television: Hindu Nationalism and the Reshaping

of the Public in India , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. 41 Per Ståhlberg, Lucknow Daily. How a Hindi Newspaper Constructs Society ,

Stockholm: Almquist and Wiksell International, 2002. 42 See for instance, Parvis Ghassem-Fachandi, Pogrom in Gujarat. Nationalism and

Anti-Muslim Violence in India , Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2021, pp. 59–93 on the Gujarati language press in 2002. 43 Bernard Bate, Tamil Oratory and the Dravidian Aesthetic: Democratic Practice in

South India , New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.

44 Clare Talwalker, ‘Kindred Public: the modernity of kin fetishism on western India’,

Postcolonial Studies , Vol. 12, No. 1, 2009, pp. 69–88. 45 The large crowds attending Ambedkar’s death anniversary at the Chaityabhoomi

located in the upscale neighbourhood of Dadar in Mumbai, has for decades provoked much anger and resentment among local caste Hindus. These disputes are documented by Anand Patwardhan in his 2011 documentary, Jai Bhim Comrade . 46 See Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics , New York: Zone Books, 2005;

see also M. S. S. Pandian’s incisive discussion of how caste politics is at the very vanguard of the unfolding of modern freedoms and claims to equality in India. M. S. S. Pandian, ‘One Step Outside Modernity: Caste, Identity Politics and Public Sphere’, Economic and Political Weekly , Vol. 37, No. 18, 2002, pp. 1,735–41. 47 Amélie Blom and Nicolas Jaoul, ‘Introduction: The Moral and Affectual Dimension

of Collective Action in South Asia’, SAMAJ, South Asia Interdisciplinary Journal , No. 2, 2008, available at . 48 The theme of hurt collective emotions has now become the predominant motif in

Hindu nationalist mobilization: the movement claims that scholars, writers, and artists, such as Wendy Doniger or M. F. Husain, offend Hindu feelings; or that the English language press, or critics of the Modi government, disregard the true feelings of Hindus, etc. See Malvika Maheshwari, Art Attack: Violence and Offence-Taking in India , Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2019. 49 Brian Keith Axel, The Nation’s Tortured Body: Violence, Representation and the

Formation of a Sikh ‘Diaspora ’, Durham: Duke University Press, 2001; Faisal Devji, The Terrorist in Search of Humanity: Militant Islam and Global Politics , New York: Oxford University Press, 2009; Marie Lecomte-Tilouine, ‘Martyrs and Living Martyrs of the People’s War in Nepal’, SAMAJ, South Asia Multidisciplinary Journal , No. 4, 2010, available at . 50 Anupama Rao, The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern India ,

Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009. 51 Rahul Singh, Criminal Justice in the Shadow of Caste: A Study on Discrimination

Against Dalit and Adivasi Prisoners and Victims of Police Excesses , New Delhi: National Dalit Movement for Justice, 2018, available at . Rahul Singh, 52 Francis Cody, ‘Populist Publics: Print Capitalism and Crowd Violence beyond

Liberal Frameworks’, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East , Vol. 35, No. 1, 2015, pp. 50–65.



ince the BJP won an absolute majority in Lok Sabha in 2014 many have legitimately worried about a shrinking space for political dissent and violations of civil liberties. Interestingly, the BJP government has not passed any significant new legislation that curtails and limits the basic rights and freedoms outlined in the Constitution. Even the multiple draconian security measures imposed in Kashmir after the revoking of Kashmir’s special status within the Indian Union in 2019 did not require new legal ordinances. The actions by the Modi government have relied on applying the rather voluminous body of existing legislation and police protocols that allow state and security agencies to act with impunity, to limit free speech, assembly, movement, and funding of those deemed to be ‘anti-national’, or otherwise a threat to public order and safety. Some of this legislation has colonial roots but most of it came into being as elements of the extensive security state that successive Congress regimes have built since the 1960s in the name of protecting national unity and sovereignty. In this chapter, I will explore the discrepancy between the promise of the Constitution and the actual functioning of India’s administrative apparatus, especially its law enforcement agencies. I will argue that the country’s police powers impose the ‘force of law’ in deeply unequal ways. While the middle classes and those belonging to the upper castes largely are able to make law enforcement serve their own interests, nonelite Indians as a whole, and especially India’s social and religious minorities, encounter the most illiberal and systemically violent face of the Indian state.

Among these large communities, the popular politics of passion, public anger, and public violence that I explored in the previous chapter promises a ‘law of force’ that seems to be one of the few antidotes and defences against pervasive social discrimination and violent and hostile law enforcement agencies. It would be very difficult to argue that the various branches of the Indian government functions in a way that is consistent with principles of a liberal and accountable government. A very substantial part of basic laws in India are still derived from colonial legislation and administrative principles: the Indian Penal Code, a large part of the administrative law that governs the inner workings of the Indian state— such as transfer and promotion policies, revenue system, police services, and much more. Colonial legislation had multiple rationales: securing the colonial state, maintaining a tenuous public order, creating and protecting private property and reforming and codifying certain social practices, to mention a few. Some of those legal forms and political sentiments had distinct liberal elements and intentions, just as prominent public figures in the nineteenth and early twentieth century India espoused what could be called a liberal agenda that they held against the many authoritarian and racist facets of the colonial state. Decades of scholarly work has documented how the emerging liberal political orders in the western hemisphere in the nineteenth century were enabled by a simultaneous despotic and authoritarian rule in the colonies. 53 However, colonial India was governed through several parallel regimes and configurations of sovereignty. The force of colonial law was always applied in a deeply unequal manner that exposed the poor, lower caste majority of the population to the most despotic and harsh dimensions of governance and punishment. Gradual incorporation of elite segments into representative institutions from the early twentieth century went hand in hand with violent police practices in popular neighbourhoods. 54 The populations of the princely states enjoyed very limited rights, and tribal communities in special zones were governed through a mixture of paternalistic inclusion and violent suppression. 55 The formal construction of a unitary Indian nation state from 1950s onwards changed only little of this substantively. In practice, the Indian state continued to work through several parallel regulatory regimes

calibrated according to class, caste, and region. It also retained and expanded a very extensive regime of secrecy and classification of files and archives. By the 1970s, and under the pressure of mounting popular activism and protests, the Congress all but abandoned its commitment to liberal principles in favour of a populist reform agenda that reconfigured the political landscape in India. Its main elements were rhetorical embrace of vaguely socialist Third Worldism, a deep commitment to state sovereignty coupled with several redistributive pro-poor policies, but also harassment of opponents, violent suppression of insurgencies, and the systematic building of a large security state, with more than a dozen different paramilitary services ranging from central forces such as the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), Border Security Force (BSF), Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC), and many armed police forces in each state in India. 56 This emergent security state waged violent wars and put large populations under permanent emergency laws such as Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) that grants extensive powers and immunity to the armed forces in so-called ‘Disturbed Areas’ in the Northeast since 1958 and Jammu and Kashmir since 1990. 57 The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act was passed in 1967. It was used to violently suppress Naxalite activity in West Bengal in 1971, and is today applied in the so-called ‘red corridor’ in central India, as well as less specified ‘terrorist activity’ after it was amended and strengthened by a Congress government in 2011. 58 The long and violent suppression of Khalistani militants in Punjab was enabled by the application of Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), probably the most stringent and sweeping security measure ever passed in India. 59 The ‘cleaning up’ of the Punjab in the 1990s was overseen by K. P. S. Gill, a senior police officer who was subsequently lionized by the Indian mainstream media. Most political forces in the country, including the mainstream Left, have tacitly supported this policy of large-scale, perpetual human rights violation in the name of national sovereignty and fending off ‘antinational’ forces within the country. 60 Critiques of such policies and violations by international human rights organizations or international multilateral agencies have for decades been dismissed by the

Government of India as undue interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign nation. At a more everyday level, the Indian police and security forces have over decades developed an infamous record of systematic brutality, disappearances, systemic corruption and a chronic lack of investigative capacity 61 that is strangely at odds with the celebrations of India as a democracy. As has been documented by several social scientists, everyday police violence is almost exclusively visited upon poor and vulnerable populations, the social and religious minorities in particular. 62 Among these communities, the police force is seen as a major danger and a source of routine harassment, extortion, and unpredictable violence. It remains one of the major paradoxes of Indian political life that despite a strong presence of Left and progressive political formations and lower caste movements over many decades, no major political formations have ever found it important to promote police reform, or effectively address the daily human rights violations by the Indian police force that disproportionately affect poor and lower caste populations across the country. The public debate about the endangered independence of the judiciary rarely includes the state of the lower courts where most cases are settled by touts and political operators outside the courthouses, and where the quality of public prosecution is so low and biased that India has one of the lowest conviction rates in the world. 63 The educated middle classes rarely face the force of law in India— except if they belong to minority communities. For most members of the middle class, the police remain abstract and distant, or appear in the form of traffic police officers who can be easily bribed, or as ordinary constables that most members of the middle class treat assertively, or condescendingly, as their social inferiors. The police are seen as a service organ whose wide discretionary powers can be called upon when needed in a dispute or complaint, whereas any involuntary encounter with the police will be sought remedied by phone calls to relatives or friends in bureaucracy or the police force—fellow members of the middle class. Such measures often prove rather effective. A 2018 comprehensive survey of 16,000 Indians across most states in the country bears this out in rather stark terms: the general trust and

satisfaction with police is quite low and the rate of contact with the public is very low indeed (only 14 per cent reported contact with the police over the past five years). 64 The upper castes reported the highest incidence of contact with the police—predominantly as reporting of incidents and complaints. Muslims, Dalits, and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) reported slightly lower rates of contact with the police but these were predominantly involuntary, i.e. as arrests, stops, etc. initiated by the police. The level of trust mirrors this pattern of contact: the upper castes have the highest levels of trust and satisfaction with policing, while Muslims and the lower castes have the lowest level of trust and report the highest levels of pressure to pay bribes. 65 The general incompetence of the police force is widely acknowledged but normally blamed on the poorly educated and underpaid constables. Upper level officers, drawn from the middle class itself, are often lionized and admired for their capacity to navigate the gritty world of crime and corruption, as if those with education and social status can stand above a murky reality. What accounts for such systematic blindness to how the force of law is actually administered in India? Let me provide some vignettes from marginal communities in India that point to a possible answer: the ‘force of law’ has been subverted by the ‘law of force’, that is, the extremely widespread belief across caste and class in India that the application of the law, and by extension the police force itself, is nothing but an instrument of larger configurations of social and political power that manipulate law and policing at their will. The ‘law of force’ dictates that only the possession of political power, and/or the threat of public mass violence, can manipulate, protect against, or instrumentalize administrative power. THE FORCE OF LAW IN PRACTICE: THREE ETHNOGRAPHIC VIGNETTES On a sweltering monsoon evening in July 2011, an elderly man called the local police station in Central Mumbai to report what seemed to be a burglary in progress. He and his wife heard men trying to break through their bedroom window. Two constables arrived ten minutes later to find the couple in their bedroom staring at an open window. The men had fled

and nothing was stolen and the couple could only give a vague description of the suspects—one had a full beard, the other one a moustache. Now that a First Information Report (FIR) existed, the subinspector thought it prudent to have the constables pursue the suspects in the nearby slum area. Twenty minutes later they had apprehended three boys, two with full beards and a thin young boy with a moustache. After interrogating them roughly for some hours, the constables took photos of the swollen and bruised faces of the suspects and returned to the elderly couple the next morning to ask if these boys were the intruders. The elderly people were not sure about the identity of the suspects but thanked the sub-inspector for his diligent efforts. Later in the day the boys were released, and no charges were laid. This story was related to me by the elderly couple who were relatives of a friend. The uncle and aunty were happy with the outcome and praised the police. But what if these were not the guilty ones, I asked. Uncle was unconcerned with this finer point: ‘Well, it is good that the police teach these people a lesson—surely these boys will think twice about breaking the law, no?’ Afterwards my friend shook his head in despair. ‘This is what passes as policing, and justice in this country,’ he mumbled. For years, he had been helping young people from this slum prepare for exams and tests and get jobs. He knew one of the boys who lost his job and had walked with a slight limp for months after. My friend continued. ‘We talk to these boys about their rights (haq), justice (insaf, n’yaya) and all that, then this happens. How will they ever believe me?’ My friend was right. Trust in the police or in due process was not easy to find in Muslim majority areas that often have a higher density of police chowkis and visible policing than Hindu areas. Police arrest mainly young men, often on flimsy tips or pretexts, and the young men are normally subjected to harsh and violent interrogation before they are released, normally well before the limit of twenty-four hours. Most of this violence is never reported, never show up in any statistics, as the police refuse to accept complaints or FIRs about violence committed by police officers. It is a regime of low-intensity terror. As a former corporator from a Muslim majority area with older slums told me, ‘The police call this a “notorious area”. Whenever anything happens, they come rushing in and arrest people, mostly charge-sheeters and notorious

characters but also innocent boys. …Crying mothers would come to my office. I had to go to the police station at least three times a week to plea with them, to ask them to let these boys go.’ During the years of multiple bomb blasts in Mumbai between 2002 and 2008, it became standard procedure in the wake of bomb blast or incidents somewhere in the city that platoons of constables, often fired up by anger and shouting anti-Muslim invective, would rush through such ‘notorious’ Muslim neighbourhoods, forcing every Muslim male they could find to sit in long rows in the streets. I personally witnessed this on one occasion in the busy Maulana Azad Road in Central Bombay. Hundreds of men were made to sit for hours in the sun, hands on their heads, while forced with batons or rifle butts to give up the names and addresses of themselves and their family members. No arrests were made, there were no particular charges, not even specified targets. Some handful of men were taken away in police vans. After three hours, the police just left, while the Muslim men would get on their feet, gingerly, quickly walking off, wary of another potential action by the police. The day after, I met an inspector I had befriended in the local police station. When I asked him why the police had rounded up these men, he shrugged and said: ‘Well, it is a security precaution. We are trying to find people who know something. These people have so many secrets, we know that…. When you let them sit like that for some hours, people crack, you see. Those who hide something tend to sweat and be nervous, or they ask to talk to us. We get a lot of information this way.’

In the summer of 2017, the debate about the mandatory singing of Vande Mataram by the public reached Aurangabad city politics. A young corporator elected for Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) refused to stand as members of the general body in the Municipal Corporation sang Vande Mataram. He was physically attacked by Shiv Sena members and in the ensuing scuffle, furniture and equipment were damaged. The MIM corporator was suspended for disrespect for the elected body and then arrested and charged with disturbing public order and destroying public property. Hundreds of his avid followers took to the streets near the

Municipal Corporation building and the police came out in strength to control the situation. The protests gathered force as the corporator was denied bail, and the day after the local court relented and granted bail. In the months after the event, the case was moved to the higher court which was not keen to deal with the matter. The corporator told me: ‘If they grant me bail they admit it is not a serious case; if they arrest me again or prosecute me, all the MIM supporters in this city will come out on the streets…. The police don’t want this situation so the case will be pending for a long time.’ In our many conversations, the young corporator would often cite the exact number of votes he received in his ward as a proof of his standing and legitimacy. ‘The majority of the people are with me, they support me so what right do they have to charge me with any crimes? I am just speaking for what my people feel.’ One of his followers described this as a political battle where the Indian Penal Code was nothing but an instrument used to violate a more basic right: ‘They (Shiv Sena and the police) used some law to charge him but nowhere in the Constitution does it say that you must stand and sing Vande Mataram. This is his right (haq)…. Muslims know that in Arabic haq actually means truth’. At the same time, the Indian Penal Code also provided a measure against which the success of a political agitation could be measured when another young supporter asserted: ‘We were so many that they had to put a 141(IPC 141—unlawful assembly) on us!’ This was said with some measure of trepidation, as all the activists were aware of the Aurangabad police’s well-known propensity to use deadly force against assemblies of Muslims. A few months later the higher court took on the case. I asked the corporator if he was worried about the outcome: ‘Not at all,’ he said in his signature and slightly filmi bravado style, ‘how can I lose this case? We have learned one thing from Shiv Sena, you see. If you respect people’s feelings and use their strength, you can never lose. If the court goes against me, it goes against all Muslims and we have already shown our “nuisance value” here in the city. This is what Thackeray always said, “nuisance value”…. So even if they win in court, they will lose.’ The corporator was never tried in this case. Soon the MIM leadership found the corporator’s public antics to be a problem for their attempts at projecting MIM as a responsible and respectable party that could appeal to both Muslim and Dalit voters. He was expelled from the

party, and later banished from the city by the city commissioner in response to allegations of rape and other misconduct.

Some weeks later, I was invited for a rally called by Muslim organizations to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992. The organizers had announced that they would congregate in the public space in front of the divisional commissioner’s office but the police forced the meeting onto the side of a busy street making it impossible for the crowd to stand in front of the stage. Heavily armed police in full riot gear almost outnumbered the crowd at the rally. Speeches and slogans proceeded, defiantly, against these heavy odds. The contrast with the happenings on 19 February, Shivaji Jayanti, an official holiday where the birth of Shivaji is celebrated, could not be greater. On the day, bands of boys were roaming the city on twowheelers with saffron flags fluttering from their vehicles along with loud music and cheering. The boys seemed to take particular pleasure roaming through Muslim neighbourhoods, always in large groups, though nobody entered the Muslim heart of the old city. There were many smaller gatherings and celebrations, disrupting traffic on major streets, taunting those who did not join in. This assertion of political muscle was protected, escorted, and supported by the police. Sitting in a traffic jam caused by the celebrations, I asked a policeman what the fuss was all about. ‘Oh, it is a celebration for Hindus,’ he told me. I must have looked somewhat sceptical so he added with a big smile ‘Hindu dharma.’ What do these vignettes show us? Firstly, for those who are marginal and vulnerable, the police and legal procedure are experienced as a constant possibility of random and overwhelming violence. Across India, slum areas, and areas with high concentrations of Muslims, Dalits, and tribals experience regular police raids where young men are arrested and beaten. These young men can either confess to be implicated in crimes they never committed, or be subjected to severe physical punishment, often both.

Secondly, and most importantly in this context, the only possible antidote and protection from the police, and from the force of the law that may be unleashed by one’s adversaries, is some form of political power and the potential of mobilizing sufficient numbers to disrupt public order. The second vignette shows that while charging an opponent with a criminal offence is a common political weapon, the force of law can be countered, possibly neutralized for some time, by the force of numbers and the potential for disruption of public order. The proof of such a force lies in forcing the police to ‘give us a 141’ as the young activist stated. As we will see below, the various sections of the IPC have certainly entered political vernaculars across the country. Such incidents of public disorder can in turn reflect negatively on the local police force and possibly result in transfer of officers. However, as the vignette also shows that police power—arrests, beatings, charges for disturbing public order, or other violations—can also be ‘called in’ by powerful political operators. This function of the police as a ‘provisional authority’ has been richly documented in Beatrice Jauregui’s study of the Uttar Pradesh police. 66 Finally, it seems that interpreting an evanescent ‘public’ or ‘people’—whether as a physical crowd or an imputed mass sentiment— is a very important factor in how laws are enforced and public goods are distributed. A retired city commissioner described succinctly how bureaucrats, and policemen, see their tasks and careers as a navigation between a fickle, often bad-tempered ‘public’, and self-serving elected politicians. As a government servant, your best ally is always the public. If you do your job, show your face and make sure that people see that you are doing your job, you are safe. The chances of being transferred are much lower. No politician wants to go against the people.(…) If you have the support of the public, all the politicians want to be your friend, they want to be seen with you, as if it is they, and not you, who are doing the work…it is quite simple.

Yet, as we have seen in the previous chapter not all publics are equal. They are elusive, multiple, and often in danger of turning violent. THE LAW OF FORCE AND PUBLIC VIOLENCE

Intensified, segmented, and vernacular publics are crucial in understanding the steady deployment of ‘routine’ public violence, such as the destruction of public property—buses, police vans, offices, schools—by protesters of many kinds. These acts are often recorded in police records as ‘public vandalism’ rather than political events or riots, and not always classified as a disturbance of public order. As I indicated above, for the Indian police, the actual prosecution of crime is at best a secondary objective, always subordinated to the maintenance of a semblance of public order which is given inordinate attention in the Indian Penal Code, that was promulgated in 1860 and since have grown very substantially. Chapter 8 of the IPC is entitled ‘Offences against Public Tranquillity’ and it has slowly grown over the decades to consist of as many as eighteen sections ranging from the milder ‘unlawful assembly’ (141) to ‘rioting with a deadly weapon’ (148) all the way to Sections 153A (promoting enmity groups) and 153B (assertions prejudicial to national integration), the latter carrying more severe punishments, especially if they involve ‘places of worship or religious ceremonies’. Most of these sections reference groups and communities as those being ‘incited’ or ‘offended’ or harbouring ‘feelings of ill will’ while the legal term ‘person’ is only invoked in the sections referring to those who stand to ‘benefit’ from riots (Sections 154–156) or those being ‘hired’ to commit public violence (Sections 157–159). Recently, aggregated official crime statistics since 1960 have been made available online. They make for interesting and revealing reading. Before analysing this material let me indicate two major limitations in the aggregated figures: Firstly, the categories and tabulations change almost annually. This makes it difficult to precisely observe longitudinal trends in reporting and incidence of certain categories of offences. Secondly, there are so many disincentives embedded in the reporting of more serious offences in any jurisdiction (such as the ubiquitous threat of transfer) that one can safely assume that incidents are systematically under reported. The aggregated number of reported offences against public order (all the eighteen sections of the IPC) stood at less than 30,000 across India in 1960s. This number climbed to above 90,000 in 1980, and above 95,000 annually in the early 1990s. After a dip during the early 2000s to

under 60,000 per year, the number has been rising since 2012 reaching 73,000 in 2016. 67 In 2018, the total number of offences rose to over 82,000, with 72,000 reported riot incidents. 68 In the last decade, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has started detailing the specific category of riot—as caste (2,500 in 2016, 1,550 in 2018), communal (1,200 in 2016, 1,000 in 2018), student, or political (1,800 in 2016, 2,000 in 2018). The rest of these disturbances— fluctuating between 60,000 and 67,000 incidents in recent years—fall in the category of ‘other riots’, defined as ‘Civil Unrest, Community dispute, Attack on Police, dispute over Water supply’. 69 What are we to make of this? Firstly, it is clear that staging a riot or a protest of some sort, either against a public institution or another community/hostile neighbour is a very widespread phenomenon indeed. The 2018 figures specify 15,000 riots as ‘property related’, and 5,000 caused by ‘Rivalry’. But neither the wider public, nor social scientists, actually have any clear idea about what these tens of thousands of incidents registered are about, and how they get classified. However, we do know that the constant possibility of transfer or other administrative punishments makes police officers determined to classify as many incidents as possible in this category as they seem less serious and politically impactful than those specified as caste or communal incidents. We also know that for some political activists it may be advantageous to have an incident registered as a public disturbance because it is a relatively light and bailable offence, low risk and yet high profile, something that may get one noted in the local newspaper and beyond. It can be an effective way of demonstrating that a group, or community, is willing to publicly perform this anger, risk arrest, and make a point that makes news of some sort. 70 Secondly, it is obvious that the sections of the Indian Penal Code in multiple ways structure the very forms that political and social protest and expression will take. The IPC defines the perceived injury of religious sentiments of a group/community as a criminal offence (295A) and it bans the incitement of enmity among groups and communities (153A and B). Since such collective offence is banned, it becomes imperative that the effect of the offence be demonstrated, not as individual sentiments but as a mirror of the spirit of the law itself—as a

collective sentiment that threatens public order. Similarly, being booked under one of the IPC 140s becomes in itself a form of proof of a collective sentiment and anger, and indeed a part of a political vernacular, a measure of success—something has happened, kuchh to hua hain. Protesters describe such events as the inevitable effect of pent up anger and outrage, as if the scale of physical destruction is an index of the depth and intensity of their rage. Protesters almost mirror language of the law (such as Article 295A) when they blame the offenders for provoking such anger. Vigilante groups in Karnataka or Maharashtra blame the conduct of ‘immoral youth’ for the anger that wells up in themselves, the vigilantes. The violence is portrayed as inevitable and always caused by the offender, for instance when a ‘natural’ urge to protect Hindu values is provoked and leads young vigilantes to beat up and molest middle class youth, as described by Ian Cook. 71 In a similar vein, the activists who attack contemporary art exhibition spaces, artists, and writers blame the artists for the attacks. As Malvika Maheshwari has shown, these activists claim that ‘immoral’ art and other expressions are offensive to Indian culture and the activists claim that they cannot control their own pride and anger. They must seek and destroy these works. The protesters or vigilantes want the government and various publics to take note but the audience is not always a general public. The main audience for many protests is more often than not a more segmented caste or community public that are directly affected by certain policies or events. Such language of outrage and hurt pride has today become the predominant modality justification of public violence in India. However, there is little doubt that Hindu nationalism has played an exceptionally important role in this process. The Shiv Sena was a particularly radical heir to this politics of popular emotion of the linguistic movements. As I have mentioned earlier, the Shiv Sena developed fury and anger into a public virtue, an increasingly legitimate style of politics whose forceful directness indexed its authenticity and association with a rougher plebeian world. This sentiment was directly relayed by Saamana which has been pivotal in making a coarser style of colloquial Marathi acceptable and legitimate.

Since the 1920s, Hindu communal politics has been historically framed as militant self-defence against perceived Muslim aggression. However, since the 1980s, Hindutva discourse increasingly adopted a style of forceful anger that foregrounded hurt sentiments—such as the presumed historical humiliation of Hindus by the very existence of the Babri Masjid on the birthplace of Lord Ram—or the theme of a Hindu pride (gaurav), presumably resurgent after centuries of humiliation, that was so prominent during the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat. The success of the BJP has been based on its capacity to instigate antiminority violence and then reap the electoral benefits of the emotional wave of aggression and fear that communal riots tend to generate. It is also clear, as Amrita Basu has demonstrated, that there is a direct correlation between the incidence of communal riots and attacks and the ability of Hindu nationalist organizations to grow and expand in different parts of India. 72 In these public actions, even excessive and cruel violence is purified, made just and even moral by the imputed injury to a community or a collective emotion that provoked it in the first place. Such violence is portrayed as purely reactive, spontaneous and therefore inherently just. It is ‘natural n’yaya’ as a Shiv Sena activist in Mumbai put it to me many years ago, something like a force that is inherent in a brave and self-respecting man: ‘If someone slaps me, my hands come out and I slap him. It is natural n’yaya.’ It is as if the violent act has autonomous force, pure reaction without culpability, or moral responsibility. In this light, the contemporary gau raksha patrols across northwestern India and their lynching of mostly Muslim men suspected of transporting beef in the past years appear as less of an aberration than they are extensions of an existing grammar of action whereby righteous anger—especially that of the putative majority community—is already justified and legitimate. The cause lies entirely with the offender, the Muslim, the anti-national, the corrupted westernized youth. AWAKENING THE SLEEPING SOVEREIGN The seemingly spontaneous anger and violence of ‘frenzied mobs’ that colonial officers feared and loathed as deep ‘oriental irrationality’ have now returned as the awakening and angry outburst of the popular will.

This time carefully staged by the Hindu nationalist movement as a deep emotional truth of Hindu anger (krodh), but also instrumentalized as an authentic and legitimate expression of the anger and political will of a community, or an assembly of people. Today, I suggest, the mightiest socio-political force in India is neither the state nor the law but deeply embedded vernacular ideas of popular sovereignty. Notions of the right to rule by the people (svatantra rajya, or lokshahi) have taken deep hold across India. But unlike the specificity of precisely delineated caste and religious communities that play such a large role in everyday life, ‘the people’, or the majority that are invoked in public performances is always an open category and never entirely pre-given. It needs to be continuously filled and performed in order to remain potent. Most of the time, such performances and assemblies are about getting noticed, being heard, seen, and recognized for one’s numbers and organizational prowess. In her work on the movement for the creation of the state of Telangana, Lisa Mitchell argues that meetings and assemblies were about giving voice and being heard, about garjana (Telugu for ‘roar’) and being like the bheri, the large kettledrum traditionally used in ritual processions. 73 Across Maharashtra, every year on 14 April, Ambedkar Jayanti is observed as an opportunity for an assertive and well organized Dalit community to be seen and heard. Recently, I witnessed most of the larger public spaces in the city of Aurangabad being taken over by massive crowds dressed in blue on 14 April. Trucks mounted with massive sound systems working at deafening decibel levels, displays and tableaus on floats celebrating Ambedkar, Buddha, Dalit history, extensive light displays and elaborate fireworks—the city was transformed for an evening as the Dalit community made itself abundantly heard and seen as it defiantly and slowly followed the exact same route through the city as the annual Ganesh Jayanti. Public spaces in India are capacious and religious and community festivals, rallies, and collective political performances enjoy broad legitimacy. So why has public violence emerged as such a common expression of anger and popular sovereignty across India, especially in the past decades? One common answer from middle class Indians is that this is precisely what can be expected when ‘those people’ (lower caste) now populate the world of electoral politics and the streets. The typical

answer from officials is that it has to do with political orchestration, of producing rallies and public disorder for political gain. I would like to offer a third explanation: violent crowd action—destroying public property, beating up, and attacking opponents—is to this day rarely prosecuted with much vigour. Why does the force of law appear so feeble in the face of such exertions of ‘the law of force’? In practical terms, colonial policing suspended the principle of individual culpability in the context of crowd violence. This practice was continued by the police in independent India. Countless reports and enquiries since the 1960s have depicted crowd violence as a mere symptom of social or communal tension, and rarely as concrete action perpetrated by identifiable actors, except what the police would characterize as ‘usual suspects’. In 1981, The Maharashtra Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Slumlords, Bootleggers, Drug-offenders and Dangerous Persons Act was promulgated by a Congress government and the Act was amended in 2009. 74 It allows the police wide discretion to detain ‘notorious characters’ when the police feel that communal or other tension is building up in an area. After riots, police and public figures have for decades attributed the destruction to the ‘handiwork of criminal elements’—though these usually remain unnamed, and unidentified. 75 If we return to the National Crime Statistics some interesting patterns and findings emerge that confirms this lack of actual punishment of rioters. If we keep in mind the thousands of cases of riots classified as ‘communal’, ‘caste’, or ‘sectarian’ each year, it is striking that the number of individuals charged under IPC 153A and 153B—that is the incitement of enmity between groups—fluctuate between as little as 400 and 600 annually in the years 2014–16. These are, we should keep in mind, often overlapping charges. Probing a bit deeper in these numbers for 2016 one finds, interestingly, that only thirteen cases led to conviction in 2016. 76 Another interesting pattern emerges when one looks at the conviction rate for the broader category of ‘rioting’ and other offences against public order. The police claim a 16 per cent conviction rate in such cases (2016), which in any case is low, but when one looks at the numbers of people arrested and charged (around 300,000 per year in about 30,000 cases per year) one sees an exceptionally high ‘pendency’

rate. In most years, the ‘pendency rate’ is around 95 per cent—mostly counting cases carried over from previous years. 77 What does this tell us? Purely on the basis of the official, and undoubtedly somewhat ‘cooked’ figures: that at the very highest, a few percentages of those charged with disturbing public order are ever convicted. Most of those charged (more than 2 million individuals reported in 2014)—and we cannot assume their guilt—are on bail for years, if not decades. 78 This means that, in practice, the only punishment for disturbing public order takes places not after the events but as they unfold . But here, too, the application of force is calibrated according to which communities and classes are in the street. Until about a decade ago, the Indian police used mainly extremely forceful lathi-charge or live ammunition as a means of crowd control. The multiple injuries and deaths caused by these blunt methods have rarely been questioned mainly because such violence has been disproportionately targeting the poorer minority communities. I list below two examples: 1. The active complicity of the Bombay police force in targeting Muslims while protecting Shiv Sena activists during the riots in 1992–93 was assiduously documented by the Srikrishna Commission. 79 The pattern has repeated itself many times since then. In July 2012, Raj Thackeray and his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) movement staged a march through Mumbai to protest a demonstration by Muslims at the city’s Azad Maidan. That day, I witnessed fully armed police blocking all main thoroughfares leading into the dense Muslim areas in Central Mumbai and elsewhere in the city. In the name of maintaining public order, the police faced the Muslim mohalla while protecting the 60,000 militant and belligerent Hindus marching through the city behind them. When I reached the police barricade on J. J. Road in my rickety kaali-peeli taxi, the police began to question me about why I wanted to go to Maulana Azad Road. The driver, a Hindu, promptly declared that he had no intention of going there. ‘This firangi told me that he was going to Byculla,’ he told the police officer. I got out and walked down the eerily empty road towards my friend’s house, my back turned on the heavily armed police.

2. After the brutal killing of a Dalit family in Khairlanji in Maharashtra in 2007, Dalit protests erupted across the state. The police came down heavily on these protesters, detaining and beating up thousands of activists. The police also launched what became known as ‘combing operations’ in Dalit neighbourhoods, arresting and detaining hundreds of young men charged with ‘disturbing public order’. A similar pattern unfolded after the state-wide protests following the attacks on Dalit celebrations at Bhima Koregaon on 1 January 2018. Now, the same techniques were deployed on an even more intensive scale, supplemented by video and phone footage, targeting individual protesters. Police searched Dalit areas, destroyed two wheelers, kicked down doors, destroyed televisions, cell phones, tiled bathrooms and beat up any ablebodied male they could find. 80 Hundreds of young men languished in jails across Maharashtra for months, most of them draconically charged with IPC Section 307 ‘the intent to murder of police officers’, a charge that can carry severe sentences. This rather extraordinary imposition of the force of law upon minority communities was scarcely reported in the mainstream press. The Dalit movement in the state successfully managed to impose a state-wide bandh a few days later, on 3–4 January 2018—a feat that no other political force has been able to achieve since the Shiv Sena’s dramatic bandhs of the 1990s. These actions produced neither sympathy nor attention among caste Hindus. ‘These people have no right to disturb the peace like that,’ my Shiv Sena supporting middle-class neighbour told me, while in the same breath assuring me that Shiv Sena’s vigilante style politics had provided ‘justice for Hindus’. The dividing line seems no longer to be whether public violence is legal or not but, rather, a question of who has the right to violently dominate public space and claim to be ‘the people’. Such tacit legitimacy of violence is arguably the most pervasive effect of politics in India having been increasingly organized as assertions of competing claims to popular sovereignty, competing ideas of the people always defined by who is not included, always asserted along lines of the friend/enemy distinction that the conservative German

jurist Carl Schmitt in 1927 defined as the essence of all political life. 81 At the same time, this deepening friend/enemy distinction also makes such violent street politics a site of deep and enduring enjoyment and excitement. As I explored in earlier work on Hindu nationalism, 82 ordinary politics in India is often fuelled by outrage and scandal—the corruption, the transgression, the bending of power. The cynicism of all these things outrage voters and may motivate them to vote differently. But the shamelessness and routine violence of electoral politics can also function as a distorted mirror of people’s selves, a source of ‘perverse entertainment’ and furtive enjoyment. Such surreptitious endorsement and excitement during times of riots—the feeling that murderous mobs are exacting a form of magical justice beyond procedure and law; the middle-class voters’ fascination with the eros of naked power, deadly violence, and the audacity of murky political operatives executing the secret desires of revenge of the respectable Hindu— all this is richly and disturbingly documented by ethnographers of violence. 83 This understanding of everyday street politics as ‘law of force’, however excessive and immoral, is entirely consonant with vernacular understandings of politics karna/siyasat. Not because of some primordial force of tradition. The ‘law of force’, I submit, is produced in a long dialectic between a violent and malleable force of law, and a broadening mobilization of groups and collectives in the name of the moral right of popular power and electoral majorities.

53 C. J. Bayly, Recovering Liberties: Indian Thought in the Age of Liberalism and

Empire , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011; Uday Singh Mehta, Liberalism and Empire: A Study in Nineteenth Century Liberal British Thought , Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999; Karuna Mantena, Alibis of Empire: Henry Maine and the Ends of Liberal Imperialism , Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010; Jennifer Pitts, A Turn to Empire: The Rise of Liberal Imperialism in Britain and France , Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005. 54 Radhika Singha, A Despotism of Law: Crime and Justice in Early Colonial India ,

Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998; Rajnarayan Chandavarkar, Imperial Power and Popular Politics: Class, Resistance and the State in India , 1850–1950, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

55 Eric Beverley, Hyderabad, British India, and the World: Muslim Networks and

Minor Sovereignty, C. 1850–1950 , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015; Sanjib Baruah, Durable Disorder: Understanding the Politics of Northeast India , Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2007. 56 Many of these central forces were formed in the 1960s. The biggest are the Central

Reserve Police Force (CRPF), formed in 1939, with a strength of 313,000; the Border Security Force (BSF) formed in 1965, strength 257,000; the Assam Rifles (AR) formed in 1835, strength 63,000; Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) formed in 1965, strength 144,000; Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) formed in 1962, strength 89,000; National Security Guard (NSG) formed in 1985, strength 7,500; Sashastra Seema Bal (Bhutan Border and Election service) formed in 1963, strength 76,000. In addition, each state has military police but numbers are not publicly available. The expansion of security forces has steadily increased since the 1960s, regardless of which party dominated the Union government. 57 See the report by the committee headed by Justice Jeevan Reddy, Report of the

Committee to Review the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 , Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, New Delhi, 2005. 58 See ‘The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, Act No. of Year: Act No. 37

of 1967’, available at . For a critical assessment see, Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves, ‘Fifty Years of Unreasonable Restrictions Under the Unlawful Activities Act’, The Wire , 9 March 2017. 59 TADA was widely criticized after its draconian application through mass arrests

after the bomb blasts in Bombay in March 1993. It lapsed in 1995. It was replaced by the Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act (POTA) in 2002, but this Act was also deemed unconstitutional and was repealed in 2004. 60 The support for a strong state came from many quarters, including the Communist

Party of India (CPI) and Shiv Sena. Both parties also supported the Emergency in 1975–76; David Lockwood, The Communist Party of India and the Indian Emergency , Delhi: SAGE Publications, 2016; For a depiction of the Emergency as an unfortunate but desperate attempt at stemming the creeping ‘fascism of the J.P. Movement’, Bipan Chandra, In the Name of Democracy: JP Movement and the Emergency , Delhi: Penguin Random House, 2017. 61 It was the excesses during the Emergency rule that triggered the first systematic

enquiry into policing practices in the country. The National Police Commission (1977– 81) produced eight substantial volumes with many recommendations for reform. Twenty years later the Ribeiro Report (1999) echoed many of these recommendations and so did the Padmanabhaiah Report on Police Reforms (2000), the Malimath Report (2003) and the Soli Sorabjee Report (2005). In 2006, the Supreme Court intervened

directly and ordered a number of police reforms to be undertaken. Six years later, the Court again ordered both the union government and the state governments to implement a series of reforms. Very little has changed for more than forty years. There is extensive press reporting on the excesses of the police throughout the country, see for instance reporting on the now routinized practice of extralegal encounter killings that was pioneered by the Bombay Police, Subodh Varma, ‘1,654 shot dead in encounters between 2004-2014’, Times of India , 3 November 2016. This policy has been embraced since 2016 by the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh, resulting in more than 1,000 deaths in less than two years. Shalabh, ‘Over 900 encounters in Yogi Adityanath regime, 31 goons gunned down’, Times of India , 10 January 2018. There are also multiple reports on the extensive use of custodial torture, see for instance: Aditya Manubarwala, ‘Revisiting India’s Obligations against Custodial Torture’, LSE Human Rights blog, 19 May 2017, available at ; ‘“Bound by Brotherhood”: India’s Failure to End Killings in Police Custody’, Human Rights Watch, 19 December 2016. 62 The over policing of Muslim areas in Mumbai has been extensively documented by

Abdul Shaban and others. See Abdul Shaban, Mumbai: Political Economy of Crime and Space , Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2010. See also, Rahul Singh, Criminal Justice in the Shadow of Caste . 63 A. M. Jigeesh, ‘Why does CBI have a conviction rate of just 3%?’, The Hindu , 9

January 2018. 64 By comparison, the rate of contact between police and the public in the US per year

fluctuates between 21 and 25 per cent. See Elizabeth Davis, Anthony Whyde, et al., ‘Contacts Between Police And The Public, 2015’, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 11 October 2018, available at . 65 Status of Policing in India Report 2018: A Study of Perceptions and Performance ,

Delhi: CSDS and Common Cause, available at . See especially chapter 2 . 66 Beatrice Jauregui, Provisional Authority: Police, Order, and Security in India ,

Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. 67 See Crime in India, 2016, Statistics, National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of

Home Affairs, available at . Space does not permit a deeper analysis here of regional distribution of such public order disturbances, but it seems clear that the now easily accessible crime statistics should provide an interesting, if far from reliable, source for social scientists interested in public protests in India. For an analysis of the possible correlation between riots and other public disturbances, and the rate and scale of public service delivery, see, Patricia Justino, Civil Unrest and Government Transfers in India , IDS Evidence Reports (108), Sussex: IDS, 2015. The problem in Justino’s analysis is that she does not account for the differentiation of

different kinds of ‘unrest’ and their possible differential causes. In her analysis the variable is public service delivery alone, a category that she only applies in a highly aggregated manner that cannot account for, or possibly explain, regional differences. 68 See Table 1A.4 in Crime in India, 2018 , Statistics, National Crime Records Bureau,

Ministry of Home Affairs, available .


69 Other ways of measuring this could be the incidences of police shooting or lathi

charge, for instance. Here the Crime Bureau tells us, almost unbelievably, that in 2016 there were (only) 184 instances of firing wherein 92 civilians were killed and 352 injured. In the same incidents we are told that as many as 727 policemen were injured. There were 2,184 cases of lathi charge where 35 civilians died, and 759 were injured. Again, one is surprised to read that the police claims as many as 4,713 injured policemen in the same incidents. (Crime Statistics, 2016, Table 16B.1). 70 The 2018 figures have added two new categories that probably overlap substantially:

‘Rioting while in Andolan/morcha’: 4000; and ‘Rioting/Attacks on police personnel and government servants’: 3,500. 71 Ian Cook, ‘Immoral Times: Vigilantism in a South Indian City’, Majoritarian State:

How Hindu Nationalism is Changing India , Christophe Jaffrelot, Thomas Blom Hansen, Angana Chatterji (eds.) London: Hurst Publishers, 2018. 72 Steven Wilkinson, Votes and Violence: Electoral Competition and Ethnic Riots in

India , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006; Amrita Basu, Violent Conjunctures in Democratic India , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. 73 Lisa Mitchell, ‘Civility and collective action: Soft speech, loud roars, and the

politics of Recognition’, Anthropological Theory , 2018, Vol. 18, Nos. 2–3, pp. 217–47. 74 Available at . 75 Most police actions before and after riots have conventionally targeted individual

‘charge sheeters’ or what in police parlance is known as ‘notorious characters’. Thanks to the dogged work of activists such as Teesta Setalvad and others, the judicial aftermath of the pogrom in Gujarat in 2002 was one of the first high-profile instances of individuals being named, prosecuted, and convicted of crimes committed in the context of crowd violence. However, in most cases, suspects were acquitted, or cases dismissed on the grounds of insufficient evidence. For an overview of the judicial aftermath of the Gujarat pogrom, see When Justice Becomes the Victim: The Quest for Justice After the 2002 Violence in Gujarat , Stanford Law School, May 2014. 76 Table 18A.1 in Crime in India 2016 . Statistics, available at . 77 Ibid. 78 The categories and tables rendered by the National Bureau of Crime Statistics

changes and varies from year to year making robust multiyear comparisons very

difficult. In the 2014 figures, we are told that 308,544 persons were arrested in connection with rioting. Of those 90 per cent were charged (284,733). Only 64,922 (Table 12.3) got out on bail which means that most others were released while a few would have been kept in custody. We are also told that the total number of persons charged in a pending trial was 2,575,243 in 2014. Out of those as many as 1,462,757 (both figures are from Table 12.4) are on bail while the status of the remaining one million individuals is unclear. 79 The Srikrishna Commission Report into the Bombay Riots in 1992-93 , Mumbai

1998, available at . 80 Local residents showed me extensive footage of these raids, filmed on smartphones

from street corners and roof tops during the time the operation was unfolding. 81 Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political , Chicago: University of Chicago Press,

1920/2007. 82 Thomas Blom Hansen, The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in

Modern India , Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999. 83 Parvis Ghassem-Fachandi has done a particularly fine and disturbing study of the

eros and disgust of collective violence. ‘The hyperbolic vegetarian: Notes on a fragile subject in Gujarat’, Being There: The Fieldwork Encounter and the Making of Truth, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009, pp. 77–112. See also Jaya Sharma, Fantasy Frames: Sex, Love and Indian Politics , Delhi: Penguin Random House, forthcoming.



n Indian public life, the theme of sacrifice is commonly associated with the legacy of Gandhi and an ethos of selflessness and bodily disciplines in service of the nation. These themes are also central to the Hindu nationalist movement and its millions of swayamsevaks, selfforgetting volunteers. At the eve of the controversial demonetization in November 2016, Prime Minister Modi addressed the nation directly. In his speech he invoked the major internal threats facing India: terrorism, black money, and corruption. He announced drastic measures to withdraw existing larger currency notes from circulation and asked every citizen to exchange her larger denomination notes (₹500 and ₹1,000) to new ones within the following fifty days. Modi continued: Experience tells us that ordinary citizens are always ready to make sacrifices and face difficulties for the benefit of the nation. …So, in this fight against corruption, black money, fake notes and terrorism, in this movement for purifying our country, will our people not put up with difficulties for some days? I have full confidence that every citizen will stand up and participate in this ‘mahayagna’ (offering). 84

It is not surprising that a rhetoric of sacrifice and martyrdom remain central to Indian political life. Sacrifice, gifts, offerings, renunciation, and associated phenomena mark an incredibly rich semantic, practical, and conceptual field in South Asia, perhaps something akin to a ‘political theology’ of Indian democracy. Carl Schmitt coined the term in 1922 as a critique of what he saw as a liberal blindness to how religious

themes structured modern political life, notably the way authoritative decisions by states and rulers were analogous to miracles and revelations in the Christian tradition. 85 Here, I want to think about sacrifice and martyrdom as a field of practice and ethical reflection in two ways: a) an explanation of the religious, metaphysical, and ideological frames that prompt and motivate violent acts in public life, and the countering of violence through ascetic disciplines of self-sacrifice; and b) an interpretative frame that retroactively helps explain and give meaning to acts of violence and death, suffering, and injustice. THE PUBLIC FAST AND THE ‘SURROGATE HERO’ In the summer of 2011, it seemed like the Arab Spring was to be followed by an Indian summer. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered during the hot monsoon weeks of August on the hallowed grounds of the Ramlila Maidan in Delhi to protest against endemic corruption at many levels of government. On the face of it, the protests seemed to have many parallels with those of Tahrir Square a few months earlier—the crowd was young, mainly educated, claimed to represent ‘civil society’ and the atmosphere was festive with inventive use of slogans, social media, YouTube etc. However, the differences were many and deep. First, a very large part of the protesters was drawn from the Hindu nationalist BJP and the wider Hindu nationalist movement which for long had profiled itself as a clean, less corrupt alternative to the ruling Congress party. The second difference was that this movement was centred on the presence of one man, Anna Hazare, a retired soldier turned social worker who was on an indefinite fast in support of the passing of the Lokpal Bill that would create an independent ombudsman institution charged with monitoring corrupt politicians. This latter-day Gandhi was indeed donning the famous white cap and would deliver short, often enigmatic speeches to the crowd in a low voice and without the rhetorical flourish of the seasoned politician. Hazare has had a long career as a social reformer and critic of the Congress party. His main claim to fame remains his model village Ralegan Siddhi in western Maharashtra which he unilaterally ‘adopted’ in the late 1970s. He has achieved progress in health and education but much less so in social equality. He is notorious for a somewhat short temper, his public punishment of those opposing him in the village, for making the village

temple the centre of all village meetings, and his relentless campaign against ‘social vices’ (alcohol and tobacco), especially among the lower caste segments in the village. However, at the Ramlila Maidan, Anna Hazare performed his role as a fasting, moral body who seemed to sacrifice his own health for the greater good. But in what sense was this actually a sacrifice? In his famous work Violence and the Sacred , the French philosopher René Girard argues that the sacrificial scapegoat becomes a ‘surrogate victim’, the chosen victim that must be sacrificed in order for the community to cleanse itself of its sinfulness and violent impulses. All the ills and internal divisions of a community can be condensed in one scapegoat and ultimately expunged in one violent and ‘impure act’, that ultimately purifies the community. 86 In the Gandhian version of self-sacrifice, the public fast stages self-inflicted suffering upon an already virtuous body. The fasting body becomes a screen whereupon is projected the suffering of ‘the people’ in the face of corruption and injustice. In this move, the fasting body also becomes a ‘surrogate hero’, and exemplary body whose suffering stands in for the suffering of all. Gandhi’s famous indefinite fasts, and his many reflections on fasting, were strangely narcissistic gestures that would take the moral failing of the wider community into his own body and turn them into his own moral failing, his weakness, his lack of determination. Gandhi’s gestures were framed as a moral challenge to his followers and the political community: Don’t you see that your violence, your folly, is literally killing me because I have only one weapon at hand—my own destruction—which I have now turned into your destruction of myself. Gandhi himself was fascinated by the idea of fasting as disciplining and cleansing himself as well as coming to terms with death. There are very strong sacrificial themes in Gandhi’s constant attempts to combat his desires for various types of food, for sexual arousal, and much else. Countless pages in his autobiography subtitled The Story of My Experiments with Truth describe how he would impose a severe fasting regime on himself and his followers at Phoenix Farm in South Africa as a form of penance after political failures, or problems within the community of followers, the satyagrahis. Fasting was ethical discipline and concrete training in non-violent action. First, one must train and discipline one’s body, one must make it less significant, teach it to

endure pain in order to purify one’s mind but also in order to endure the blows from the policemen when satyagrahis would practice sit-ins and other forms of passive resistance. 87 For Gandhi, the true satyagrahi is marked by a certain lack of fear of death and an intimacy with pain and death that he found so admirable in the traditional ethos of the warrior. For the warrior, to kill and be killed is not heroic, it is pure duty and karma. The warrior gains no glory by killing as such, his true calling is to seek out a fight with his equal or those stronger than him and be killed in the process. The true heroes in Mahabharata (as in Greek myth) are all dying heroes. This ethos presupposes a form of ‘living with death’, and overcoming of fear and an obliteration of the body and its desires that Gandhi found very compelling. He would as Ajay Skaria points out, use the term atmabal for this—the force of the soul. 88 As always, Gandhi found a way to make his wife Kasturba into the truest paragon of all virtues he espoused. In a passage in the autobiography he describes with pride how his wife, although gravely ill and in danger of dying, agreed to refuse the ‘beef broth’ that a doctor in Durban had proscribed as the only way she could regain her strength. For Gandhi it was better to die than to ingest a substance so inherently defiling that it was almost equal to death. Kasturba agreed and recovered slowly. She remained pure, if now more intimate with death than before Gandhi’s experiment. Unlike in Girard’s model, there was no actual violence or release of tension in the politics of public fasting of Gandhi or Hazare. There was none of the violence of the disciplined fasting to death as it was used by the Irish Republican Army (IRA), as shown in unsettling detail by Steve McQueen’s 2008 film Hunger about the hunger strike to death by Bobby Sands. Instead, the violence remained virtual—self-inflicted hunger symbolically turned into the violence of the state (although the fasting was called off when it became a risk to Hazare’s health—as was the case with Gandhi). The underlying force of the public fasting was always the fear of the possible mass violence that could be unleashed if the hunger striker were to die and become a popular martyr. Here, as in other forms of non-violent protests in modern India, the force of sacrifice and renunciation rests on the possibility of unleashing a much deeper force

beyond reason and calculation, the ‘cauldron’ of mass violence that remains the sleeping sovereign of Indian society. Further, the symbolic violence of Gandhian politics was based on the harm being inflicted on virtuous bodies. Gandhi insisted that only those who had submitted themselves to the disciplines of fasting, restraint, and abstinence could become true satyagrahis—forces of truth who could meet the violence of the state with sufficient moral fortitude. The quality of the sacrifice—to let oneself be starved, beaten, jailed, or killed—depended in other words squarely on the quality of the body and mind of the self-sacrificer. At the heart of this gesture stands asceticism and renunciation— disciplines that traditionally in Hindu society aimed at preserving the purity and perfectibility of the already pure and virtuous upper caste mind and body. The sannyasin and the yogi are typically upper caste men who withdraw from normal life, go through a virtual social death (whose death rituals are performed) and leave the comforts of life to join the itinerant bands of holy men roaming the country. Female sannyasi and renouncers convert their desires into a source of great authority through similar disciplines of renunciation and abstinence, as described in wonderful detail by Sondra Hausner. 89 There are also examples of individuals of lower caste birth who by virtue of extraordinary gifts or abilities became saints, famous scholars, and yogis but these are generally exceptions that prove the rule. In these cases it is precisely the inversion of their lowly birth that becomes the basis for their extraordinary powers and reputation. In many Hindu traditions, these renouncers and their ongoing ‘refusal’ of the world and their own desires are accorded great authority and are permitted to act in ways that defy normal moral parameters. In J. C. Heesterman’s interpretation, these rituals of renunciation, and multiple other ritual elements in Hinduism, constantly heal, tame, and integrate what he calls the ‘broken world of sacrifice’—that is the world of strife, uncertainty ‘the catastrophic center, the turning point of life and death, deciding each time anew, through endless rounds of winning, losing and revenge’. In Heesterman’s view, close to that of Girard, most Hindu rituals have emerged to tame and control the wild forces of sacrifice and its irreducible violence. 90

The Hindu ritual world works through many layers and sequences of symbolic substitution, as the animal sacrifice and peace offering between warring parties gradually were abstracted to become sacrifices of substances metonymically and metaphorically related to animals— milk, ghee, or figuratively referring to the shapes of animals (coconuts, fruits). These objects, and their sacrificers hoping to purify and redeem themselves through the ritual, have to be carefully prepared and primed on order for the sacrifice to retain its efficacy. In many traditions, the havan, the fire, is at the centre of all this as a violent, encompassing, and purifying device, a powerful converter of impure substance into pure spirit. Popular Hinduism is centrally organized around sacrificial acts— such as routine tapasya (austerities) of abstaining from meat and alcohol in preparation for auspicious events. 91 However, a sacrifice or a petitionary act is always an excessive and precarious affair: you offer the best goat, the finest crop, the purest ghee but there is no certainty as to the outcome. It is a gift with no guaranteed return, or reciprocity. Will the gods notice? Is the sacrifice done right? Is it enough? Is it appropriate? This ritual complex depends entirely on a classification of bodies, blood, food, and other substances on a scale from impurity to purity. Bodies and minds are in this scheme fundamentally different in their constitutions and abilities, a priori ranked on a hierarchical scale and transmitted by blood and inheritance. Abstention, refusal, and other ascetic practices keep the mind and the body of the already pure superior to the minds and bodies of constitutively lesser and defiled beings. This is a permanent struggle in much of Hindu society and cosmology and it was Gandhi’s achievement to turn parts of this ritual complex, including the careful disciplines of virtue and purity, into a modern political ethos. As is well known, Gandhi’s ethos of renunciation and self-sacrifice also incorporated Christian ideas of sincerity, Victorian morality, and many elements of modern nationalist devotion that were centrally organized around the exemplary death and sacrifice for the eternal truth of the nation. 92 But like tapasya, the modern politics of sacrifice is also a way of rendering gifts that are excessive—blood, pain, and force—while trying to guarantee that they are framed and accepted as gifts. While the address of a conventional Hindu sacrifice is the always fickle and

unpredictable parallel universe of the gods, the addressee of sacrificial politics is more abstract and unknowable but no less compelling and powerful figures—the ‘people’, the ‘community’, posterity, ‘history’. Who is going to recognize, validate, and maybe commemorate a public act as properly sacrificial and therefore properly moral? In much scholarly and popular writing, this upper caste tradition of renunciation and self-purification as the most noble form of sacrifice is often assumed to have a near universal appeal and legitimacy across the subcontinent. But is this really so? Let me discuss three cases that show that sacrifice has a much richer and deeper life in South Asia than that of a North Indian upper caste tradition. As we will see, in many notions of violence and sacrifice, virtue flows from sacrificial acts, rather than from an a priori state of bodily and mental purity. THE SWAYAMSEVAK AND THE BALIDANI When the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was founded in 1925 its chief goal was to organize and turn martial the bodies and minds of upper caste Hindu men. The elementary unit of the Hindu nationalist movement is the daily shakha where men meet for physical exercise and ideological training, mostly re-narrating stories of famous nationalist heroes or infamous stories of the ‘rape of the motherland’ by Muslim invaders and rulers. The early leaders of RSS saw the shakha not only as a place to forge a bond between patriotic Hindu men in neighbourhoods across the country but also to create units of self-defence, a fighting force that could defend Hindu communities against what they saw as permanently aggressive Muslims. The physical training has a strong mimetic element, emulating both the Muslim enemy and reversing the colonial stigma of Hindus being feckless and unmanly, dressing in a uniform strikingly similar to that of the colonial police. To this day the movement promotes vegetarianism and ‘clean habits’. The RSS’s philosophy rests on the assumption that men who are welded together by a strong patriotic love, a clear ideological bond and a need for selfdefence are unbeatable. The mind is always superior to body and stronger than any mechanical device, the RSS leader M. S. Golwalkar wrote during the 1965 war with Pakistan:

They come with Patton tanks and other mechanical weapons but what are these against the unyielding commitment of our soldiers. Real virile men whose minds are so full of love and devotion to the motherland that they will destroy the enemy’s American tanks as if they were matchboxes. 93

The program of creating disciplined and ideologically committed minds in strong bodies, muscular ascetics, remains the backbone of the movement. Selflessness is the key virtue to strive for in the swayamsevak, the pracharaks at all levels are living in brahmacharya (celibacy). This is a model of upper caste masculinity that is based on retention of semen and its conversion into superior mental and physical strength. 94 However, the RSS men never, or rarely, saw themselves as actual street fighters confronting the enemy directly but as organizers, motivators, and teachers, men who wielded authority by virtue of their ascetic devotion (tyag). Throughout India, the RSS started special organizations for lower caste boys training them to become the fighting arm of Hindu society. In the 1980s and 1990s, these became associated with the Ram Janmabhoomi movement aimed at liberating the alleged birthplace of Lord Ram in Ayodhya. The Bajrang Dal and the Durga Vahini were organizations devoted to youth activism, devoted to ‘Service, Security and Sanskars’ and they were envisaged as a form of ‘protective wall’ around Hindu society and as an attacking force ‘destroying crooked and wicked people all over the world’ as their current manifesto goes. 95 The same manifesto refers to themselves as ‘Ram Bhakt Balidani’, sacrificing force of Ram devotees. In the 1970s, the Hindu nationalists launched the Patit Pavan Sanghatana (PPS) in Pune, recruiting lower caste and untouchable young men to become street fighters during tense times and showdowns with Muslims across the state. 96 In Marathi, patit means the lowest/downtrodden and pavan means uplifted/enlightened. In Patit Pavan the emphasis on service and selflessness was overlaid with a heavy emphasis on sacrifice, courage, and valour—on physical sacrifice being the way to achieve recognition, virtue, and inclusion within the larger Hindu community. Anand was one of the successful recruits in the Patit Pavan. Born into an impoverished lower caste family, he was adopted by RSS men in his neighbourhood and sent to a local school run by the organization. He

was a bright kid who progressed quickly and he got admitted into one of the city’s many colleges for further studies. In the 1970s, when leftist student activism was dominant on campuses across India, the RSS decided to deploy the Patit Pavan as a counter force in the streets and campuses across the city. Anand quickly rose to assume a leading role in the organization and he proved both skilful and effective as an organizer and a street fighter. Soon, Patit Pavan gained the upper hand and severely curtailed the influence of the Left in the city. Anand wanted to go back to his studies but his superiors, the ‘schoolteachers’ as he called them with some sarcasm, wanted him to remain as street fighter in chief. Anand felt disappointed but he could not defy the leaders he depended on: ‘I felt that I had sacrificed enough, my education and my blood— look at all my scars, and my youth too. They (the upper caste leaders) never felt that I could make it academically, but I knew they were wrong.’ Anand started studying extensively at night, on his own and when I met him in the early 1990s, he was a remarkably erudite and widely read man with a distinct and original mind. After a drink or two, he would at times rehearse short speeches in my company, or ask me to read out his English poetry in the most clipped English accent I could possibly muster. His ambition was to run for political office but his reputation for being independent minded, of not being of clean habits (he liked a drink and cigarettes) meant that the local leadership never accepted him as a candidate. However, by the mid 1990s it was clear to the BJP that they needed lower caste candidates in order to win any election, and Anand managed to win a seat in the elections some years later. But even when serving as an elected representative the insults did not stop. The leadership invariably presented him in somewhat condescending terms as ‘our brave soldier’ and as a ‘balidani’, one who had offered his blood. However, Anand wanted real influence as the intellectual he was and that he wanted to be seen as. At the time he worked very hard on a massive policy paper on institutional reform and deregulation. I read it, still have a copy, and it was intellectually impressive in many ways, although its worship of Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand was not to my political taste. Anand’s paper was never tabled or even discussed among the other BJP legislators. For Anand it seemed clear that he could only

ever be a balidani, never a man of letters and a man of thought. Today he is retired from active politics and concentrates on making science education available to youth from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. There are two very different perceptions of the body and its relation to sacrifice at work here and the dividing line is clearly that of caste. On the one hand, there is the ascetic idea of sacrifice as a form of ‘refusal’ of enjoyment and fulfilment of desire (tyag)—celibacy, vegetarianism, strict diet and physical activity—all ways to harness the mind, retain semen, and refine the intellect by purifying the body. What is the sacrifice here? It is the sacrifice of the pleasures of the relatively easy life one could have had as an upper caste person. Instead one forgets oneself in order to embrace a larger cause, a larger commitment—in this case the Hindu nation. However, this model of ascetic devotion applies in equal measure to Gandhians, and to the political Left. The legendary communist leader (and Brahmin) E. M. S. Namboodiripad’s 1976 biography How I Became a Communist is a classic in this genre. 97 Any bookstore in Kerala will have dozens of biographies and autobiographies of major personalities of the communist movement. Men, and some women, from upper caste communities whose claim to greatness was to give up a life in economic privilege and instead devote themselves to leading the masses and to uplift the less fortunate in society. Uday Chandra, in his critical piece on intellectuals and middle-class radicals who embrace activism calls this modern-day renouncer the ‘radical bourgeois self’. 98 He quotes Louis Dumont who writes about the renouncer: ‘The discovery of the self is for him coterminous, not with salvation in the Christian sense, but with liberation from the fetters of life as commonly experienced in this world. 99 Or, one should correct Dumont and say, ‘commonly experienced in a certain class and caste’. However, such a radical self may only be possible to imagine as being ‘radical’ if one inhabits a body and a mind that has enough substance and purity, and the attendant self-confidence, to economically and socially ‘declass’ oneself and life in poverty and extremely poor and demanding circumstances. Otherwise, living in poverty would in and of itself not be considered ennobling but quite the opposite. One can only frame a radical bourgeois self if one has something to sacrifice—a body that can be polluted, a mind that can be

dulled and wasted. Hence the terms used to describe such sacrifice are almost invariably quite elevated ones—sannyas (to renounce worldly way of life) tyag—asceticism/refusal of benefits/worldly gratifications, or even nyochavar—offerings/contributions (often money and gifts). What is being given up and sacrificed is, in other words, not really the self as such but practices designed to expand and refine the mind; to earn merit, and glory for one’s larger cause at the end. The second sense of sacrifice entails the altogether different logic of balidan—that is literally the gift of blood, blood sacrifice, traditionally animal sacrifice but today used widely for dead soldiers and heroes who put their bodies and life at risk. While the upper caste sacrifice has a voluntary and chosen character aiming at self-purification, the potential sacrifice of the young men of Patit Pavan, for example, was an entirely different and more constrained affair. What was the gift that they were invited to make? That of force and blood itself, that is the force and potential death and injury of the supposedly naturally strong body of the lower caste person. In order to become such a ‘gift’, to become such a sacrificial victim or a surrogate hero one must be prepared in a way that may be analogous with the consecration of ritual offerings—animals, fruit, substances—during a ritual sacrifice. For the Patit Pavan, this was samskars—education and physical discipline, and in some cases also celibacy before battles and confrontations, that would tame, recruit, and integrate the ‘natural’ violence of the lower caste male body and harness it towards a morally elevated purpose. To put it bluntly, renunciation disciplines of a lower caste body were simply of less value for two reasons: 1. The body was impure to begin with, of low or no ritual value, and therefore almost impossible to purify, except through its dedication to the risk of death in defence and battle. 2. The mind of the lower caste person was less refined so even the most arduous attempts to purify and discipline the body would have only the most limited effect—except in the case of exceptionally talented individuals. My friend Anand, sadly, was not deemed one of them.

The use of the term balidan has a specific depth and texture in Maharashtra, where the mythical demon king Bali and his rule (balirajya) for centuries have been central to popular ritual and worship —so much so that lower caste cultivators and labourers on occasion were called bali by their social superiors. This address was, as Michael Youngblood suggests, ‘strategic flattery—intended to appeal to their Bali-like humility and generosity and to extract from them ever greater degrees of subservience.’ 100 The myth of Bali revolves around the act of treason by the superior gods and the Brahmins who are envious of the peace, strength, and prosperity of King Bali’s realm. Vishnu disguises himself as the dwarf Vamana and petitions King Bali to give him three steps of land. As his wish is granted, the dwarf begins to measure the land and grows to enormous proportions, swallowing all the land and the universe. Realizing that he must offer himself to save his people, Bali lets the giant dwarf put his third step on his head and is pushed down forever to the netherworld. This is obviously a story rich in metaphorical potential, and King Bali has emerged as a potent symbol, of both sincerity, earthy strength and simplicity, and, of course, class and caste betrayal. In the nineteenth century, Jyotirao Phule and his non-Brahmin movement, the Satyashodhak Samaj, have promoted Bali as a symbol of the hardworking, honest, and simple non-Brahmin masses. 101 Over time, this figure has morphed in different directions, one of them the notion of the Marathi manus, the ordinary Maharashtrian celebrated by the linguistic movement in the 1950s and championed today by the Shiv Sena. Bali, and the return of the just rule of Bali, are celebrated in multiple rituals and festivals throughout Maharashtra, especially among Dalits and lower caste communities outside the more Sanskritized heartlands in the western districts of the state. The ritual humiliation and destruction of figures of Bali (usually made of clay or cow dung) by upper caste villagers are integral to several of these subaltern rituals during the festivals of Navratri and Diwali. The (castrated) bullock (balivard) is often the pre-eminent symbol of Bali invoked by these communities, and during popular festivals like the Pola festival, bullocks

—strong, patient and subservient—are decorated and cared for, made kings for a day, in a classical reversal ritual. It should now be obvious that when a Pune Brahmin RSS pracharak praises the sitting lower caste politician as a balidani—this praise indexes a very deep gesture of both humiliation and paternalist incorporation. MAOBADIS AND BALIDAN The theme of blood sacrifice, balidan, has acquired a new and intensely egalitarian life within the militant Maoist movements that have flourished across central India and Nepal in the past decades. In these movements, young people from socially disparate backgrounds have found a measure of equality, a new ground to stand on. Their readiness for sacrifice as well as the real risk of dying was at the heart of this new egalitarian ideology. In her work on the Maoist movement in Nepal, the anthropologist Marie Lecomte-Tilouine writes: ‘Numerous combatants highlighted the fact that with a gun in their hands there was no longer any difference between high and low, rich and poor, men and women.’ While acknowledging these egalitarian desires, Lecomte-Tilouine deplores what she calls the ‘perversion of the warrior sacrifice’ into a cult of sacrifice that has invented its own cultural repertoire: The mythical hero (of the Hindu epics) fights for his camp more than for a cause, and challenges another hero, his alter ego . His victory is uncertain faced with that other superman displaying the same qualities. The heroic martyr of the People’s War, by contrast, has no particular talent. Whether a man or a woman, the heroic martyr is weak. They describe themselves as poor and poorly armed. Only the cause they have adopted and the collective they have joined confer superiority on them. The martyrs can win while losing, because their deaths contribute to the final victory of the revolution by bringing energy to their comrades, and by enticing their relatives to pursue the struggle. Their victory is thus fully dependent on others, to whom they address messages in the form of poems, songs or diaries, and particularly on their comrades, without whom the circumstances of their deaths would remain unknown, and they would merely perish anonymously. 102

In this new ‘non-scripted’ register of political action, sacrifice has a different audience and addressee than in a traditional hierarchical order. The valorization of danger and possible death come from the nature of the enemy—no longer a noble enemy but an evil complex of historical forces of class oppression. While the traditional warrior ethics could be seen as a moment in the constant cycle of violence, conflict, and peace in the world, the sacrifice of the Maobadi is unique, momentous, and world changing. It founds a new epoch, it liberates the people and it is meant to be the sacrifice to end all sacrifice, as it were. In her deeply insightful book Nightmarch: Among India’s Revolutionary Guerrillas, Alpa Shah also proposes a strong analogy between the discipline and ascetic ethos of the renouncer and the Maoist revolutionary. Among the many sensitive and textured portraits in the book, it is Gyanji, a revered middle-aged leader, who comes closest to this ideal. Gyanji is an educated man from a high caste family who broke with his past and decided to devote his entire life to the revolutionary cause. His is a classical act of renunciation, a man earning an elevated moral standing by giving up a life in comfort and privilege. His dedication and humility are held up by the young guerrillas who treat him with great reverence and respect because he has come to share their world and risk his life for them. By contrast, most of the fighters we get to know through Shah’s account are young men and women from various tribal communities. In Shah’s telling, their motives for joining the guerrillas (and leaving them) are less driven by ideology as in Gyanji’s case and revolve mainly around complex family circumstances, desperation, anger but also attraction to the care, discipline, and egalitarian ethos of the world of the guerrillas. Less steeped in the hierarchical codes of mainstream Hindu society, these young people don’t seem to be motivated by an ennobling death as a balidani. Rather, Shah notes, the celebration of the martyr became an affirmation of an egalitarian community: …the rituals of martyrdom, celebrated in an annual festival in the month of November in villages across their strongholds, that was the most important celebration for the Naxalites…. Martyrdom transformed the emotions provoked by the brutal death of comrades in the struggle from being a sentimental weakness into a powerful creative force. 103

This valorization comes from within the movement itself and its martyrology—the genre of commemoration of the shaheedi, the martyr, that one finds in many other militant movements such as the Tamil Tigers of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), among the Sikh militants of the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF), and elsewhere in the world. However, martyrs are also celebrated by much more mainstream and non-militant groupings as we will see in a moment. These rituals make the movement, or a community, stand in for the ‘people’, powerful and forever elusive. As we shall see, the figure of the martyr can also live on, when a violent conflict is no longer a source of cohesion, when the levelling power of heroic sacrifice loses moral force and persuasive power, and when older hierarchies of caste, class, and community return in multiple forms. BETWEEN SHAHEED AND QURBANI Muslims in India today are today more marginalized, and more vulnerable to violence and humiliation by the majority community and the state, than at any time since Partition. Violence and loss are ever present possibilities and many families carry bitter memories of relatives injured or killed in riots and pogroms, property lost, and other forms of hardship. A few years ago in Mumbai at an iftaar party, a longstanding friend was gravely punning, ‘We Muslims love to brag about our qurbani, how much we give, how pious we are—but we don’t see that we, ourselves, are becoming qurban in this country.’ Qurbani is the offering of animals during Eid but also stands in everyday language more broadly for offering, donation, and any kind of involuntary loss, or futile effort. Someone who is lost, or has become victim of adverse and tragic circumstance, can be referred to as qurbani. For my friend, the whole Muslim community is facing a dire future, no longer performing the noble sacrifice of things valuable to God and the community, but themselves becoming the stigmatized sacrificial victims of modern India. The other operative term is shahadi, or shaheed, martyr, another Arabic term used widely across South Asia as well, a term central to the entire Sikh community, and, as we shall see below by many Dalits as well. Among ordinary Muslims in India it is relatively rare to find renunciatory practices framed as heroic choices of a radical bourgeois self in search of transformation or inner purification as in the examples

above. Rather, it is piety, courage, and moral righteousness that count, if not necessarily all found in one person. Many aspirational families turn to the quietist Tablighi Jamaat whose message of piety, clean habits, and a disciplined life of work and prayer appeals to many of those who find the rough and tumble of political and public life both scary and dangerous. An older tradition of ideological conviction and social reform among Muslims seem to have given way to more basic defensive calls for self-defence vis-à-vis an increasingly hostile majority society. 104 Let me illustrate this through the story of a single character in Aurangabad in Maharashtra. The city was for centuries seen as a Muslim city, its historical architecture hails from the days of Aurangzeb who made the city his base of operations against the rebellious Marathas. In the 1970s, as the city began to grow it became a hotbed of conflicts between Hindus and Muslims. Protracted conflict, fought in streets and neighbourhoods, made the city one of the most segregated in the region. The Shiv Sena chose this city as a main platform to expand across the state, claiming to undo historical injustices and trying to rename it after the great hutatma (martyr), Sambhaji, the son of Shivaji who was killed by one of Aurangzeb’s generals. After many dozens of deaths through the 1980s, the Shiv Sena captured the city council and have dominated the city ever since—during its explosive growth from 500,000 two decades ago to almost 2 million today. The Muslim community is today reduced to an embattled minority, trying to defend its space and its historical legacy in a city that is being transformed at a fast pace, where street names, squares are being renamed after Hindu heroes and where almost 2,000 houses, mainly belonging to Muslims were razed to the ground in 2012 in an effort to literally bulldoze through a new master plan for the city. 105 A__ has owned a small store in Aurangabad for decades. He has been a member of the Communist Party for even longer. He always saw himself as a secular Muslim—Muslim by community, not by belief, as he would say. But being a secular Muslim was never easy in a small town full of devout Muslims who were hell-bent on defending their historical claim to the city. Many people would see him as an atheist, as being worse than an infidel. His children were called names and many conservative and traditionally minded people would shun his company and refuse to come to his shop. But at the same time, they would respect

the social work he did with the other activist lalbhais. He was elected twice to the city council several decades earlier and for most of that time, and well after, he and his comrades managed to keep their mohalla safe. He told me with some pride: ‘Although the Shiv Sainiks hated us even more—we were Muslim and reds—they were reluctant to come here because they knew we were well-organized, and ready. We may not go to the mosque but we are ready to defend ourselves and our city.’ As a young man, A__ wanted to explore the boundaries of a ‘radical self’ by giving up the prospects of a more lucrative career and instead live in relative poverty, in a poor part of the city, devoting all his time to the neighbourhood, to the party, and to local social work. The problem was, as he told me recently, more than twenty years after we met the first time in 1997, that this kind of commitment had become completely overshadowed by much more immediate problems of selfdefence. The problem today was not one of sacrificing one’s own self for the greater good, but of physically defending the community from being sacrificed at the hands of violent Hindus now running the city. As A__ put it: When I was young I believed that we, the lalbhais, could unite all the poor people in this country. Today I realize that for Muslims, that would never be possible, not because of Islam, but because the Hindus will never let us forget who we are. They say we should join the mainstream but they will never let us do that. Shiv Sena needs us. Without us they would be nothing (…) Our people have suffered more than any other community in this country and they have suffered and died because they are Muslims. How can one ask them to give that up? I am still a communist but today I see that our task is to defend the poor Muslims, to protect them from being scapegoats (bali ka bakra) and to enable them to live as they like.

Today, most of A__’s local work is indeed dedicated to a literal defence of the neighbourhood against the Shiv Sena affiliated builders, city officials, and the policemen who patrol, frisk, and stop and routinely arrest young men in Muslim neighbourhoods on made up charges. In the past decade, the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) in Maharashtra has made the city its base of operations against Muslims across the entire Marathwada region that was part of the state of Hyderabad until 1948. The other danger is from the ever present Shiv Sena thugs who are

looking for a fight, taunting local Muslims, hoping to provoke a fight that would provide the pretext for the city to move in and declare the area a trouble spot in need of renovation and physical reform, razing the omnipresent ‘unauthorized’ structures to the ground and possibly worse. As A__ further explains: Among our people the problem today is that there is too much anger. The young boys have no jobs and no future. They are being called terrorists and the police will pick them up on any pretext. When I was young, we were out there fighting the Shiv Sena and we did not lose each time. Today that is too dangerous, they own the city and the police force. Today there cannot be a straight fight, there is no glory, no shaheedi, it is a massacre, qurbani, we are just slaughtered by them.

A__’s perspective is that within the majoritarian logic that dominates Indian public culture today, the relative nobility of a warrior’s sacrifice is impossible because there is no illusion of ‘equality’, or parity, between those who clash and fight. One side kills, the other side dies. For Muslims today, the righteous anger that leads to violent acts and the will to sacrifice has lost valour. All there is left is pure qurbani. THE SACRIFICE OF THE DALIT BODY Let me finally turn to the sacrificial logics within the Dalit movement in India. It is worth recalling that both of the founding gestures of this movement by Ambedkar invoked sacrificial frames. The first was the famous burning of the Manusmriti , the ‘law book of caste Hindus’ as it is often called by Dalits. Considering the centrality of fire in Hindu sacrificial rituals, and the enormous importance of the sacred fire, this public burning represented in a sense a destruction of the Manusmriti by its own most significant medium, almost an auto-destruction if you like. The second major set of events were the temple entry campaigns led by Ambedkar who in defiance of caste rules in 1930 led his followers into the Kalaram Temple in the town of Nashik. Three years earlier, he had marched to draw water from a tank in Mahad from where untouchables were barred entry. In this gesture, the stigmatized Dalit body, inherently defiling in the eyes of many caste Hindus, was instantly turned into a political weapon. It was neither transformed into a moral entity by Gandhian disciplines of fasting and cleansing, nor was it redeemed by

letting itself become sacrificed in defence of Hindu society as in Bajrang Dal or Patit Pavan. Deploying the caste Hindu idea of the Dalit body as already half inhuman, Ambedkar simply ‘weaponized’ Dalit bodies by directly touching and ‘defiling’ the spaces of caste Hindus, and in doing so exposing the injustice and unreasonableness of such strictures. The reasons for this powerful symbolic reversal are obvious: traditionally, the untouchable body has been seen as available to dominant castes for essential labour, for unclean services such as cremations, animal sacrifice, removal of dirt, excreta, dead animals. Dalit women have been seen as available to upper caste men, and Dalits have also, historically, been the victims in rituals of human sacrifice in order to ward of curses, evil spirits, and other grave threats. 106 In the first half of the twentieth century, such routinized humiliation was countered by the quest for self-respect. Dr Ambedkar clad in a three-piece suit and as chairman of the Drafting Committee presenting the draft of the Indian Constitution became himself an important symbol of the very possibility of Dalit dignity and education. His decision to write most of his work in English and not his native Marathi was informed by this. There are many apocryphal stories of Ambedkar touring the countryside of Maharashtra in the 1950s and giving speeches in both Marathi and English on the Constitution and the new reservation provision it contained. When journalists would point out that the hugely enthusiastic crowds did not understand a word of English, the stories go, the standard answer from Ambedkar and his associates was that the audiences would understand the most important thing: that a Dalit could have a PhD, write the Constitution, and speak eloquently in the world language of English. This same gesture is today captured and symbolically repeated by the thousands of Ambedkar statues one finds in Dalit hamlets in villages across India. 107 Ambedkar is always depicted in the same pose, clad in a blue suit, Constitution in one hand and a finger raised towards the onlooker. In Maharashtra there has been many local disputes about whether these statues could face the village of the caste Hindus or should face the Dalit hamlet only. Who was Ambedkar addressing and pointing his finger at? The nation or the Dalit community? Today, in most cases,

the Ambedkar statue points outward, greeting, reminding and admonishing anyone who enters the Dalit part of the village. With increasing radicalization of Dalits, martyrdom and sacrifice have since the 1970s become the dominant themes in the movement. The annual calendar of the Dalit movement in many parts of India is organized around commemorations of Ambedkar as well as commemorations of shaheedi, those killed in massacres in villages and towns, and those killed in clashes with the police. Considerable effort has gone into the documentation and public awareness of routine violence, turning these events into high profile examples of atrocities against Dalits. In 1989, the Indian Parliament passed the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act that specifically outlawed atrocities against Dalits and made it punishable by the full force of the law. Dalit activists have since then become very skilled in collection evidence and in pursuing and putting together cases of violence against Dalits. By its very legal definition, the term ‘atrocity’ has an element of unusual excess in it. As a result, the deaths of Dalits investigated under this Act are almost always framed as a form of sacrifice and martyrdom. It is indicative, that neither the term balidan nor qurban are used around these cases and their commemoration. Rather, it is martyrdom (shaheedi) that has become the all-dominant way of framing Dalit public lives and assertiveness. 108 Let us return to Aurangabad which since the 1940s has become an important centre for Dalit activism. The famous Milind College devoted to Dalit upliftment opened its doors already in the 1940s, and in the 1970s and 1980s the city became the epicentre of a new radicalism, spearheaded by the Dalit Panthers and other movements. One of the most important issues was the demand for renaming of the Marathwada University as Babasaheb Ambedkar University. The first attempt to rename the university in 1979 triggered a vicious set of deadly attacks by caste Hindus against Dalits in more than one thousand villages and towns across the region, and in the city itself. Dozens were killed, many more injured and thousands of houses and homes burnt down. These events gave rise to the renaming the movement, Namantar Andolan, that radicalized a new generation of young Dalits across villages and small towns, until the renaming of the university eventually succeeded in 1994. Initially, the fight and the demands were about

acknowledging Ambedkar as one of the great leaders of the country. However, after the passing of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, the Namantar Andolan became increasingly focused on the martyrs and attempts to launch an investigation that would result in prosecuting the guilty of the 1979 killings, retroactively, under the new law. However, as we have seen earlier in the book, a long and inglorious tradition with colonial roots has ensured that murders committed in the course of collective violence are in practice never regarded as murders falling under criminal law. Instead, the official view is that such events constitute unfortunate collateral damage due to social circumstances and civil disturbance. As is customary in highly charged cases, the government had initially paid compensation to the deceased (a modern form of blood money that an injuring party would pay to the victim’s family to stop further blood feuding). Instead, the Namantar activists wanted to have the victims 1979 recognized and commemorated as Dalit martyrs, and indeed national martyrs who died in the pursuit of social justice. I discussed these demands with an acquaintance of mine, a young Dalit lawyer in Aurangabad. His father had been a student at Milind College at the time of the disturbances and he grew up with the movement and the sense of injustice it encapsulated. When my young friend started college, the university had been renamed and had become a true magnet for Dalit students across the region. He said: During those years, my class in the law school was majority Dalit! Can you believe it! So different from my father’s time when the Dalits really had to fight and when they were treated badly by everybody. The tea sellers refused to serve them, the teachers were rude. Not today.

I asked him about the Namantar martyrs and the difficulties of making it into a case under the Prevention of Atrocities Act because it seemed like a more general ‘social riot’. He told me: It is true that most of those killed were not Namantar activists but they were made into shaheedi of the Namantar, not by us, not by themselves, but by the Hindus. Unlike the Muslims, the Hindus have no honour, they

attack and kill even the weakest among the Dalits…we mean nothing to them. In some villages, caste Hindus simply went out and killed the Dalits in their own village because of the Namantar demand. The only crime of these innocent boys was that they were Dalits…. Until this movement the Hindus around here thought they just kill our people and go scot free. Now they will think twice. So, can you say that these people died in vain? That is why we want to build a memorial to them.

The memorial Namantar Shahid Smarak was finally built in 2013 but in the city of Nagpur, more than 500 kilometres away from Aurangabad. Dalits in Aurangabad did not give up hope of some recognition of the Namantar in the city itself. In 2014, a marble monolith Namantar Shahid Stambh, was erected right in front of the gate of the university. Today, this monolith has become a significant site for commemoration, for garlanding and prayers, by the Dalit community. THE POLITICAL THEOLOGY OF SACRIFICE AND MARTYRDOM Sacrifice is by definition a manifestation of excess—either as a gift, as fasting, as renunciation, or putting one’s life and body at risk. The outcome of tapasyas are always uncertain. Will the rain come, or will my son pass his exam? Will the family remain in good health? Similarly, the interpretations of public acts of self-sacrifice, suffering, or death for a greater good beyond one’s own community are never ensured. Will the gesture be noticed and respected? Will the cause be furthered by my action? Will my dead daughter be remembered as a martyr for the community? I have suggested that there are two forms of public gestures and ethical labour in South Asia that may fruitfully be understood through a lens of sacrificial practice. The first is the politics of conviction and renunciation, for instance, a Gandhian inflected focus on self-purification as the precondition for a true and valuable sacrifice. Here, as with Hindu nationalism, political and public action is performed as self-sacrifice carefully staged and executed by ideologically and physically primed activists. There is an ideological structure or metaphysics, that always/already frames these actions as significant and heroic in the context of a larger and universal purpose—national self-determination, liberation, cultural purity, etc.

The second is what one could call a politics of martyrdom and recognition, a much deeper and richer repertoire of sacrificial politics than the first one. For most people in India—the lower castes, Dalits, and Muslims—it is the violent and sometimes deadly encounters with overwhelming force exercised by the state or the dominant forces in society that produces suffering that retroactively can be interpreted as noble and sacrificial. Virtue is not a precondition for being able to offer oneself up as a sacrificial entity but is directly derived from the act of dying and suffering. It is the fact of death and suffering that produces virtue, and it is the commemoration of past martyrs that affirm political and cultural community and identity. In this context the main ideological labour is not to produce purity in one’s life and deeds but to wrestle the dignity of martyrdom—for your own community or the nation—from the clutches of being a mere victim, or a mere offering, balidan or qurbani .

84 ‘PM Narendra Modi’s full speech on black money crackdown: Here’s how the

government scripted history’, Financial Express , 9 November 2016. 85 Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty ,

Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006, 1922 (first ed.). 86 René Girard, Violence and the Sacred , Patrick Gregory (trans.), Baltimore: Johns

Hopkins University Press, 1983, pp. 1–39 and 143–68. 87 M. K. Gandhi, The Story of My Experiments with Truth , Independent Publishing

Platform, 2012, pp. 197–220 and 245–75. 88 Ajay Skaria, ‘Living by Dying: Gandhi, Satyagraha and the Warrior’, Ethical Life in

South Asia , Anand Pandian and Daud Ali (eds.), Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010, pp. 211–31. 89 Sondra Hausner, Wandering with the Sadhus: Ascetics in Indian Himalayas ,

Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007. 90 Gavin Flood, ‘Sacrifice as Refusal’, Sacrifice and Modern Thought , edited by J.

Meszaros and J. Zachhuber (eds.), New York: Oxford University Press, 2013, pp. 115– 31; J. C. Heesterman, The Broken World of Sacrifice: Essays in Ancient Indian Ritual , Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993. 91 Henri Hubert and Marcel Mauss, Sacrifice: Its Nature and Functions , Chicago:

University of Chicago Press, 1964, pp. 1–50.

92 Benedict Anderson’s classic argument about the force of nationalism is precisely

that they are imagined entities that individuals are willing to die for. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism , London: Verso Book, 1993; George Mosse argues that nationalism is organized as a ‘cult of death’. George Mosse, Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memories of the World Wars , London: Oxford University Press, 1990; Ivan Strenski has demonstrated the pivotal role of death and sacrifice in Catholic nationalism in nineteenth and twentieth centuries France. Ivan Strenski, Contesting Sacrifice: Religion, Nationalism, and Social Thought in France , Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. 93 M. S. Golwalkar, A Bunch of Thoughts , Bangalore: Jagarana Prakashan, 1966, p.

415. 94 Joseph S. Alter, Moral Materialism: Sex and Masculinity in Modern India , Delhi:

Penguin Books, 2011. 95 See . 96 The organization took its name from a temple Patit Pavan Mandir built in 1931 in

Ratnagiri District by S. B. Keer, an associate of V. D. Savarkar. The idea was to provide a space for untouchable communities to worship and to ‘cleanse’ and ‘uplift themselves’, see . 97 E. M. S. Namboodiripad, How I Became a Communist , Trivandrum: Chinta

Publishers, 1976. 98 Uday Chandra, ‘Going Primitive: The Ethics of Indigenous Rights Activism in

Contemporary Jharkhand’, SAMAJ Revue, South Asia Multidisciplinary Journal , No. 7, 2013. 99 Louis Dumont, Homo Hierarchicus: The Caste System and Its Implications ,

Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970/1986. 100 Michael Youngblood, ‘Cultivating Identity: Agrarian Mobilization and the

Construction of Collective Interest in Rural Western India’, Doctoral Dissertation in Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2004, p. 278 and pp. 315–18. 101 Jyotirao Phule, ‘Slavery’ (Gulamgiri), 1873, Selected Writings of Jotirao Phule ,

edited and annotated by G. P. Deshpande, New Delhi: Left Word Books, 2002, pp. 23– 65. 102 Marie Lecomte-Tilouine, ‘Martyrs and Living Martyrs of the People’s War in

Nepal’, SAMAJ Revue, South Asia Multidisciplinary Journal , No. 4, 2010, pp. 24–25. 103 Alpa Shah, Nightmarch: Among India’s Revolutionary Guerrillas , Chicago:

University of Chicago Press, 2019. 104 For an interesting and critical account of political life among Indian Muslims, see

Hilal Ahmed, Siyasi Muslims: A Story of Political Islams in India , Delhi: Penguin

Books, 2019. 105 Meena Menon, ‘Aurangabad mosques face threat of demolition’, The Hindu , 6

March 2012; Syed Rizwanullah, ‘Aurangabad Municipal commissioner Purshottm Bhapkar on Wednesday’, Times of India , 25 April 2012. 106 In Maharashtra, human sacrifice is still seen as a problem as evidenced by the

passing of the Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act, 2013. The victims are invariably individuals belonging to Dalit and tribal communities. 107 Nicolas Jaoul, ‘Learning the use of symbolic means: Dalits, Ambedkar statues and

the state in Uttar Pradesh’, Contributions to Indian Sociology , Vol. 40, No. 2, 2006, pp. 175–207. 108 Rao, The Caste Question .



he deepening of India’s democracy in the 1980s and 1990s seemed to suggest that formal equality in the sphere of political representation would lead to a questioning of hierarchies of caste and community and an assertion of lower caste identities and communities. Lower caste communities were politically empowered, and they managed to mobilize educational and economic opportunities through reservations and new economic networks. Key elements of liberal democracy—individual and equal rights to vote, to access public goods, to claim reservations, the rule of law, etc.—were all crucial conditions of possibility that enabled the mobilization of lower caste communities. 109 But the result was not a questioning of caste within, or among, these newly empowered communities. Instead, a new ‘substantialization’ of caste communities took shape along with a renewed emphasis on myths of origin, ritual life, marriage prestations, and kin alliances that have all acquired new importance in a quest for consolidating the social respectability of politically mobilized OBC communities. 110 In a caste society, it turns out, democracy affords efforts at collective mobility and efforts at levelling the political playing field and claiming recognition and visibility. These efforts have often reified caste communities and have strengthened the illiberal and patriarchal practices within these communities, now justified in the name of honour, collective strength, and respectability. The BJP’s victory in 2014 and again in 2019 owed a lot to the party’s systematic recruitment of aspirational leaders from lower caste communities across the country

who saw the BJP as a possible vehicle for further inclusion, mobility, and respectability of their communities. This suggests that the deepening of democracy in India has ‘substantialized’ democracy itself: built on assertions of the legitimate power of majorities, popular power, and popular sovereignty, but without any concomitant percolation of liberal– democratic values, and without any stronger assertion of the rule of law as a value in and of itself. Electoral politics and mobilization are at the heart of popular worlds across India, often performed as ludic rituals of war in a polarized atmosphere where hurt sentiments, outrage, and public violence have more legitimacy than a few decades ago. As I argued in the beginning of this book, the linguistic movements across India were crucial in creating strong affective bonds between speakers of regional languages, producing stronger political communities than ever before. The linguistic states also made possible the idea of ‘our state’ as collective property that also poor and socially marginal populations had a stake in by virtue of their possession of a shared mother tongue. In turn, this gave rise to patterns of anger and xenophobic violence and discrimination against ‘foreigners’, suspected of taking jobs and claiming undue space and benefits. This is a pattern we see play out from north to south in India. It is neither the embrace of liberal rights, nor the defence of entitlements and access to public goods and government services that seem to be strongest driver of such sentiments. It is, rather, ‘the law of force’, i.e. the idea that political power and popular mobilization provides an umbrella that protects against the force of law, promises its supporters a certain recognition in the public, some room for manoeuvre, a measure of impunity, and a deep legitimacy of their own anger, now with a clear cause and target. Within this majoritarian understanding of politics, the responses of the 2017 Pew Research Poll that I cited in the Introduction may make more sense: strong support for democracy, if understood as the force of popular sovereignty, is entirely compatible with support for authoritarian styles of governance ruling in the name of this people. The BJP and its allies have ingeniously weaponized these sentiments in various parts of the country and they have consistently, over decades, pointed to the greatest symbolic humiliation of all: the permanent insult to every Hindu of the very existence of Muslims in the

land of Hindustan. Whenever the BJP and its allies face challenges in elections or are confronted with underperformance of the economy, the movement resorts to its foundational, and only, guiding principle: that its recalcitrant and anti-national minorities are holding the country back from greatness. At the moment of writing, countries across the world are convulsed by the global COVID-19 pandemic and the various responses to it from governments, law enforcement, and populations. In all countries, the responses to this unprecedented public health crisis expose underlying social and cultural fault lines and patterns of governance. In India, there were three patterns that stood out: Firstly, the government initially blamed foreigners for introducing the virus and denied, somewhat incredibly, that there was significant ‘incommunity transmission’. This echoed India’s response to HIV/AIDS decades ago. This time the foreigners included mainly Muslims from a variety of countries that had participated in an ijtihad in Delhi organized by the missionary movement, Tablighi Jamaat. Secondly, as it became clear that this could be a larger threat to the country’s stability, a blanket lockdown was declared without warning. It was enforced by the police and health authorities in a way that showed for all to see the everyday brutality of the Indian state towards poorer and marginal populations: migrant workers walking home through Uttar Pradesh were sprayed with industrial grade disinfectant; thousands were stranded in cities and towns without access to transportation, food, or medical services; those suspected of breaking the curfew would be brutally beaten by police constables. In middle class colonies, buildings with infected individuals would be cordoned off while in slum colonies and low-income areas, thousands of people would be put under strict quarantine. Thirdly, and most ominously, the well-oiled misinformation machine of the BJP and its allies, and duly echoed by most of the populist press in the country, soon began blaming Muslims who had participated in the ill-fated (and officially sanctioned) Tablighi Jamaat meeting in Delhi as the main culprits responsible for spreading COVID19 throughout the country. On social media this soon morphed into accusations of a concerted ‘Corona Jihad’, targeting Hindus. 111 Doctored videos of Muslim street vendors allegedly spitting and

contaminating food saw wide circulation. In several parts of Uttar Pradesh, Hindu owned shops installed saffron flags to signal that they were ‘safe spaces’ for Hindu customers. Across the country, Muslims were under heightened suspicion and the police administered some of the harshest lockdown measures around Muslim enclaves. On 15 April 2020, an MLA Krushna Khopde, representing the BJP in Nagpur, called on the military to be deployed in Muslim areas. ‘These people are not like you and me. We will cooperate. They won’t. It can’t be managed by local police. That’s why I have demanded military.’ 112 Hindu majoritarian fears and stereotypes of Muslims has always been focused on fantasies about the Muslim body—its supposed strength, discipline, and fertility. Making Muslims responsible for the spread of COVID-19 marks a new and unprecedented step towards all out stigmatization. Scholars of anti-Semitism have demonstrated how medical scientists in Germany and elsewhere in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries began to describe Jewish bodies as ‘abnormal’, diseased and dangerous. This ‘medicalization’ of the Jewish body and community became instrumental in justifying large scale genocidal violence against Jews. 113 At a time where violent fantasies of demonstrating Hindu power and dominance pervade so many aspects of public life in India, the depiction of Muslims as a medical and public health threat is not just another social media trifle. It may be one of the most dangerous episodes in the long history of violence at the heart of Indian public life.

109 Jeffrey Witsoe, Democracy Against Development: Lower Caste Politics and

Political Modernity in India , Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. 110 Alice Forbess and Lucia Michelutti, ‘From the Mouth of God: Divine kinship and

popular democratic politics’, Focaal , Vol. 67, 2013, pp. 1–18. 111 Jeffrey Gettleman, Kai Schultz, and Suhasini Raj, ‘In India, Coronavirus Fans

Religious Hatred’, New York Times , 12 April 2020. 112 Vivek Deshpande, ‘COVID-19: BJP MLA demands Army for Nagpur’s Muslim-

dominated area’, Indian Express, 13 April 2020. 113 Sander Gilman, The Jew’s Body , London: Routledge, 1991.