Hate And Fear: Weapons Of Choice In Today's India

The country's leadership is opening a Pandora's box by normalizing brutality and impunity.

Women's rights activists during a protest in New Delhi, India, Dec. 7 2019.
Women's rights activists during a protest in New Delhi, India, Dec. 7 2019.
Arjun Appadurai*


I have been triggered into writing this short essay by three events. One is reading Mukul Kesavan's recent piece in the Telegraph saying that the terrifying thing about contemporary India is not the everyday violence against women, Dalits and other minorities or dissenters, but the formalizing and rationalizing of these actions into the highest levels of the law of the land.

The other trigger is the news of the burning of the victim in the Unnao rape-murder case on her way to court in Lucknow on Thursday, Dec. 5, by a group of men which included some of the accused rapists.

The third trigger, the most worrisome, is the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), which the Lok Sabha passed on Dec. 9 and the Rajya Sabha too is likely to formally approve soon. This last development is procedural and formal, but it is yet another big step towards closing the gap between the fascism of law and the fascism of the streets in India.

The CAB is a brilliant way to target Muslims by failing to name them as potential citizens of India who are oppressed by neighboring regions, primarily on the grounds of their religious identity. By not including Muslims in this amendment, they have another door to justice closed to them. What is worse, the CAB is the loudest dog whistle by a ruling party since Indian independence, intended to declare Muslims as an open game for any form of degradation and destruction.

A protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in the Rajya Sabha, India, Dec. 11, 2019. — Photo: Vikramjit Kakati/ZUMA

The Unnao victim's story, as well as the growing number of cases of everyday brutality with impunity, require us to make the link between everyday hatred and the dismantling of the constitution.

In the wake of the death of the Unnao rape victim, if India was anything close to a decent democracy, both Adityanath and Narendra Modi would have promptly resigned, along with their cabinets and all their political appointees, and there would be a national debate about elections, governance and change. But India is neither decent nor a democracy. What has India become?

The few remaining leaders in the world who can claim to have any commitment to human decency (Emmanuel Macron, Justin Trudeau, Angela Merkel, for example), should be calling for a change of regime, and the International Criminal Court should issue a major call for investigation and punishment. The UN should bar India's representatives from any participation in UN deliberations until they are held accountable for the new bar that India has set for in internal violence.

But none of these things is likely to happen, because India is regarded as too democratic to fail. If global institutions and other nations condemn India, what will do they do about Israel, Brazil, the Philippines, China, Turkey and many other statocracies? India has long benefited from this default view of its vibrant democracy, and it continues to do so.

Fear, anger, scapegoating and exclusion as the highest principles of civic and political life.

I have remarked before that India is not only following a global swing to the authoritarian right, it is an innovator. The innovation that is now being tried out in India is the successful closing of the gap between procedural fascism and substantive fascism. Procedural fascism is exemplified by the scrapping of Article 370 of the constitution in Kashmir, the National Register of Citizens process in Assam, the CAB and the recent Supreme Court ruling on Ayodhya.

In each case, the executive, the judiciary and the legislature have made fascism far more respectable than it ever was in India, at the highest formal levels. At the same time, the spate of rapes, murders, burnings, lynching, and other humiliations of women, Dalits, Muslims and children throughout India have raised substantive fascism to an unimaginable public level.

What is the source of the new compact between procedural (formal) fascism and substantive fascism, or to put it more simply, between the highest authorities in the land and the killers and lynch mobs that produce everyday brutality in India" cities, villages and neighborhoods?

One answer is impunity. If anyone in India today says or does anything that follows the BJP line on citizenship, security, patriotism, patriarchalism, or journalism or the BJP line on cows, statues, space travel, or women's place in society, they can rape, maim or lynch selected others anywhere at anytime. Impunity means the right to brutalize others with the near guarantee of no legal consequence.

Others have used the word impunity to describe the worst of India's current civic order and public life. But where does this culture of impunity come from?

First, from the utter cynicism of the top leadership of the BJP and their minions in all official institutions, at all levels. The second source is the extraordinary corruption generated by the alliance between corporate interests and politicians, indeed an old story in India but now characterized by a level of official indifference which is unprecedented: The scale of disappeared debts in the Indian banking system is one symptom of the new corruption.

The third factor is the thorough criminalization of the legislature, at all levels, with thugs, rapists and killers increasingly and proudly deliberating on how to shape the law of the land. The fourth force is social media, which allows for a new and sickening form of proliferation of pornography, in which poor men consume images of rape, murder and mayhem because it brings them "sukoon" (calm, peace), as one recent report shows us.

This last remarkable story, in which a poor proletarian male from North India says of the easy availability of documentary rape porn in Uttar Pradesh, that it brings men like himself some peace or calm, gives us a clue to the most terrifying source of the current links between formal and substantive fascism in India. It is what we may call the syndrome of aspirational hatred.

Normally, we associate the word aspiration with social and economic mobility, hope and legitimate social improvement for oneself or one's kin. But the Indian ruling party and the state elite have installed fear, anger, scapegoating and exclusion as the highest principles of civic and political life.

There are no decent examples of leadership and models for mobility in modern India

Thus, aspiration itself has been redirected away from better jobs, more economic security and greater social respectability towards a darker form of the revolution of rising expectations, in which the new role models are Muslim-hunting cabinet members, corrupt and sexually predatory saint-politicians and encounter-wise policemen.

When poor and marginalized men, or jobless or badly employed youth, or slum-confined casual laborers are motivated, mobilized and seduced by leaders of this type, who also offer them dreams of national and ethnic purity, they follow these examples in their own worlds, and hunt, maim and kill those to whom they feel superior.

Since they are guaranteed impunity (except in exceptional circumstances), the normal restraints of prudence, sanity and humanity are easily shed, especially when there is so little to lose. Aspirational hatred is hatred as imitation of one's betters, and in India's case, today's most powerful betters are the worst of the worst.

Hence, the most important link between procedural fascism and substantive fascism in India today is the absence of decent examples of leadership and decent models for mobility.

When we are ruled by thieves, killers and rapists, who enjoy and distribute immunity generously, it is no surprise that many begin to believe that hate, anger and the degradation of those who are even weaker than yourself, can take you nowhere but up.

*Arjun Appadurai teaches in New York and Berlin and has published widely on globalization and South Asia.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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