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Authors: Arundhati Roy

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The end result of the BJP’s labors is that students, intellectuals, and even sections of the mainstream media have seen how we are being torn apart by its manifesto of hate. Little by little, people have begun to stand up to it. Afzal’s ghost has begun to travel to other university campuses.

As often happens after episodes like this, everybody who has been involved can, and usually does, claim victory. The BJP’s assessment seems to be that the polarization of the electorate into “nationalists” and “anti-
nationals” has been successful, and has brought it substantial political gain. Far from showing signs of contrition, it has moved to turn all the knobs to high.

Kanhaiya, Umar, and Anirban’s lives are in real danger from rogue assassins seeking approbation from the Sangh Parivar’s high command. Thirty-five students of the FTII (one in every five) have had criminal cases filed against them. They’re out on bail, but are required to report regularly to the police. Appa Rao Podile, the much-hated vice chancellor of UOH who went on leave in January and had a case filed against him, laying responsibility at his door for the circumstances that led to Rohith Vemula’s suicide, has reappeared on the campus, enraging students. When they protested,
olice invaded the campus, brutally beat them, arrested twenty-five students and two faculty members,
nd held them for days. The campus is cordoned off by police—ironically the police of the Telangana State that so many of the students on this same campus fought so long and so hard to create. The arrested UOH students too have serious cases filed against them now. They need lawyers, and money to pay them with. Even if they are eventually acquitted, their lives can be destroyed by the sheer harassment involved.

It isn’t just students. All over the country, lawyers, activists, writers, and filmmakers—anybody who criticizes the government—is being arrested, imprisoned, or entangled in spurious legal cases. We can expect serious trouble, all sorts of trouble, as we head toward state elections—in particular the 2017 contest in Uttar Pradesh—and the general election in 2019. We must anticipate false-flag terrorist strikes, and perhaps even what is being optimistically called a “limited war” with Pakistan. At a public meeting in Agra, on February 29,
 Muslims were warned of
a “final battle.” A fired-up, five-thousand-strong crowd chanted: “
Jis Hindu ka khoon na khaule, khoon nahin woh pani hai.
” (Any Hindu whose blood isn’t boiling has water in the veins, not blood.) Regardless of who wins elections in the years to come, can this sort of venom be counteracted once it has entered the bloodstream? Can any society mend itself after having its fabric slashed and rent apart in this way?

What is happening right now is actually a systematic effort to
chaos, an attempt to arrive at a situation in which the civil rights enshrined in the constitution can be suspended. The RSS has never accepted the constitution. It has now, finally, maneuvered itself into a position where it has the power to subvert it. It is waiting for an opportunity. We might well be witnessing preparations for a coup—not a military coup, but a coup nevertheless. It could be only a matter of time before India will officially cease to be a secular, democratic republic. We may find ourselves looking back fondly on the era of doctored videos and parody Twitter handles.

Our forests are full of soldiers and our universities full of police. The University Grants Commission’s new guidelines for higher educational institutions suggests that campuses have high boundary walls topped by concertina wire, armed guards at entrances, police stations, biometric tests, and security cameras. Smriti Irani has ordered that all public universities must fly the national flag from 207-foot-high flagpoles for students to “worship.” (Who’ll get the contracts?) She has also announced plans to rope in the army to instill patriotism in the minds of students.

In Kashmir, the presence of an estimated half a million troops ensures that whatever its people may or may not want today, Kashmir has been made an integral part of India. But now, with soldiers and barbed wire and enforced flag-worshipping in the mainland, it looks more and more as though India is becoming an integral part of Kashmir.

As symbols of countries, flags are powerful objects, worthy of contemplation. But what of those like Rohith Vemula, who have imaginations that predate the idea of countries by hundreds of thousands of years? The earth is 4.5 billion years old. Human beings appeared on it about two hundred thousand years ago. What we call “human civilization” is just a few thousand years old. India as a country with its present borders is less than eighty years old. Clearly, we could do with a little perspective.

a flag? My soul is either too modern or too ancient for that.

I’m not sure which.

Maybe both.

Map of India


tribal, but literally original inhabitants of India.

Adivasi Mukti Sangathan:
activist group in Madhya Pradesh; literally, Adivasi Liberation Group.

L. K. Advani:
former Indian deputy prime minister who has close associations with right-wing Hindu fundamentalist groups in India and led the Rath Yatra in 1990.

Babri Masjid:
On December 6, 1992, violent mobs of Hindu fundamentalists converged on the town of Ayodhya and demolished the Babri Masjid, an old Muslim mosque. Initiated by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L. K. Advani, this was the culmination of a nationwide campaign to “arouse the pride” of Hindus. Plans for replacing the mosque with a huge Hindu temple are under way.

Bajrang Dal:
militant Hindu fundamentalist organization named after the Hindu god Hanuman; allied with the BJP and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and with them instrumental in the destruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992.

a mixture of blended tobacco wrapped in beedi leaves.

Beej Bachao Andolan:
a farmers’ movement promoting the use of indigenous crops, cropping systems, and agricultural methods.

Bharatiya Janata Party:
literally, the Indian People’s Party, at present the largest single party of the governing coalition since the elections of 1998. It espouses a Hindu nationalist ideology, and its support is concentrated mostly in northern India.

Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha:
a trade union group in the mining areas of Chhattisgarh (literally, the Chhattisgarh Liberation Front).

those who are oppressed or literally “ground down”; the preferred term for those people who used to be called “Untouchables” in India. Gandhi coined the term
(children of God) as a euphemism for these castes, but “Dalits” is preferred today by the more militant among them and has a more explicit political meaning.

Dandi March:
In March 1930, Gandhi and more than seventy other activists began a twenty-three-day march to the coastal Indian village of Dandi; it was called the “Salt March” because Gandhi called for the illegal production and purchase of salt by the native population. He called the march, widely considered a major turning point in the struggle for Independence, “the final struggle of freedom.”

Muslim tomb.

peaceful protest or sit-in.

Environmental Impact Assessments, usually done by private consultants hired by project authorities for projects such as dams, mines, and large-scale irrigation projects.

S. A. R. Geelani:
teacher of Arabic at Delhi University, implicated in the conspiracy behind the attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2002, and sentenced to death. He was acquitted and released after nearly two years in jail.


ideology seeking to strengthen “Hindu identity” and create a Hindu state, advocated by the BJP, Shiv Sena, and other communalist parties.

hydroelectric power.

Inter Services Intelligence, the Pakistani intelligence agency.

Jain Hawala case:
a scandal involving twenty-four politicians charged with taking bribes from businessman Surendra Kumar Jain.

a sweeper woman, usually used pejoratively.

a caste whose main occupation is fishing.

hand-spun cotton cloth popularized by Gandhi during the Independence movement as a defiant statement of self-reliance and a badge of membership in the Congress movement. Khadi is still worn today by many politicians and Gandhian workers.

a caste whose main occupation is plying boats.

a rice and lentil dish.

Kinara Bachao Andolan:
activist group working in coastal Gujarat (literally, Movement to Save the Coast).

Koel Karo Sangathan:
a movement against a proposed dam on the Koel and Karo Rivers in the state of Bihar.

Kumbh Mela:
a Hindu festival in which millions gather to ritually bathe in sacred rivers.

Lal Johar:
salutation of the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha: literally, Red Salute.

Lord Linlithgow:
governor-general of India from April 1936 to April 1943.

Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Sri Lankan Tamil separatist guerrilla group.

Malimath Committee:
the Committee on Reforms of the Criminal Justice System, constituted by the government of India in November 2000 and headed by retired justice V. S. Malimath, former chief justice of Kerala and Karnataka.

Mandal Commission:
commission constituted by the Janata Party government under the chairmanship of B. P. Mandal in 1977 to look into the issue of reservations for “backward” castes in government jobs and educational institutions. The report was submitted in 1980, and its recommendations led to a huge backlash from upper castes, with violence and agitation across the country.


an ancient code of conduct, attributed to Manu, sometimes viewed as a book of Hindu laws.


Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan:
literally, Organization for the Empowerment of Workers and Farmers, active in the right-to-
information campaigns in Rajasthan.

Maoist Coordination Committee, extreme left-wing armed group, present in many states in India.

Mehndi Kheda:
village in the state of Madhya Pradesh, the site of a clash between Adivasis and the police.

Narendra Modi:
Chief Minister of Gujarat; presided over the state government when violent riots took more than two thousand Muslim lives in 2002.

wildlife sanctuary in the state of Kerala, the site of a clash between Adivasis and the police.

Naga Sadhu:
the naked warrior-ascetics of the Shaiva sect.

Narmada Bachao Andolan:
Save the Narmada Movement.

Nimad Malwa Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan:
alliance of activist groups working in Madhya Pradesh on issues of water, power, and privatization of resources (literally, the Nimad Malwa Peasants’ and Workers’ Organization).

Shankar Guha Niyogi:
trade union leader of the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, killed in September 1991 by hired assassins.

Persian-descended Zoroastrians.

Sacred food, is shared by devotees in an act of seeking benediction.

Peoples’ War Group, an extreme left-wing armed group, present in many states in India.

Ram Mandir:
see Babri Masjid, above.

Rashtrapati Bhavan:
the residence of the president of India, formerly the viceroy’s residence.

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS):
literally, the National Self-Help Group; a right-wing militaristic organization with a clearly articulated anti-Muslim stand and a nationalistic notion of Hindutva. The RSS is the ideological backbone of the BJP.

Rath Yatra:
literally, the Chariots’ Journey, a long road rally led by an ornamental bus dressed up as a chariot, undertaken first in 1990 by L. K. Advani to “mobilize Hindu sentiment” for the building of the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya. It culminated in widespread violence in many parts of northern India.

Sangh Parivar:
the group of closely linked right-wing Hindu fundamentalist organizations in India that includes the Bajrang Dal, BJP, RSS, and VHP (literally, family group).

Saraswati shishu mandirs:
literally, temples for children, named after Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning.

literally “life force,” was Gandhi’s term for civil disobedience. The term is now commonly applied to any movement that confronts its foe—typically, the State—nonviolently.

Savarna Hinduism:
that part of caste Hindu society which excludes the Dalits and so-called backward castes.

an RSS branch (literally) or center. RSS shakhas are training camps or cells.

Shiv Sena:
a rabid right-wing regional Hindu chauvinist party in the state of Maharashtra.

stanzas, or verse in general, that are prayers to the deities.

a Buddhist religious monument.


Pravin Togadia:
former surgeon, rabble-rousing demagogue of the Hindu right wing, synonymous with inflammatory hate speech against Muslims.

Tehelka case:
an exposé by the Tehelka website, in which senior Indian politicians, defense officers, and government servants were secretly filmed accepting bribes from journalists posing as arms dealers.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad, literally the World Hindu Council, self-appointed leaders of the Hindu community and part of the “Sangh” family of Hindu nationalist organizations to which the BJP also belongs. The VHP was in the forefront of the move to destroy the Babri Masjid and build a Ram temple at Ayodhya.

(literally, pilgrimage) can be translated as any journey “with purpose.”

BOOK: The End of Imagination
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