Millennium Post

Towards greater politics of solidarity

Our family seat is in the Hooghly district of West Bengal. My family is Bengali Shakto (worshippers of Mother Kali and Goddess Durga). My clan’s faith is something from which I have never ever thought of detaching myself. Some people like to show off enlightenment, maturity and a higher state of consciousness by denigrating their family’s faith practices and even spitting on the concept of family. Clearly, I am not one of them. We are looked upon as ‘Hindus’, though I do not relate to the religious practices of most other people classified as such. I believe that the same is true for them.

With the exception of my ancestral male-line that is from West Bengal, much of my ancestry is from East Bengal. They were Partition-era refugees, who fled their family home in Barisal, never to be able to return again. Earlier, both Hindus and Muslims fled their ancestral Bengal for their corresponding Bengal of relative safety. Post-1965, the refugees have been almost exclusively Hindus fleeing East Bengal. Tens of lakhs have followed suit. This continues to this day – victims of a long and continuing Partition. This is an issue very close to my heart.

I suspect that my particular interest in the human rights violation of East Bengali Hindus is not unrelated to my particular family origin and my commitment to ‘our’ preservation in a particular sense, but concentric and expanding circles form one’s identity. At some point of expansion, this touches the people of Palestine. It also touches the hounded Chakma of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the marginalisedSanthal of the Santhal Parganas of West Bengal and the lives of CholesRicthil or KalpanaChakma or BhikhariPaswan. My being Bengali does not stand in between Bhikhari and me, or so I aspire to. My identity begins with me being a Bengali but it does not end there. My activism for Palestinian rights while I was a student at Harvard directly resulted in me being denied a certain lucrative position that I was already chosen for. That was a price worth paying. I have not ever regretted my activism, in spite of the targeting. Many, many more have paid far, far greater prices.

However, it is important that one looks closely at all that goes on under the umbrella of solidarity for Palestinians. There is something sinister about the kind of solidarity politics that originates from one’s private identification with the victims in terms of ethnicity, religion, language, etc but publicly couches it in terms of general humanism, whatever that is. When someone passionately splashes graphic pictures of little children of Gaza, killed by Israeli attacks and never shows equally graphic pictures of the victims of Boko Haram or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the objective is three-fold. It is to evoke compassion for a certain kind of victim, to evoke hatred about a certain kind of perpetrator and to remain silent on a certain kind of perpetrator.

There are a set of convenient brutes who are condemned and some inconvenient brutes who are rarely condemned, by the same people who were so vocal about human rights. Is it because, in some ghastly private political and ideological calculation, in an ultimate sense, some human rights violators are doing it for the ‘right’ cause? It then ceases to be about the victims or the horridness of the assault or even numbers. Why do I get the feeling that the religion of the killer matters? Why this unholy convergence of such elements with professional anti-imperialists? Closer home, why is the large-scale destruction of ‘Hindu’ villages and massacre of ‘Hindu’ villagers by Indian state agencies in Chhattisgarh or the daily forced sodomisation of Hindus by largely Hindu policemen or the cold-blooded murder of young Hindus of Manipur by largely Hindu Indian Army personnel not worthy of comment by the thikadars of political Hinduism? Is a victim of Muslim-on-Muslim terror less of a victim than others?

In this media-defined age of public thought, Gaza is a macabre spectacle. While we witness this bursting forth of honest indignation about Israel’s reprehensible actions in Gaza, in the streets and in social media, let us not forget that both honesty and indignation are byproduct of a global hierarchy of ‘issues’. When we ‘wake up’ to Gaza, we ought to remember who sets the alarm, who creates the machinery of the spread and perpetuation of such ‘waking-ups’. Who decides priorities – whose deaths gets headlined, whose deaths get sidelined? No one but sociopaths would say that what is happening in Gaza is good but in this sophisticated world, one’s politics of given not by what one condemns, but what one choses to condemn, and what one overlooks.

Just in 2014, the South Sudanese, Ukrainian and Somali civil wars have each claimed more lives than the ongoing Israeli aggression of Gaza. That is not all. The Islamist insurgencies in Iraq and Nigeria have each claimed more than 5000 lives in 2014. Till now, the Gaza death toll has crossed 500. Comparing the number of dead is horrible business but using the dead for private ideological satisfaction is more horrible business. Considering some killers as the scum of earth and considering other killers are unmentionable is reprehensible business. Hence, when one is chanting ‘death to America’ or ‘death to Israel’, from relatively safe perches in New York, Kolkata, Delhi, Dhaka, Lahore and elsewhere, one probably should take a moment to think what precisely is the origin of this blood-thirst. One owes it to the silenced victims of not-so-popular-but-much-more-populous massacres. Chanting ‘Free Palestine’ is easy. One has to earn the right to stand with Gaza. That is the hardest part.                                                                                                                                   IPA
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