Ranjona Banerji: Meet the real thugs of Hindustan

Feb 14, 2018, 06:21 IST | Ranjona Banerji

Almost every political party in the country has this kind of militia. Or maybe these goons are just guns for hire and have no ideology

These militias cannot be stopped because they represent some or the other 'public sentiment'. Representation pic
These militias cannot be stopped because they represent some or the other 'public sentiment'. Representation pic

Ranjona BanerjiIf the Constitution allows, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) would rush to India's borders within three days to defend the country. The Indian Army itself, feels Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the RSS, would take six or seven months to be ready for war. The time in between war at the border and the Army reaching there will presumably be spent building suburban railway bridges and clearing garbage?

Let's set aside Bhagwat's desire to let his own foot soldiers "fight for India", with the sticks that they all trained with, and let's not assume that he meant any insult to the Indian Army. Although, as an aside, he does appear to have a somewhat odd idea of how the military operates, and also, he appears to forget that apart from an army, we also have a navy and an air force. But never mind.

Let us instead mull on the idea of private militias, whether trained with sticks or petrol bombs or exploding gas cylinders, being allowed by the Constitution to defend India's borders. In some countries, war has been outsourced to private armies, albeit better trained, and the results have not always been acceptable, forget ideal. The horror stories that have come out of the US and its wars in the Gulf, Middle East, Afghanistan are cases in point.

The government has already
allo­wed "gau rakshaks" to kill and maim in the name of cow protection. These militias cannot be stopped because they represent "public sentiment", which is, apparently, to kill anyone who may or may not at some point in time do some harm to cattle. We also have militias to deal with people in love, people in love with people from communities different to their own, people in love with people from communities their parents do not approve of and many variations within.

One such group even recently told the Supreme Court that if it interfered in their "customs" they would ensure that the community would not give birth to any girls at all. We also have government-sanctioned groups — however bad in law — empowered to split up courting couples on the basis that one may or may not be harassing the other.

And let us not forget people who object to movies. These may not be well-established private militias, but they are able to galvanise themselves very quickly. The Karni Sena were not the first but they have been very effective in burning things down and creating a nuisance. More violent were the Jat protestors who took over the streets of Haryana as they demanded reservations and the administration watched. Of course, almost every political party has its inhouse group of thugs who can be mobilised at short notice. Or maybe these goons are just guns for hire and have no ideology.

In Bengal, they are called
"harmads" after the Spanish Armada. They are, evidently, easily available, and can do untold damage in a short amount of time. In some societies, such militias are illegal, discouraged and firm is action taken against them. But in India, we have some sort of hidden sympathy for public violence. Listen to the people you know when a riot takes place. They may not have taken part in the violence itself, but they will find ways to justify it when it meets the low standards set by their bigotry and prejudice. During the Gujarat riots of 2002, I met a well-meaning well-respected businessman who was clear that the rioters were "outsiders". It took members of the Indian Army present there to correct the gentlemen of his misconception, making it clear that all the rioters they had dealt with were "insiders".

As for the army, navy and air force, they know what they are trained to do, in spite of political help, interference or hindrance. One assumes that they do not take the RSS chief's offer or insult seriously. At the same time, this "hint" of Constitutional change, repeated by a Union minister, needs to be studied closely. While we do that, why not send all these brave gentlemen to the borders, armed with their sticks?

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