India’s Baciles


Nothing can be more potent than ‘Sam Bacile does not exist’. It is the invisibility and the stories surrounding his identity that expose ingrained and acquired hatred like the word of god revealed. We should thank him, for he stands for the many hidden faces of animus.

Does hating the hater make us the hated by default?

A month ago, something happened a few kilometres away from my home. It was a Battle of Bacile. Invisible people. I said nothing. I did not exercise my freedom of speech, for such black upon white expressions that we see are selectively coddled. Political retribution is quick. Sheathed in apology, the dagger retains its shine. Hate can be bloodless.

“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” – Albert Camus

Our existence today is a dying flame. “Jalaa do, jalaa! Maa ki ch…t..” Burn, burn, you mother’s c..t. Over the din in the video, it sounded almost like a voice-over. Is this the new slogan of protest, cuss words without a credo?

Images of Mumbai were like torn posters on walls. On August 11, a part of Mumbai burned and those burning it wore skull caps. The two men who died also wore skull caps. 800 cops were lauded for observing restraint (a non sequitur, considering that they were dealing with 50,000 goons). The minute I heard Arup Patnaik, the Police Commissioner at the time, say that just when their fingers “were reaching for the trigger” he stopped them because “I was not afraid of the rioters. I was afraid of how my men would react as I could see in their eyes the same expression that I saw in my force during the 1992 riots”, I wondered if anyone realised that this was worse than hate speech.

It was a lie. It was the cops who targeted innocents in the riots in my city in 1992-93. They were standing atop asbestos roofs in slums and shooting people at random because these keepers of law and order were as incited as any mob to destroy. It was planned months ahead, brick by brick. The corporator of the local party had weapons stocked in his house. The police did little to help.

Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray gave public speeches that made derisive references to the circumcised Muslim penis. The crowd cheered and leered. His nephew was a quick learner and known to be as pushy. He split from the main party to form his own. The roots are the same. ‘Outsiders not allowed.’ The term outsider means different things at different times to seize the opportunity of the moment.

A week after the Azad Maidan rally resulted in mayhem, the son-of-the-soil Raj Thackeray had his own little party where 40,000 people turned up. This was to protest against what happened that Saturday. His show was peaceful, say those who have never met irony before. This was not a mob. It was organised to clear the name of the party of original hate-mongers. They probably got instructions on how to stand, sit and whisper. Nothing was burned. They had done that in several places many times before. On that day, they had to send across a message, a message so lame that only those who need crutches of others to walk their thoughts would fall for.

They did. His speech was glorified. He became the messiah of Mumbai for those few hours. Like prostitutes, every form of political succour is provided by the hour. Secular commentators were talking about “giving credit where it is due”. A cop went up to him and handed him a rose, complimenting him for his brave stand, saying that he did not care about the consequences of his action. He was pronounced insane. This is a masterstroke: Insane saviours of society standing up for another form of insanity that fakes propriety.

The problem is that we do not wish to see beyond an act. It will be recycled so often and to such an extent that it loses all meaning. Tragedy, as happens often, is turning into farce and it does not feel the need to acknowledge history.

India got freedom from the century-old British colonial rule that cleaved the nation into two. The two became three and within these there are several movements either wanting to become independent of the nation state or to seek autonomy within it. Tribals are fighting for their lands. Castes are still burdened with carrying slippers to warn the superior ones of their presence. Local panchayats are deciding what people should wear and how they should behave.

Various parts of India are burning. News spreads, rumors fly, fear is a text message away. Is this really news? Those with erased memory are archiving every detail in screen-shots and shaky videos. Flames, gunshots, asylum, exodus. All Indian Muslims are told to go to Pakistan and a few Pakistani Hindus cross over.

Whenever there is trouble by or against Muslims, we bring in another alien force. Salman Rushdie’s example is used to underscore the “appeased minority” narrative. This digression lacks ingenuity, for Rushdie too is an appeased minority. If there are verbal attacks on him, then one must accept that his work might be considered hate speech by some.

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” – George Orwell (From ‘Animal Farm’)

According to popular belief every Muslim belongs to the Ummah. Those rebelling against this ‘brotherhood’ cannot imagine the possibility of rebellion and disparity within the Muslim community. Are there rebels at all, or merely products of incendiary ideas?

They raise their voices against an imagined uniform demon. “See, those Muslims want to speak up for their brothers everywhere.” What ethnic group or religious community has not raised its voice against slights directed at it? If Myanmar is far away for Indian Muslims, then what have Hindus and Christians from miles and cultures away got to do with the Middle East?

Are we to believe that protest is possible only within a circumference? It negates the nature of dissent.

It seems difficult for people to feel any pride in a nation’s achievements, but whip up a frenzy and then it might work. Two vandals desecrated the Martyr’s Memorial, a rifle-and helmet structure for Syed Hussain and Mangal Gadia, sepoys killed by the British during India’s First War of Independence in 1857. It was installed 142 years later in 2009, and 55 years after independence.

The two young men who destroyed the symbol were “most wanted” and arresting them became the first priority of the police. It was four days away from Independence Day; national pride in fibre glass. A senior official said, “They have hurt the sentiments of the entire nation. They must be arrested on priority.” It is a structure barely noticed by people. Curiously, he spoke to the media “on condition of anonymity”. Why did he wish to remain anonymous when it was a matter of national honour? Who is the Sam Bacile here?

Do the sentiments of a nation dwell in mute memorials? In fact, memorials of the Holocaust and Hiroshima exhibit acquired angst. We are merciless towards that which we remember.

Transpose this with the recent cartoon controversy where a member of the India Against Corruption group drew images insulting to the national emblem, Mother India, the Indian Constitution, and Parliament. Most liberals thought it was acceptable, and asked how different it was from those who humiliate the institutions of democracy. If we extend this logic, then Afzal Guru, an Indian from Kashmir, who is on death row for plotting a bomb attack on Parliament could also be seen as an extreme exercise in freedom of expression, to send across a message.

Where do we draw the line and does it then transform democracy into dictatorship? We do agree there are certain limits, and those apply to everyone. When a wannabe hero seeks the martyrdom of shackles, like any terrorist shaheed, he is insulting freedom and not making any profound statement in a society that gives you liberty.

Too much is made of sedition and treason, viewed as a Judas-like repugnancy. Why were those who protested against the treatment of Assam’s Muslims not seen as nationalists, even though they were drawing attention to the condition of people within the Indian state? The North East that has been neglected by the Centre became the flavour of the season. In what can be described as canny maneuvring, just when the ‘exodus’ forced people of North East origin working and living in other states to, interestingly, return home, those few Pakistani Hindus were seeking asylum in India.

It is the nature of such junk food political opportunism that these vital issues are now as stale as last month’s recycled joke.

“It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for something you are not.” – Andre Gide

We cannot watch Bacile from the corner of the eye, for he is not there. But security agencies use their imagination in frightening ways. Fear causes fear.

A while ago, the poet Mirza Ghalib was accused of inciting violence among members of SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India), a banned organisation with this verse.

“Mauje khoon ser se guzer hi kiyon na jay,

Aastane yaar se uth jaein kaya!”

The Maharashtra police’s affidavit quoted it as implication that it encouraged bloodshed. Khalid Mehmood, head of Jamia Millia Islamia’s Urdu department, transliterated it as “Whatever be the circumstances, we will not leave the place (country or home of the beloved) even if our heads are chopped off…”.

Even if the poetry was about bloodshed, as are many works of art and literature, would it be considered inspiration to hate and hurt after all these years? Does hate evolve into more hate? “Who says the Quran is a religion of peace?” they ask. It is not. It was created by the sword, as were all other religions – whether it was to fight an enemy for the good of humankind or force oneself into austerity to reach self-awareness. Such denial does show contempt for what is natural about the human body and its needs as much as slaying the opponent or believing in superiority.

Such elitism drags in the underworld or the foreign hand. It degrades the larger social discourse regarding mob mentality.

Hate speech is a rather difficult term to define.

Praveen Togadia of the rightwing RSS said, “Ten tribal students from Assam attacked by Muslims in Pune. Attackers shouted, ‘Revenge for Kokrazar’. What if 100 crore Hindus shout the same?”

He is using ten against the entire Hindu population. This is part of the supremacy of race discourse where one person assumes it is all right to speak on behalf of the whole race.

Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi did something similar when he made a statement in Parliament that “If proper rehabilitation does not take place, you be ready for a third wave of radicalization among Muslim youth…”

At a rally by godman Baba Ramdev, former Army Chief Gen (retd) V K Singh talked about “tough action” if corruption is not dealt with. “Ex-servicemen should come forward and take over the mantle.”

India prides itself in keeping the army away from political decisions. His statement displays his loathing for civilian rule. Around the time he was gloating about armymen “trained as leaders”, a group of jawans were protesting outside the houses of officers against their mistreatment.

16 years after the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the riots that followed, the Central Bureau of Investigation challenged a High Court judgement and indicted the senior-most leader of the rightwing BJP, L.K.Advani:

“Before the demolition started and during the course of demolition, various accused persons including the eight named in the FIR of crime no. 198/92, made provocative slogans from the manch (dais) causing the assembly to turn unlawful resulting in rioting and storming of the structure by the kar sevaks. As and when the domes fell, the accused leaders and others on the manch celebrated the same by clapping, hugging each other and distributed sweets on the manch which was at a visible distance of 175 metres from the disputed structure. All the offences of shouting of provocative slogans creating enmity between two communities, affecting national integration as well as the demolition of the structure and assault on media persons not to create (sic) record of what was going on, formed part of the same transaction and could not be separated from each other.”

This is the political party that may well return to power in the next general elections in India. No one seems particularly concerned. In discussions, this crucial evidence of culpability is not mentioned.

During the Gujarat riots of Feb 28, 2002, the chief minister told his police officers to let the local Hindus “vent their anger”. Narendra Modi is glorified in the international media. He appears on the cover of Time magazine. The latest is Forbes India that asks, “Is he a necessary evil?” Indeed, it reveals the nature of abhorrence.

It is a matter of sustainability that begs the questions: Are all forms of dissent democratic? Does permissive democracy always mean true freedom?

In a democracy of contrived opposition, hate cannot be expunged. The individual identity is lost in the hyperbole of hordes.

Farzana Versey is a Mumbai-based writer. She can be reached at


Farzana Versey can be reached at Cross Connections