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India, Aug. 4 -- 'Fascism' is best described as a kind of "radical authoritarian nationalism" which saw its roots in the early 20th century of Europe. It thrives on 'majoritarianism', where the more powerful (either with numbers or with resources) genuinely feel that there is no place for the weaker or for the minority sections. In the wake of neo-fascist trends emerging in several parts of the world today, it is good to take a close look at some of the characteristics which are embodied in this ideology; these include:

To create a false sense of 'nationalism'

Fascists normally try to unite their followers by creating a feeling that they and the country are one. They use loose terms like "they are the nation", "they are for all", "the country comes first". These terminologies are conveniently lapped up by their followers. Sooner or later, they create the bogey of an "outside" enemy which helps in rallying the people.

To denigrate the minorities / weaker sections

In the context of the above, fascist ideologies subtly and openly denigrate, demonise and attack the minorities and the weaker sections of their society. These groups just do not have a place in their scheme of things. At times, they are conveniently ignored and at other times, they are made to feel as though they are a major burden in the country; they are "terrorists", "they are out to convert you" are familiar words. The way Hitler exterminated the Jews, the Catholics, the gypsies, the nomads, the homosexuals, the writers and the poets of his times helps to illustrate this point.

To take-over / use the media for their agenda

Among the first take-overs by the fascists is that of mass media and communication. They do so either directly or through one of their honchos from the corporate sector. Once media is in their control, it is easy to manipulate gullible citizens. The way Josef Goebbels, the propaganda minister of Hitler regime was able to use the media so effectively on behalf of the Nazi regime is today termed 'Goebbelsian'. The fundamental axiom is "to tell a lie a thousand times and people believe it as the truth". What fascists conveniently do is to highlight issues of others and sweep under the carpet their own; e.g. a gang rape which takes place in an area which is not ruled by them is highlighted several times over by the media whereas a dozen more serious crimes in their own territory hardly find a mention.

To intimidate and harass independent writers / poets and social media activists

Even in the most totalitarian State, there will be those who cherish freedom of speech and expression and will not hesitate in writing about the truth and what will ultimately help others; fascists cannot tolerate such people and they are systematically hounded, denounced and even put in jail.

To take on human rights defenders and others who take a stand

Fascists brook no dissent. They are unable to deal with those who highlight their shortcomings and take a stand about it and also those who support the victims of injustice and accompany them in their struggle. So what is foisted on these groups of people are false cases, subtle leaks of "abuse" of power and money. Human Rights Defenders are always on the radar by fascist forces. Fascists are always afraid of the truth!

To manipulate education and distort school textbooks

This is one of the easiest ways by which fascists manipulate tender minds and provide them with an ideology which is one-sided, subjective and even perverted. History becomes something to be tampered with; replete with lies and falsehood. School textbooks then seriously violate the rights of children. Fiction is highlighted as historical facts. Those who conform to the ideology are made the editors / writers of school textbooks.

To divide and rule

This is a time-proven strategy of fascists anywhere - their ability to play one against the other; very specially from among those who seek to oppose them. Their methodology is very simple: they co-opt a few, through favours and other privileges and make these co-opted their 'spokespersons'. This creates great confusion among the rank and file of the opposition and it also helps in quelling voices of dissent.

To create fear and panic

Fascists are known to create fear and panic among sections of the masses. They normally start the fire but conveniently blame the other for this. Vulnerable groups (particularly the marginalized and minority communities) are really afraid to take on fascist forces because of long term repercussions to their lives, families, possessions, their work and livelihood. Panic and fear put people on the back-foot. Often key leaders or spokespersons are either killed or literally made 'impotent' through false cases and frivolous charges.

To infiltrate realms of governance

Fascism is not a phenomenon that happens overnight. It begins in innocuous and subtle ways; those who follow their ideology are placed in ordinary and in key positions in the bureaucracy, in the judiciary, in the media, the police and in other significant institutions. Over the years, these officials are able to deliver; before one realizes fascists have their people running and controlling everything that matters. To be wedded to the corporate sector The corporate sector, which is normally market-driven and who seeks their own profits, is normally wedded to fascists who can take quick and hard decisions on their behalf. So if a certain environmental clearance is needed, a multi-national knows that they will easily have the clearance even if they violate standard norms or their land acquisition is faulty. Several from the corporate sector will do plenty of flag-waving for fascists who are able to deliver on their terms and conditions. Fascists have plenty of resources available to them.

To defocus from ground reality

When the ground reality becomes too hot for them to handle, fascists normally try to defocus in a very clever way - they change not only the tune but also the song. If one group is affected, they cleverly speak about "the whole country". If the issue is about communal violence, they use concepts like 'development'. Simultaneously, they will also ensure that their affiliates and associated organizations propagate their agenda blatantly.

The above are just some key characteristics to enable us to understand how the fascists operate. It is important that all of us look around and in a calm and mature way, do our part to ensure that the values enshrined in democratic traditions and upheld by the fabric of pluralism, are not compromised anywhere . (Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)

Desperately Seeking US Approval

This week ended with elated reports by the media of the successful talks between External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and US Secretary of State John Kerry. The strategic dialogue discussed wide ranging issues from cooperation in security and energy to commerce and investments. When Kerry uttered Prime Minister Narendra Modi's slogan 'Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas' in Hindi, the happiness knew no bounds for the Indian side.

Around the same time US State Department has released a report on International Religious Freedom which has this to say about the Modi government in Gujarat:

Government Practices

On 27 August 2013, the Gujarat government told the Supreme Court it would prepare a plan for paying for the repair of the 535 mosques and shrines damaged during 2002 riots. This was a result of a ten-year legal battle by the Islamic Relief Committee- Gujarat.

The Gujarat government agreed to implement a 2008 central government minority scholarship program after the Supreme Court declined to stay an order of the Gujarat High Court directing the state government to implement it. The program is meant for Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, and Parsi students. In response to public interest litigation in the Gujarat High Court, the Gujarat government had argued the program was unconstitutional. According to media reports, administrative hurdles still acted as a deterrent to prevent many minorities from securing the scholarships.

The Gujarat government continued to expand the number of Muslim-dominated areas in Ahmedabad, the capital city, designated as "disturbed" under the law. During the year, authorities listed areas such as Gulberg Society and Naroda Patiya, which were some of the neighbourhoods worst affected by the 2002 riots, as "disturbed." A practical effect of the designation was requiring residents in these areas to obtain the district revenue official's permission before they could sell any immovable property. The requirement was to remain in effect until March 31, 2018. Critics stated that while the law's original intent was to stop the distressed or forced selling of properties in areas that experienced communal violence, in practice it has led to isolation by limiting the areas where Muslims could buy and sell property.

The Ahmedabad-based NGO Janvikas released a survey of socio-economic infrastructure in 63 areas of Muslim concentration across Gujarat, finding them lacking in access to infrastructure such as road links, banks, the public distribution system, healthcare, water, sanitation, and education. The Janvikas report stated these areas remained negatively affected by the 2002 riots, and that the Gujarat Housing Board-built housing failed to take into account the lack of security that Muslims and Hindus felt since the riots in areas where they were not the majority. The report concluded Muslims and Hindus tended to only reside in areas where they were a majority and where they had separate access to services.

Government Inaction

On July 3, the Gujarat government again extended the term of the Nanavati- Mehta Commission, which the government originally appointed in 2002 to investigate communal violence that resulted in the killing that year of more than 1,200 persons, the majority of whom were Muslim, and the displacement of over 250,000 people. The report was due at the end of the year. Civil society activists continued to express concern about the Gujarat government's failure to arrest those responsible for the violence. Media reports continued to indicate some Muslims still feared repercussions from Hindu neighbours as they waited for the court cases to be resolved. Several victims accused the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court in March 2008 of pressuring them to dilute their earlier testimony before the commission.

Hundreds of legal cases remained pending from the burning of a train and subsequent violence in Godhra, Gujarat in 2002. Muslims were accused of setting fire to the train, killing 58 people. In the anti-Muslim violence that followed, 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed. Zakia Jafri, whose husband was killed in the Gulberg Society Muslim neighbourhood during the 2002 violence, has tried since 2006 to register a complaint against 60 state officials for their alleged role in the 2002 violence. After years of investigation, the SIT decided in 2012 not to pursue any charges. In December a magistrate court rejected a protest petition filed by Jafri and upheld the SIT decision. Jafri said she intended to appeal to a higher court.

During the year courts in Gujarat convicted over 150 individuals in cases stemming from the 2002 Gujarat violence. Both prosecutors and defendants appealed the judgments, and the cases remained pending at year's end.

( rls/irf/religiousfreedom/index. htm#wrapper)

The International Religious Freedom Report for 2013 prepared by the U.S. Government's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour certainly is not happy with Gujarat and many other State/ Central governments in India. Reparations and Justice for 1985 Sikh riot victims to Kandhamal riot victims has been unsatisfactory as per the report. Muzzafarnagar riot in end 2013 is specifically mentioned in the executive summary under the heading, 'Discrimination, Impunity and Displacement of Religious Minorities'.

As India is desperately seeking for US approval, it would do well for the Indian government to remember what Kerry said on International Religious Freedom Day, "Nations that protect this fundamental freedom will have the partnership of the United States and the abiding commitment of the American people as we seek to advance freedom of religion worldwide."

We doubt whether the Indian politicians would take any pro- active measures to improve the country's international image. They would rather stick to what they are doing right now - encourage divisions in society to gain political mileage, keep pointing at the graver rights violations in China and Pakistan and be rest assured that if US could have good relations with those countries, we too stand a chance

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Indian Currents.

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Publication:Indian Currents
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Aug 4, 2014
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