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Need for Dialogue

Sachidananda Mohanty

By Angana P. Chatterji
Three Essays Collective, Gurgaon, 2009, pp. 469, Rs. 500.00


In this impassioned study based on what the inside cover of the volume describes as ‘situated reflections, story telling and ethnographic accounts,’ Angana P. Chatterji, a social and cultural anthropologist at the California Institute of Integral Studies, in the United States, attempts to understand organized Hindu majoritarianism in the eastern province of Orissa. The present work was conducted between June 2002 and June 2008, over sixteen trips. (p.27).   For Chatterji, the claim of Orissa as a ‘peaceful’ state confirms a political lie. The façade of peace, she argues, deliberately conceals social fault lines and violent tectonic shifts that erupt in periodic riots in places like Rourkela, Cuttack, Bhadrak, and most recently Kandhamal.   Violence, Chatterjee says, is the ubiquitous fact of life of modern Orissa. This violence, maniacal and primordial in its fury and sweep, in varying ‘physical, psychological, social cultural, economic, representational and political forms, has been crucial to maintaining majoritarian dominance.’ (p.36).There is consequently a growing divide within the society in terms of ‘Hindu, non-Hindu’, ‘authentic-inauthentic’, ‘patriotic, anti -national’ categories.   Indeed, Orissa, according to Chatterji, has become a poisonous Hindutva laboratory. There is a deadly mix of feudalism and anti - minority pogroms here. The actual fear of the ruling class/caste seems to be the destabilization of upper caste mythologies.   The good-bad binary persists. If Rajasthan and Orissa are bad, then Left ruled West Bengal and Kerala are good, (p.39). (This was before the routing of the Left by the so-called ‘Soft Hindutva’ Congress Party in the recent elections and the defeat of the B.J.P. in the Orissa elections).   Chatterji reminds us of crucial historical events: ‘Hinduness’ defined in 1923 by V.D Savarkar and the Hindu Mahasabha’s formation in 1915; The Muslim League opening its centre in Cuttack in February 1938 and The Hindu Mahasabha its office in the temple town of Puri in 1940. Riots breaks out in Rourkela in 1964 following the arrival of a train- load of Hindu refugees from the then East Pakistan. In 1968, there are communal riots in Cuttack city. In all these, Chatterji sees uniformly the hands of the R.S.S and its affiliates.She finds little merit in the Hindutva grievances. After all, places of worship were destroyed historically by rival parities in equal measure as symbols of political and military dominance. Orissa’s Muslims justifiably speak of a ‘rooted exile’. (p.145)   Divided into five sections, ‘Memory – Mourning’, ‘Dispositif’ , ‘Impunity’, ‘Erasures’ ...

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