A political activist, Shabnam Hashmi has been described most aptly as a ‘single person pressure group’. She is the founder of the NGO Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD), which was formed in the wake of the genocide in Gujarat.
“With every Ramjanmabhumi campaign or Rath Yatra, the ultra right wing forces have gained ground, both physically, and in the mind and hearts of the people… It is important for us, in our own capacities, to make people think and start questioning. We have to make a very concerted effort towards weaning people away from fascist forces.”
When and how did you conceptualize ANHAD?
We conceptualized ANHAD after the Gujarat carnage in 2002 and organized ourselves only by March next year. Although I had been working around the issue of communalism since the 1970s through Sahmat, the genocide in Gujarat made me realize the importance of fighting the communal ideology at an intellectual level.
What are the root causes of this communal ideology?
There is a long history of hate in India. What is happening right now is not communalism, but organized fascism. Its origins can be traced back to the formation of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh in 1925. Its Sanghchalaks (chiefs) met Mussolini and borrowed from him the principles of fascist ideology that continue to guide the Sangh Parivar.
Although the organization was responsible for the murder of Gandhi, it was always a peripheral force. Secular political forces spent their energies in rebuilding India in the hope that the politics of hatred followed by the RSS would never enter the Indian consciousness.
But over the years, they have infiltrated every space in India. With every Ramjanmabhumi campaign or Rath Yatra, the ultra right wing forces have gained ground, both physically, and in the mind and hearts of the people. For this they have used different strategies for different groups of people. The Vanvasi Kalyan Ashrams for the tribals and the new-age gurus like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar for the middle and upper middle classes are examples. The fact that several TV channels were showing the Ramayana the entire year before the Ramajanmabhumi campaign also shows the sort of detailed planning that has gone into this.
The minorities are being demonized and that is being used as an excuse to attack them and further segregate them. A fear psychosis is being created, not just in the minds of the minorities, but the majority as well. Modi’s victory immediately after the Gujarat carnage is an example. He made the majority community believe that if they didn’t choose him, they would not be safe. With every blast this fear multiplies. Thus, the minds of the people have been poisoned and this creates the need to fight fascist forces at an ideological level.
How significant a role can an organization like ANHAD play to this end?
We’re just a handful of people, and there are only few other organizations that are working towards this end. For every hundred people we are able to reach out to, the organized terror networks of the Sangh Parivar reach out to ten thousand. Given that, we play a very small role to this end. However, it is important for us, in our own capacities, to make people think and start questioning. We have to make a very concerted effort towards weaning people away from fascist forces.
Do you see the possibility of a third front emerging in the near future?
Yes, a third front is definitely needed in India. Groups like ours are constantly raising our voices and working round the clock, but we’re only a handful of us and cannot form a political force. Thus, it is important for the left and other secular forces to come together. In a fast changing world scenario, they must rethink their ways of mobilizing protest and reaching out to a greater number of people.
What sort of a role does the youth have to play in this process?
Young people have to take things in their hands. They must question and go beyond what is being fed to them, by the media as well as the state. They must fight prejudices within themselves. They’re the future of the country and therefore have a very important role to play. With every step that the right wing is gaining, there is more and more segregation. The youth should pledge to meet and know people from diverse backgrounds, interact with them, and celebrate the commonalities and differences in cultures and fight to save plurality and democracy.