The Politics of Denialism

denialist

/dɪˈnʌɪ(ə)lɪst/

noun

  • a person who refuses to admit the truth of a concept or proposition that is supported by the majority of scientific or historical evidence.
Raveesh Kumar, official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs in the Government of India.

“We see no locus standi for a foreign government to pronounce on the state of our citizens’ constitutionally protected rights,” asserted Raveesh Kumar the spokesperson for Ministry of External Affairs.

The comments came in the wake of the submission of a report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom submitted to the Congress each year, the report was submitted by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who is supposed to be visiting India on 25th June, hence provoking an immediate comment from the government.

Soon after Raveesh Kumar’s statement was released, the news was laden with fresh incidents of lynchings of Muslims in Kolkata and Jharkhand. A madrasa teacher was lynched by a mob in the train while traveling to Hoogly and was asked to chant Jai Sree Ram; luckily he escaped alive though with severe injuries.

Tabrez Ansari, a 24-year-old from Jharkhand was not so lucky. He was tied by a Hindutva mob and asked to chant Hindu religious slogans. He was mercilessly beaten for seven whole hours after which he was proclaimed dead. The government has denied the reports. Straight up denied.

Tabrez Ansari, a 24 year old was lynched by the hyper nationalists of Jharkhand

The US report on religious freedom constitutes separate chapters for different countries that entail the level of individual and personal freedom granted to citizens with regards to religion. The chapter on India starts with the claim that religious freedom in India has shown a continuous downward spiral trend and the reason behind this was touted to be the extremist groups of the same religious and political ideology as the ruling government.

Specific mentions are made at the very beginning about anti-conversion mobs and cow vigilante squads targeting Muslims and Dalits. Among the subheadings of the report are mentions of Hindutva groups enabled by the BJP that have the not-so-subtle approval of the ruling party , the anti-muslim Citizenship bill in Assam, intercommunal violence against women like the Kathua gangrape of a 6-year-old along with innumerable instances of mob violence. What needs to be noted is that there is absolutely nothing in the report that will come as “news” to Indians. There are mentions of everyday communal violence that are plastered on our news channels and papers.

Reports of Hate Crime cases have spiked in India

Here is the report supporting the fact about the spiking crime rate in India in the name of Bharat Mata.

Urge for Western Validation

Artwork by @caricatured

Moreover, several data included in the report have Indian sources, the very Indian sources that have tried to get government attention for more than 5 years now. So, why is it that the MEA felt the need to comment on a foreign report. It could be that they wanted to put a dead end to the conversation even before it starts during the visit of Mike Pompeo. But experience tells us, the Indian media, the Indian public and moreover the BJP government, no matter how much they deny it, are obsessed with western validation.

Even though the MEA gave no reasons as to why they chose to reject the report, they couldn’t have chosen to ignore it just like they choose to ignore several indian media houses and surveys. The pitfalls of the present government are so humungous that not even whataboutery aimed at congress serves any good anymore, it’s straight up denial now.

West would never understand how India should be governed. Image Source: Rediff

The very basis of rejecting this report was to subtly invoke the sovereignty of the country and perhaps to imply that Americans do not understand how India works; this idea resonates well with the sentiments of the Indian right wing. The Indian public is largely in a tug of war between an inferiority complex with regards to the development of western nations and harbours aspirations to emulate the same (there is a reason why the BJP has massive support from the NRIs) VS the invocation of past Indian glory and the supremacy of Indian social structure and ethos. Whenever a western source condones anything Indian, the media and the politicians leave no stone unturned to make sure it is plastered on every public domain, the other times when western sources condemn India, all of a sudden we take mock offense at our “Indianness”  and claim “The West doesn’t know”. It is turned into Indians vs the west and more recently Modi vs the bias of the United States Of America.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Perhaps even the West does not realize the gravity of western condoning or condemnation in Indian politics especially as of now. For weeks every western report is discussed in media rooms and shared and reshared by ministers and bureaucrats. An oversimplification would be to view it as the supporters and opposers of Narendra Modi looking towards West as quarreling siblings look up to their parents for taking sides. Whoever gets this western cookie is the winner of the match.

PM Modi receiving the King Abulaziz Sash Award from Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz

More recently, there is much debate about the level of western approval of Prime Minister Modi and his cabinet. I keep saying “western” without specifically mentioning which western countries or which surveys or commissions because that’s exactly how it is. The Indian public is still enamored by foreign sounding names and the colonial hangover is yet to leave their minds and merely an English sounding name is more than enough to seal debates and win discussions. It is the best of times and it is the worst of times for the government in this regard because of the various conflicting stance of various western sources. The MEA which shuns western judgements on Indian society right now has forgotten the history of the prime minister and his global records.

Some of the foreign feathers in his cap are Order of St. Andrew of the Russian Federation, UAE’s highest honor- the Zayed Medal, the Philip Kotler Award, the Seoul Peace Prize and the Champions of Earth award of the UN.

The government was quick to congratulate and publicise the feats of the prime minister and the acclaim he has won on behalf of India. A common belief among Modi supporters is that India was erstwhile ignored by global leaders and it is Modi who has restored India’s self-respect.

Such foreign sounding awards help consolidate this argument. In this battle, what people forget to ask is what are these awards for and do they really mean anything except appealing to our collective foreign fetish?

The Kotler award was the first of its name to be ever awarded to anyone, if anything, attaching Modi’s name to the award boosted the award’s significance. Likewise, the Zayed medal from UAE or Saudi Arabia’s highest civilian honour conferred to Modi are mere diplomatic tactics that are nothing more than symbolic honorific badges.

British Herald POLL says Modi is world’s most powerful leader. Image Source: Scroll.in

Similarly, a British newspaper by the name The British Herald declared Modi as the “Most Powerful Leader”. The report was widely shared by BJP ministers. Upon further investigations by netizens that The British Herald was owned by an Indian and has close to no credibility. No information on the technique and demographics of data collection in the survey was provided. Post the boost given to the Newhouse by BJP ministers, the Herald saw a boost in its traffic.

One would think that when such dubious sources create such a ripple in Indian politics, what would authentic, credible sources do? Nothing. They are brushed aside. Last year, Thompson Reuter survey that declared India as “The Most Dangerous Country for Women” was widely denounced not just by the government but it’s supporters as well.

PM Modi receives UN’s Champions Award

Further, when Narendra Modi was awarded the Champions of the Earth award by the UN it came as a massive shock to several environmentalists. The environment is actually one of the most downplayed disasters of the Modi regime.  There have been unprecedented mining operations and large-scale deforestation, tribals are being ousted from virgin landscapes and fertile land is being allotted to factories at dirt rates. The (in)famous Sardar Patel statue in Gujrat alone was responsible for the uprooting of 70 plus tribal villages which the government and media pretended do not exist. Most of the environment-oriented policies of the government have been merely greenwashed, such as the campaign to clean Ganga is yet to convene a single meeting, the National Clean Air Programme is merely ambitious sounding with no specific targets or workplan and even the much-hyped Swachcha Bharat has failed to come up with any results.

 

Between 2014 and 2018, the forest loss was 1,22,748 ha with the maximum loss being reported in the year 2016 (30,936 ha) and 2017 (29,563 ha). (DH File Photo)

In five years of NDA rule, India lost more than 1,20,000 hectares of primary forests, which is nearly 36% more than the loss of forest and tree cover between 2009 and 2013

The biggest statistical evidence for this lies in the Environmental Performance Index, where India was ranked the fourth-worst country (177) in the world out of 180 countries last year. Five years ago, India was ranked 155th.

So who is to be trusted? The prestigious sounding awards or the alarming reports? How selective is the denial of the government and is it just denial or the politics of denialism? Why does the MEA spokesperson need to address the entire media and nation only to outright deny something? The answer is given by Naomi Klein in her book “This Changes Everything”.

She writes, “the true purpose of such gatherings is to provide die-hard denialists to collect the rhetorical cudgels…the talking points tested here will jam the comment sections beneath every article and YouTube video…they will also fly from the mouths of hundreds of right-wing commentators and politicians”. What Klein says in the context of climate change denials is applicable to all sorts of scientific and political denialism. It is the oldest trick in the book. You are not accountable for a problem if you deny its very existence. You pretend you do not know what they are talking about, but you make sure you say enough to provide fodder for rebuttals for your online army and lynch mobs.

It would be unfair to assume that western sources are running some expose on Indian society. Several Indian surveys including the NCRB and ministry of minority affairs have admitted to the dramatic rise in hate crimes against religious minorities and Dalits since 2014. The only difference is that western reports are at least thought of deserving of recognition whereas Indian reports, no matter the credibility are simply brushed aside, they do not even make it to the headlines, they aren’t even graced with denials.

And that is the irony of it all, Indian newspapers screaming out reports of lynchings and abuse with evidence are quietly ignored, whereas western reports are compulsory to be addressed. The confluence of right-wing arguments and fake news, indifference and colonial hangover makes the public a little more un-empathetic each day. Perhaps it is underestimated how troublesome denialism can play out to be in the long run. The government officials literally choose to deny and turn a blind eye to all pieces of evidence and protests and the funny thing is, the ease with which they are able to do so.

The entire burden of proof shifts on the opponents who generate a mountain of data and proof that is discredited in the blink of an eye. As mentioned by Michael A. Milburn and Sheree D. Conrad in their book “The politics of Denial”, denialism is rooted in authoritarianism. Its very essence is unscientific and obstinate. It is an insult to the intelligence of the citizens of a country that the government can easily deny something that we see and experience every single day. It is a very effortless attempt at pretending everything is under control while the nation is ravaged. And ridiculously enough, people are believing their lies and disbelieving their eyes.

Hanan Irfan
Hanan Irfan

A voracious reader, writer, literary critique, social activist, engineer, and a raging feminist. A political enthusiast and a feverish debater. Ever likely to be found around a stack of books, free Wi-Fi and a power point. Tries to paint and fails.

3 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Give us a tip

Share some exclusive stories and get credit

Looking for a website? Let it be a company website or a portfolio one, we got you covered. Let’s talk about your requirements or something about that brewing web idea in your mind. 

© 2019 CodeSteak LLP

Newsletter 

Subscribe to our newsletter for regular updates.