Colours of terror

Union home minister P. Chidambaram’s recent quip on “saffron terror” has triggered a major debate on “religion and colour”, so to say.
Questions were raised on whether he was referring to Hindus in general or specifically to the Hindutva forces that don saffron robes and use terror to hit out at Islamic extremists and Muslims.
Obviously, Mr Chidambaram used “saffron terror” to refer to Hindutva fundamentalist forces that have been using bombs and lethal weapons to attack people.
It is pertinent that he used that phrase in a conference of DGPs/DIGs who were supposed to work out a strategy to control lawlessness and terror in several parts of the country.
Some Congress leaders — including Digvijay Singh — have opposed the usage “saffron terror” though Hindu fundamentalists do use terrorist methods like bomb explosions to finish off their enemies.
The Malegaon bomb blasts were planned and executed by a group of saffron-robed Hindu fundamentalists and they are under trial. Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and her team have been accused of engineering that operation exactly on the lines of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba.
Several Hindutva intellectuals across the country have attacked Mr Chidambaram ever since he used this phrase on August 25, though they had praised him when he attacked Maoist violence as “red terror”.
Once violence crosses the boundary of self-defence and is used to “punish” others for perceived crimes, it becomes terrorism. Hindu or Islamic or any other religious ideology cannot and should not be treated as an exception to this.
As there are several shades among the Hindu social forces, there are also several shades within the Communist socio-political forces.
Right-wing intellectuals use the phrase “red terror” to refer to all kinds of Communist violence, even in the context of Kerala and West Bengal, but they take offence at the very mention of “saffron terror”.
Mr Chidambaram’s usage has historical and contemporary significance. During the freedom movement, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr B.R. Ambedkar subscribed to the non-violent mode of agitation though they differed in their other ideological positions.
But the Hindu stream of nationalists always believed in violent attacks. In fact, Hindu Mahasabha and its ideologue Savarkar preached violence to overthrow the British.
Let us not forget the fact that while being anti-British, they also consistently remained anti-Muslim. While a difference between Hinduism as religion and Hindutva as an ideological agency is being drawn on the ground of violence and non-violence, such a line becomes thin if violence keeps expanding into every sphere.
Mr Digvijay Singh feels that Hinduism as a religious entity could also be referred to as “saffron” and he thinks Mr Chidambaram was wrong in tagging terror with it. He tried to draw a categorical dividing line between Hinduism and Hindu fundamentalism.
But the problem is that the relationship between a terrorist group that operates in the name of a particular religion and the traditional religious forces that operate within that same religion always criss-cross.
The discourse around the world is about where to draw a line between Islamic terrorists and Islam as a religion. Interestingly, the very same Hindutva intellectuals do not want any line to be drawn between Islamic terrorists and Islam as a religion.
Because the colour saffron is Vedic in origin, while constructing an alternative religion Gautama Buddha had used a slightly different colour. However, Buddhism as a religion has always kept away from using violent methods against enemies even in the worst of conditions. That is how Buddhism is different from other religions.
Though philosophically Buddha followed what is known as the middle path between Vedic methods and Jain methods, he remained firm in opposing violent resolution of conflicts.
Interestingly, Buddhism avoided the white colour of Jains but chose a colour that is very near to saffron — light maroon. To prevent confusion, Dr Ambedkar chose blue as the colour of Navayana Buddhism. But even Buddhist monks who accept Dr Ambedkar as the new avatar of Buddha do not use blue robes nowadays.
Gail Omvedt, an expert on Dalit-Buddhist ideology, says that Mr Chidambaram should have used the phrase “Hindu terrorism” instead of “saffron terrorism” since saffron is also used by Sri Lankan Buddhists.
One of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ideologues also wondered whether Mr Chidambaram would dare to use a phrase like “green terrorism” to refer to Islamic terrorists. Obviously, such a usage might invoke strong reactions from the Muslim world.
The symbolic expression of a religious ideology through a particular colour has become a norm.
Religions like Christianity and Judaism do not speak through a particular colour but religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam use a particular colour. In this context it is better to use very specific language while referring to a particular sect within a religion.
Perhaps Mr Digvijay Singh does have a valid point. But the same logic should also come to play when we use phrases like “red terror” and “red corridor”. Logic is logic after all.

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