At about 8 pm on 6 May 2017, a group of over 50 protestors gathered outside the Mehrauli police station in Delhi. Among the protestors were several members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh; the local councillor Arti Yadav, a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party; and her husband Gajendra Yadav, the state secretary for the BJP in Delhi. The protestors gathered again the next day. That morning, a person present at the protest later told me, Manoj Tiwari, the head of the BJP in Delhi, also visited the station.
Let’s be clear: Hindi is not the rashtrabhasha or national language of the Indian union. According to the Constitution, Hindi is only the official language of the union
, intended to be used by the arms of the central government, in addition to English. The Constitution notes that no state or its government is required to use Hindi within its boundaries. It does not term anything as a “national language,” and tacitly acknowledges that the Indian union is an agglomeration of ethno-linguistic nationalities that have their own languages. Yet, the untruth that Hindi is our national language is peddled by many, including union ministers—in September 2016, the Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that
Hindi “has been accepted by us as” a national language; in April 2017, the Information and Broadcasting Minister Venkaiah Naidu referred to it
as “the national language.”
Spility Lyngdoh, an 85-year-old woman, was in her twenties when she moved from Wahkaji to Domiasiat—both villages in the South West Khasi Hills in Meghalaya. Domiasiat is 135 kilometers from Shillong, the state’s capital. In the 1960s, Lyngdoh got married and moved to Domiasiat with her husband, where she cultivated the land and reared cattle. In 1984, the Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMD)—a unit under the department of atomic energy that is responsible for locating minerals necessary to implement the nation’s atomic-energy plan—discovered high-quality uranium
on the Domiasiat hill. On 6 March 2017, I met Lyngdoh at her house in Domiasiat. Lyngdoh recalled that in 1991, labourers employed by the Uranium Corporation of India Ltd (UCIL), a central-government enterprise under the department of atomic energy, who were exploring for uranium in the area, warned her about the ill-effects it had on their health. “That’s when I decided not to sell my land,” she told me. “No matter how much money UCIL offered me years later, I never wanted to sell.”
On 4 May 2017, the Bombay High Court upheld a sessions court decision convicting 11 people of committing the gang rape of Bilkis Yakub Rasool, a 19-year-old pregnant woman often referred to as Bilkis Bano, and the murder of 14 members of her family, during the Gujarat riots of 2002. The sessions court had sentenced the convicts to life imprisonment, which the high court upheld. The court also set aside the acquittals of others who were accused in the case, including Gujarat police officers.
On 26 March 2017, Mangalam TV, a Malayalam-language news channel, made its debut on Kerala’s airwaves. The channel hit the ground running—at about 11.15 am, it aired an audio clip
of a conversation that allegedly included the then transport minister of the state, AK Saseendran, a 71-year-old member of the Nationalist Congress Party. In the clip, a man—Mangalam TV claimed it was Saseendran—can be heard making sexually explicit remarks. “Hug me tightly,” the man can be heard saying, in Malayalam. “Come, remove your clothes, let me see your breasts.” The channel edited out the other side of this exchange—it claimed that Saseendran had made these comments to a housewife who had called him seeking help, and who had later handed a recording of the call to the channel. “A minister who is an insult to the ministry,” the screen read as the edited clip played.
On 11 April 2017, the Lok Sabha passed the Human Immuno Deficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2014 or the HIV/AIDS Bill. Since the Rajya Sabha had passed the bill on 21 March, this day marked the passage of the bill by the parliament. JP Nadda, the union health minister, hailed its passage as “historic
,” and a plethora of politicians in both houses lauded the bill and the health minister. Shrikant Shinde of the Shiv Sena congratulated the health minister for bringing forward an “important bill
.” Ratna De, of the Trinamool Congress, called it a “landmark bill,” while Jairam Ramesh from the Congress expressed his support for the bill by saying it would be passed “unanimously and enthusiastically
.” However, the bill received a tepid reception from those it is intended to benefit—people who are living with HIV—and the civil society organisations that support them.
Audrey Truschke is an assistant professor of South Asian History at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. Her work focuses on the cultural, imperial, and intellectual history of early modern and modern India. Trushke’s book, Aurangzeb: The Man and the Myth, released in 2017, is a historical reassessment of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, one of the most prominent figures of seventeenth-century India. Aurangzeb’s historical legacy is widely contested—in public discourse, the Mughal emperor is often seen as a tyrannical Muslim fanatic, who ordered the destruction of Hindu places of worship. However, Truschke is among several scholars who insist that this depiction of Aurangzeb is both misleading and ahistorical. “The historical Aurangzeb fails to live up (or down) to his modern reputation as a Hindu-despising Islamist fanatic,” she said in a recent interview
On 25 March 2017, a fire broke out at the Ordnance Factory Khamaria
, or OFK, located in Jabalpur. The factory, which operates under the Ordnance Factory Boards (OFB)—the government’s defence manufacturing division—was established in 1942. It manufactures ammunition for the Indian army, air force and navy. News reports stated that a series of over 20 explosions took place at the factory, the first of which was at around 6.30 pm. The fire was put out by around 9.30 pm, three hours after it had first started. Since most of the workers employed with the factory had left by evening, nobody was injured and no lives were lost. However, had the incident taken place even an hour earlier, the situation would have been drastically different.
In Shadow Armies: Fringe Organizations and Foot Soldiers of Hindutva, Dhirendra K Jha, a senior journalist, reports on eight groups that are affiliated, in one form or another, with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). These include the Sanatan Sanstha, a radical group that was suspected of being linked to the murders of the rationalists Narendra Dabholkar, MM Kalburgi and Govind Pansare; the Hindu Yuva Vahini, a youth organisation with a history of violence and arson, whose founder, Yogi Adityanath, was recently appointed chief minister of Uttar Pradesh; and the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, the Sikh arm of the RSS. “Whenever these other bodies create a controversy, the RSS and the BJP promptly label them ‘fringe organizations.’ The fact, however, is that they are active parts of the Sangh Parivar, working as buffer organizations,” Jha writes in the introduction to the book. “The brazen acts required to create polarization in our society are often carried out by these very establishments.”
On 24 April 2017, the Bombay High Court granted bail to Pragya Singh Thakur
, a former national executive member of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, in the 2008 Malegaon blasts case. On 29 September 2008, two bombs concealed in a motorcycle had exploded
in the Muslim-dominated town of Malegaon in Maharashtra. Four persons were killed in the blast and 79 others injured. The investigation into the blasts was initially conducted by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), which filed its chargesheet in January 2009. In it, the ATS named 14 persons, including Thakur. She was arrested in October 2008. The ATS alleged that Thakur
was one of the masterminds behind the blast. It stated that she owned the bike associated with the blast, and had given it to a co-accused Ramchandra Kalsangra, who planted the bomb and placed it at the blast site. The evidence the ATS presented against Thakur included statements from witnesses and co-accused, which placed her at meetings planning the blasts before its execution.