Why I felt insulted reading Modi's tweet on Orlando massacre

When his government didn't even let a Bill to decriminalise homosexuality to be introduced in Parliament, he goes tweeting 'shock' at another homophobic crime.

 |  Angiography  |  8-minute read |   13-06-2016
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As the world comes to term with the worst mass shooting incident in the history of the United States of America, condolences from the country leaders - some heartfelt, some routine platitude - are pouring in from every corner. The Orlando massacre has stretched the limits of American patience with its own reckless gun culture, its glorification of the rifle-toting military, its homegrown homophobia (despite legalising gay marriage in all 50 of its states) and the vicious cocktail of Donald Trump brand of Islamophobia and the remote-controlled extremism to suit jihadi ends of terrorist outfits like ISIS.

Like many other national leaders, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too, has tweeted out his reaction.

On the face of it, it's the most polite of condolences, making no overt political connection between any factions and siding with no particular ideological camp - neither with the victims, nor with the perpetrator - and is completely in-keeping with his illustrious and important office.

orlando-modi-use-emb_061316080124.jpg An injured person being carried to safety at Orlando massacre site. (TV grab)

Yet, the point to note is this: this airy tweet does not condemn the collective driving forces behind such heinous crimes - such as availability of assault rifles for purchase even for someone like Omar Mateen, who had supposedly been on "FBI watch-list"; an unchecked trigger-happy militarism, and, more specifically, the rank anti-LGBTQ sentiments behind Mateen's utterly violent act, something we see resonated in at least 77 countries of the world, and particularly in India.

However, Modi's Orlando reaction must be looked at in comparison with his responses, expressions of empathy, sympathy, a whiff of grief, any emotion whatsoever over incidents such as the fatal and engineered Dadri lynching, the beating to death of Congolese student Masonda Ketanda Olivier, or the deplorably anti-gay stance of many within his government and party, with Baba Ramdev proudly proclaiming his "cure for homosexuality" and going practically unruffled by any setback.

(Broken?) silence on Dadri

Let's look at how Narendra Modi "broke [his] silence" on the Dadri murder of Akhlaq. As per mainstream media reports, the PM, at a Bihar Assembly poll campaign rally in Nawada on October 9 last year, said, "People are making all kinds of statements are being made for the sake of politics. Don't listen to them. Even if Narendra Modi says something like that, don't listen. The country has to remain one. There has to be unity, peace and harmony. Only these can take Bharat forward."

Where's Dadri in this supposed "Dadri speech"? As Mukul Kesavan so scathingly puts it, "The speech is a study in self-righteousness, boilerplate and deflection. Mohammad Akhlaq's murder by a mob of gau rakshaks isn't mentioned, not even as a peg on which to hang his generalities about unity and harmony. That BJP members had been in the vanguard of the mob, that BJP party bearers, MLAs, MPs, and two union ministers had, variously, produced rationalisations for the lynching, dismissed it as an 'accident', exhorted the police to file an FIR against the dead man and his ravaged family and persisted with the bogey of cow-slaughter in the face of all the evidence, was never even acknowledged."

It is clear that the ostensible "breaking of silence" was actually a perpetuation of that murderous silence, the same silence that emboldens BJP party workers, MLAs and MPs to strategically air their well-planned hate speeches, and get away with it. That the Dadri murder has now been turned on its head after a Mathura lab said it was "beef" and not mutton, as the veterinary clinic in Dadri had initially said in the wake of the violence (after a piece of meat from the refrigerator was sent for forensic testing when a murdered man's corpse lay in a pool of blood) is obviously telling.

Forget getting justice, the curfew-like situation in Bisada and the vanguards of anti-beef brigade now looking to file a police complaint have left Akhlaq's family in perpetual fear of being locked up, or made mince-meat of by the cow belt crusaders, who nevertheless have zero problem shooting to kill the "vermin" nilgai.

orlando-modi_061316080041.jpg Screenshot of PM Narendra Modi's tweet on Orlando shootout. 

Homophobia in India

Returning to the prime minister's tweet, the "bereaved families and injured" that he is offering his "thoughts and prayers" to, are families of (now dead, butchered) homosexual persons. What chance in Modi's homophobic Bharat Mata did they stand, anyway? Had they been Indian citizens, they would have had to lurk around in the shadows of what's legal in India and what's not, because as per Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, their sexuality is "against the order of nature".

After Supreme Court in one of its blackest of judgements on December 11, 2013 reinstated Section 377, which was earlier, in 2009, read down by Delhi High Court in a landmark verdict, and said it was up to the legislature to deal with the law, there has been gloom and doom in India's LGBTQ circuits.

But in February this year, the Supreme Court agreed to refer a "curative petition" contesting its 2013 judgment to a five-person bench of judges, and therefore, admitted that even the highest judicial institution of the land is not closed off to a critical and argumentative challenge, especially in the context of human rights and their structural, "legitimate" violations.

Yet, instead of being proactive in getting rid of this nauseating colonial law, which has been duly dropped in the mother country (the UK), the Narendra Modi government has in fact actively blocked any initiative in that direction.

While homophobic rants from Sangh Parivar and its assorted celebrity endorsers such as Baba Ramdev have been aplenty, the most blatant display of this mindset happened when Shashi Tharoor's private member bill on decriminalising homosexuality and reading down Section 377 did not even manage to get a basic introduction in the floor of the House. Another recent let down occurred when RSS joint general secretary, Dattatreya Hosabale, announced at India Today Conclave 2016 that "sexual preferences are personal issues" to thundering applaud, only to do a complete turnaround a day later.

Narendra Modi, on his part, has never condemned homophobia directly, nor has he chastised the likes of Ramdev for making uncouth, anti-LGBTQ statements. While Muslims are living in open fear of a fresh communal riot a la Muzaffarnagar, or a small-scale lynching like Dadri, to befall them, even the gays are living under a penumbra of daily harassment by cops and blackmailers, facing ritual discrimination at workplaces, banks, restaurants, from property dealers, and many others who consider it a disease, a psychological case.

So what is Narendra Modi's stance on homosexuality? Does he toe the RSS line and believe the same things as Dattatreya Hosabale? We don't know for sure. That's the point: Narendra Modi will never take a direct, decipherable stance on any issue, so that the "fringe elements" of his party have a field day at doing whatever they do best - increasing the political toxicity of the national climate every time.

That Orlando massacre was a homophobic hate crime, while being the worst mass shooting incident in the history of America, and only second in its scale and impact to 9/11, hasn't gone unnoticed in global media and political circuits. But while Narendra Modi tweets his "shock" and condolences at the death toll, that he thinks nothing of the reasons behind the gravest and targeted attack on LGBTQ people, is extremely disturbing.


It is comfortable to hide under the rubric of "radical Islamic terrorism", a la Donald Trump, and ISIS or Al Qaeda, for some such distortion of faith to get its due share of the blame. But without putting his own house in order, and without condemning the blatantly anti-minority climate that is being actively fostered in poll-bound states such as Uttar Pradesh, his pious horror seems completely feigned.

That makes us wonder, what should be the shortest distance between the Indian prime minister's current location and an unfolding tragedy for him to express shock and horror? Well, at least many thousand miles and possibly with oceans in between.


Angshukanta Chakraborty Angshukanta Chakraborty @angshukanta

Former assistant editor, DailyO

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