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  • Meena Kandasamy

The Fall of the Berlin Wall (Munich Literature Festival)

9 November 1989. Berlin.

The fall of the wall, the fall of the wall, the fall of the wall. Depending on the interpreter-copywriter: the disintegration of Communism and the triumph of Capitalism; the victory of people over an iron-clad surveillance state; or, the belief that all walls will one day be brought down.

Today: Capitalist corporations carry out surveillance beyond the powers of any state.

Today: A President gets elected in America on the promise of wall-building.

Today: We still draw lessons from history.

9 November 1989.

Let me shift the center, the gaze, the prism of letting in light.

For long, for long enough perhaps, we have watched the world-wars ridden West bleed and bedazzle us.

For long, we have allowed our histories to be marginal and anecdotal; for long we have let our fates intertwine with those of our colonisers. We were footballed between their fancy boots. Colonialism, like free-market capitalism, celebrates only its own powers of choice: Madras, my birth city fell under French control in 1746, soon it was bartered back to the British in exchange for Louisbourg, a township in Nova Scotia, North America. For long, we have not only been denied the right to self-govern, but even the choice on who would enslave us.

For long, we have been the chips in someone else’s poker games.

9 November 1989. Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, India.

Something happened in my country that would change its history forever. After months of charged, riot-inciting, mass mobilization around the issue of building a temple in Ayodhya for Ram—a Hindu god—at the site of a 16th century mosque, the consecration ceremony took place on this day. The state had backtracked in the face of communal violence, and, had made a concession to rightwing, majoritarian, bloodthirsty Hinduism in allowing this foundation-stone laying ceremony to take place. In the India Today, Pankaj Pachauri wrote: “A mere hole in the ground, 7-ft long, 7-ft wide and 7-ft deep, may become the graveyard of communal harmony.” More than 200,000 villages had sent bricks for the construction of the proposed temple. More than a 100 million people attended the various processions that accompanied the bricks to and from Ayodhya. In the widespread communal tensions that flared, the BJP, the rightwing Hindu party that governs India now, had increased its seat-share from 2 seats in the Parliament to 88 seats in the 1989 elections. More than half of these seats were in constituencies that had witnessed violence and polarization along religious lines.

Having tasted blood, the hypermasculine, ultra-violent Hindu majoritarian juggernaut—rallying under the broad mother organization (RSS/Sangh Parivar) were in no mood to backtrack. On 6 December 1992, their onslaught of religious hatred culminated in a daylight demolition of the Babri Masjid—under the ruse of a rally of 150,000 kar sevaks at the site of the mosque, armed with crowbars and hammers, and all the paraphernalia of destruction, the structure was reduced to stones and dust—an event that had taken months of secret preparation, training and enactment.

In the riots that erupted across the country, more than 2000 people, most of them Muslim, lost their lives.

Thirty years later, the dispute remains unresolved, and the issue of the Ram temple at Ayodhya remains a ready-to-explode landmine. Under a rabidly rightwing government that has time and time again portrayed Muslims as outsiders and foreigners and anti-nationals, the Sunni Wakf Board that owns the land on which the mosque stood has even put forth a proposal that they will give away the title deed to the temple if only other mosques around the country could be vouchsafed their safety. The Hindu rightwing has rejected this offer. As a country, we await the final judgment from the Supreme Court---with the full knowledge that we have lost the last shreds of communal tolerance as a society. We await the judgment in fear and in horror—-aware that the nightmare of religious hatred has already torn us apart.

9 November 1989:

This was thirty years ago.

This concerns a fifth of the planet’s population.

This contains an ongoing struggle against the new forces of neo-Fascism—forces who have gleefully made their pack with greedy corporations, forces who are indulging in daylight ethnic cleansing, forces who are condemning the poorest of the poor—the indigenous tribes—to structural extinction.

This is a an ongoing struggle, but this is also history unfolding itself, a history that is no stranger to Germany.

“Berlin walls must fall.”

The clamour of a divided people—carried over the waves, over the news-waves, quickly became the rallying cry of big business.

On 1 August 1991, the Indian industrialist JRD Tata wrote in the Times of India, “Berlin walls must fall”—a demand for liberalisation and the market economy, the wall-metaphor referring to the few vestiges of state control that continued to be exercised in a post-colonial, independent nation. Capitalists were not victims of any kind in the creation of a new India—they sponsored their poster-boy Gandhi, they were the backbone of his freedom movement, they reaped every benefit that came through their proximity to power. Reforms—a masquerade-of-a-word to hide blatant selling out to the private sector—started to roll-in following a New Economic Policy of neoliberalisation. The capitalist class—in a caste-ridden country like India, comes from the Baniya caste—quickly traded-in the secular-sounding Congress and financed the rightwing Hindu BJP under whom they felt their economic interests would be further enhanced. In the elections held in May 2019, they ensured that BJP alone had two-thirds the income of all political parties combined.

What has come off this festival of neoliberalism? Thirty years later, nine richest Indians own more wealth than the bottom 50% of the country. Thirty years later, India ranks 102 out of 119 nations when it comes to children’s hunger: 3000 children die every day from starvation throughout the country. The withdrawal of the state from providing the basic speck of welfare has disastrous consequences on people already on the brink of destitution. A government that propelled itself to power on the bankroll of the free market gurus obeys its paymaster in absolute servility. Banks forgive bad loans to the tunes of billions. The highest court in the land facilitates corporate landgrab by evicting millions of forest-dwellers from the forests—numbering nearly a 100 million, India’s indigenous population is the largest in any country in the world, occupying 22% of the country’s terrain. In an effort to make India a Hindu country, the state pushes millions of people into statelessness. The walls have been crumbled and pulverized for the reign of the market, but new walls have come up between the people, between countries, between religions and castes.


(original English version of the text prepared for the Munich International Festival, November 2019, commemorating 30 years of the fall of the wall.)


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