Mrs. Shagufta Parween
The University of Burdwan
The aim of this paper is to explore the long-term traumatic impact of fundamentalism as presented in Githa Hariharan’s novel Fugitive Histories (2009). Fundamentalism is a major area of concern for all in contemporary times. In India, instances of fundamentalist violence such as the Babri demolition (1992), the 2002 violence, militancy in Kashmir, the terror attacks in Mumbai (1993, 2008), on the Indian Parliament (2001), and on the Akshardham temple (2002); increasing vigilantism by fanatical groups and the many individual and collective instances of religious violence have deeply impacted the public and personal lives. As a socially conscientious writer, Hariharan has selected the 2002 violence and critiqued it in her powerful novel and laid bare the overt and latent damages caused by fundamentalism. Fundamentalism today cannot be sidelined as a fanatical pursuit of fringe groups as it has pathologically seeped into society and created a mass base. It operates in the name of a holy war. The so called holy war of the fundamentalists is directed against a well-defined target that is construed both as a rival (competitor and opponent) and an enemy (one who hates and desires harm). The enemy may be from within the society or from outside. In either case he is pushed into the category of the ‘other’ with negative traits of evil and malice thrust upon him. Religious wrath thrives on limiting binary notions of the self / other, us / them. This binary is constructed so as to make the targeted person (enemy) devoid of positive human traits and project him as a person with fearful, repulsive, or bestial characteristics. For, if the enemy is not demonized in such a manner, then the humanity of the fundamentalist will itself be rendered questionable. To legitimize their own wrongdoings the targeted individual or group is first separated from the self. The ‘other’ in the fundamentalist reckoning is construed in opposition to one’s own self rather than on difference (non-identity) from the ‘self’.1 In their imagination the ‘other’ becomes a person on whom all the negative aspects of the human personality is projected (Kakar 362). The ‘other’ embodies vile traits as cruelty, anger, avarice, lust, incivility and barbarity. The ‘other’ is, thus, made abhorrent. The ‘other’ is also conceptualized as the source of fear continually threatening the self with the danger of annihilation (real or imagined). The ‘other’ is made detestable for embodying the base human characteristics but also projected as an enemy to be feared for it is also a danger to the ‘self’. In addition, the ‘other’ is also the repository of evil and therefore, needs to be defeated and expunged from the immediate society. The ‘other’ is ungodly and false for the ‘other’ worships another god and therefore challenges the highest and the most sacred conviction of the community. Since the other negates the divinity or religious beliefs of the group, the ‘other’ needs uncompromising rebuttal so that the divine sanctity of one’s own group may be retained. As the ‘other’ defies one’s customs or indulges in practices contrary to one’s religion he is a sinner who needs punishment. The presence of the ‘other’ amidst the believers is further considered as contaminating and defiling. Purging the society of the impure ‘other’ becomes necessary for maintaining the purity of the ‘self’ and the group. Eliminationist and destructive fantasies regarding the ‘other’, thus, find easy ground in the fanatical reckoning. The ‘other’ is thus the base human nature to be despised, the enemy to be feared and vanquished, and the evil to be eliminated. This perverse logic can be seen to work as the foundational base for hatred and attacks on those who are thrust into such category. If communities have history of persecution or conflict (as Hindu suffering under some Muslim rulers in India) to which the ‘other’ can be even remotely associated, then the consequences are damning. The socio-economic differences at the level of lived experience, too, harden the self / other binary causing fierce enmity. Any incident or situation having sensitive religious signification can have deadly ramifications in such hostile conditions. For the upholders of the binary paradigm, violent fury is the most opted way to express their antagonism.