We have created a political culture that feeds off hate: Revati Laul

Revati Laul talks about ‘The Anatomy of Hate’, the perpetrators of the Gujarat riots, and why their story needed to be told

Do we know what it feels like to be part of a mob? Revati Laul’s The Anatomy of Hate, shortlisted for The Hindu Prize for Non-Fiction, answers this question and raises several others about society’s propensity to hate. An excerpt from a short interview:

What made you want to tell the story of the perpetrators of the 2002 carnage?

I was based in Gujarat, reporting for NDTV the year after the 2002 pogrom against Muslims. And everywhere I went, Hindus would say — ‘You won’t understand why we took part in or supported the violence’. I thought to myself that I didn’t understand where the impetus for this kind of hatred of the other, the Muslim, came from. But then I went a step further and asked myself another question: wasn’t it important to find out why? We know academically the history of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, of the Hindu right wing etc., but do we know what it feels like to be part of a mob? The more I looked inside this space, the more I realised how crucial it was to tell the story of the perpetrators of violence. My favourite political scientist, Mahmood Mamdani, wrote, while telling the story of the Rwandan genocide, that we need to realise that it is the ‘popularity’ of the genocide that is its uniquely troubling aspect. This got me started.

What is it about hate-induced violence that should worry us the most?

The politics of mass hate has engulfed us today. It is powerful and addictive because it pulls out our basest instincts and gives them oxygen. In fanning the flames, we have created a political culture that feeds off hate. Being civilised is very hard. Letting loose the mob unleashes something we all have within us but social and political institutions help us curb it. When these institutions turn into curators of hate, it’s like a deep vault opening up and the bloodletting consumes the institutions whole. We are left without a democratic fabric.

You write about the aftermath of the riots through three people — Pranav, Dungar and Suresh Langdo. Why them?

The three people were picked randomly from hundreds I spoke with, because these three were people I had access to and could track for three years at length. Pranav is upper caste, middle class, English speaking and educated, and was an outlier in the mob in 2002. Dungar is tribal, aspirational, middle class and part of the BJP and VHP. Suresh is serving a 31-year jail sentence for raping and killing Muslim women and men in 2002. Each of these people had very different backgrounds, different ways of entering the space of violence and decidedly different trajectories after. For me, writing about them was a way of telling the story inside out and also to leave people with the idea that violence is also varied and diverse and ever-changing. And complex. Everything and its opposite are true at the same time.

What are the lessons we must learn from a book like ‘The Anatomy of Hate’?

If we want to move away from the politics of violence, we need first to be able to understand it. Look at the personal and political circumstances that lead to it in order to learn from it and build alternatives. The first thing I learned while writing this book is that hate is not constant, it is shifting. If we continue to look at it as fixed, we are guilty of fixing it and now allowing it to escape from its box and change. The second thing I learned is that we have to look at the perpetrators of violence — their uncertainty, their fear of fear, of each other, of belonging. When we understand that, we can work on rebuilding their identities in ways that are more secure than what the politics of hate can offer. The people who are filled with hate are in a sense victims of circumstance, and we need to change those circumstances.

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