Photo: The Metric

In a literal psychological sense, denialism is behavior in humans’ choices to deny or reject reality to avoid a mentally uncomfortable truth. One significant aspect of denialism is irrationality, where human embraces irrational beliefs based on personal preferences and prejudices. In pure sciences, they are primarily contradictory to the analysis or experiences based on empirically verifiable reality. And in social sciences, the human mind rejects undisputed or well-supported facts, concepts, or recorded historical events to prove selective ideological, radical, and controversial beliefs. In his article, Keith Kahn Harris has sophisticatedly explained how human beings have adopted the language of deception in one way or another; it can be a lack of courage in humans to acknowledge one’s weaknesses and self-centredness or deny what has been written in history. Like Michel Foucault, in his ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’ suggests the significance of any given period that must depend on ‘some kind of past it reveals, some kind of hierarchies, some networking, their functionaries or teleological facts that is ever increasing in the age of transformation. He denied forwarding a monolithic version of any given period or centuries.’ Adrian Bardon supported in her book, ‘the truth of denial’ that is, it “doesn’t stem from ignorance alone.”

In the Indian context, behind every denial and controversial issue, there is political persuasion to evade ground reality. Such a denial state in democracy to accept history and cook-up one’s own was intensified recently when the defense minister Rajnath Singh justified mercy petitions written by Veer Savarkar to the then British government was actually on the advice of Mahatma Gandhi. He argued beyond realizing the documented history of Sarvarkar’s six mercy petitions and that the first one was written in 1911 only after months of him being incarcerated in Andaman. Even the second one was written in 1913, way before Gandhi’s arrival to India from South Africa. Sharp criticism from historians like S. Irfan Habib suggests how Savarkar agreed to serve the British imperialism and accepted to devote his service assisting Britishers. It is justifiable through his divisive staunch for ‘Hindutva’ till today, when we are experiencing extreme hatred and bigotry against the minority who are the said ‘others’ in the land of the Hindu majority. Taking a note on ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ slogan raiser, Shaheed Bhagat Singh (at the age of twenty-three) with two of his comrade who refused to ask for clemency from the imperial government is a common contrast discussed whenever there is an interrogation on historical mercy petitions. Bhagat Singh, as a martyrdom, accepted the charges on him for raging against the colonial exploitation and that he must be executed by firing and not be hanging (words from his last petition). He dared to refuse a pattern of human denial for a crime committed out of patriotism, for achieving a justifiable and dying ‘end,’ i.e., freedom to Indians; but through the ‘means’ of violence which was unjustifiable in the eyes of the law. Despite Gandhi being a preacher of non-violence has a controversial history about his role and positions while demanding to save the lives of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, and Rajguru. He wrote multiple petitions to the British government to cease their execution as that would distaste the sentiments of the entire population yearning freedom from the British Raj. Some historians claim that Gandhi was in self-denial, which was conceivable to his half-hearted approach to saving the comrades. It seems so plausible under Gandhi’s own belief for efficacy in non-violence ‘Ahimsa’ and disavowing the path of ‘Ahimsa’ to attain Swaraj. One possible reason for denial could be the adamant political parties’ selective assessment of evidence, i.e., party’s ‘confirmation biases,’ disposed of by Savarkar’s ideology or RSS institution’s testimony to reject the existence of Muslims in the Hindu land. It is also confirmed by political scientists like Charles Taber and Milton Lodge that one’s ideological prejudices affect one’s factual information. And this is our Indian ministers’ humdrum confirming their biases and failure to predict a non-partisan history. We all know how a group of denialists would work as a political party in a democracy. Every member would produce a body of biased history, articles, websites, and ever-growing repositories promoting their deception.

The expanded denialism takes the scariest countenance when adulterated with religious supremacy over individualism or minorities and forms a strong base for an authoritative collective group. The BJP has been held responsible for the shrinking space for reason, debate, and reality. The spread of the collective authoritative mindset has been destructive and dangerous in denying the ‘other groups in the minority to be a part of their claimed Hindu nation. Recently, we have heard about a Dalit man (a minority in India) named Lakhbir Singh, who has been alleged to sacrilege the Sikh holy book and was brutally killed by Nihang Sikhs, the so-called ‘warriors’ always armed with swords, daggers, etc. These extremists appear as the protectionists of God and Religion on land plausibly above the state’s law and order granting on-spot punishment. A similar incident happened in Bangladesh where the ‘Quran,’ a holy book of Muslims (majority in the country), was kept inside a Durga Puja pandal. Later, the temple was vandalized by 200 protestors, which led to three minority Hindus in the Begumganj district. The Islamization of Bangladesh by the military dictator, Hussein Muhammad Ershad in 1988, has been put under question for such violence. There is an intense urge to reconsider the secular intent of 1972’s constitution introduced and advocated by Sheik Mujibur Rehman, the father of Bangladesh. Suppose we broadly chase the persistent discrimination, hate speeches, and obsession with moral policing to curtail intimacies between Hindu and Muslims. In that case, it remains the most significant threat for constitutionally secular countries like India, where interfaith couples are triggered with fear after laws controlling their marriage rights, cow vigilantism, etc. The minorities suffer the worst form of discrimination due to the denial of not the secular intent of the present-day Indian constitution, which does not permit to mix the state power with the majority Hindu religion. But the Indianization of the human psyche to deny the existence of minorities equal to them. The deliberate attempt to feature sacredness of religious texts, places of worship, obsession for native values, and historical delusion has vanquished the strong sense of present-day individual liberty and the secularity of independent mind. In every aspect, the reinforcement and burden of pseudo-secularism have aggrandized severe tragedies for the commoners in the slow and long democratic pendulum. As we know, anger and outrage are first-hand responses from those who suffer under ongoing denialism. Indeed the ideological inclinations of the ruling party aimed at menacing such Hindu-Muslim intimacies by controlling advertisements of brands like Tanishq, last year that depicted interfaith marriages were disapproved for promoting ‘Love Jihad.’ And this year, Fabindia advertisement was vilified for having the intense use of the Urdu phrase ‘Jashn-e-Riwaaz’ for a festival of Diwali, celebrated by Hindus. The majority cannot deny the fact about the origination of Urdu developed in northern parts of Delhi during the 12th century. The members from the ruling party have consistently been involved in polarising the language, religion, and ethnicity of the minority in general, antagonistic to the idea of an inclusive society.

A profound understanding of denialism as a phenomenon is the ‘war on science,’ widespread in the country. The central government has gone under complete denial for any report that portrays the originality of India’s autocratic electoral, the erstwhile democracy. It is a matter of great shame for the ruling government; recently, the Global Hunger Index has placed India from 94th to 101st rank in hunger crisis out of 116 countries. On the 15th of October, 2021, the statement released by the Ministry of Women and Child Development has criticized the calculation done by GHI, stating it as unscientific. The Ministry claims that an appropriate method for measuring undernourishment involves measuring weight, height, etc., was missing, and refused the assessment based on the telephonic questionnaire by Gallup. The availability of food grains per capita for a given period has also been neglected while providing ranks. The denial in the evaluation lacking scientific methodology shouldn’t be an excuse from the reality confirming the loss of lives and increase in hunger crisis during the COVID-19 lockdown. This decrepit habit of the Indian government denying harsher realities of the country being an ‘Electoral Autocracy,’ stated in a report by Sweden-based V-Dem Institute. How adamant has the ruling government in dismissing the index that was constituted through thirty million data indicators, hundreds of detailed elements of democracy, and approved views from 3500 global scholars and experts? A US-based non-profit organization, Freedom House’s report has verified the worst state of international civil and political liberties provided in the case of Indian citizens has been shrinking during the BJP’s regime. Certainly, denial of the government here is a pseudo-scholarship or denying the pathetic state of the country in the name of ‘Scientific Methodologies.’ The ruling party has been curbing the voice of dissent, jailing, and attacking social activists, journalists under UAPA; also, an advanced means of cyber-surveillance, i.e., targeting selected cell phones through Pegasus spyware, are all forgotten stories for the citizens now. The consistent denial of having an active sense of limited autonomy to humans both religiously, economically, and socially made the people consume every possible form of state repression.

The anatomy of having disciplined citizens through surveillance is a mechanism for exercising power and strategically regulating people’s mental and physical activity. The ruling party is inspired by Foucault’s disciplinary power theory, which suggests how general politics and regimes of truth and false are closely affected by power. Keith K. Harris, in his article, explains early denialist ache for mild victory over challenges of the environment, poverty, or educational inequalities. But contemporary denialists in democracies overlook such challenges incessantly; in the case of the supreme right-wing party in India desperately wanting to enable the development of societal truth and fallacies, modeling educational curriculums, economic strides, averting from environmental protection laws to have complete victory.

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Sadaf Khalid
Pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Administration and a gold medalist from Aligarh Muslim University. Worked as a Policy Analyst at Aam Admi Party policy research cell, New Delhi. A young social activist for People Service Institute, Kolkata, Swasthya Sankalp, Cancer Aid Society, and building youth brigade for child rights awareness, gender sensitization, environmental policies, etc. A contributor to The Eastern Herald.