Co-authored by Saswati Sarkar, Shanmukh, Dikgaj
In the previous articles, we considered the construction of every class of Bengalis as hostile entities by the BJP-RSS ecosystem. In , we noticed how Governor Tathagata Roy and Mr. Vivek Agnihotri expressed their contempt towards the Bengalis. In , we saw how the media and social media champions, led by the redoubtable Swarajya magazine, expressed its contempt for every class of Bengalis. In this article, we examine another set of articles and tweets by Reshmi Dasgupta, which reinforces negative images of the Bengalis.
Reshmi Dasgupta’s twitter feed reveals her strong support for BJP. She may be considered a public intellectual in the BJP-RSS ecosystem, with close familial connections to the center of power. She is the wife of Dr. Swapan Dasgupta, who is an ideologue  and one of the public faces of BJP in the main stream media, and is frequently introduced there as a right-leaning journalist. He was nominated to Rajya Sabha by the BJP government and was also decorated with Padma Bhushan, India’s third highest civilian award, in 2015, during the BJP regime. He is a close friend of the current finance minister, and unofficial number-two in PM Modi’s cabinet, Mr. Arun Jaitley  (they have a long-standing friendship since their college-days ). Different pieces have described Dr. Dasgupta as a close associate of Mr. Jaitley , and as “not just a well-known columnist and BJP ideologue but is better known in party circles as a close friend of Jaitley’s’’  . Dr. Dasgupta seems to be closely associated with the functioning of BJP in West Bengal, and was present in the BJP headquarters to welcome Mukul Roy, the second in command of Mamata Banerjee of TMC, when he moved over to BJP .
Indian Express has recently documented how the BJP-RSS base hurled a torrent of ethnic abuse on a Bengali blogger for posting a harmless egg-roll video and noting a distinctive style of celebration of Durga-puja in Bengal . Mrs. Dasgupta wrote an article in that context, emphasizing the vegetarian aspects of traditional Durga Puja in West Bengal, and disapproving of the way the Puja festivities have evolved in Bengal . The article was probably targeting a North-Indian readership, that constitutes the current BJP-RSS base, as the only place she resorted to vernacular was when she used “maike” (Hindi) in place of paternal home, not “baper-bari” in Bangla. Notably, not once did she, who characterizes herself as a “Bengali chauvinist’’, mention or object to the ethnic slurs cast on Bengalis in the wake of the harmless food blog posted on Puja-food in Calcutta. Most importantly, however, she described Bengalis as “effete”, again reinforcing the coward/weak-Bengali stereotype: “Let’s face it, today’s effete Bengalis are a far cry from our blood-thirsty Shakta ancestors who lived in the predator-infested wilderness of the Gangetic Delta’’.
Mrs. Dasgupta has therefore used a negative descriptor for an entire ethnicity. Criticism of a group as a whole does not constitute hatred against the group, per se, provided it can be substantiated through corroborative factual evidences and provided the criticism can be shown to be consistent. In the first case, the veracity and the applicability of the evidences ought to be ascertained, preferably through independent and comprehensive academic research. We explain the consistency criterion as follows. Let us say we consider all practitioners of a certain profession in US. Let us say that a large number of them are found to be guilty of professional malpractices and violations of professional ethics. In our discourse, if we however ridicule and castigate the collective of the practitioners of a certain race, say African-American, White, Hispanic, Asian, etc., for those malpractices and violation of ethics that are widely prevalent in the profession as a whole, then this ought to qualify as racism, albeit against a segment of that race. If however we castigate the guilty practitioners regardless of their race, or rather those from all races, then that is not racism. Characterization of ethnic bias ought to follow the same template. In general, if a negative characterization of a group fails to comply with the truth and consistency tests, then it may legitimately be construed as bias against the group in question, and the burden of establishing compliance is on the one who invoked such a characterizer. In her article, Mrs. Dasgupta makes no attempt whatsoever to explain why she considers the Bengalis as effete, but uses the qualifier as a given, which reveals that her usage is being derived from intrinsic prejudice rather than from an unbiased and objective analysis. Therefore, such blanket characterizations, as hers could qualify as hate speech in many places:
The stereotype that Mrs. Dasgupta thoughtlessly resorted to had been popularized by the British colonials. Rudyard Kipling, had stereotyped the Bengalis with the pretentious and cowardly character, Hurree Chunder Mukherjee, popularly called Hurree Babu . Both Macaulay and Curzon had cast racist epithets at the Bengalis. Macaulay called the Bengalis, `enervated by a soft climate’, and `accustomed to peaceful employments’, and believed them to be even less bold than other Asiatics p. 242, . Lord Curzon had called the Bengalis `effeminate’ and his disdain of educated Bengalis has been chronicled in . Note the similarities of the above stereotype’s with Mrs. Dasgupta’s usage.
Given the racist connotation, we believed that it was important to check whether MP Dasgupta was on the same page with his spouse, or if he would disassociate from her position. First, while individuals are active in public life, the conduct of their immediate family members legitimately become public issue. In recent past, BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Modi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi both ran political campaigns on alleged financial misconduct of the son-in-law and son respectively of the Presidents of their rival political parties (the campaigns have been entirely political, as for example no case has been filed on the son-in-law during three years of prime ministerial sojourn of Mr. Modi). In both instances, top leaders from the respective parties were fielded to defend Messers Vadra and Jay Shah. Besides, MP Swapan Dasgupta has prominently described himself as an Anglophile, and disappointment with removal of colonial symbolisms from Calcutta including the alteration of the name of Calcutta to Kolkata, which is how Bengalis typically pronounce one of their favourite cities: ``The process of cultural remodelling began with the removal of the British bronzes from the heart of Calcutta in 1969. The imposing bronzes of Canning, Mayo, Havelock, Curzon, et al were lifted ceremoniously by crane and carted off to a dump in Barrackpore where they have subsequently been vandalised. More widespread vandalism was prevented because Victoria Memorial came under the Centre’s jurisdiction. Therefore, mercifully, the Old Queen still survives the desecration of the Second City of Empire…. Apart from the shell and some outward forms of civility, the Calcutta I knew and grew up in no longer exists. The landscape has changed. The old landmarks are gone. The mindset is unappealing. This Kolkata is not my Calcutta’’ . He has also shared that one of his ancestors was a staunch loyalist of the Raj, had close connections with the Privy Council, the Viceroy’s Council, was decorated with the CBE (Companion of the British Empire), and could have been knighted had he lived longer : `` My maternal grandfather – who died before I was born– was one of Calcutta’s most successful lawyers. Extremely westernised and very Bengali at the same time, he was an unabashed Raj loyalist. He used to travel to London almost each year in connection with cases before the Privy Council. In his last years, he moved to Delhi to work with the Law Member of the Viceroy’s Council. My mother lamented that he died in 1942, just after he was made a CBE. Another few years and he would definitely have got a knighthood’ she always said.’’ Thus, given his sentimental attachment and familial connections to the Raj, it was all the more important to ensure that he did not share their racist view of Bengalis.
When we broached the issue in public domain, Mrs. Dasgupta became disturbed. While we responded civilly and respectfully, our responses only managed to aggravate her further. One of the authors was greeted with invectives such as “Ms. Feminist”, “crazy SS”, “delusional’’. “hilarious’’, “sundry NRB Professors” (NRB stands for Non resident Bengali):
To help her restore her tranquil, the author in question had to disengage, blocking her temporarily:
But, Lo and Behold, came another volley!
Note, NRI is not a complete descriptor for her, she needs to associate the Bengali qualifier, with someone who is an epitome of negativity in her mind:
We have been told by the ecosystem, more specifically by the magazine whose editing is advised by her husband, that growing up in a slum makes one’s lingo coarse: “Banerjee has grown up and still lives in that milieu – a slum in south Kolkata, where ugly fights replete with expletives and curses break out over even minor matters like breaking a queue for collecting the trickle of water that spews from the Kolkata Municipal Corporation’s public taps. Fighting, and using coarse language while doing so, thus comes naturally to her….They are all poor, or, at best, lower middle class. Banerjee revels staying among them and being one of them.’’  But, Mrs. Dasgupta did not grow up in a South Calcutta slum, she is quintessentially manor born. She repeatedly lets it be known that she grew up at the affluent, diplomatic enclave, Chanakyapuri, of New Delhi , and possibly also at Washington D.C. , and basks in the glory of her father’s accomplishments:
Be that as it may, the substance that we could glean from her torrent of agitated messages were: 1) her views can not be linked to her husband’s 2) her husband should not be referred to as a BJP MP since he is an independent member 3) Bhadraloks are indeed effete post thirty years of stultifying communism, which the authors need to “come, see, experience and then opine ” (the reference here is to the fact that some of the authors do not reside in Bengal).
On 1), other than the fact that the conduct of immediate family members can be legitimately conflated with those active in public life, would a woman protective of her individual identity independent of her male relatives, so publicly and repetitively bask in her father’s reflected glory? The classical definition of feminism is pivoted around gender-equality, not gender-advantage. Thus, if son’s and son-in-law’s public conducts reflect upon their parents and parents-in-laws in public life, a wife’s choices would similarly reflect on a husband who is a public figure, until the latter explicitly disassociates from specific stands in question. Lastly, we might remind her of her own public stance on another woman:
But then ``Reshmi Dasgupta’’ hasn’t dared to be just Smt Reshmi either. So the feminist defense in this case may be expedient, but a non-starter.
On 2), we stand corrected, and refer to her husband as BJP government nominated MP henceforth, but his proximity to the power centers in BJP remains indisputed.
On 3), in our discussions with Mrs. Dasgupta, we were unable to discern two vital points of clarification: First, how Mrs. Dasgupta decided that Bengalis are `effete’. Despite her statement in the article that ``Let’s face it, today’s effete Bengalis are a far cry from our blood-thirsty Shakta ancestors who lived in the predator-infested wilderness of the Gangetic Delta’’ , and linking the slaughter of buffaloes vanishing from Bengal to `effeteness’, she denied that effeteness of Bengalis had anything to do with the lack of animal slaughter or bloodlust. Second, she specifically included the entrepreneurs of eateries and other outlets as `non-effete’, but did not, when questioned, include any other groups of people in her category of `non-effete’. Nor did she establish her criteria of effeteness or lack thereof, so that groups of Bengalis and others could be categorised. Consequently, it appears that the term `effete’ to describe Bengalis was derived from her own biases, including the English biases which have been inherited by many modern English speaking Indians.
We also note that in some of her tweets Mrs. Dasgupta seems to have narrowed down the scope of her effete descriptor to “Bhadraloks’’ from Bengalis in her article, in the rest of the tweets she is referring to Bengalis as a whole. Thus, she seems to be using Bengalis and Bhadraloks somewhat interchangeably. As a “Bengali chauvinist’’ (in her own words), she ought to have known that Bhadralok is currently used to denote the educated middle and upper classes. One wonders if the confusion inherent in the application reflects a deeply entrenched class-bias, which would even refuse to recognize the existence of the plethora of Bengalis who are poor, and who have been demonized in a magazine her spouse is connected to .
On 3) Mrs. Dasgupta seems to be delegitimizing our objection on the ground that some of us do not reside in Bengal, but then neither does Mrs. Dasgupta for that matter, and it would be presumptuous of either of us to guess the frequency of our visits to West Bengal. And, if we did reside in Bengal, the magazine whose editing her husband advises, will delegitimize us as follows: “So it is the below-average, the slothful and the incompetent who largely populate Bengal today. And as sociologists say, this section of people are always complaining, ready to blame others for their failings, lack of industriousness and enterprise, and for their miseries, which are largely of their own making. Add to this the decades of being schooled in communist ideology that abhors wealth, wealth-creation, and enterprise, and what you have is a large mass of people who not only don’t have the calibre and the willingness to improve their lot, but also who celebrate poverty and blame others – the well-off, the talented and the enterprising lot – for their sufferings’’ . So, the ecosystem will delegitimize the Bengalis from contesting the cowardice slur one way or the other.
Again on 3), it is indeed the case that Dr. and Mrs Dasgupta bear organic dislikes of Communism, despite their long-standing friendship with those of communist persuasion like Mani Shankar Aiyar, Siddharth Varadarajan (by Dr. Dasgupta’s disclosure on social media): ``Communism finally killed Calcutta. Bengali Marxism started off as rebellious games played by boys (and some girls) from good families. As long as the Communist adventure was in the hands of the likes of Hiren Mukherjee, Indrajit Gupta, Snehangshu Acharya, Renu Chakravarty and Mohit Sen, it was more like a repeat of the Young Bengal movement. Tragically, the Bengali babu had not factored in the deep mofussil insularity, intellectual cretinism and the cultural envy that was built into the bloodstream of the CPI(M). Apart from the shell and some outward forms of civility, the Calcutta I knew and grew up in no longer exists. The landscape has changed. The old landmarks are gone. The mindset is unappealing. This Kolkata is not my Calcutta.’’ . We will here ignore the undertone of contempt on residents of small towns in Dr. Dasgupta’s articulation, and point out that one can legitimately dislike Communism, or for that matter, Capitalism, and refuse to live where it is practiced. But, still, those with August diplomatic exposures in their families ought to be well-versed in international history, at least enough to know that historically Communism has never rendered a populace effete, certainly, no more than any other -ism did. It were the Russians who thwarted Hitler’s victory march after house-to-house fights in the battle of Stalingrad, and then reversed the tide to overrun Berlin three years later, Communist China attained many military successes and may even be closing in on USA in terms of military might, and the Communists in Vietnam gave a bloody nose to a much more powerful nation, USA, and forced them to abandon their allies in South Vietnam. It would also be evident even to a novice in socio-politics that, Communism in its pristine form was never practiced anywhere in India, perhaps fortunately so. In some regions, parties with Communism in their names, acquired power through democratic means, and with it, all the virtues and vices of India’s democratic polity. Communist Parties however patronized a Darbaar that was mutually exclusive of BJP’s Darbaar, thus, they would propel their intellectuals to positions of influence, not the right-leaning intellectuals like Dr. Dasgupta. And, it is also the case that the colonial British imposed the coward stereotype on Bengal because of their stubborn refusal to advance British interests by accepting their rule, the British also glorified as martial races the ethnic groups like Rajputs, Gorkhas, Punjabis etc who advanced their empire, crushing freedom movements everywhere, including in India. It may therefore be that the Dasguptas have imbibed the British racist value system of demonizing a populace for stultifying their interests. And when racism becomes the norm, or a mark of distinction, we would be honored to be considered “crazy”, and “sundry”.
Postscript: We noticed that Mrs. Dasgupta has deleted many of the tweets whose screenshots we have produced, particularly the personally and collectively offensive ones. If that is because of the influence of an external agency, rather than genuine recognition of wrongdoing, then the effete-characterizer should not be limited to only those stultified by Communism. If however it is an expression of her inner voice, then mere deletion constitutes an inadequate apology to the populace she has demonized through a racist slur. Either way, until MP Dasgupta explicitly disassociates from the racist slur his spouse has hurled, we would be right in inferring that it is a shared view, which in turn reflects poorly on the party that has nominated him to the hallowed Upper House of Indian Parliament.
 Robert Sullivan, “Macaulay’’
 Krishna Dutta, “Calcutta: A Cultural and Literary Legacy’’
 Rudyard Kipling, “Kim’’