Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Alternative Dystopia: Science, Power, and Fundamentalism in Rimi B. Chatterjee's Signal Red

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Alternative Dystopia: Science, Power, and Fundamentalism in Rimi B. Chatterjee's Signal Red

Article excerpt

RIMI B. CHATTERJEE'S SIGNAL RED UNRAVELS THE SOCIO-POLITICAL PROBLEMS of postcolonial India through the framework of a future dystopia and critiques the fundamentalist trends that may lead the nation towards a totalitarian future. However, I argue, unlike postcolonial fictions written in more naturalistic modes, the science fictional (sf) framework allows Signal Red access to more critical devices such as futuristic extrapolations and literalizing metaphors. Along with critiquing the fundamentalist trend, these devices let the novel indicate the deeply hybrid nature of the Indian nation and of Indian sf through a double dialectic between the West and the East and between hybridity and indigenism. This article shows that only such a dialectical force as present in Signal Red can articulate the real possibilities of the postcolonial future. The logic of colonialism employs various cultural and punitive apparatuses to create an environment conducive to the maintenance of the status quo of power relations. Postcolonial discourses attempt to resist these colonial ideologies of domination. Sometimes this resistance takes the form of an essentialism that demands total decolonization and a return to a mythical and organic precolonial past, rejecting any form of hybridity as mimicry of the colonizer. Such resistance also entails essentializing and celebrating racial characteristics. But, like any other form of essentialism, this approach often degenerates into provincialism and ultimately falls back on the exclusionary dualistic ideology of domination, only in an inverted manner. The contemporary ideologues of the politico-religious forces that seek to implement Hindu views of life on the Indian populace present such a scenario. However, such a scenario undermines the "free" status of a postcolonial nation. Chatterjee raises some very pertinent questions not only regarding these essentialist ideologies in the Indian context but, more importantly, how the nation can escape the clutches of a new hegemonic order.

Signal Red indicates that the dualism inherent in Hindu Nationalism, or "Hindutva" as the Sangh Parivar (the coalition of Hindu Nationalist parties in India) prefers to call it, is not only an East/West dualism but also an insider/outsider split, where only the Hindus belong to the Indian tradition. All others, especially the Muslims, act as the Other to the definition of the Hindu self. What makes such essentialism more dangerous is the scientific discourse that these Nationalist forces weave into their ideologies while whetting the irrational impulses of the populace. The novel thus projects a semi-dystopic India where science is gradually becoming a tool in the hands of fundamentalist forces to establish a Hindu hegemony.

With the rise of India's scientific establishment and the flexing of its nuclear and economic muscles, recent scholarly works have started paying close attention to the links between religion, science, and politics in India. Since the 1990s, the resurgence of Hindu Nationalism has become increasingly prominent, especially with the demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya and the resulting riots in 1992, and the political ascendancy of the Bhartya Janta Party (BJP) in 1998 after two aborted attempts. (1) The nuclear arming of the military in 1998 and the Kargil War with Pakistan in 1999 further strengthened the Hindu Nationalist fervor as well as leading to increased spending and defense research and with it enhanced state control over scientific activities. The nuclear armament and missile development programs continue to be India's major spending areas. The Indian space program has also earned worldwide accolades in recent years and cemented India's position as one of the few space faring nations with the moon mission Chandrayan in 2008.

However, alongside this techno-scientific progress, behind which the BJP government played a big role, Hindu Nationalists have insistently campaigned for the recognition of "Vedic science. …

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