As citizens we must be concerned about the state of play in our country. Are we? If we are and still remain silent then we are as guilty of the kind of excesses that are being witnessed across the country as the real perpetrators are – whoever they may be. Excesses that involve throttling dissent by intimidation, not by law, banning, by intimidation, not by law, preventing culture from being expressed, by intimidation, not by law, policing intermingling between genders, whether from the same or different communities, by intimidation, not by law, and even ghettoizing the minorities by preventing minorities from residing in housing societies or buying properties…. by intimidation, not by law. A democracy is built on the cornerstone of law, unlike a monarchy or an autocracy, which is indeed built on intimidation.
The events that cast a shadow
The recent wave of incidents began with the “beef murder” in Dadri. Patently, it was not an accident, but the result of intimidation, for doing something that was “not acceptable”. Politics took over soon after, and the essence of the issue was lost, TV Debates notwithstanding. While the MHA warned of strict action against all equally, doubts linger, because the ground reality has been shown to be different. Take for instance the case of the gau mutra test. On 6th October 2015, the Gujarat chapter of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad declared that non-Hindus, especially Muslim men, will not be allowed to enter garba dance events held in housing societies of the state, forget about residing there, and they would be tested for their Hinduism by what they called the gau mutra test – Gau Mutra would be sprinkled and you and you must not flinch…. if you want to pass the test!.
Then on 8th October 2015, the Shiv Sena threatened to disrupt a concert by Ghazal maestro Ghulam Ali, who was supposed to perform a tribute to Indian Ghazal icon, late Jagjit Singh. The Mumbai concert got cancelled, again by intimidation, not by law. They also threatened Sudheendra Kulkarni, who heads the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), to cancel a book launch of former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri scheduled for Monday noon. On the morning of the function, he was attacked, allegedly by Shiv Sena party leaders, and his face smeared with black ink “Shiv Sena activists threw ink at me and smeared my face. They abused me,” Kulkarni alleged. Kulkarni, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
The BJP Government in Mahararastra were mere spectators to the entire drama, though some of the perpetrators were reportedly arrested later and the function itself went off smoothly, seemingly rupturing the already rocky relationship between the BJP and the Shiv Sena.
If Prime Minister Modi, the Prime Citizen, is himself silent on these events, can we then, say anything without retribution? Is that perhaps the game plan? Credit, though, must be given where credit is due – He did break his silence, but only after he was compelled to do so, by the President taking the lead the previous day, to enormous coverage in the media.
However, he approached the topic diplomatically, emboldening lumpen elements in his party. On October 8th, addressing a rally in election bound Bihar, he said, “In a democracy everyone has the right to speak their mind. But Hindus must decide whether they want to fight Muslims or poverty. Muslims must decide whether they want to fight Hindus or poverty,” he said. “The Rashtrapati has shown us the way. There is no bigger inspiration than him, let’s follow his path,” he said.
Litterateurs in resign and return mode
A brewing confrontation has two approaches in Psychology – Fight or Flight. Most of our eminent litterateurs seem to have chosen the latter to register their protest against these events, rightly or wrongly, leaving the field open to marauders.
Eminent literary figures, Shashi Deshpande, K Satchidanandan, P K Parakkadavu have resigned from their posts in the Akademi, citing the fact that the Akademi has been derelict in its duty in defending the community from the unparalleled attacks on their freedom of expression, and the growing sense of intolerance for a different view.
Kannada writer Aravind Malagatti too resigned from the body’s general council, joining the growing protest by writers over “rising intolerance” and “communal” atmosphere. “Killing of personalities like Kalburgi, (Govind) Pansare and incidents like Dadri lynching are an attack on the Constitutional rights in this country. They are highly condemnable,” Malagatti said. Malagatti is among 20 representatives from various Universities in the General Council of the Sahitya Akademi.
In the meanwhile, other eminent personalities like Nayantara Sahgal, Ashok Vajpeyi and Sara Joseph have returned their Sahitya Akademi awards, while at the state level, six Kannada writers had earlier this month returned their awards to Kannada Sahitya Parishat upset over the delay in arrest of Kalburgi’s killers. In addition, Gujarat-based writer Ganesh Devy, ‘Yuva Puraskar’-winning author Aman Sethi and four other eminent writers from Punjab Gurbachan Singh Bhullar, Ajmer Singh Aulakh, Atamjit Singh, Waryam Sandhu have returned their Sahitya Akademi awards all on one day for the same reasons. “The Akademi cannot draw its legitimacy by celebrating writers while shying clear of solidarity when they are targeted,” Sethi said in a tweet.
Ganesh Devy said that his decision was an expression of solidarity with several other writers, who have stated their concerns of “shrinking space for free expression” and “growing intolerance towards difference of opinion”.
Poet and a former chairperson of the Lait Kala Akademi, Ashok Vajpeyi returned his Sahitya Akademi award protesting against what he called the silence of the Prime minister over the murders of writers. “The Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) keeps quiet. He is an eloquent Prime Minister who addresses lakhs of people, but here writers are being murdered, innocent people are being killed, his ministers are making objectionable statements…Why doesn’t he shut them up?” he told NDTV.
“Why doesn’t he tell the nation and the writing and creating community that the pluralism of this community will be defended at every cost? Although the government makes announcements that this would not be tolerated, that would not be tolerated …but tolerance is there. How is it that all this has erupted now?”
His renunciation of the award came after Nayantara Sahgal, the 88-year-old niece of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru gave up the honor protesting against what she called a “vicious assault” on India’s diversity and debate. Arguably, she did not have the same attitude when she accepted the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1986, after the Sikh riots, but the context is important.
“He has uttered no word of condemnation at all at these incidents. The whole country wishes the Prime Minister to make a statement because the situation is getting more and more serious,” Ms Sahgal said.
The strength of diversity in geography, culture and thought
You watch a Hollywood movie, and are dulled by the sameness of the characters and the geography. You go to a bollywood or any other ‘wood’ movie, and you are enchanted by the enactment and depiction of different cultures, and the varied geography. It’s what India is, and its greatest appeal to its ordinary citizens and millions of foreigners who visit it.
We are ordinary people with everyday fears and ambitions, and we have lived in harmony for ages – till now we have sung together, danced together, gone to school together, celebrated festivals and weddings and eaten together – whatever we are comfortable eating irrespective of whether our neighbor ate it or not. Our togetherness was our bulwark against nepotism and fragmentation.
There’s so much going on in our country – by intimidation, not by law, and neither tweets, nor face book can resolve the issues these events raise.
It’s important that our leaders step up to the plate and tell us what they value, so that everyone knows the state of play, and where they stand in this game of thrones and bones.
About the Author:
Brian Fernandes, a passionate author enjoys writing on a variety of issues and understanding the society through his experiences and anecdotes.
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