WHY INDIAN WRITERS ARE UP IN ARMS AGAINST MODI GOVT

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Indian writers return awards

Writers and artists, naturally being more sensitive and emotional than hoi polloi, are the first to react to developments around them in any society. And the stronger the reaction the healthier the society

AIJAZ ZAKA SYED 

Nisaar main teri galiyon pe aye watan ke jahan

Chali hai rasm ke koi na sar utha ke chale

Jo koi chahane wala tawaaf ko nikle

Nazar chura ke chale; jism-o-jan bacha ke chale

Hai ahledil ke liye ab yeh nazm-e-basto kushad

Ke sang-o-khisht muqayyad hain aur sag aazad

Bohat hai zulm ke dast-e-bahana ju ke liye

Jo chand ahle junun tere naam lewa hain

Bane hain ahle hawas muddaii bhi munsif bhi

Kisey wakeel karen, kis se munsafi chahen 

My salutations to thy sacred streets, O beloved nation!

Where a tradition has been invented

That none shall walk with his head held high

If at all one takes a walk, a pilgrimage

One must walk, eyes lowered, the body crouched in fear

The heart in a tumultuous wrench at the sight

Of stones and bricks locked away and mongrels breathing free In this tyranny that has many an excuse to perpetuate itself

Those crazy few that have nothing but thy name on their lips

Facing those power crazed that both prosecute and judge, wonder

To whom does one turn for defense, from whom does one expect justice?

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he stirring lines from one of Faiz’s most celebrated poems have lately acquired a whole new world of meaning for me given the developments back home. India right now is, in the words of Emerson, in a tumultuous privacy of storm. It was the Hindi writer Uday Prakash who cast the first stone, by returning his Sahitya Akademi award to protest the rising intolerance in the country. Now the prairie fire started by him has spread to the far corners of India and threatens to consume the fiction of ‘achche din’.

More than 30 award winning writers and intellectuals have now joined the growing chorus against the march of fascism, returning their awards and state honors in unprecedented protest.  From the tiny state of Punjab alone, eight authors have surrendered their awards voicing anger against the spiraling violence and hate crimes against minorities, encapsulated powerfully in the lynching of a Muslim blacksmith supposedly over beef eating rumors, and killing of intellectuals such as Prof Kalburgi and Govind Pansare.

 

"I was honored to receive the prestigious award. But now I feel we the writers have a role to play in the way things are going on in our country. So as a matter of protest, I will return the award along with the cash award that I received then," said Sara Joseph.
“I was honored to receive the prestigious award. But now I feel we the writers have a role to play in the way things are going on in our country. So as a matter of protest, I will return the award along with the cash award that I received then,” said Sara Joseph.

Punjabi writer Dalip Kaur Tiwana in her note of protest wrote: “In this land of Buddha and Guru Nanak, the atrocities committed on the Sikhs in 1984 and on the Muslims recurrently are an utter disgrace to our state and society.” Hindi author Krishna Sobti, 90, returned her award saying, “We do not want any more Dadris or Babris.”

More than 30 award winning writers and intellectuals have now joined the growing chorus against the march of fascism, returning their awards and state honors in unprecedented protest.  From the tiny state of Punjab alone, eight authors have surrendered their awards voicing anger against the spiraling violence and hate crimes against minorities, encapsulated powerfully in the lynching of a Muslim blacksmith supposedly over beef eating rumors, and killing of intellectuals such as Prof Kalburgi and Govind Pansare.

Historian and Nehru’s niece Nayantara Sahal has been the most high-profile of scholars to protest the direction in which the country is headed: “India’s culture of diversity and debate is now under vicious assault,” Sahgal said in an open letter to the Sahitya Akademi.

“Anyone who questions any aspect of the ugly and dangerous distortion of Hinduism known as Hindutva, whether in the intellectual or artistic sphere, or in terms of food habits and lifestyle, are being marginalized, persecuted, or murdered. Mohammed Akhlaq was dragged out of his home outside Delhi, and brutally lynched, on the supposed suspicion that beef was cooked in his home. In all these cases, justice drags its feet. The Prime Minister remains silent about this reign of terror. We must assume he dare not alienate evil-doers who support his ideology.”

Writers and artists, naturally being more sensitive and emotional than hoi polloi, are the first to react to developments around them in any society. And the stronger the reaction the healthier the society.

It’s not as if there were no voices of dissent against the Nazis when they went berserk, ravaging country after country and sending thousands of innocent people to death. Clearly, those were not strong enough to check Hitler’s dangerous delusions of grandeur, probably because dissidence meant certain death.

Predictably, instead of being shamed by the clamor of India’s finest writers and scholars, the BJP and RSS accuse them of suffering from ‘disease of secularism’ and being ‘anti-national’. Some want their ‘ideological antecedents’ checked while some writers are intimidated with visits by intelligence officials. Stalin and Mao and their thought police would be proud! As for the PM, he wakes up 16 days after Dadri to term it ‘unfortunate’ when goaded by a Bengali publication, only to accuse his adversaries of polarizing the country with their ‘pseudo secularism.’

Which is why no words are enough to extol the writers, artists and even ordinary folk, confronting tyranny. These fearless voices of conscience are the redeeming hope of India. It takes real guts and strength of character to speak truth to power. It’s easy to pontificate about the social responsibility of intellectuals and their duty to hold a mirror to their society. However, few can stand their ground when faced with adversity. Courage under fire is a rare virtue. When going with the tide and colluding with the establishment is more sensible and rewarding, who would want to stick their neck out to do otherwise?

No wonder speaking truth to power is considered jihad in Islam. And it’s nothing short of dharm yudh given the clear and present danger threatening Indian democracy. The very Idea of India appears in peril as the body-politic comes under repeated assaults.

 

Asgari Begum, mother of Mohammed Akhalaq, mourns his death inside her house in BisaraAnindito Mukherjee/Reuters
Asgari Begum, mother of Mohammed Akhalaq, mourns his death inside her house in BisaraAnindito Mukherjee/Reuters

 

Predictably, instead of being shamed by the clamor of India’s finest writers and scholars, the BJP and RSS accuse them of suffering from ‘disease of secularism’ and being ‘anti-national’. Some want their ‘ideological antecedents’ checked while some writers are intimidated with visits by intelligence officials. Stalin and Mao and their thought police would be proud!

As for the PM, he wakes up 16 days after Dadri to term it ‘unfortunate’ when goaded by a Bengali publication, only to accuse his adversaries of polarizing the country with their ‘pseudo secularism.’

Meanwhile it has been business as usual with Shiv Sena resorting to familiar antics like forcing Ghulam Ali to abandon a planned tribute to his friend Jagjit Singh and blackening the face of Advani aide Sudheendra Kulkarni for hosting former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri’s book launch.

Many of us are familiar with most of the facts in the Reuters report, especially about the RSS, its hand in Gandhi’s assassination, its decisive role in Modi’s victory and its warped ‘Hindustan for Hindus’ worldview, and above all, how the fascist organization has been setting the governance agenda for India.  As the country attracts increasing international attention for outrages such as Dadri, for the first time these facts seem to be sinking in and being registered by the world media and the international community.  

 

Even Advani is outraged terming the attack as another sign of changing times. But, pray, who sowed the seeds of this intolerance? If Modi rules from Delhi today, the credit goes to his one-time mentor and his rabble-rousing politics. Also, after the 2002 Gujarat carnage when Vajpayee apparently wanted to sack Modi, it was Advani who protected him. So, as they say, you reap what you sow. And why are we surprised if the country is hurtling down the hill? What did voters expect when they elected this dispensation ignoring its illustrious past?

This week the Reuters news agency came up with a detailed report on the Hindutva takeover of India titled, Battling for India’s Soul, State by State http://in.reuters.com/article/2015/10/13/india-rss-specialreport-idINKCN0S700420151013. The report should be prescribed reading for everyone who cares for the country.

Many of us are familiar with most of the facts in the Reuters report, especially about the RSS, its hand in Gandhi’s assassination, its decisive role in Modi’s victory and its warped ‘Hindustan for Hindus’ worldview, and above all, how the fascist organization has been setting the governance agenda for India.  As the country attracts increasing international attention for outrages such as Dadri, for the first time these facts seem to be sinking in and being registered by the world media and the international community.

After noting the extensive “impact that the RSS is having on government rhetoric and decisions” and the fact that the majority of Modi’s ministers are RSS men, not to mention its capture of institutions such as the Indian Council of Historical Research and FTII Pune, the authors comment: “What’s unfolding is a battle for the soul of India. Since independence, Indian politics has been dominated by the Congress and its offshoots, who espoused a secular, multi-faith vision of the nation. Hindus are the majority, but roughly 14 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people are Muslim.

“The RSS promotes a fundamentally different vision that draws on a mix of Hindu legends and ancient Indian history. According to this narrative, India’s glory days ended after it was invaded by Muslims and then Christians, who converted the Hindu inhabitants. The RSS believes that if all Indians were to acknowledge and accept that ancient Hindu identity as theirs, it would unify the country.”

This is indeed a battle for India’s soul. The war is between the two visions of India. The Gandhian and Nehruvian idea of a democratic and inclusive India is being threatened by the exclusivist, Hindu supremacist India of Golwalkar’s dreams. Unless the silent, sane majority wakes up to the danger and fights to take back the country, there is little hope for the future.

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