By Dr. Ram Puniyani
Chandra Mohan, a gifted art student of the faculty of arts of Sayajirao Giakwad University, Baroda had to be in jail for five days (May 2007) for the ‘crime’ of painting an assignment for his degree. The problem was that the painting he made was not to the liking of the BJP camp. When the display of the paintings was going on for assessment by the teachers, BJP leader, Neeraj Jain attacked the exhibition with his band of supporters. The police put Chandra Mohan behind the bars, Neeraj Jain, who had violated the law by entering the university came out with a sense of pride for saving, protecting the honor of ‘his religion’ or a religion, which is the base of his party. As the matters unfolded the students of the University peacefully protested against this breach of their right to learn and against the false implication of one of their fellow students by the barbarians in the garb of religion. The Vice Chancellor of Baroda university, Manoj Soni who is wedded to the politics of the ruling BJP and more particularly to Narendra Modi, gave orders that the demonstration by students should not be permitted. The Dean of Arts faculty, a renowned art historian felt it is too much to stifle the student’s right for peaceful protest, permitted them the protest, and he was suspended. To add salt to the injury the pro-Vice Chancellor got the display of students paintings removed from the spot where they were protesting.
In the bizarre happenings at one of the most prestigious Universities of the state of Gujarat, the culprit was projected as the hero by the ruling BJP, while those who were merely doing their academic explorations, something for which universities are meant for, found themselves either behind the bars or suspended from their job. Interestingly Neeraj Jain of BJP is one of the accused in the Gujarat carnage of 2002 and Soni, VC is one of the Modi acolytes, a symptom of rot which has set in to the educational system of Gujarat. A small but dominant section of population in Gujarat upholds the actions of VC and arrest of student artist and suspension of Dean of arts faculty.
In another incident, in order to prevent the CBI inquiry into the cold blooded murder of Soharabuddin, by a team of police officials led by the Modi favorite Vanzara, the murder of Soharabuddin’s wife Kausar Bano and Tulsiram Prajapati, the police informer, the Gujarat Government admitted that its police officials have committed the crime. Vanzara, who today owns the properties running into millions, was showered with rose petals by the section of people when he was being taken to be produced in the court.
Just a moth ago the, the film which sensitively portrays the Gujarat carnage, Perzania, which was duly cleared by the censor board, was not screened by the owners of cine theaters because of the fear that their theaters may be damaged by the goons, wearing saffron clothes. Similarly another film Faana was not released in Gujarat on similar grounds as the theater owners feared that people are opposed to Aamir Khan, who had openly sympathized with Narmada Bachao Andolan and the cause of those displaced by the dam. It is interesting that in most of the incidents there is a blatant tendency to suppress the basic democratic norm and the level of apparent acceptance for such acts from the dominant section of society is very high.
It is not that Gujarat is the only state with such violations of democratic and civic norms. There are gradations of these patterns, from the mild violations to the severe ones like those cited above. And surely as far as the gross violations and that too the one’s related to minority community are concerned, Gujarat is the worst state without any shadow of doubt. In other BJP ruled states like MP, Rajasthan and Chattisgarhg also, the violations are of severe degree, still they do not match with the ones in Gujarat. In Gujarat, at all the levels from top to bottom and in most of the arenas of social and political life one can see the intense aggression of oppressive religion based ideology, opposing the little and big issues where the freedom of expression or democratic rights of people are concerned.
From these instances various things become more than clear. To begin with the state machinery, the educational institutions are heavily communalized. This Vice Chancellor, who normally should have protected the student of his University for fulfilling the academic obligation, but chose to let the police arrest his own student, is a comparatively young faculty who has been elevated to the highest level of the academic prestige because he wrote a book in defense of Modi in Gujarat genocide. The rot in the educational system, the infiltration of communal elements in the positions of power is more than obvious from the case of Mr. Soni.
Police acting as an onlooker and arresting the student, the victim, and letting the culprits take the law in their hands is reflective of the communal mind set and the type of instructions they must be getting from the top leadership. The attack by these goons and their defense by a section on the ground that ‘our sentiments are hurt’ show the type of communal common sense prevalent in the state.
What is new about Soharabuddin’s killing? So many fake encounters, so many high handed acts of law breaking by those supposed to be upholders of law. So many such incidents in so many other states. The striking features of this encounter killing are that, one, not only the criminal but his wife was also killed in cold blood. Secondly, the pretext of terrorists coming to kill Modi, the Hindu Hriday Samrat (emperor of Hindu Hearts) has been used to eliminate people once again. And three, the honor showered on Vanzara, have we heard before that these ‘criminal in khaki’ having patronage of those in the seats of power are showered with rose petals while being taken to the court? That’s what Gujarat is becoming, thoroughly communalized, the communal common sense being the dominant thought pattern of sections of society, and politics strongly under the sway of RSS ideology.
While the acts of attacking cinema theaters, attacking art exhibitions, stopping musical concerts has been heard before as an occasional phenomenon, now this intolerance is becoming systematically ingrained in Gujarat. That’s what makes Gujarat different from large parts of the country, some of which are definitely on pursuing what we can call as ‘Gujarat course’ but the critical limits have not been reached there.
At different level, one can note two systems off law in Gujarat, minorities neither get nor can hope to get justice after violence, and relief is a distant dream. The transmigration within the city, Hindu area, Muslim area, and the emotional and physical borders separating the different communities and the communal wedge is deepening by the day. The schools are becoming set more along religious lines than the previous mixed character where diverse children come together and have an inherent understanding and respect for the other. The legal system is becoming more and more insular to the anguish of minority community. The minorities have been relegated to the second class status, no ban loans to them, no telephone connections at times. An analogy with Hitler’s Germany has more than just the germ of truth. While at surface, Gujarat as the state seems to be focusing on development, the ‘we have taught them a lesson’ is the undercurrent thinking amongst dominant majority community.
Gujarat is being ruled by the BJP Government from over a decade. The RSS combine is having a field day, using government facilities and machinery to co-opt the Adivasi, through Shabri Kumbhs. Other programs, social engineering for inclusion of dalits and exclusion of Muslims and Christians are under full flow. The progressive, liberal sections of society are feeling the heat of political intimidation. While many of them are holding aloft the torch of democracy, the broad layers of civil society has to come forward with courage and conviction for democratic values and the principles of Indian Constitution. Though few, they are the hope for return of democracy in Gujarat. Whether the electoral arithmetic will help them restore democracy are a million vote questions? Despite internal dissentions the RSS combine is clearly behind Modi/BJP as far as electoral arithmetic goes. The terrifying vision of RSS ideologues is coming to fruition in this Hindu Rashtra in one state. The question is how fast other states, more so the BJP ruled one’s or the one’s where BJP is ruling in alliances, will go in this direction? More than that the question is can the democracy be saved in Gujarat? If some novice doubted the Fascist analogy with the communal politics, that should become as clear as he crystal. Politics in the name of religions or race does lead to a fascist state, and the only difference in Hitler, Taliban and BJP is the degree of crudeness and the use of terminology, the content remains the same.
The author Dr. Ram Puniyani is a Professor in Biomedical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Powai, who is also actively involved in debate on social issues and problems, particularly those related to preservation of democratic and secular ethos in our life.
- Plural India (June 04,2007)