By Ram Puniyani
Beginning with September 2015 we witnessed a flood of ‘returning’ honors by writers, scientists and artists. There are also various statements from academics, historians, artists and scientists showing their concern about the growing intolerance and erosion of our plural values. Those who returned the honors are amongst the outstanding contributors to literature, arts, film making and science like writers Uday Prakash, Nayantara Sahgal, Satchitanand, Ashok Vajpayee, Arundhati Roy; film personalities like Anand Patwardha and scientist P.M. Bhargava were the few amongst the notable figures. They in a way have been pouring their heart out at what is going on at social level. The growing intolerance has taken the lives of Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi. There are incidents like where the lynching of one Muslim Akhlaq on the charge of beef eating and killing of one trucker carrying cattle which have shaken the conscience of the society.
Retired Admiral Ramdas wrote a open letter which in a way sums up the anguish of those who returned the awards. He wrote “Today, as a veteran in my eighties, I am forced to hang my head in shame as I witness a series of incidents and assaults on our fellow citizens, especially minorities and dalits…So why are we bearing witness to increasing attacks on minorities across the country, ever since the present government came to power in May 2014? It appears that certain communities are being singled out for special attention. Today, a Muslim has to prove his or her loyalty, and they are being repeatedly put in a situation where their places of worship are under attack, as indeed their eating habits, and other basic freedoms. The instances of completely unilateral mob behavior leading to many deaths as well as direct insinuations being made by senior leaders, are too numerous and well known to be repeated. And the atrocities on Dalits continue with impunity.” He did outline the threat of Hindutva politics very well!
At the same time the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, disturbed by the happenings in the society, time and again has been reminding the nation about our core civilizational values of pluralism. The Vice President, Haamid Ansari stated that it is the duty of the state to protect the ‘right to life’ of citizens. The international agency Moody Analytics pointed that unless Modi reins in his colleagues, India stands to lose her credibility. Disturbed by the current growing atmosphere of intolerance the eminent citizens are feeling uncomfortable. So we have the earlier statement of Julio Rebeiro that ‘as a Christian I am a stranger in my country’. Now Naseerudding Shah said that he is being made to realize his Muslim identity for the first time.
The poet, film maker Gulzar stated that the times have come where people ask your religion before they ask your name. The renowned tabla maestro Zakir Hussain felt that there is a drastic change in the social scenario. He recalled his father worshipping Ma Sarswati before his music sessions. Many prominent entrepreneurs like Narayan Murthy and Kiran Majumdar Shaw have shown their concern over growing intolerance. In the same boat of those calling for preserving values of pluralism and worried about growing intolerance are people like Raghuram Rajan, the RBI Governor.
Silence of the Prime Minister
The case of two superstars expressing their anguish did finally prove that intolerance has crossed the limits of democratic norms. When Shahrukh Khan said that there is intolerance in the society, he was advised to go to Pakistan and BJP leaders like Yogi Adityanath compared him with Hafiz Sayeed of Pakistan. Aamir Khan when he shared his conversation with his wife that she is feeling insecure about their son, the whole RSS cabal pounced on him, challenged his patriotism. During all these episodes our Prime Minister Narendra Modi maintained a silence, giving the clear signal that he is in agreement with RSS-BJP leaders making these statements. These organizations and leaders giving ‘Hate other’ statements have sometimes been called fringe elements, but as such they are part of the Sangh Parivar, and all the members of the RSS combine act in coordination with each other, they do represent the ‘core constituency’ of Sangh parivar.
The ruling dispensation, the BJP leaders, have come out scathingly on these creative people-scientists and labeled the whole process as ‘manufactured rebellion’ as put by Arun Jaitley. It has been alleged that those returning awards are the leftists or those who were recipients of privileges from the state when Congress was the ruling party and now with BJP coming to power from last one year, they are baffled and so the protests. In the face of this strong statement from diverse sections of society those related to the ruling party, BJP; its parent organization RSS and many of its affiliates; have been strongly criticizing these people by saying as to how come it is intolerance now just because of few incidents here and there. A section of social media is mocking those who returned the awards. BJP leaders also accused these eminent citizens for this act for political motives, some also accused them of doing so for the sake of money.
It has been alleged that these people are trying to derail the ‘development story’ being written by the BJP under the leadership of Narendra Modi. Jaitley even goes to say that Narendra Modi is the victim of intolerance by these people returning their awards. Some like Rajnath Singh have asserted that it is a mere ‘law and order’ problem for which state governments are responsible while these people are targeting Modi government.
What has happened?
As such what has happened is neither a law and order problem nor the one related to loss of patronage as it is related to the much broader phenomenon which is due to intense communalization of society. This time the degree of communalization has crossed the civil limits. Most of those who returned the honors are generally very critical of Congress as a party. They have done these acts of returning awards or issuing statements to express their pain at the erosion of values of amity and diversity have done this spontaneously. The jibe that these people did not return their awards at the time of emergency, anti Sikh violence, migration of Kashmiri Pundits and at the time of Mumbai blasts of 1993 overlooks the point that awards have not been returned to protest against a particular incident, but to the overall process building up towards narrow nationalism. The degree of intolerance has seen a qualitative worsening.
As the awards which have been returned and the statements put out by different groups do give the reasons for the same and these reasons pertains to the cumulative process and not this or that event. All these incidents mentioned by Jaitley and company have been a tragic part of recent Indian history. Many a writers did protest against most of these incidents earlier also. Nayantara Sahgal for instance had returned the award at the time of emergency and had been part of the PUCL which had brought out report on Anti Sikh massacre also. Writer Arundhati Roy refused even to accept the Sahitya Akademi award in 2005, when Congress was the ruling party.
The present times cannot be compared with the tragic incidents of the past for various reasons. Take the case of emergency for example. It was a dark chapter of Indian history, still it was the authoritarianism imposed mostly from the top. What is most disturbing in the current times is the vast network of organizations related to the ruling party, BJP, whose followers either create hatred in the society or they mobilize the social sectors through hate speech; the result of which is communalization and violence. Currently there is an attack on the values of tolerance and liberal space from top as well as from bottom. From the top the ruling dispensation has people like Yogi Adiyanath- Sakshi Maharaj, Giriraj Singh, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, Kailash Vijayvargiya who keep spreading sectarian messages. The social groups implement it in the way what happened in Dadri.
Control on Institutions
At yet another level is the institutional control by communal ideology. Our major institutions and educational places are being mauled by divisive ideology. Our frontline areas of science and technology are being tampered day in and day out. The ‘Hate other’ ideology has been promoted through the issues like Ghar Wapasi, love jihad and beef. This is creating the intense social insecurity amongst the religious minorities. This is leading to incidents like Dadri. Such incidents are reflective of the overall social atmosphere created by the ruling ideology, so it is not a question of this or that state government being responsible for these incidents.
Essentially the insane communalization, which leads to communal violence, has its roots in the prejudice leading to hate for the religious minorities. And that’s what flows from the ideology of Hindu nationalism, or any other sectarian nationalism, in the name of any religion or race. In current times in India; the fountainhead of Hindu nationalism is RSS. Not to say that Muslim sectarianism has its own divisive and supplementary negative influence. This ideology assumes the ‘Hate other’ sentiment and leads to situation where cow slaughter, beef eating and ghar wapasi or love jihad become the ground on which ‘hate other’ sentiments build up. The communalists are talking in the dangerous language of ‘we will kill and get killed while defending our Holy mother the cow’, as one BJP leader said.
To compare the intolerance which has come up during last some time with the situations in other countries or the past kingdoms is totally wrong. India today should not be compared with the times and policies of earlier rulers or the states where democracy has not seen a bit of nurturing, whatever be its degree, as we experienced in India since independence. How can we compare the state of our affairs with country like Saudi Arabia or Pakistan? These are countries where democratic process is either absent or weak. How can we compare it to Portugese in Goa some Muslim emperor of the past? The colonial powers and kingdoms again have totally different logic.
Also the hallmark to understand today’s situation has to be in the change in degree of intolerance from earlier time right in our own country. As such three months down the line since the award return process began, one can say this one of the very effective protests we have witnessed. Then the question was raised that the award returning process was motivated by political goals as it came to a stop after the results of Bihar elections were out. Firstly it is factually wrong and partly wrong. Even after the results of Bihar Assembly elections came out the poet Jayant Mahapatra returned his Padma Sri after the results of Bihar elections came out. Still there is a point here that as the Bihar elections showed the defeat of communal party, and there was a sigh of relief and so the award returning spree came to a sort of halt. At least temporarily the venom spewing Hindutva leaders seem to have partly shut their mouths. The international impact of the move was very strong; hard hitting articles appeared in the major newspapers in the World. That might have forced the authorities to call for a truce to save the face.
One needs to complement those who returned awards as it came in as a sort of movement, which had great impact all over. The major factor leading to present atmosphere lies in the qualitative transformation of ‘hate for others’. The stereotyping of minorities which began with Hindu nationalism has assumed horrendous proportions. Intolerance has been there earlier also, now it is changing qualitatively for the worse. We need to combat the threat of sectarian nationalism looming large on our democratic society, the threat of sectarian propaganda and politics leading to stifling of democratic space. And these are not the ordinary times, the divisive process, intolerance have assumed menacing proportions and cannot be hidden by the illusory growth story!
Source: Plural India, December 2015.