The threat of a two pronged attack on life and liberty of the citizens, as well as visiting foreigners, posed by a party in power never appeared as imminent as it does today. There is an exponential rise in the assault on our democratic rights launched by the Hindtuva forces, and the institutions of the State, from police to intelligence and civil administration. The right wing bigots feel empowered under Narendra Modi led Central Government, is a palpable truism of our times. The return of Sahitya Academy awards by dozens of writers in last two months, something unprecedented in the sixty years of the history of Sahitya Academy, needs to be seen as a mark of protest in context of this growing regression in society.
On 4 September 2015, Hindi writer Uday Prakash returned his Sahitya Academy Award angered by the ‘defeaning’ silence of the Sahitya Akademi to issue even a statement on the murder of MM Kalburgi. This was soon followed by renowned writers Nayantara Sahgal, Ashok Vajpeyi and by last count more than 50 of them have joined the protest from all corners and regions of India. With Margoob Banhali returning his Sahitya Academy on 20th October after a Hindutva mob set a truck on fire on rumours of cattle smuggling and immolated Zahid Bhat, the cleaner of the truck, makes the connection between these killings and writers’ protest most apparent.
Writers point towards the fact that under the ruling political regime in India, a climate of hate and fear has grown, threat to life and liberty has augmented, right to free expression is threatened, and the government is strangulating cultural and academic freedoms. The protest comes in the wake of murderous attack on those expressing dissidence and critiquing social practices. On 30 August 2015, M M Kalburgi, a distinguished Kannada writer and rationalist was gunned down by right wing hoodlums, for his critical views on matters of faith, religious rituals and practices in Hinduism. What progress has been made in the case remains mired in confusion. In February 2015, Govind Pansare, Marathi author and activist was killed for his campaign against superstition within Hindu rituals. The response of the administration has remained lax despite complaints from many writers and artists regarding threats they face from self-appointed custodians of ‘hurt sentiments’. It is not too long ago that in January 2015, Perumal Murugan, an acclaimed novelist from Tamil Nadu had given up writing and declared his ‘death as an artist’ after repeated attacks and threats from Hindutva groups against his book about a woman’s efforts to get pregnant with a stranger through a religious Hindu ritual. Recently, K S Bhagwan, another writer, was threatened with death. The remarkable point is that in all such cases taking place across different time and space the ubiquitous link between hoodlums and ‘mainstream’ Hindutva is evident.
PUDR finds it remarkable that despite the long history of crimes by Hindutva forces, they have not been on the radar of Intelligence Bureau. The inaction of the police & administration against the perpetrators is contributing to an ever expanding space for intolerance with strident propagation of the Hindutva agenda, backed by violent assaults not only on dissenting and critical voices but also minority communities. The spate of organised instances of mob violence resulting in lynching of the Muslims, and even Hindus, based on the deliberately fuelled rumours that those killed either slaughtered or ate beef or that they were cattle smugglers, escape culpability when they are justified by the political authorities. They hide behind Cow Slaughter acts for their criminality, because most of the offenders are members of one or another government registered & funded cow protection societies which have proliferated. This proliferation began under Congress Party and they were mainly responsible for enacting beef ban, however, it is now that from head of Government, ministers in Union Government, members of parliament, and assemblies have justified such faith based attacks, while some claim it to be a spontaneous ‘accident’, if not a ‘stray incident’. Such political approval grants impunity to Hindutva hoodlums to terrorise those who are different from them, one way or another. PUDR’s statements over the years vouch for the fact that the decline began under the Congress Rule. In just 17 months of Narendra Modi Sarkar, however, the process of degradation has accelerated.
Against this, PUDR stands in solidarity with artists, writers, poets, literary critics, scholars, the democratic civil society organisations, and everyone who stands up for reclaiming the shrinking space for diversity & dissent, and our collective intolerance of bigotry. In this alarming illiberal climate, however, the efforts to safeguard democracy will have to also embrace the demand for repeal of draconian laws, from UAPA, to ending legal immunity of the Armed Forces of the Union, to repealing the faith based cow slaughter acts. Because, such laws legitimise the politics of ban, prohibition, silencing, censoring, rob people of their livelihood, and pose threat of physical annihilation. Above all, such laws empower those very forces, State as well as non-State, which subvert the Rule of Law, and jeopardises the inalienable right to life and liberty of all Indians.
MeghaBahl and SharmilaPurkayastha