Seventeen months ago, India voted for change and ache din and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) headed by Narendra Modi came to power with a thumping majority. The people of India reposed a lot of trust in the new Government and harboured a lot of expectations.
That trust and those expectations have been cracked, if one goes by the rational, dignified, and nonviolent protest made by 42 writers and poets who have returned their Sahitya Akademi awards or resigned from Akademi positions. In surrendering the awards, the writers/ poets have highlighted the following reasons: increasing assault on freedom of speech, a fundamental right enshrined in our constitution; growing intolerance to views perceived to be against the views held by certain individuals/groups; targetting of rationalists and intellectuals through murder or threats to life; vicious campaign against the food preferences of minority communities which resulted in the lynching of an innocent man in Dadri; total silence or irrational and undignified responses from those in the ruling dispensation.
Elements of fundamentalism and intolerence have existed in the past but they did not have the benefit of subtle tolerence or tacit encouragement that they seem to enjoy now. As one of the writers said, “The idea of India is under threat”.
The return of awards by 42 renowned intellectuals should have been considered as a wake-up call, coming from the conscience-keepers of the country and merited quick introspection, instant condemnation and prompt action. Instead, the Government functionaries went into an “attack mode” against those who returned the awards.
It is worthwhile to note some of the responses: Where were these intellectuals during the Emergency in 1975? Where were they during the massacre of Sikhs in 1984? The Union finance minister dubbed the action of the writers a “manufactured paper protest” with ulterior motives. Someone called for a background and political affiliations of the writers. Someone else pointed out that the murder of Professor Kalburgi and the lynching of Ashlaque occurred in states governed by Opposition parties.
If you impartially analyse the responses, you will note the 42 writers/ poets hail from across the country and represent most states from Kashmir to Kerala, Gujarat to West Bengal. Most of them are known to be apolitical. The list represents awards given by every Government at the Centre be it the Congress, the BJP, the UPA or the NDA. The majority received their awards much after the Emergency in 1975 and the 1984 Sikh riots; about 50 per cent of them received their awards after 2000.
We need to differentiate between bananas and apples. The writers were not protesting against communal violence that periodically occurs in India. They are protesting against the selective murder of three eminent authors/rationalists – Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi and the lynching of an innocent man in Dadri on the suspicion of eating beef.
Blaming respective State Governments and claiming that the Centre has no role to play is not acceptable. The Centre has a duty to supervise, monitor and maintain the safety/security of the people throughout India and ensure that our “core values” are sustained.
Prof Kalburgi, veteran Kannada writer, known for his strong stand against superstitions and right-wing groups, was murdered on 30th August 2015. It took the Sahitya Akademi seven weeks to make a formal condemnation of his murder and protest the assault on freedom of speech. Obviously, this belated response was prompted by the return of awards by several intellectuals.
Kalburgi murder was preceded by the murders of rationalists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare. In spite of the return of awards by several writers, the Prime Minister of the country responded with silence for at least two weeks and when he finally spoke up, he piggy-backed on the calls for tolerence made by the President of India.
It was also pointed out that the Central Government cannot do much since the law and order is a State subject. Some also squarely blamed the Opposition for exageration of the events.
The lynching of Akhlaq in Dadri on 28th September 2015 on the mere suspicion that he ate beef is a barbaric act and the mob that did it was probably emboldened, presuming they can get away easily. None other than the Culture Minister of India called it an “accident”.
The Finance Minister called the protests by writers manufactured paper protest and ideological confrontation. Many BJP leaders have pointed out that the murder of Kalburgi and the lynching of Ashlaq occurred in non-BJP States but when two Dalit children were murdered in Haryana, a BJP-ruled state, they said it was the failure of “local administration”, the State Government cannot be blamed. Moreover, anyone from any State can move to another State to commit a crime and then disappear into a third state!
All the statements from people holding responsible positions at the Centre, tend to belittle the protests by the writers/poets. Protest in any non-violent form is an instrument available to the citizens of India. When such protests come from over 40 eminent citizens, the Government should take it seriously and act promptly.
The many dark dots or blots which were initially isolated are now clearly coalescing into a dangerous picture and gloomy future for India. If the Government does not act promptly to arrest the rot and initiate corrective actions in favor of the traditional values of India – tolerence, peace, pluralism, secularism, communal harmony and unity in diversity, our country will certainly suffer an irreparable damage.
Prime Minister sir, you were elected not to commit the mistakes of the previous Government or highlight the failures of past Governments but to take India on the path of development, prosperity and glory – all of which you so gloriously promised. You have the majority to perform gloriously and make a difference! Please do not cast away this glorious opportunity!