Returning Honors Is An Attempt To Save Democracy
By Ram Puniyani
18 November, 2015
Last few weeks have seen a flood of ‘returning’ honors by writers, scientists and artists. These awardees in way have stood up to make themselves to be counted. 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. 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 on the issue of beef eating which has shaken the conscience of the society. 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 on flimsy grounds.
At the same time the President of India 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 has told that it is the duty of the state to protect the ‘right to life’ of citizens. The international rating agencies like Moody have pointed out 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 he is feeling disturbed as a Christian in India. 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. Many prominent entrepreneurs like Narayan Murthi and Kiran Majumdar Shaw have shown their concern over growing intolerance. In the same boat of those calling for preserving values of pluralism are people like Raghuram Rajan, the RBI Governor.
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. 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 pointed out that it is a mere ‘law and order’ problem for which state governments are responsible while these people are targeting Modi government.
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 related to intense communalization of society. This time the degree of communalization has crossed the civil limits. 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 is a very superficial way of dealing with the social response to the phenomenon of growing intolerance and its degree. 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, many of them had not even been awarded at that time.
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 whose followers either they themselves create hatred in the society or they mobilize the social sectors through hate speech; the result of which is violence. Currently there is a twin attack on the values of tolerance and liberal space. From the top the ruling dispensation has people like Yogi Adiyanath- Sakshi Maharaj, Giriraj Singh, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti who keep spreading sectarian message while basking in the glory of power and at the societal level divisive statements prevail.
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 promotion of blind faith is the byproduct of this very policy. Blind faith and the large section of religious entrepreneurs (Babas, Modern Gurus) have a major say and have a major influence on the present political powers. As such the ideology spread by RSS, the one of Hindu nationalism, is dominating on social and political field. And lastly at the level of social thinking the ‘Hate other’ ideology has been promoted through various conduits using the issues like Ghar Wapasi, love jihad and beef. It is this which is creating the intense social insecurity amongst the religious minorities. It is this which is leading to incidents like Dadri. Such incidents are being projected as law and order problem to deliberately overlook the erosion in democratic space.
Essentially the insane 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 the fountainhead of Hindu nationalism which is, the major factor here, is RSS. Not to say that Muslim sectarianism has its own divisive and supplementary influence. Through different conveyer belts this ideology assumes the ‘Hate other’ sentiment and that’s where cow slaughter, beef eating become the ground to kill the people. The practitioners of sectarian nationalism vow that ‘we will kill and get killed’ while defending our Holy mother the cow.
This is just one case in point. 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 where the likes of Gulzar have to say what he said. So while the Jaitleys will keep undermining the steps taken by these people and while the Rajnath Singhs’ will keep dubbing it as a law and order problem, the dissatisfaction amongst those standing for democracy is growing, liberal space and tolerance is shrinking. We will have to keep thinking of more ways to draw the attention of larger sections of society towards the threat 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 have assumed menacing proportions and cannot be hidden by the illusory growth story!
Ram Puniyani was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and took voluntary retirement in December 2004 to work full time for communal harmony in India. He is involved with human rights activities from last two decades.He is associated with various secular and democratic initiatives like All India Secular Forum, Center for Study of Society and Secularism and ANHAD. Response only to firstname.lastname@example.org