Modi’s Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma, who said (in Hindi) ‘no-one laid a finger on her’
Writers and artists in India are making a powerful statement against the Modi Government’s patronage of assaults on dissent and pluralism, by returning prestigious awards and resigning from posts in cultural institutions.
These gestures of protest come in the wake of the horrific lynching to death of a Muslim man in Dadri on the allegation that he ate beef, and the murders of noted Kannada writer Prof MM Kalburgi, rationalist Narendra Dabholkar and communist Govind Pansare. They are protesting against the fact that India’s ruling Government and party are stoking hate to create an India where a person can be killed for what they eat, write, speak or believe.
Hindi writer Uday Prakash was among the first to return his Sahitya Akademi award, followed by Nayantara Sehgal, Ashok Vajpeyi, and Rahman Abbas. Since then, the spate of protests by writers and artists continues unabated. Kerala writer Sara Joseph; Hindi poets Manglesh Dabral and Rajesh Joshi; four Punjabi writers – Gurbachan Singh Bhullar, Ajmer Singh Aulakh, Atamjit Singh, Waryam Sandhu; Kashmiri writer and poet Ghulam Nabi Khayal; noted Gujarat-based literary critic Professor Ganesh Devy; six Kannada writers – Veeranna Madiwalar, T. Satish Javare Gowda, Sangamesh Menasinakai, Hanumanth Haligeri, Shridevi V Aloor and Chidanand Sali and Aman Sethi, winner of a ‘Yuva Puraskar’ award for young writers, are among those who returned Sahitya Akademi awards, while dancer Maya Krishna Rao returned her Sangeet Natak Akademi award. Writer Shashi Deshpande, poet K Satchidanandan, Kannada writer Aravind Malagatti have quit Sahitya Akademi posts in protest. Carnatic singer TM Krishna has written an open letter to the Prime Minister calling the bluff of his non-response to the Dadri lynching. Novelist Salman Rushdie has expressed support for India’s writers and expressed concern about the future of freedom of expression in India.
The writers and artists are protesting not only against the lynchings and murders by Hindu-majoritarian outfits emboldened by the Modi Government; they are also protesting against the explicit rationalization, even celebration and stoking of such acts by Ministers of the Modi Government and elected representatives of the ruling BJP, and the tacit, implicit support of the Prime Minister himself for such acts of violence and the accompanying hate-speech. They are also protesting against the fact that the ‘autonomous’ cultural Akademis are silent on the killing of writers and the attacks on pluralism led by the Culture Minister of the Modi Government.
The Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma commended the Dadri lynch mob for not having raped the victim’s daughter and described the lynching as an ‘accident’, and had earlier called for ‘cleansing’ of cultural and educational institutions of ‘foreign influence’ (read dissent and plurality). Responding to the writers’ protests, he taunted them, saying ‘Let them stop writing, then we will see.’ In a blatant espousal of impunity and injustice that has now become the hallmark for the Modi Government, Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptullah has said that Dadri is now past and India needs to look to the future.
Meanwhile the Prime Minister has remained totally silent on the serial murders of rationalists and writers, even in the wake of evidence that the suspected killers are from Hindu-majoritarian groups that Modi himself has approved of and endorsed. On the Dadri lynching, the Prime Minister remained silent for long. And when he eventually spoke at an election rally, he refrained from any mention, let alone outright, unequivocal condemnation of the lynching. What was needed from any democratic leader was a simple, forthright affirmation of the right of every Indian to eat, speak, write or believe without fear of being killed for it. What was needed was a clear condemnation of his camp followers who sought to rationalize the lynchings and murders. Instead, Modi merely said that Hindus and Muslims should decide whether they wished to fight themselves or fight poverty. He appealed to people not to listen to hate-speech – but significantly refused to ask his own Ministers and BJP MPs and MLAs to refrain from uttering hate-speech! And in other election speeches in Bihar, Modi himself used ‘beef’ as an excuse to stoke divisive politics. His words were quickly echoed by Bihar BJP leader Sushil Modi, who said Bihar’s voters must “choose between beef-eaters and those who would ban beef.” The very politics that killed Akhlaque in Dadri, is being used by the PM and the BJP in the hope of garnering votes in Bihar.
Modi Minister and BJP leader from Bihar Giriraj Singh has gone even further in venomous and sexist hate-speech; saying that the difference between mutton and beef is like that between a wife and a sister. The BJP seems unaware that such statements reveal that to them, women are like meat – items for consumption.
What must be stressed is that the ‘beef ban’ and ‘meat ban’ agenda of the BJP is merely a pretext, a cynical alibi for anti-Muslim hatred. It has emerged that BJP MLA Sangeet Som who made vicious provocative speeches on beef and meat in Dadri, is himself an owner of a company that exports meat and buffalo meat!
At a time when the Modi Government and BJP-RSS leaders are openly trying to turn India into a Hindu Nation with no room for plurality and dissent, it is heartening to see the courage of the writers and artists speaking truth to power. More strength to their pen and their voices!
Writers And Artists Speak Truth To Power In India
From ML Update – A CPI(ML) Weekly News Magazine – Vol. 18 | No. 42 | 13 -19 OCT 2015