There is plenty of angst and handwringing, and to be honest, petulance over accusations that intolerance is growing in India. The fact that intolerance is growing is not the problem for some people, who see themselves as true Indian patriots. The problem for them seems to be: why are people, who feel the intolerance talking about it. They should keep quiet. The counter-question put to those, who complain about this palpable intolerance is: why didn’t you complain about it before.
People protest against the lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri, at Mandi House in New Delhi on October 11. Akhlaq was murdered on a false rumour that he had killed a calf and eaten its flesh. Again, such ghastly acts have happened before and will happen again. File pic
This countering can and has reached bizarre levels. People castigated for not returning awards for events that happened before they were born. People castigated for not objecting to events that they had objected to. People castigated for returning awards because the castigator had never heard of them.
More than 40 writers have returned various awards and artistes and scholars have joined their protests. If you listen to those that they have upset, every one of these is a Congress agent, an establishment person, a hypocrite and a writer, scholar and artiste who has no value or that no one has ever heard of. The absurdity of their argument passes the true Indian patriots by, perhaps because they are so caught up in their own insecurities.
One can understand Union finance minister Arun Jaitley being petty with his “manufactured” rebellion remark: after all, the protests seem to aim at both the BJP government in power at the Centre and the concept of Hindutva. Obviously, he is touchy about it. And since when have Indian politicians of any hue been examples of graciousness and high intelligence?
But, it is the supporters of the BJP, the RSS, the Bajrang Dal, the Sanatan Sanstha, the VHP and most of all, fans of Prime Minister Narendra Modi — who are the most upset by writers — who feel that dissent is being stifled. The murder of Kannada scholar and writer MM Kalburgi apparently by Hindutva groups, who had threatened him because he was against idol worship, was a tipping point. Yes, other horrible things have happened before and will happen again. But, some moments in history are inflexion points and this was one of them.
The next such event was the lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq in Uttar Pradesh on a false rumour that he had killed a calf and eaten its flesh. Again, such ghastly acts have happened before and will happen again. To say nothing that ever happens is of any value because it has all happened before and will again is a neat but specious philosophy.
History will tell us why these events and not others captured the public imagination. But until then, we must acknowledge that even if we are too stupid to understand the “why”, we have to accept that people are disturbed, both those who register their distress and those who attack people for expressing distress. The most idiotic arguments have been to ask these writers to return their passports, if they are so upset and one beyond that, return their passports and go to Pakistan. Neither of these suggestions was made by politicians or by members of rightwing groups or by anonymous trolls, but by two rightwing public intellectuals.
The fact that members of government, the BJP, RSS and its affiliates have continued their campaign against “cow killers” and made threats against people who eat beef — the fact that the President of India and the Prime Minister have spoken twice each against people making importune and divisive comments — shows that many are not listening to either of them. And, calling writers, artistes and scholars names and trying to belittle them does not appear to be working either.
An argument is made — even by Modi — that the states were Kalburgi and Akhlaq were killed are not ruled by the BJP and that law and order is a state subject. This is true at face value. Karnataka is a Congress-ruled state and UP is Samajwadi Party-ruled. But, what about the fact that the accused in both cases are part of or affiliated to the Hindutva ‘rightwing’? All parties may be hypocritical liars, but right now the loudest threats and abuses come from the Hindutva organisations.
Are you still happy to pretend otherwise?
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona