Ideas more dangerous than guns
By Poonam I Kaushish
“Off with her head, arguments later”, ordered the Queen in Alice in Wonderland. A term synonymous in modern India with silencing inimical voices of dissent and conflicting thought. Welcome the Ugly Intolerant Indian!
Undoubtedly, last week’s murder of Gauri Lankesh editor of the Kannada weekly Lankesh Patrike known for her left-leaning views on Hindutva politics by unidentified assailants in Bengaluru underscores how bigoted and prejudicial we are to dissidence and jump to conclusions without proof.
Arguably, why would any sane person want to kill a journalist who was actively involved in rehabilitating Naxalites. Is it because she opposed right wing communal forces which was grating and inacceptable in some quarters? Or that she represented an idea which had to be blocked or else? Either way, Lankesh’s murder once again strips India of all balance and open-mindedness wherein intolerance and violence is the rhetoric of the times.
Am I shocked? Yes. Are threats, fear and coercion the new grammar of Naya Bharat’s political ecosystem? Is the polity afraid of the clash of ideas in our public life? How does merely criticizing a belief or thinking tantamount to being “anti’ or spreading “hatred”? Should chorusing a “yes” become litmus of one’s patriotism?’ Questions abound.
Be it the BJP-RSS, Congress or XYZ all stand guilty. At one end why didn’t Siddarmiah’s Congress Government provide her security? Why did the Opposition and its ‘liberal’ friends keep quite after the killings of BJP-RSS workers in Kerala and Karnataka? Do they not have the right to follow their ideology?
On the other, is the NDA crushing free expression, suppressing debate and dissent which are essential pre-requisites of creative and thinking minds? Is the Hindutva brigade trying to tell us that Lankesh’s criticism and outpourings will not be tolerated? Replete with ‘It’s my way or highway’ attitude? Is this there model of governance?
Where are we heading? The answer is scary. Clearly, the speed with which our tolerance is falling to fragile levels is worrying. A climate of mob rule flourishes whereby be it communalists, right-wing activists, secularists even evangelists all revel in the ‘war of positions’ turning every secular-communal issue into burning embers of hatred.
A political tamasha wherein protests being “real or manufactured” are raised by both Government and Opposition. A classic case of “ideological intolerance” by writers with Left or Nehruvian leanings who enjoyed patronage of Congress’s largesse as opposed to Hindutva ideology and beliefs of the present ruling dispensation.
Remember 2013 and 2015 when Maharashtra rationalist Narendra Dabholkar whose campaigns against superstitious practices angered many Hindu religious activists was killed by a pair of unidentified men. Or Sahitya Akademi Award winner writer and rationalist MM Kalburgi who spent decades debunking peddlers of superstition was shot dead by two unidentified persons as was Maharashtra rationalist and leftist thinker Govind Pansare.
In a milieu whereby democracy is a conflict of interests masquerading as a contest of principles all wily nily practising the go-for tactic, as they attempt to quash their opponents through warning of violence and rhetorical intimidation on issues and life. All in the grip self-styled chauvinism and cultural dogmas wherein any film, book or artwork are fast becoming soft targets with knee-jerk reactions taking over debates and calibrated decisions and no writer, thinker, historian or social scientist can honestly do his/her research objectively.
Worse, whatever pokes fun or is not in sync with our leaders thinking, cause and outlook is not only banned, vandalized but every view is considered an act of sedition. And the writer, film maker or official given a mouthful and barred. Scandalously, cultural bigotry is the latest facet of the dirty politics that our netagan have stooped to. Unfortunately, they seem to be getting away with it without even soiling their hands.
The Hindutva brigade alone is not blameworthy. Recall how an innocuous cartoonist Assem Trivedi was arrested for sedition by Mamata Bannerjee in Kolkata. Before him famed cartoonist Shankar’s caricatures of Ambedkar in NCERT school books were posthumously removed. Notwithstanding, Prime Minister Nehru called sedition laws “objectionable and obnoxious”.
What to speak of Tamil Nadu banning noted actor-director Kamal Hasan’s 100 crore magna opus Viswaroopam which dealt with terrorism on the fallacious plea that it would hurt sentiments of ‘unknown’ Muslim groups and create a law and order problem.
Rightly or wrongly, the country seems to be in the grip of self-styled chauvinism and cultural dogmas wherein writers, intellectual, thinker, historian social scientist or hoi polloi are soft targets with knee-jerk reactions taking over debates and calibrated decisions. Life is lived in the slim strip called the official and every joke, wit, satire, humour or defiance treated as a monster. Big deal if this makes public discourse impoverished and toothless.
Resulting in ideas becoming more dangerous than guns, replacing moral rules with naked force. Thereby, killing yet another signpost of an increasingly enfeebled system. Symptomatic of a new cult establishing an order of hatred and rage. Of an eerie stillness filling the senses with the smell of death, mayhem and brutal carnage held hostage by rampant goondagardi. NRegrettably, gone are the days when India was held as a beacon of free speech, opinion and tolerance.
Further, attempts to criminalise freedom of expression or to curtail it could result in showcasing the State as rigid which abhors any criticism whatsoever. If one doesn’t like a film just collect a crowd and burn the theaters where it is shown. If you don’t like a novelist’s book get the Government to ban it or issue a fatwa against the author.
Thus, far from being tolerant and turning a cheek to varying opinions it would seem that we are determined to turn most things into a bone of contention. Why is anyone not free to accepting or not accepting the view of others? Be it an objectionable statement or a matter of perception it might be normal to one but not to another. Clearly, the speed with which our tolerance is falling to fragile levels is frightening.
Questionably, in this all pervasive decadence, interspersed with growing public distaste, cynicism and despair is there nothing to cry a halt to this depravation? Not really. At the present reckoning, India might remain indefinitely trapped in its divisive rhetoric.
What now? How does one salvage India’s soul renowned for its values and long tradition of tolerance? For starters we need to shun our moral terrorists. It is now imperative we tone down divisive and personal attacks. Our moral angst cannot be selective but should be just, honourable and equal.
Undeniably, the country needs to re-think it’s strategic and approach to the future and realise a nation is primarily a fusion of minds and hearts and secondarily a geographical entity. The message has to go out clearly that no person, group or organization can threaten violence, and if they do, they lose their democratic right to be heard.
India is a big country with enough room for all to live in peace and goodwill. Criticism is a sign of a thriving and robust democracy. The way to go forward is to desist from odium. Hate crimes don’t pay. The country together needs to undergo a DNA test. Else, it will leave India dangerously intolerant and violence-prone. What gives? — INFA