This is another article that is going to be lost in the large void that is the Internet. But, when a debate is on and there’s an attempt to suppress one side of it, at least a symbolic protest is in order. But first, a few things that need clarification:
- It is not possible for a democratically elected government of India to implement any restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression of any Indian. Sure, they can shut off mobile networks and the Internet for a small period of time but nothing of the magnitude that happens in other, more iron handed regimes around the world. The fact that my opinion and the opinion that I’m countering today and a multitude of others opinions are floating around is ample proof of this. The suppression of opinions is of another kind as I will explain in this piece.
- I’ve never been a fan of the Indian electronic media. They’re constantly in search of TRP-boosting stories that can raise tempers and keep people glued to a medium of news that is playing catch up with the Internet. But there are sensible people in the media who have a right to disagree with the “popular view” and often, that is a point that is missed.
- The way the incidents at Dadri and other parts of the country are being peddled as examples of religious intolerance in India are purely political games that every sane person can see through. India is a pluralistic, secular nation irrespective of the party in power. Look around you. There’s bound to be at least 2-3 people of faiths other than yours minding their own business and going about their works exactly like you are doing. It has been the unfortunate behaviour of political parties across the spectrum to incite communities during election time to polarise votes.
Having said all of that, one other thing needs to be addressed. And that, is the debate itself that surrounds all these issues. It has pitted journalists, writers, academicians and many others against a large number of people who feel that these journos and writers have sold out to the opposition parties and are trying to blame the Modi Government for everything. (Yes. Gen. V.K Singh did not call Dalits, dogs. That is
the media’s absolutely ridiculous interpretation).
But here’s the problem with the debate. The killings in Dadri, throwing ink on people’s faces, threatening people who are visiting from Pakistan, threatening people who eat beef are indefensible acts. They killed a man because he ate beef. The guys who did ARE intolerant. They got a Pakistani artist’s show cancelled because he was from Pakistan. They ARE intolerant. They asked people who eat beef to go to Pakistan. They ARE intolerant (and self-defeating because you’re then painting Pakistan as the rosy heaven where people of all faiths and food habits are welcome). Notice how I keep saying “they” without adding political affiliations to them because it doesn’t matter! They are intolerant. Our Prime minister has not condemned these incidents and that is rather odd for a person who is extremely loquacious.
Unfortunately, the moment I ask MY Prime Minister to say something about any of this, I’m a congress agent. I have close relations with Kapil Sibal and Sonia Gandhi and I’m a “sickular” by association. I have been paid off by them in 2003, I was given a Padma Shri for my troubles in 2006, I have been assured a plush bungalow on Marine Drive and I constantly hang out with Pakistanis (As if that’s a sin. So much for Aman Ki Asha). I’m all that because “where were you when the 1984 riots happened or when Kashmiri Pandits were chased out of their homes”.
GUYS! RELAX. When journalists like Rajdeep Sardesai or artists like Naseeruddin Shah and Gulzar lament the vitriolic atmosphere in with intolerance growing by the day, you’re proving their point by attacking them for expressing an opinion. When Sahitya Akaedmi awardees are not only trolled for returning their awards but also labelled as congress agents and their motives are questioned by cabinet ministers, you’re proving their point about the growing intolerance for dissent. I don’t entirely agree with them returning their awards because the award is apolitical and must stay that way. BUT I will defend to the death their right to return it.
A large number of people are of the opinion that this kind of attention is only being given to a story because the victim is muslim and that issues that Hindus face are not addressed. The Kashmiri Pandits and the 1984 riots being the cases in point. They deserve to be condemned too and those who are responsible must be dealt with. The process, unfortunately, has taken ages and nothing has come of it. But should we repeat the mistakes of the past? The reason these “new incidents” are getting so much attention is because news and opinions are expressed on more platforms than earlier. Social media is capable of holding governments and institutions accountable for their actions. It is true that political parties have pandered to the needs of the minorities for electoral gains and in the process cultivated reactionary, extremist elements who get away with more than most people get away with. But notice how the extremist elements from among the majority have also mushroomed in recent times, bellowed by the belief that the government is on their side. A belief, that needs to nipped in the bud by the head of the government. The overwhelming majority of Hindus are peace-loving people. As are the overwhelming majorities of people of all other faiths in India. The extremist elements, irrespective of religious affiliations, are a curse upon the society and can’t be allowed to roam free. Which is why people like Sakshi Maharaj and his ilk who are now under the assumption that they are in power and can do as they feel NEED TO be restrained by the central authority in charge of them i.e The Prime Minister. It does create a vitriolic environment for everyone when statements like “those who eat beef can go to Pakistan” or “Muslims can stay in India but must give up eating beef” are made.
Condemn the bigots. The Dadri Killers deserve to be brought to justice. Everyone agrees. Should the Prime Minister make a statement on it? Some people feel he should. His supporters will say that he has indeed made a statement. But seeing as how that has had no effect on repeat offenders from his party, clearly he needs to do more. Some of us have posed that question. But that shouldn’t automatically trigger an attack on the motives of the person posing that question. It has become the go-to tactic of BJP spokespeople to question the credentials and motives of the person asking questions. Stop assuming that everything is a conspiracy! If there’s an issue, address it. And if there isn’t, then and only then, expose the conspirator. But don’t try to shoot the messenger when there really is a problem that needs to be addressed. In this case, the solution to the problem is the responsibility of the UP government. But shouldn’t the Prime Minister send out a stern message, in public, to those carrying out the dastardly attacks?
The last thing we need is to create a situation where people are afraid to voice dissent simply because they’re not sure where the next attack will come from. A situation where one must prove their patriotism by agreeing with all actions of the Prime Minister and in some cases, the lack of it. The fact that we’re slowly heading there is what bothers some of us.