Ominous Signs

The decision of quite a number of litterateurs, forty two in all so far, to return their respective Sahitya Academy awards in protest against the assassination of M M Kulburgi—Kulburgi, who was a relentless fighter against what he considered superstitious practices among Hindus, was not however the first to be assassinated in this fashion—has given impetus to a nationwide stir against intolerance. The decision was the reaction to a disappointing experience. They had wanted and expected the Sahitya Academy to condemn the assassination, but the expectation was belied. Besides, they have felt outraged at the lynching of a Muslim at Dadri, Uttar Pradesh on the false ground that he had stored beef in his house. While Narendra Modi has found it convenient to maintain a deafening silence on both issues, a good number of people, who ostensibly want to see a Hindu India where Hindu religious bigotry will prevail, have already begun attacking the protesters, trying to see political motives in their actions. They try to argue that time selection on the part of protesters show that the protests were politically motivated.

The point is: Was the assassination of Narendra Davolkar, Govinda Pansare and M M Kulburgi not politically motivated? Certainly it was. When votes are sought in the name of Hindutva, assertion of aggressive Hindutva is an act of clearly political nature, although its results may be self-defeating in the long run. Those who are decrying the protest actions of the recipients of the Academy awards did not say a single word when Davolkar or Pansare was killed. Now they try to portray such killings as minor incidents. One governor, at the same time a BJP leader, has drawn the analogy with Tagore's giving up of knighthood and gone as far as to ask whether the literary figures are trying to become Tagore-like figures in an easy way. Persons of such vulgar taste are perhaps willfully ignorant of the fact that return or rejection of literary and artistic awards is not new in this country. In the wake of the Nandigram episode of 2007, quite a few persons returned the awards given by the Left Front Government of West Bengal. After the demolition of the Babri Masjid, late Somnath Hor, the famous painter and sculptor, refused the lucrative Kalidas award of the BJP-led Madhya Pradesh Government. Killing of rationalists is a recent and rare phenomenon, and lynching of a person on the false allegation of keeping beef in his household has few, if any, precedents in this country, at least in UP. Such acts have a striking similarity with the killing of rationalist bloggers by Muslim fanatics in Bangladesh.

Kulburgi has been killed because of his declared opposition to idol worship. One may in all fairness refer to what Rabindranath Tagore, a firm believer in God and a Hindu belonging to the monotheistic Brahmmo sect, thought. Tagore was a firm opponent of idol worship. In Tagore's Visva Bharati, no idol worship, e.g. Durga Puja or Saraswati Puja is held; their only festival is Holi. This is one point. In the Indian philosophic tradition also, one can find, if one wishes to, strong opposition to idol worship as well as strong undercurrents of atheism. Turning to the issue of beef eating, it must be kept in mind that beef eating was not alien to ancient Hindu tradition. One should read Rajendra Lal Mitra's scholarly and well-researched essay, published with an introduction by Swami Bhumananda, a Hindu sannyasi, on this subject. Two pertinent quotations from the Mahabharata may be presented here in order to reinforce the point.

‘Oh Brahmin, in the ancient times, everyday two thousand cows were slaughtered for King Rantideva’s kitchen’ —Banaparva, 208/8. Since this great river originates from skin, blood etc it became famous as Charmanvati—Santiparva 19/23.

King Rantideva was reportedly the king of a place named Dashpur of Avanti (Malwa).

Of course, systematic cultivation of ignorance about India's age-old pluralism is the stock-in-trade of the Hindu right as well as the sine qua non of their ideological existence. On Tagore, they will probably say arrogantly, "Hell with him!" Or it may be they will not dare make such pronouncements and prefer silence if Tagore's views are presented to them.

Narendra Modi's tours of the USA and other Western countries evoke an irony. Those whom Modi has been coaxing for investing in India, namely the Western corporate giants, are not averse to taking beef, and the RSS does not have the courage to say that these beefeaters must not be coaxed. Nor does Narendra Modi have the guts to reprimand his RSS mentors for their rabid campaign against cow-slaughter. Modi needs the western beefeaters as much as he needs the Indian campaigners against cow-slaughter; he is trying to work up a pastiche of the two. Whether he will succeed is another question, however.

Mohammad Akhlaque was lynched because it was falsely propagated that he had kept beef in his refrigerator. After his lynching, Vinay Krishna Chaturvedi, an RSS ideologue, wrote in Panchajanya, the RSS journal, that the writers who returned the awards were willfully blind to Akhlaque's participation in cow-slaughter. Now it is known that the meat Akhlaque had kept in his refrigerator was not beef, but mutton. Hence why this blatant falsehood on the part of Chaturvedi? A competent commentator has given two possible reasons: 'either anything goes in the service of propaganda or Akhlaque, guilty of being Muslim, must have been complicit, metaphysically if not literally, in cow-killing.'

Hopefully enough, protests have been raging, and it is unlikely that the frantic effort to create a Hindu-Muslim polarisation will succeed at least as far as the ensuing Bihar polls are concerned. The reason is that the appeal of Hindutva is not likely to carry much conviction with the common masses of Bihar.

Meanwhile, a group of 10 Indian filmmakers has returned national awards in protest at what they say is a rising climate of intolerance. Murders of rationalists are not random acts of violece. People are being murdered for the beliefs and opinions.

The killings, the Dadri episode as well as the murder of rationalists, are ominous events. They are symbols of fascism based on obscurantist ideas and endless lies, and in this sense it is similar to German fascism of the 1930s. It is not fascism of the Emergency type, but one based on Hindu chauvinism. Yet the surging waves of protests show that imposition of a fascist rule will not be easy. If liberals and democrats don’t protest now, they are in danger of being part of destroying diversity.               

Vol. 48, No. 18, Nov 8 - 14, 2015