Issues

We can no longer remain silent!

Fr. Cedric Prakash sj

Romila Thapar is one of the most celebrated historians of India. She is known for her scholarship and academic integrity; there are few in the country who can challenge her expertise and her objectivity. A few days ago, this 83-year old scholar was invited to deliver a lecture in Mumbai entitled ‘Indian society and the secular’. The lecture was dedicated to the well-known social reformer, the late Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer. Several of Mumbai’s intelligentsia and other progressives were there to listen to the erudite scholar. The irony of it was that in a country which is constitutionally pledged to secularism, a battalion of the Mumbai police force were all around the lecture hall not merely to forestall “any untoward incident” but also in preventing late-comers from entering a jam-packed hall.

Writing in ‘The Wire’ Jyoti Punwani says “when a public lecture by one of the country’s most distinguished, internationally respected academics has khaki uniforms all over, you know your city has entered what Urdu writer Rahman Abbas calls an “era of darkness”, where thought itself is in danger. As Romila Thapar said, it’s time for us to stand up and shout that as citizens, this is not the city we knew, the country we want.”

 “Era of darkness?” Are we exaggerating things or are we reminded of Bertolt Brecht, the famous German poet, playwright and theatre director who was not afraid to take on Hitler and who wrote about “the dark times”? What has been happening with frightening regularity all over the country is surely a concern for all those who treasure the secular fabric of our country and the values and freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution. The list of happenings is painfully endless; these include: the killing of rationalists; attacking freedom of speech and expression; denigrating minorities; lynching someone who has eaten meat; police raiding the Kerala Bhavan in New Delhi; above all, the way the RSS has been posturing itself and its nexus with the Government, certainly does not augur well for the future of India.

Thankfully besides Romila Thapar, more than fifty of the most acknowledged historians of India have protested through a very powerful statement at “the highly vitiated atmosphere prevailing in the country”.  Well-known scientist P.M. Bhargava returned his Padma Bhushan saying that democracy is under threat in the country. Over one hundred distinguished scientists have also spoken out saying “we, the scientists, are concerned about the recent developments with reference to intolerance, polarisation and spread of communal hatred resulting in the death of innocent people.....a highly polarized community is like a nuclear bomb close to criticality. It can explode any time and drive the nation to utter chaos”. This wave of protest was of course begun by the litterateurs of the country; more than forty of them have returned their prestigious Sahitya Akademi awards; joining the chorus of protests have been some of the leading film directors, celebrities and activists including the former Chief of the Indian Navy, Admiral L. Ramdas.

On expected lines, Modi, the BJP, RSS and their ilk do their best to belittle and pooh-pooh these voices of protests.  Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, on Thursday said, “you will find a lot of rabid, anti-BJP elements among them”. In the final analysis, those who matter are not going to be cowed down. No one wants the country to be destroyed by fundamentalists, fascists and fanatics. The rest of us, can no longer remain silent in the face of this onslaught!

The author is director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace. He may be contacted at sjprashant@gmail.com


This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 November 2015 on page no. 2

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