Bol, ke lab azaad hai tere: Bol, zabaan ab tak teri hai, Tera sutwan jism hai tera – Bol, ke jaan ab tak teri hai.
Truth-tellers might find themselves caught in the shackles laid by tyrannical forces that want to gag their voices but their lips remain free. As the fascist arms of the government begin to tighten, these free voices will become more vulnerable to incarceration, physical harm, intimidation and harassment out of pure vendetta. The CBI raids against leading legal luminaries, Indira Jaisingh and Anand Grover, on trumped up charges of money laundering is another reminder. The case is similar to the manner in which the government sought to hound activist, journalist and writer, Teesta Setalvad to teach her a lesson for her groundswell of work for justice in Gujarat. Nothing stopped heroic Teesta from continuing to speak out against tyranny. Nothing may stop Indira and Grover. When tyrannical powers emerge and strengthen, the heroes have no choice but to become stronger too.
Words that I penned down in 2015, when this tyranny against campaigners, dissenters intellectuals and writers was still in its infancy, appear even more relevant now. These are being reproduced below:
“Do you think you can make a difference by writing?” is a question, I am often asked. Especially when I am writing about human rights abuse or shrinking space for dissent, curb on civil liberties or plunder of secular ethos, these questions are buzzed and fly about freely around me. There are no straight answers to the question. At one level, it may not make an iota of difference. At another, raising queries and interrogating issues of key significance to humanity, democracy and world peace are a continuing process with results that may be little, even negligible, and slow. It takes years to make a difference and it takes many to speak out to make a difference. But my query is that when things go wrong, what other option do we as thinking, sensible and responsible citizens of the world have? It’s either speaking out or silence. The latter suits the interest and health of those threatening the core of humanity through their words and actions. Speaking out, even if it makes little difference, hurts their interest. It unnerves them when silence is broken and voices of protest and criticism resonate like an echo, an unbroken chain strengthened by conviction, rationality and solidarity.
It is this resonance of rationality, coming from intellectuals, academicians, writers, artists, film makers and other cultural personalities that threatens and shakes the edifice of fascism and xenophobia. It is an open challenge. Does it effectively work? There is, perhaps, no way to gauge the measure of success. But when things go wrong and gaps are filled with deliberate silences of conscious citizens with thinking capacity who knowingly and willingly turn themselves into collaborators of perpetrators, it is the ideology of unreason, fascism and rabid hatred that stands to gain. So when writers, thinkers, intellectuals and cultural personalities from across India have begun to protest in their own ways – writing letters, giving statements or returning state awards, it is a much needed initiative and something that should inspire pride and awe, not derision and politicization.
The likes of union cultural minister Mahesh Sharma may, however, prefer to oppose them and say that they should stop writing or speaking as a mark of protest. So, they are expected to protest by first sacrificing the little space for free speech that they enjoy and then the silence can be conveniently interpreted as consent. Obviously, this suits his sinister Hindutva goals that he has been openly advocating. The liberals within the BJP like union finance minister Arun Jaitley may choose to cloak contempt for the anguish of intellectuals with sophistry of words like “manufactured revolt” and “selective outrage”. Dissent cannot be manufactured; it stems naturally from anguish and concern over threat to democracy and secularism and the anguish is inspired by increasing trends of intolerance and the union government’s immense tolerance to violent and shameful acts of rabid groups. No denying that BJP alone is not guilty of perpetuating acts that are communal and undemocratic and that other parties, who profess to be secular, have done it too and turned their heads other way when there have been threats to communal harmony or democracy. But it is the scale and enormity of the present trend coupled with a well designed pattern of BJP government choosing to hound the victims and the whistle blowers rather than the perpetrators in an evident bid to patronize such acts. When a government in power begins to brazenly condone undemocratic and communal acts, and allows these to become a norm, it further emboldens fringe groups vitiating the atmosphere. (No extra points for realising that these fringe groups are allies of the BJP or its siblings working under the parent body of RSS.) The RSS controls the government and the RSS has an ideology that is opposed to democratic functioning and secularism, explicitly so. By that simple logic it would be foolish to rake up the debate of treating the RSS and its family and the other parties, inefficient, incompetent and ruthless as they may have been. The RSS, its splinter groups and their ideology poses excessive threat to the country and the government in power is allowing them to do as they please. That is the grave reality and these are the dangers that the writers and intellectuals are opposing today and the only need is to understand what these perils really are.
There should be no reason to deflect from this vital concern by trying to delegitimize their protest by shamefully branding them seditious, pro-naxalites or pro-terrorists; even by questioning the logic of giving up state awards. Clearly, none of these intellectuals are known to have any kind of strong political affiliations. Then what is it that has prompted them to speak out. Murders? Denial of Free Speech? Burning of Books? Vandalising art shows? Banning Films, concerts? Hooliganism at seminars and book launches? Xenophobic statements and communally violent actions? Saffronising of books? Rewriting History? Tampering Science with Mythology? Dress codes and Food codes? There is a huge collection of rabid fascism and intolerance on display. And, to top it all – not one word of condemnation from those in power. There’s only denial. Connect the dots and the picture is no better than the dark days of Emergency; those with fore-sight can well envision that there is more to come.
The worst is that well oiled propaganda continues to enthuse some sections of otherwise liberal thinking individuals including intellectuals, as concepts of secularism and democracy become officially and brazenly seditious nature. Like Hitler, when Modi seized power at the Centre, former critics of his brand of politics and his Gujarat experiment were not only willing to forget his past but were swept away by the tide and happily eulogised his ‘innovative spirit’ and his ‘zeal for development’. Some like the typical sycophants joined the bandwagon of his supporters simply to curry favour. RSS’ Hindutva ideology is inspired by Nazi fascism and its popular slogans of ‘Believe, Obey and Fight’. Such a philosophy is strictly against the concepts of knowledge, intellectual quest and thinking. History tells us horrifying stories of how books were burnt in Nazi Germany and how these events were glorified and celebrated. Recent incidents are reminders that this is the path that the Modi led government is pushing the nation towards. The saffron brigade is intolerant to intellectual dissent of any kind – books, public platforms, media, films etc. Such intolerance happened before but now it is being openly celebrated, even by some in the corridors of power.
In such a scenario, when intellectuals begin to revolt, it raises the heckles of a government busy emboldening the goons and human haters. For the nation dismayed and shocked by the happenings, it flavours the despair with a tinge of hope. It evokes a paradox: sense of impossibility and futility is now peppered with strong doses of yearning and hope as messengers heroically strive to break through and change the present tide. Whatever little success that endeavour meets, it would be immensely significant.