India writers, intellectuals protest mounting ‘intolerance’ under Modi

23rd Oct 2015
India writers, intellectuals protest mounting ‘intolerance’ under Modi
By Ahmad Adil

 

 

SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir, India (AA): Mounting intolerance in India — and perceived government silence in regards to it — has triggered a vertical divide in the country’s intellectual class.

As a way of registering their discontent with the situation, more than two dozen writers have recently returned awards conferred on them earlier by the government.

The writers’ “revolt” comes following the murder in August of M. M. Kalburgi — himself a prominent writer — in southern India and the recent murder of a Muslim near New Delhi, ostensibly for eating beef, which strict Hindus view as sacrilege.

“I returned the award because a murder was taken [by the government] as an ordinary death,” writer Surjit Patar told Anadolu Agency. “He [Kalburgi] was murdered because of his views.”

This week, Patar, a writer from the Indian state of Punjab, returned an award — the Sahatiya Academy Award — which he received in 1993 for a collection of poems he wrote.

Many writers are angry over the apparent silence of India’s ruling right-wing Hindu Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) over the recent killings. They see what they describe as mounting religious “intolerance” in the country under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership as a threat to democracy.

– Democracy ‘under threat’

“Society has lost direction; democracy is under threat. I feel suffocated today. PM Modi is a victim of this extremism himself,” Atamjit Singh, another writer who recently returned an award, told Anadolu Agency.

“This is a bizarre situation. A writer is killed and the system is mum,” he said. “Hinduism has a lot of space [for dissent]. This is pseudo-Hinduism that they are doing.”

In recent months, a number of prominent writers and intellectuals have criticized incidents in which people were attacked for having contrary opinions.

Recently, the right-wing Hindu Shiv Sena group tried to force the cancellation of book launch by former Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mohammad Kasuri and a concert by Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali.

The recent murder of a Muslim in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh — allegedly for eating and storing beef — also prompted a backlash from prominent writers.

These included Nayantra Sahgal, who publicly lamented “the government’s failure to safeguard cultural diversity” in the country.

“He [Ghulam Ali] sings Punjabi and Sufi poetry,” Singh said. “I share a common language with him. When he isn’t allowed to sing, it’s disrespectful to my language and I will protest against this.”

Sahgal, a writer and member of the Indian writers’ forum, returned her award early this month.

“In memory of the Indians who have been murdered, in support of all Indians who uphold the right to dissent, and of all dissenters who now live in fear and uncertainty, I am returning my Sahitya Akademi Award,” she declared in a statement.

– ‘Manufactured’

The government, for its part, appears unmoved by the writers’ protest, describing it as a “manufactured” phenomenon.

“The thrust of the writers’ protest appears to be that, under the present central government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an atmosphere of intolerance has been created in the country,” Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said recently.

“Is this protest real or a manufactured one?” Jaitley asked on social-networking site Facebook. “Is this not a case of ideological intolerance?”

“The new strategy of anti-Modi, anti-BJP sections appears to be to resort to politics by other means,” he added. “The easiest way is to manufacture a crisis and subsequently manufacture a paper rebellion against the government.”

Writers, for their part, were irked by Jaitley’s remarks and similar comments by like-minded politicians.

“It is a matter of contempt when writers are blamed for being affiliated with opposition parties,” Patar said.

He added: “They still don’t understand that writers have taken a moral high ground by returning their awards; it is solely on humanitarian grounds and is completely apolitical.”

Author: Ekip
[Photo: Kashmiri Muslims attend the funeral procession of Farooq Ahmed Bhat, in Palhalan about 35 kms from the capital Srinagar on February 10, 2015 in Srinagar, India. A young man, Farooq Ahmad, was killed and three others were wounded in North Kashmir’s Palhalan area on Monday when Indian forces opened fire at a group of Kashmiri protesters. Ahmer Khan / Anadolu Agency]

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