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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 32 New Delhi August 1, 2015

Why A Case Against Kancha Ilaiah?

Friday 31 July 2015, by Ambrose Pinto

Professor Kancha Ilaiah is the Director of the Centre for Social Exclusion in the Maulana Azad University in Hyderabad. All through his life as an academician, he has ignited minds by raising important questions on culture, caste and spirituality. The police have now booked a case on him for an article he wrote in Andhra Jyothi, a Telugu newspaper, on whether God is a democrat or not, on the complaint by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad that the article has hurt their religious sentiments. Is it right for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to complain against the professor? Even if a complaint is made, is it enough a reason to register case against him under Section 153 (A) and Section 295 (A), which empower the authorities to act against people who commit deliberate and malicious acts aiming at outraging religious sentiment and spreading enmity between groups? It is a different question whether he will be charge-sheeted or not. The question is whether a case should have been booked at all.

We live in a Democracy

After all, in spite of attacks on democracy from several sides, India is still a democracy. In a democracy people have every right to hold their ideas and they also have a right to express those ideas so that people reflect on them. Right to freedom of expression is basic and no citizen can take it away from an individual. What was Professor Kancha’s fault? As a subaltern scholar, he has been committed to the empowerment of the marginalised. He has been able to raise important questions that have been responsible for the enslavement of discriminated comm-unities. His discourse has been on the right to equality for the excluded, a fight against religious dogmas and rituals that have been responsible for the subordination and slavery of Bahujans and upholding the right of inclusion for those deliberately kept out of the system. When one raises questions about caste and culture, gods and goddesses, food habits and rituals, there are people who have benefited from the system who will feel hurt. Is feeling hurt enough of reason to file a case against the professor? In a democracy feelings are not that important as reason. Those who said they were hurt by Professor Kancha’s article, could have countered him with another set of arguments. That would have led to a public discourse and a process of education. When does an individual or a group file cases? When she/he or it does not have a case and desires to preserve her/his or its interests.

Hostile Establishment

What is tragic, however, is the nexus of vested interest groups with the establishment. The state and its officials have been hostile to the professor. A police officer at the station had said that Ilaiah is in the habit of articulating provocative views in his articles, which can and do hurt the sentiments of the people. His question was: “Why does he have to make comments against practices which are dear to the people?” He is a police officer. Why should he have made that kind of comment when he is expected to be neutral in performing his task for the state? Professor Kancha at least is aware of his mission as an educator. As a Professor of Social Sciences his work is to generate ideas by interrogating the existing unjust situation. For faithfully performing his task should the police register a case against him for his academic views in a democracy? Colleges and universities exist to interrogate, to explore and to raise relevant questions. Given the nature of a democratic state and the role of higher education in transforming society, how could any citizen justify the role of the state in filing a case against the professor as long as his logic is sound? He could have been asked to explain his position and the aggrieved party could have come up with another set of arguments that could have been easily debated in the public realm. It is totally wrong to book a noteworthy professor on the allegations of a fringe group that is frightened of discussions, debates and dissent, the essence of democracy.

Kancha’s Thesis

The central thesis of the article of Kancha is that a society’s social and political structures are profoundly influenced by its conception of God and by its religious beliefs.

His question to the readers was: “If the God one believes in doesn’t have democratic values, where will this person get those democratic values from?” Is this a wrong question? If the question is wrong, what would be the right question? Those who are aggrieved should have been asked by the police to state it. To the preservers of tradition any question on religion can hurt their sentiments. Ambedkar, Phule, Periyar and several others have raised questions that the professor has raised. They were not booked. Why should Professor Kancha teach in a university if he is unable to make students think of their culture and civilisation and if he does not make them critical on issues of life in society?

Is the State Feudal and Conservative?

One least expected the state to file charges on the professor. A recent phenomenon that one witnesses is that the Indian state, while protecting communal interests, has begun attacking critical inquiry and free speech. While Thackereys, Togadias, Sadhvi Jyotis, Giriraj Singhs, Niranjan Jyotis, Yogi Adithyanaths and others have gone scot-free after publicly using threatening and abusive language against religious and regional minorities, police cases under sections 153A and 295A are routinely filed against individuals, authors and teachers, artists and theatre personalities for supposedly hurting religious sentiments of different groups.

What the country needs are laws against hate to protect the oppressed and marginalised communities from humiliation, threat and abuse. Filing of cases against academicians, artists, liberals and progressives for their views is a sign of the aggressive intent of the Hindutva forces to attack any discourse which publicly questions their casteist understanding of the Indian society. Narendra Modi occupying the PM’s chair has emboldened them further. For them, in spite of all his disowning, he is one among them. That is why the country needs a national network to defeat such anti-democratic and feudal forces.

Dr Ambrose Pinto SJ is the Principal of St. Aloysius Degree College, Bangalore.