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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 51 New Delhi December 10, 2016

Rising Against Silence

Sunday 11 December 2016

BOOK REVIEW

by Krishna Jha

Words Matter: Writings Against Silence by K. Satchidanandan; Penguin Group India; 2016; pp. 260; Price: Rs 399.

The knock is today at every door. The entire democratic fabric is at stake. Hence the anthology Against Silence, edited by the renowned Malayalam poet, K. Satchidanandan, where every piece of writing contains rebelling voices that refuse to get crushed.

Authors have risen to the CALL...

Munshi Premchand, the first President of the Progressive Writers Association, had said in 1936, when fascism was slowly getting stabilised in the West, that literature was the flame that shows the path to politics.

The context emerges with the baseline, “Words Matter”.

The essays are by various writers, thinkers, intellectuals negating discrimination. Against violence, and intolerance, they have been protesting. The book itself is in response to the spontaneous protest by the same collective, returning their awards, and relinquishing their government posts in 2015 against the silence, of the rulers in the country, when Akhlaq was mobbed. His refutations against the charges, the allegation that he preferred a piece of food his opponents did not relish, were left unheard. And finally he fell silent, for ever.

Murugan Perumal, the great literary chronicler, was attacked for portraying in his book, Madhorubhagan, an old ritual that provoked the dominant middle caste Kongu Vellalars, with newly acquired money and a growing lust for power. The BJP, coming to power in 2014, preferred to act, since the situation promised an edge-hold in Tamil Nadu. To act then meant not to act. The action was left to the local RSS functionaries, who started burning the pages from the book, pasting humiliating posters, and staging demonstrations at his house, and finally threatening him for life.

The anthology quotes from the piece by A.R. Venkatachalapathy, “Who killed Perumal Murugan?”, the text that read, “P. Murugan, writing for the person called Perumal Murugan. Writer Perumal Murugan is dead. He is no god. So, he will not rise from the dead. Nor does he believe in resurrection. Hereafter, only the lowly teacher P. Murugan will live...”

Like Akhlaq, Pernumal Murugan was also hounded, forced to keep shut. But their silence was eloquent with a challenge, to the “growing culture of intolerance”.

“The purpose of this book, then,” wrote the poet, “was to collect sober, democratic voices that wished to speak out against these silences.”

Among the authors are historian Romila Thapar, scholar Ananya Vajpeyi, journalists Amrith Lal and Salil Tripathi and others.

There are also essays on the life and works of Narendra Dabholkar, Comrade Govind Pansare, and M.M. Kalburgi, together with excerpts from their writings.

The collection includes writings on the legacy of caste oppression, on “tolerance” and “dissent”, and the onslaught against secular culture and on India’s tradition of dialogue and diversity.

Religious nationalism, in its new cover, stresses on the supremacy, demands larger share and hence bans any opposing voice. It suppresses freedom of expression, fearing any ‘other voice’ as subversive. Hence the claim for keeping the ‘culture’ unpolluted leads them to murder rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, Prof Kalburgi and Com Govind Pansare, pulp books, threaten publishers and finally, even engage in carnage, the total annihilation of the other community, a glimpse of what we had witnessed in Gujarat in 2002.

Terrorism bred thus intensifies prejudices, intolerance, and acts frequently, though with aspects of globalisation visible in its every move. The democratic nationalist trends are interpreted in terms of the ruling forces, and efforts are made to destroy them as seen frequently today.

Here comes the so-called fight against terrorism, with a depiction of ‘Clash of Civilisations’, both exclusive, singular in their own so called spaces, and at war, victims of the divisive steps taken by finance capital, to rule the roost.

Religious nationalism at some stage acquires the possibility of becoming state terrorism. The legal protection turns subversive and innocent victims suffer without any respite. Justifications are offered for the ambiguities and usually get support from those sections that feel insecure in the face of threats from below. As the voices rise against the layers of silence, protests among the Dalits and backward get stronger, against the institutional killing of Rohith Vemula, for the demand to amend the Atrocities against sc/sts Act, and in the songs of the little Punjabi girl, Jinni, and the Dalit Maharashtra singer/poet, Tana Bhagat.

 Along with religious nationalism, there has been the concept of Hindutva introduced, equating it with Hindu Rashtra, defined as a singular culture with interpretations depending on the context, to fetch political support. One is reminded of Samuel Huntington here when he says the war of civilisations cannot be resolved, it can only end in genocide. Hence, when the “other” cultures are not quite affable to exclusion, Hindutva forces are ever prepared to resort to violence. Militancy is nursed and organisations like the RSS follow suit. It has other branches too, like the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Bajrang Dal and finally the Bharatiya Janata Party.

There is the danger of religious nationalism getting instilled at a broader level and thus changing the course of the mainstream on the pretext of protecting the religion and culture of India. It amounts to a challenge to our secular-democratic ethos that embraces unity in diversity. That which stands for annihilation of any opposition can be given no concession and has to be fought at every level.

We must not forget incidents in Gujarat in 2002, nor Muzaffarnagar, nor those innocents, either rotting behind bars for years or perishing unlamented.

Exploring the origins of Hindutva, Romila Thapar has shown that Hindutva has almost nothing to do with the religious diversity that builds up the core of the country. She has traced it to colonial times when the entire people were divided into a faceless majority and the minority and has brought it down to the present when the nation’s identity is sought to be defined as a standardised, muscular, masculine Hindu religion, as the poet tells us in the introduction.

The book is divided into three parts. There is the “Farewell to Reason”, and then “Diagnosing the Malady,” and lastly, “Bearing Witness”.

In the beginning itself, there are included those who have been silenced for ever, Com Govind Pansare, Dr Narendra Dabholkar and Prof Kalburgi. The cause for which these lives were sacrificed has been clear and bold, in the very heading of the book itself, ‘Against Silence’, that is, against brutal and studied indifference and the wish that everybody must believe that there can be no two friends without true enemies. Unless we hate what we are not, we cannot love what we are. For people seeking identities, and reinventing ethnicity, enemies are essential.

 Thousands joined the funeral procession of each of them, because all the three could be called “martyrs to the cause of reason,and sanity against irrationality and insanity,” said Satchidanandan.

Com Pansare was a beloved leader, a Marxist, who wrote that Shivaji, instead of Brahmins, was closer to the poor and oppressed peasantry. The book raised controversy, but he kept moving on taking along the thoughts of Jotiba Phule, V.R. Shinde and B.R. Ambedkar and putting them in practice with the Marxist dialectical method. It was all beyond them. They could not fight it at any level, and opted to force a brutal end to it. Com Pansare is no more, but he lives on for ever.

The same was true about Dr Narendra Dabholkar and Prof M.M. Kalburgi. All the three martyrs are common at one level: they did not believe in compromise, and refused to accommo-date injustice.

They all knew, like Prof Kalburgi, who wrote: “The static perishes, the dynamic survives.”

The reviewer is a senior journalist and writer.