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A view from India: Sectarianism suppressing democratic right of Expression

Ram Puniyani

Freedom of expression has been the core value which accompanied the struggle for India’s Independence. The British did attempt to stifle the voices of dissent but the freedom fighters did see this as a crucial mechanism of rooting democratic ethos in the society. At heavy cost the major leaders had to face the wrath of British colonialist powers for upholding the foundation of a democratic society through freedom of expression. The same values got enshrined in our Constitution, with various articles and clauses upholding it.

What we are witnessing today is a stifling of dissent from the ruling party, the ruling ideology of sectarian nationalism. The suppression of dissent and freedom of giving expression is not just through control of media and stifling of writers. Ruling party; through control of a section of media; is using heavy hand to control the free thinkers. One major and frightening phenomenon accompanying this attempt to muzzle the dissenting opinions has been to eliminate the thinker’s writers physically.

We know that sometimes state can outright control the media, as happened during emergency. The censoring of media, raids on the publication houses had been resorted to by the authoritarian state. The current phenomenon is slightly different. Here along with the heavy hand of the big brother watching, those inspired by the communal nationalism, are taking the law into their own hands, with full knowledge that the ruling party-state is with them and they can get away with their crimes of eliminating those thinkers and activists, whom they can’t oppose at ideological level. By nature most of the ideologies which promote nationalism in the name of religion are grossly intolerant and indulge in the street violence and killing to promote the communal divides. The matching phenomenon to what we are witnessing in India is also seen in Bangla Desh, where those inspired by the Islamic nationalism have been targeting the bloggers and have been physically eliminating them. 

During last several years we have tragically witnessed the murders of the writers-social activists who have been upholding rational thought, those who have been opposing the hold of values which support caste, those who have been opposing the politics in the name of Hinduism. When Narendra Dabholkar was shot at, the trend began at the abominable level. Dabholkar was active in promoting rational thinking, and had formed Andh Shraddha Nirmula Samiti (Committee for eliminating blind faith) in Maharashtra. 

Govind Pansare, a dedicated saintly worker for human rights, was not only promoting rational thought, he was also opposed to sectarian nationalism, he promoted a rational version of Shivaji story, which presented him humane king, taking care of his subject irrespective of their religion and who in his administration had Hindus as well as Muslims. M.M. Kalburgi a rationalist scholar was opposed to the Brahmanical values and so talked to promoting Lord Basvanna’s teachings of social equality, he also articulated that Lingyats should be regarded as religious minorities, away from the grip of Brahmanism dominated prevalent Hinduism. 

In the sequence to this came the tragic murder of Gauri Lankesh, a fearless journalist, who opposed the politics of Hindu nationalism at grass root level, who supported the rights of religious minorities, participated in the local communal harmony groups to oppose the politics being constructed around Baba Budan Giri and Id Gah ground. She was also for recognizing Lingayats as a religious minority. The impact of these activists was perceived as a threat, they were wring in regional languages and were perceived as a thorn in the flesh of divisive ideology. The pattern of their murders was similar, motor bike riders coming and shooting them. The investigations have so far not yielded much and except one worker of Sanatan Sanstha, ideologically close the dominant political tendency today, no arrests have been made. 

As such these murderers are like tip of the iceberg. These murders are accompanied with the growing intolerance in the society, which has also lead to killings beatings of Muslims-Dalits in the name of Holy Cow Beef. The killing of Mohammad Akhlaq, Junaid Khan and Una floggings has been the major incidents amongst the brutal acts unleashed by the growing intolerance in the society. While intolerance has grown gradually from last decade or so, during last three years in particular, there is a qualitative change in the nature of intolerance. How do we understand the growing communalization of society, worsening intolerance and killings of those standing for democratic norms?

In independent India first major act of ideological murder, killing for political goals, prompted by intolerance was murder of Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi. Godse was the killer and RSS was banned. Saradar Patel, the then Home minister wrote to RSS chief Golwalkar, “As regards the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha… our reports do confirm that, as a result of the activities of these two bodies, particularly the former (RSS) an atmosphere was created in the country in which such a ghastly tragedy became possible.”– Sardar Vallabhai Patel, India’s first home minister, on the assassination of Gandhi, in a letter dated July 18, 1948 to Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. (Sardar Patel Correspondence, Volume 6, edited by Durga Das)

The type of suppression we saw during Emergency of 1975 was the one imposed by an authoritarian state, now the present phenomenon is not just the one brought in by the state. State, since is being controlled by narrow nationalism is playing its role, but the deeper and more damaging part is the one brought in by the so called fringe elements, the storm troopers of the ideology motivated by communal hatred. The divisive ideology is creating Hate not only against the religious minorities but also against those who are trying to uphold democratic, plural and diverse values in society.

Diverse opinions, debated in an open spirit are the best guarantee for democratic society. The sectarian ideologies are opposed to democratic ethos and so they are pushing the intolerance worse possible levels. There is a need to protect the democratic freedom by combating communalism.    

   

 

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Post from India: by Ram Puniyani We are passing through times when Hate against weaker sections of society and religious minorities is increasing by leaps and bounds. The increase in the mob lynching all over the country on the pretext of child lifting is coming on the back of mob lynching on the pretext cow-beef, public flogging-humiliation of dalits on the issue of beef and other issues related their caste humiliation. Mobs seem to be emboldened by the fact that there has been an approval of these acts from the top. Ministers like Mahesh Sharma came to the funeral of Dadri accused, now Mr. Jayant Sinha welcomed the accused of Alimuddin lynching accused when they got bail. The matters are frighteningly increasing as now the horrid incidents of rape are being given a communal twist, fake news is being employed with impunity on one side and rape accused are getting social support on the other. It’s a matter of shame that in case of Kathua the then Ministers from BJP Chaudhary Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga, attended the event organized by Hindu Ekta Manch, which was protesting against the arrests in the case. Now in case of Mandsaur rape, the incident is being given false twist to demonize a community. The accused belonged to Muslim community. Muslim groups took out a procession demanding severe punishment to the accused. Jyotiradiya Scindiya of Congress joined a candle light procession to demand death penalty to the accused. Social media was used to spread the hateful message as if he was demanding the release of the accused. The pictures of procession were photo shopped to present Muslims in bad light. A message was circulated, which said that members of the Muslim community rallied in Mandsaur demanding that the perpetrator of the crime be released because the Quran sanctions rape of non-Muslim women. The text of the placards in the Mandsaur procession was “We won’t tolerate attacks on daughters, stop this brutality”. A tweet was circulated “NCRB report: India is most dangerous for women reason: In India, 95% of the rape cases have a Muslim perpetrator. Of the total 84734 rape cases, 81000 rapes had a Muslim rapist and 96% of the victims are non-Muslims and with an increase in theirpopulation, number of rapes will also increase.” Nothing can be farther from truth. NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) does not record the religion in cases of rape. This tweet and the one about Jyotiraditya Scindia was exposed by AltNews, the portal going to the roots of such fake news and is doing a great service to society by giving the truth and exposing the news which is deliberately trying to demonize the religious minority. One recalls that in case of Muzzafarnagar; the violence was incited by circulating a photo of two young men being beaten by a Muslim looking crowd. It was presented that Hindu youth are being beaten. As such that picture was from Pakistan, the crowd beating two thieves. Recently in Kairana the Mahagathbandhan candidate Tabassum Hasan won the election against the BJP candidate. After winning she stated “This is the victory of truth and ‘Mahagatbandhan’ (coalition) and defeat of the BJP in the state and Centre. Everyone has come out and supported us. I thank them.” On social media and on TV debates what was presented was that she said “This is the victory of Allah and defeat of Ram”. This quote was posted on a number of pro-BJP pages on Facebook among which Yogi Adityanath-True Indian posted it on 1 June, and was shared massively. One recalls that in recent times BJP has deliberately muddied the waters of social media by employing thousands of trolls, as Swati Chaturvedi’s “I am a Troll”, tells us. As such the hate propaganda began with demonization of Muslim kings for breaking Hindu temples in medieval period, for spreading Islam, for having large families, indulging in polygamy, being terrorists etc. Now it has taken a dangerous turn with people trained in communal ideology and in the use of social media twisting the facts blatantly. There are reports that in the forthcoming elections BJP is planning to train lakhs of volunteers in the use of social media for electoral gains. The rising hatred is becoming like a monster, propelling itself beyond control. Can we just accuse the social media for intensifying this hate? Some control and restraint is needed, some fact check is necessary for this highly impactful media. What is also needed is that mechanisms like AltNews are made more popular to counter these falsehoods. It is heartening to note that Twitter has decided to suspend seven Crore fake accounts. We also need to ensure that the misconceptions and Hate which is ruling our society, streets need to be countered by message of love. What we need is that truth is propagated and message of peace is made more effective. We have activists like Faisal Khan, who through his Khudai Khidmatagar takes out peace marches. Harsh Mander’s Paigam-E-Mohabbat (Message of peace) has been doing yeomen service by meeting the families of victims of lynching and creating an atmosphere of amity. Mahant from Ayodhya Yugal Kishore Sharan Shastri, through his less advertised peace marches is trying to reach sections of society with a message of tolerance and peace. Such efforts need to be upheld and broadened. These are just few examples of the initiatives in this direction, there are many more which need to be projected to promote and preserve amity in India. Countering Hate and promoting amity became the central message of father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, who struggled to promote peace, in the highest traditions of his Hinduism. As the fake news is assuming frightening proportions and is doing serious harm to the concept of fraternity inherent in Indian nationalism, we need to retune ourselves to the core value of amity, which was the foundation of freedom movement and is very much the part of our Constitution.

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