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India: Patriots and Intolerance

by Mukul Dube, 26 November 2015

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Likely to appear in Mainstream weekly

Some weeks ago, a friend and I were discussing the returning of the first few awards by writers. I said that the gesture was likely to have little effect as too few Indians cared for writers and their work. I added that what would be effective was something similar from the world of popular films. Sure enough, the actions of a couple of directors drew attention: but the real bomb-shell was the words of Aamir Khan, a major star, from a well publicised platform.

The reaction of the Hindu Right might have been expected: language from the gutter. They abused the man and his spouse, whose worry for their child was the reason for the whole thing. Aamir Khan issued a statement in which he said, “To all the people shouting obscenities at me for speaking my heart out, it saddens me to say [that] you are only proving my point.” (http://hillele.org/2015/11/25/where-the-world-has-not-been-broken-up-into-fragments-aamir-khan/)

The attack was nothing if not absurd. Rohan Venkataramakrishnan (http://scroll.in/article/771715/five-plus-one-reasons-why-the-reactions-to-aamir-khans-statements-are-all-wrong) wrote, “The idea [of leaving the country] was disastrous and so they decided to stay. Your reaction to them? Leave the country! How does that make sense?”

There is much talk of intolerance, but there is no mention of the source of the phenomenon. No one squarely identifies the right wing elements in different religions whose poisonous ideologies give rise to intolerance. The Sangh Parivar in particular needs to be damned, as the intolerance we see is not general but is clearly directed against those who somehow offend the hyper-sensitive Hindu Right – which is always ready to pounce and often manufactures offence where there is none.

The reaction of the Hindu Right to Aamir Khan’s words – which were a simple statement of his wife’s concern for their child – was violent. Earlier, what another film actor, Shah Rukh Khan, said was treated in the same manner. Still earlier, Prof. Irfan Habib invited abuse of the same kind when he likened the mentality of the Sangh Parivar to that of ISIS or Daesh. I am obliged to Mr. Sumit Chakravartty for drawing this to my attention. He said that the virulence of the reaction is explained by the fact that these three individuals happen to have Muslim names. When much the same thing is said by people with Hindu names, the reaction of the Sangh Parivar’s warriors is muted.

Blackening and burning posters with a man’s photo on them is one thing: announcing a reward of a lakh of rupees to whosoever slaps that man’s face is quite another (http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/shiv-sena-announces-cash-reward-of-rs-1-lakh-for-slapping-aamir-khan/story-nIwnMn0NEchY2sgjtk4erL.html). If this is not incitement to hatred and physical violence, what is it?

Apparently our nattily dressed prime minister said, in connection with what is being called Constitution Day, “Let us always uphold the ideals and values of our Constitution and create an India that would make our founding fathers very proud.” (http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/modi-greets-people-on-first-constitution-day/article7918518.ece)

Someone should tell this camera obsessed person that the very Constitution of which he speaks guarantees to citizens the right of free speech, and that attacking a citizen for what he said and holding out the threat of physical violence goes against the laws enacted under that Constitution and robs the work of the founding fathers of all meaning.

Or will that be a waste of time, given that Shri N.D. Modi’s ideological forebears said that the Constitution was bunkum and wanted the Manusmriti, so solicitous of women and the “lower classes”, to be used instead? What is being done is after all no different from calling for the pouring of molten lead into the mouths of these damn Mussalmans. Manu did not write of them, but surely this would have been his idea of justice.