August 4, 2016
Let me tell you why I am not able to celebrate the sixty-ninth anniversary of India’s independence. The India we live in today is, ironically, a rejection of all that India has stood for. To begin with, the ruling party had nothing to do with achieving independence. Its founding ideologues chose not to take part in the twenty-six-year fight against British rule led by Mahatma Gandhi. It was their policy to have nothing to do with it. They chose to stay home while other Indians suffered hardship, persecution and imprisonment. So it is not surprising that they have no understanding of, or commitment to, the ideas and ideals that brought our nation to birth. Of this there has been abundant evidence in the past two years.
It begins with the fallacy that India is a Hindu Rashtra. From there it goes on to the fallacy that civilization means Hindu, and all other Indians are “outsiders”, when we know that Indian civilization is the sum total of the countless influences – religions, languages, ways of life and streams of thought – that have gone into the making of it. Indian civilization is alive and vibrant today because of its flourishing diversity. Our daily life celebrates all those influences in our literature, art, music, sport, food, dress, festivals and manners. There are no outsiders among us. We are all Indians.
In failing to recognize the meaning of India which gives every Indian the fundamental right to live, think, eat and worship as he or she chooses, this regime has remained silent over atrocities against those who do not think like them. Dissent has been punished by murder. The killing and hounding of writers has expanded to the lynching of a helpless blacksmith for supposedly eating beef and the killing of truck drivers transporting cattle. Defenceless men who were doing their job skinning the carcass of a dead cow have been stripped and thrashed on the skin of their naked backs. The vengeance that has called for an eye for an eye has now become a skin for a skin. Armed squads do these criminal deeds in the public gaze, without fear of punishment. The cow is sacred, human life is not. In the murdered blacksmith Aqhlaq’s case, the guilty roam free while the bereaved family is being victimized. This shocking travesty of justice should not surprise us when the murder of Mahatma Gandhi has been hailed by those who subscribe to Hindutva, and his killer is hailed by them as a hero. It does seem as if common sense itself has gone into reverse gear and madness rules the streets.
In these circumstances I find little cause for celebration on our sixty-ninth anniversary of freedom. Instead, I want to say, in the words of Winston Churchill during the Second World War: “Freedom is in peril, defend it with all your might.”
The campaign for control of freedom of expression has been efficiently planned and implemented through the takeover of our universities and our premier institutions of history, science, films and others by the RSS. We are told that those who disagree with their philosophy are anti-national. They do not tell us why we need nationalism now when we have been a nation for sixty-nine years. At the time when we were fighting to become a nation, today’s patriots were nowhere to be seen.
Decent human beings of all faiths all over India are revolted by the unchecked hatred and violence around us and there is a rising anger against it. The desperation that drove a brilliant young student, Rohit Vemula, to suicide has triggered a country-wide rebellion in universities across the land led by Kanhaiya Kumar. Brutal vigilante justice by gau-rakshaks has roused the Dalit community to lay down the ultimatum that the gau-rakshaks can now remove cow carcasses themselves. Writers, artists, scientists and historians have returned prestigious Awards and refused to be party to mind control. The freedom to be what one chooses to be is not negotiable. But because that freedom is now in peril, we must defend it with all our might.
First published in India Today and reproduced with the permission of the author.