More than a hundred Indian scientists, an equal number of sociologists and social scientists, 50 historians, dozens of award-winning writers, artists and film makers have raised their collective voice against the growing atmosphere of intolerance in the country. Some have returned awards they had received from state bodies while others have signed statements. All are united in their sense of disquiet at what is going on in India today. What is the significance of this ?
These intellectuals are not rich or powerful people. Some among them may well have been surviving on some kind of patronage, as their critics contend. However, to my mind their action is brave and commendable.
It is worth reminding ourselves that under the fascist regimes which came to power in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, most intellectuals fell in line and either did not oppose the fascists, or became positive collaborators. India should take pride in the fact that its own intellectuals have not behaved in this manner. On the other hand, the response of the government’s spokespersons and apologists has revealed the ideological bankruptcy of the BJP and sangh parivar.
One and a half year into Modi’s rule, the failure of governance is manifest. Far from the vikas, or development, which was promised, the prices of essential foodstuffs like dal and onions have gone through the roof, and unemployment remains intolerably high.
What is the Modi government – and sangh parivar – doing to tackle this problem? They are diverting attention in a totally reactionary direction, spreading communalism and trying to throttle rational thinking. The brutal killing of Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi, the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq and others over motivated rumours of cow slaughter, the escalation of beef politics – these are ominous signs of the times to come.
No doubt some of the intellectuals who have returned awards ought to have spoken out earlier but at least they are doing something to keep the spirit of rationalism alive in our country.
The historians issued a joint statement saying that “differences of opinion are sought to be settled by using physical violence. Arguments are met not with counter arguments but with bullets.”
They allege that appointments to various positions are being made of people who have some connection with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. “What the regime seems to want is a kind of legislated history, a manufactured image of the past, glorifying certain aspects of it and denigrating others, without any regard for chronology, sources or methods of enquiry that are the building blocks of the edifice of history” their statement said.
We have a Prime Minister who made a laughable comment that in ancient India we had genetic engineering and head transplants. We have a Finance Minister who calls the protests a “paper revolt” and a Culture Minister who has asked writers to stop writing. It is significant that hardly any scientist, sociologist, social scientist, historian, writer, artist of film personality has come out in support of the government – other than Anupam Kher, who is close to the BJP. That itself is proof of the depth of feeling amongst the intelligentsia in India.
In my opinion, the revolt of Indian intellectuals is of tremendous importance. The message it sends is that a regime that seeks to create an atmosphere of fear and hate everywhere will only bring about its own downfall. In a country like India with its massive socio-economic problems, the role of ideas is of great importance. India will have no future if it is going to be governed by reaction and hate, and not reason and scientific thinking. It is intellectuals who are the eyes of society, and without intellectuals a society is blind.