YESTERDAY, #MUDDU TEERTHAHALLI, A 16-YEAR OLD student of Sahyadri High School in Shimoga, returned the Karnataka Sahitya Akademi award that was conferred to her in 2011 when she was barely 12, for the best young writer. The return is in protest against the murder of rationalist #Kalburgi that occurred on August 20. Forty or so awards have been similarly returned recently by writers and artistes in various Indian languages and the number is rising. Even if the protest is somewhat unprecedented, it has not made any difference to the ruling dispensation. In fact its Minister for Culture #Mahesh Sharma remains unmoved and he has even exhorted writers to stop writing! “We will see,” he said with all the sarcasm he could muster and his ministerial colleague, also India’s finance minister #Arun Jaitley, termed the protest “a manufactured paper revolt”. In a debate last night on NDTV, the participants appeared to have reached a consensus that India is under the grip of “culture wars” and that these protests are just so inevitable!!
THE IDEOLOGUES CLOSE TO THE RULING PARTY are analysing whether or not the writers in question protested earlier against the imposition of Emergency. If they haven’t the present protest need not be taken seriously at all ! The sub text of this position is simply this : if you have not protested earlier, don’t do it now. Allow us to get on with the job – be it the silencing of rationalists or alleged beef eaters. In a country that is so steeped in illiteracy, the return of awards may not cause tremors in the countryside but those roaming in the corridors of power ought to realise that a tipping point will soon be reached even as the State diktats on what one should read, eat, wear or learn continues unremittingly.
THERE ARE LIMITATIONS TO THE EXTENT TO WHICH writers can protest. From the Government’s standpoint it may well be the case that it does not at all matter presently if writers make a noise or threaten to stop writing as #Perumal Murugan decided to do not so long ago. However, the language or the manner of protest in a civilised society has a certain grammar – the articulation of a position in public forums and the performance of certain actions that are symbolic including but not limited to the return of awards. It is for the authorities to pay due heed to what is happening and take remedial action. The groundswell of dissent may soon intensify into a global embarrassment which the Government may find it difficult to handle. The so called “climate of freedom” that the Prime Minister markets abroad may ring hollow, after all, and as #Ruchir Joshi put it with a sense of righteous indignation in #Economic Times: “…this returning of awards throws an international spotlight on the fact that …the suited-booted emperor is walking around naked and covered with the blood of innocents.”
SEIZED WITH POWER, THE RULING DISPENSATION has regrettably resorted to something that is spectacularly sinister. As #Pratap Bhanu Mehta pointed out recently in the Indian Express the strategy is to “hijack meaning” by “shifting the markers of language and public norms, where we lose control even over basic meanings.” Who is a true patriot ? (Not Muslims? – Recall the Minister’s remark when Aurangzeb Road was being re-named). What is democratic protest ? (Express your disagreement with a person by waylaying him and his daughter and by painting his face with paint of high lead content). To cite #Pratap Bhanu Mehta again, “criminality and democracy have been fused” and a violent act is now termed brazenly as an act “of non-violence”. We already have the celebrated euphemism of #Swapan Dasgupta who earlier termed the #Kalburgi murder as a “disagreeable incident” and his fellow travellers have already called the #Dadri murder as “only a misunderstanding”!! Mr Mehta also alerts us to the fact that “a lot of the resentments and conflicts of Indian society are working out in unpalatable ways, with complicity of the highest echelons of the political leadership.”
IN THE CONTEXT OF THE WRITERS’ PROTEST a useful and timely book titled “The Public Intellectual In India” has been published by Aleph Book Company this month. The book has an introduction and a lead article by the distinguished historian #Romila Thapar with contributions/responses from #Sunder Sarukkai, #Dhruv Raina, #Peter Ronald DeSouza, #Neeladri Bhattacharya and #Jawed Naqvi. It is an eyeopener and indeed helps us to understand the underlying rationale of the writers’ protest even if it is viewed as a forgettable aberration in the corridors of power. On the fly page of the book is an apt quotation from #Faiz #Ahmed# Faiz which serves as its leitmotif:
Bol, ye thora waqt bahut hai Speak, this brief time is ample
Jism o zaban ki maut se pahle Before the dying of body and
Bol, ke sach zinda hai ab tak Speak, for truth still lives,
Bol, jo kucch kahna hai kah le Speak, to say what needs to be