By Asmita Sarkar:
Last week, the Indian media did good business feeding off the carcasses of the Indian democracy. Aditya Thackerey who called the smearing of ink of Sudheendra Kulkarni as “democratic and historic” in his reply to Rajdeep Sardesai’s open letter, shows us what the dark side of unrestricted freedom could lead to. If the actions and words of Shiv Sena and other agents of the ‘Hindu’ conglomerate (Bajrang Dal, VHP, Shiv Sena) is taken into consideration, one would find an increasing number of cases which leaves a bitter taste of intolerance in our mouths.
1. Sahitya Akademi writers return awards: Uday Prakash, a Hindi writer, was the first to return his Sahitya Akademi award followed by Nayantara Sahgal to protest against the Akademi’s silence on M.M. Kalburgi’s murder. Other writers and playwrights like Ashok Vajpayi, Kashmiri writer, Ghulam Nabi Khayal, Kannada writer-translator, Srinath DN, Hindi writers Rajesh Joshi, Mangalesh Dabral, Waryam Sandhu, and GN Ranganatha Rao soon joined the ranks. This gesture of theirs has been a clear learning about what a peaceful protest should be like. This led to the Union Culture Minister, Mahesh Sharma saying, “Let writers stop writing, then we will see.”
If writers stopped writing and critiquing the social fabric and the political bigotry, it wouldn’t be a personal but a political stand as well and the politicians will, perhaps, heave a sigh of relief for being able to silence the ones who show them a mirror to their truth.
2. Banning Ghulam Ali’s performance: Ghulam Ali, a gazal singer, and a Pakistani national has been a part of Bollywood for a long time. He has been a part of our childhoods and an icon in the music industry in India. Shiv Sena which woke up to this reality suddenly protested against the musician’s performance in Mumbai recently. Shiv Sena, very loudly proclaimed that, “We can’t have cultural ties with Pakistan when they kill our soldiers.” Not only was his performance called off in Mumbai but also in Pune.
The logic behind barring a artist from performing music, appreciated even by the Prime Minister, comes off as a misinterpretation of the right to freedom of speech and expression on the part of the Hindu party. What role does a musician play in the theatre of politics? Music, if anything is a way to unite the divided nations.
3. Smearing ink on Sudheendra Kulkarni: The Indian Express Headline on 13th October read Photo Courtesy Shiv Sena, the photograph accompanying the headline was the darkened face of Sudheendra Kulkarni, who was going to host the book launch of former Pakistan foreign minister Khursheed Kasuri. To stop the book launch, Sena workers attacked the activist, Kulkarni, and smeared his face with ink, and called it a ‘peaceful protest’. Quoting nationalist fervour and a love for the fallen soldiers, Aditya Thackerey defended the incident on social media when Rajdeep Sardesai wrote an open letter which says, “The Shiv Sena we were told was angry with the presence of a Pakistani on Indian soil and wanted to register their protest. So, ink had to be spilled on the streets of Mumbai yet again. Last week Ghulam Ali, this week Kasuri: the Sena is back in the news.”
4. Shiv Sena bans Indo-Pak rock band show: The Shiv Sena seems to be on a roll. The party forced the organisers of a sufi rock band concert to abandon the show that was supposed to be held at C N Vidyalay in Ambawadi area. The Mekaal Hasan Band, whose lead singer is an India, Sharmistha Chatterjee, was supposed to perform at the concert.
5. Banning non-Hindus from Garba: The VHP has done it yet again, in a bid to protect Hindu women from ‘Love Jihad’ has come up with an innovative and terribly isolating incident which bars non-Hindus from entering over 100 commercial venues that will play host to Garba events in Gujarat. The increasing polarisation in cultural events is only a mirror to the communally divisive mentality that thinks up such strategies to alienate one section of the society.
The message that the various self-proclaimed protectors of our culture seems to be giving is that India is a Hindu nation, and it is no longer subliminal. The Shiv Sena and the VHP have gone all out, while the Prime Minister finally broke his silence, which amounted to nothing but empty solace. Saying that it was “unfortunate” and “unwaranted”, he asked that though the incident was sad, how is the center responsible?
Our newspapers which are peppered with such incidents have become a clear picture of what a weakened Indian democracy looks like.