Santeshivara Lingannaiah Bhyrappa is a stalwart of Kannada literature. He was awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 2016. He has been an important figure in Kannada literature since the 1960s. Uttara Kanda, the latest novel written by him was published in January, 2017. He is a man of literature but is also well known, especially in Karnataka for his right-wing political views tilting towards an understanding of Hindutva, which is very similar to that of V.D Savarkar. Bhyrappa’s novel Dharmashree is on the ‘negative‘ impact of aggressive proselytisation by Christian missionaries. Aavarana, another famous work by him is a critique of the Islamic religion and the reactionary ideas it continues to hold, according to him.
He is one of the speakers at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2017. In an interview with Youth Ki Awaaz over email, he speaks in detail on both political and literary issues. He talks about the imminent threat of Kannada literature dying out in the very near future due to the overarching reach of English in an increasingly globalised India.
He also speaks on the age-old debate on the destruction of ‘Hindu’ temples by ‘Muslim’ rulers in Indian history. His political views are also fleshed out clearly when he opens up on what he thinks about the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, where the Babri Masjid was located before its destruction on December 6, 1992.
Sourodipto Sanyal (SS): In your novel “Aavarana” (The Veil), there is an interesting conversation right at the beginning on whether the reason for the destruction of temples in medieval India was religious or economic in nature. Why do you think this aspect of the past is still very important for many people?
S.L. Bhyrappa (SLB): Destruction of temples in India was not confined to the medieval time only. Destroying the temples of other religions was a compulsory injunction to the followers, given by the Prophet Muhammed himself. He himself destroyed many temples which existed in Saudi Arabia and other places and his followers destroyed many great temples in Egypt, Jordan and other places. The Muslim invaders followed the examples set by the Prophet and destroyed temples in India ever since they entered into this country. The modern Marxist historians have invented the argument that the Muslims destroyed the temples for economic reasons and not due to religious injunctions. It is a lie. For details, please read Sita Ram Goel.
SS: You were chosen as the Fellow of the Sahitya Akademi in 2015. Some time after that, writers returned State honours bestowed upon them as a mark of protest against the current government as they claimed there was rising intolerance in the country. Do you agree with the decision of the writers? If yes, why? If no, why not?
SLB: Prashasti wapsi (Award wapsi) was a movement started by Marxist and Congress literary writers to garner Muslim votes against BJP in the Bihar Election.
SS: You are a stalwart of Kannada literature. So was UR Ananthamurthy. What is it about Kannada society and literature that makes it possible for authors with major differences in ideology to exist within the same space?
SLB: In Kannada, literary writers are divided on the basis of ideologies like Marxism, existentialism, feminism, the Dalit movement, the OBC movement, etc. Also, there are readers who follow these ideologies, which are not exclusive to each other, depending upon the political exigencies. Two or more ideologies make temporary alliances as it happens today in Indian politics. There are a few writers like me who strictly believe in pure literary goals like achieving Rasa, Dhwani and Ouchithya. They transcend contemporary ideologies.
SS: With globalisation impacting culture on a massive scale, do you think Kannada literature is under threat? Or do you think it will reinvent itself according to contemporary times?
SLB: Yes, there is a real danger. There is English medium education for our children right from the schooling year. These children who start their education from the English language cannot read or write, let alone speak the Kannada languages. If these trends continue there may not be anyone to write in Kannada after about 50 years and surely there will be no one to read Kannada books and newspapers.
SS: In your novel Aavarana, the most rigid aspects of Islamic orthodoxy in India were depicted in the novel. Do you think there can be a renaissance within the realm of Islam which can challenge the orthodoxy within the religion? Do you think orthodox practices present in other religions, like Hinduism, also need change? If yes, could you elaborate on it and tell us why you think that is the case?
SLB: Hinduism right from its beginning, from Vedic times, was a liberal movement. Hinduism is not a religion founded by a particular prophet with a dogma. Even during the Vedic times, there were challenges like the Buddhist and Jains. Therefore, Hinduism was never dogmatic in the way Semitic religions are. If you take modern Hindus, they have accepted social reformations as put forward by Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Vivekananda, Dayananda Saraswati, Jyotirao Phule, Narayana Guru, Gandhiji and Ambedkar. Ambedkar was the most bitter critic of the defects of Hinduism, but Hindu leaders made him the chairman of the committee which made the many suppressed and backward groups and castes become politically decisive groups. In education and job opportunities, equality in marriage and various other areas, women are liberated. Such things are not allowed in Islam. Therefore, do not compare other religions of India with Hinduism. The term Hinduism includes Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and various other offshoots which sprouted from the Indian soil.
SS: One political question. Do you think the Ram temple should be built in Ayodhya? If yes, why? If no, why not?
SLB: My question is that all the Muslims of India know that Babar destroyed the ancient temple and built his Masjid on its debris. The fact that the Indian Muslims are fighting not to build a Hindu temple on the location of the Masjid shows their mindset where they think that destroying the old Indian temples and converting them into a Masjid is their fundamental right. The political fights and legal battles supported by Marxist historians, sociologists, so called secularists and people catering to vote banks, further strengthens the mindset of Indian Muslims that they are no different from Aurangzeb or any other invader. One may argue that not all Muslims are fighting in the law courts, but my question is how many Muslims are countering these Muslims in the law courts? Does not keeping silent imply approval? The Indian secularists are by and large hypocritical.
S.L. Bhyrappa spoke at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival this year.