Starting from the Gujarat riots of 2002, the post-Godhra incident violence to the pellet shower in Kashmir and the revival of the violence against the Rohingya of Myanmar, south Asia has been witnessing an increasing rate of activities associated with religious fundamentalism for the last one-and-a-half decades.
One of the most iconic photographs the youth would recall today would be that of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, Uma Bharti, hugging Murli Manohar Joshi while celebrating the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya by kar sevaks.
This was followed by a sequence of events that led one of the alleged ‘curators’ of the 2002 riots, Narendra Damodardas Modi, to become the ‘sole saviour’ of the Indian subcontinent and its decaying economic condition. It’s true that the slow growth in the gross domestic product (GDP) facilitated by the ensuing population explosion, the hopeless fate of the secondary sector and the terrible Human Development Index (HDI) ranking did take a toll on the generation’s psyche. However, the solution manufactured now shares an uncanny resemblance with the rise of fascist rulers (a timeless incident, to be honest) the world over.
The government, led by Prime Minister (PM) Modi, has been making sketchy and doubtful claims of ‘bringing back black money‘, deporting Muslims to other countries (like Bangladesh) and disallowing any Rohingya refugee from seeking shelter in India. They have also been vocally supporting the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Acts (AFSPA) and the brutality the Indian Army exhibits in Kashmir and some of regions in north-east India.
Interestingly, in some corners of eastern India, the helpless Rohingya are often deported to district jails in suburban pockets. Owing to their inability to speak any of the languages understood by Indians, the lack of policies and activists who would advocate their cause, they often end up spending their entire lives in dark cells, having no clue of how to protect themselves from this kind of treatment.
In the midst of all these confusing incidents, a certain learned atheist, Dr Avijit Roy, who was living in the United States (US) for the most part of the year began talking and writing about the tactics employed by corrupt fundamentalists to retain control. He was brutally hacked to death during his visit to Bangladesh. In all, four Mukto-Mona bloggers (including Avijit) were killed in Bangladesh.
The statements of Aung San Suu Kyi (who reportedly fought dictatorship while being under house arrest for years and had won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991) over the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar is indeed a matter of severe shame. Protests broke out in Indonesia and people even demanded that her Nobel Prize be revoked by the concerned authority.
Last year, Najeeb, a postgraduate student from the Department of Biotechnology, JNU, disappeared on his way back home. Allegedly, RSS thugs had threatened and even physically assaulted him right inside the campus. His mother was repeatedly harassed by the authorities when she demanded justice for her son’s cause.
In the last few years, we have also witnessed the deaths of Ph.D. student Rohith Vemula at Hyderabad Central University (HCU) and JNU research scholar Muthukrishnan, which were widely considered to be ‘institutional murders‘. Simultaneously, there’s been a passive denial or absolute silence of the respective authorities on these issues, which raise serious questions on the authority’s stance on the welfare of Dalits.
Strangely enough, in these lost times, the sudden renewal of a blatant nationalist propaganda infused in the popular culture has managed to cast a brilliant spell on a large section of unemployed youth or people working in the corporate sector. The dreams of a more-comfortable life, super-fast rail networks, slum-free clean metropolitan areas and a certain disapproval towards the appearance of the odd-looking brown and green trees across sultry grey highways seem to indicate that modern advertising has done a good job.
The cold-blooded murders of Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar, MM Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh raises the very crucial question of freedom of expression and thought in this country. During an on-going interview, Kavitha Lankesh also spoke about the atmosphere of fear that is being programmed into the working ambiance of artists, journalists, writers, and scholars.
Historian and senior communist leader, Govind Pansare, used to run an organisation which encouraged inter-caste marriages. He was noted to have opposed the Putra Kameshti yagya, a Hindu ritual that supposed results in a male child. He had also protested against toll taxes.
After the murder of Narendra Dabholkar, the anti-superstition activist, Pansare had asked the members of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti to continue his work.
On the other hand, Lankesh was heard to have repeatedly criticised government actions, and had called the Modi regime highly anti-Muslim, anti-minority, anti-Dalit, regressive and anti-poor. She was also vocal about the links that big businessmen had with top-level BJP leaders. She was silenced before she could contribute any further to the cause of freedom of expression and of the press at this time in this country.