14/10/2015 12:41 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

The Shameful Double Standards Of India's Intelligentsia On Secularism And Free Speech


The growing chorus of high-decibel protest from Sahitya Akademi awardees against the perceived rise of intolerance and a threat to free speech in the country serves to underline the crass hypocrisy, blatant double standards and jaundiced perspective that define a certain section of our intellectual community; theirs is a false patois that has corrupted Indian secularism and reduced it to a term of abuse. Scrutinised objectively, this ostensible act of moral activism is a Machiavellian shenanigan; a crafty ploy that hypes unfortunate incidents to assert ideological supremacy and derail a progressive government intent on development.

The warped secularism touted by these worthies does not conform to universal ethical standards nor does it incorporate the basic tenets of fair play, equality and justice. It is a partisan ideological inquisition characterised by selective moral indignation, biased criticism and targeted unsubstantiated allegations- in effect an orchestrated witch-hunt sans morals, logic or legality.

"[T]his brouhaha is not a valid complaint at all but a peeve of an arrogant cabal that has become suddenly irrelevant in the narrative of modern India..."

The murder of noted Kannada scholar MM Kalburgi, allegedly for expressing a variant opinion (cited as one of the reasons) is a reprehensible act that is anathema to a democracy and warrants outright condemnation; needless to say that the perpetrators must be hunted down and brought to book. Unfortunately, to date a criminal investigation has been inconclusive with no definite pointers. Nevertheless, our eminent writers have rushed to convict extremist Hindu elements via a media trial with the perverse injunction that these outfits are guilty unless proven innocent; an immoral stance that turns the basic premise of innocent until proven guilty on its head.

Efforts to pin these crimes on the BJP by invoking the dubious and rationally challenged concept of guilt by association must be refuted categorically. These lumpen groups are not representative of the broader nationalist narrative and any attempt to club them together is rank skulduggery. If one were to use the same logic, then these Left-leaning writers would find themselves in the dock for the innumerable gruesome murders committed by Maoists with whom they concur ideologically.

It is ironical that this Left Liberal secular lobby which effectively suppressed the nationalist voice by shutting it out of the English language media for over 50 years should raise a hue and cry about freedom of speech. This writer who has been writing for over 30 years has personal experience in this regard.

Editorial prerogative has been used as an excuse to deny nationalist advocates a space. Recently Rajiv Malhotra, a scholarly nationalist champion -- not a rabid hate-monger -- was denied a right to respond when concocted and exaggerated charges of plagiarism against him were freely circulated in Indian English language publications.

Malini Parthasarathy, editor, The Hindu, wrote this in reply to Rajiv Malhotra's request: "The newspaper's right to exercise its own judgment on the need to give space to a self-proclaimed impugned party, must be protected especially in a climate where frenzy is building up on social media virtually dictating an agenda of political and cultural priorities to the media, demanding compliance. We must be careful not to feed into this frenzy or to legitimise it in any way..."

In her book, this dictum however is only applicable to the "other side".

Nonetheless the concern about free speech raised by Sahitya Akademi awardees needs to be addressed in the larger interest of our democracy.

The Kalburgi, Dabholkar and Pansare murders are aberrations. By and large there is no establishment-sanctioned threat to free speech. A review of the opinion and editorial columns of the English language media even today indicates that it is unfairly and suffocatingly slanted in favour of the Left Liberal lobby; of the hundreds of columns churned out every day hardly one or two project a different view. In reality, this brouhaha is not a valid complaint at all but a peeve of an arrogant cabal that has become suddenly irrelevant in the narrative of modern India as a consequence of its own antics of hyperbole, half- truths and blatant lies which have been unequivocally rejected by the people of India; in other words the tantrums of a spoiled brat who is no longer the centre of attention.

"Efforts to pin these crimes on the BJP by invoking the dubious and rationally challenged concept of guilt by association must be refuted categorically."

Strictly speaking, law and order is primarily a state matter and not a direct central responsibility. By that corollary it is the Congress government in Karnataka and the Samajwadi Party in UP which stand culpable for the Kalburgi murder and the Dadri lynching respectively -- not the BJP government at the Centre. And in the Kalburgi case the Congress government stands doubly implicated by its withdrawal of Kalburgi's security cover in the face of a continuing threat even though it may have been done at Prof Kalburgi's insistence. Here again these writers are barking up the wrong tree.

Additionally, a perusal of the track records of these famous personalities throws up a shocking picture of opportunistic inconsistency instead of an unwavering commitment to human values. For example, Nayantara Sahgal had no qualms about accepting the Sahitya Akademi Award from a government that had directly overseen the only true pogrom of modern India: the 1984 massacre of 3000 Sikhs in the nation's capital.

During the dark days of 1990 when Kashmiri Hindu Pandits were forced to flee their homes, Shashi Deshpande gladly accepted the Sahitya Akademi Award from an impotent government that stood as a mute spectator on the sidelines; she on her part failed to even acknowledge the grim tragedy of brutal ethnic cleansing that was being played out in Kashmir -- so much for upholding human rights and combating intolerance.

Likewise, Sarah Joseph, the Malayalam writer willingly accepted her award from the BJP government in 2003 barely a few months after the Godhra-Gujarat riots; her personal aggrandisement, the glory of the award seems to have pushed her principles to the back burner at that time.

"Silence is a form of abetment," the writer Shashi Deshpande averred while resigning from the Sahitya Akademi governing council. I do agree. By their silence these writers have abetted the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom, the barbaric incineration of 59 Hindus at Godhra and the systematic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir. With such deliberate differential treatment these writers forfeit all moral authority; in addition, this discrimination directly provokes and fuels Hindu radicalism. They must share the blame for the rise of Hindu extremism which is still miniscule in the large picture.

Until I see these celebrities defend the rights of all victims, Hindus and Sikhs included, with the same vigour and passion that they exhibit now, I am forced to take their words, not with a pinch of salt but a ton of salt; their motive will always remain suspect and their protestations a sham.

"We need to have the courage and intellectual honesty to rise above our own prejudices and condemn every killing or atrocity regardless of the religion of the victim..."

Rather than indulge in deceptive name calling that paints all nationalists with same extremist brush or flamboyant resignations loaded with the diktat ("it is my way or the highway"), these writers would further secularism if they climb down from their ivory towers, shed their arrogance, introspect and engage in a civil debate with mainstream nationalists to effect a positive outcome in the interest of the nation.

"My right to free speech is indispensable while your right to free speech is dispensable" attitude will not do. We need to have uniform standards applicable and acceptable by one and all: a sense of fair play that provides a platform for everyone to freely express their opinions within traditional norms that eschew violence. We need to have the courage and intellectual honesty to rise above our own prejudices and condemn every killing or atrocity regardless of the religion of the victim or his/her ideology -- only then will we be able to usher in a truly egalitarian society devoid of a Dadri lynching or a Kalburgi murder.

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