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Writer, activist and cultural commentator Githa Hariharan, who is part of Goa University’s Visiting Research Professors Programme under the Kavivarya Bakibaab Borkar Chair in Literature, opines that creative freedom is the backbone of our democracy and any threat to it can only endanger our lives. In conversation with NT BUZZ she speaks about the threat to freedom of expression we face in India and tells us why the same both outrages and scares her

Culture is also about ideas, debates and multiple interpretations ….says writer Githa Hariharan



These days noted writer, activist and cultural commentator Githa Hariharan is angry, outraged and scared. She expresses these emotions while commenting on the killing of former vice-chancellor of Hampi University, M M Kalburgi. He was shot dead on the morning of August 30 by an unidentified gunman, on the doorstep of his home in Dharwad, Karnataka. 77-year-old Kalburgi had his run-ins with right-wing Hindutva groups for his strong, independent views on social and religious matters.

Githa says: “Disagreement, attacks on the social media, hate mails, these are all things that somehow those of us who want to speak up have got familiar with. But this next step of actually saying that there is no question of disagreement, debating, we will just shoot you if you say what we don’t like! I never thought I would witness something like this in India. I think all of us are quite aware of how things have been deteriorating over the decades and with the new Government at the helm, all these groups, which were already around, have got further emboldened.”

Gita further explains that these groups have been crawling out of the wood work right from the early 1990s. She also makes mention of how the people of India, even the middle class, who may have had prejudices earlier but never gave expression to the same in public, till the Babri Masjid demolition, are now going publically vocal. “In a colony in Delhi I remember how many of the middle class, retired government officials, etc, suddenly giving expression to their prejudices in public post the Babri Masjid demolition. The demolition was not just the demolition of a structure, but a loss of our legacy/history. It immediately resulted in riots and so on. It also phrased the fabric, so that over a period of time we sort of got desensitised to more and more people saying things in public, which you can only interpret as degrees of hate speech.”

Githa suggests that making a society homogenous is a dangerous concepts and a country like India will not survive.  “Someone is going to tell us what to eat, write, watch, etc. The more we see this shrinking of our cultural space, the more we endanger the way we live and our rights as citizens. Nobody is doing us a favour by allowing us to live, paint, watch, etc,” says Githa.

Githa, who is vocal about such issues, states that the government is not interested in looking at these issues. “What we see is the flowering of poisonous flower. You have the Government which just looks the other way. The Government can disassociate from these groups, but the point is they are all part of the same extended family. How did they crawl out the wood work? Or have new ones sprung up?”

She believes that as a country we have as got sidetracked from main issues like that of economy and foreign policies. “For example in Goa, when there are so many important livelihood issues, we are talking about whether Muthalik be allowed into the state or not, and we want the Supreme Court to tell us that. While it diverts us from important economic issues at the same time it changes the very cultural air that we breathe. Suddenly we don’t own culture. Culture is not just about singing and dancing; it’s about ideas, debates and multiple interpretations. If we cannot have this in our academic spaces we might as well shut down our schools and colleges. If we cannot have it in our political lives then we should stop pretending we have political rights as citizens.”



“Disagree with me, but don’t draw guideline for me”

…on censorship

On the point of censorship she says that each writer or cultural commentator has his own way of expressing. To explain the point she cites the example of her book, ‘In the Times of Siege.’



“In the book I wrote about a historian who writes a lesson on the 12th Century poet, Basava and gets into trouble. This was based on a true incident. Basava wrote vachanas for the people and not for any institution or a religious group. If you read his poetry you will realise that his was the movement of criticism. In one poem he describes sacred water. He asks ‘what is the difference between the water you have in the temple and the one which I have in the toilet?’ Basava is given the status of saint and he is worshiped but his poetry is forgotten and we have failed to apply his critique in our own time. He was a rationalist and an activist, as also a religious person. We have a history of Sufi and Bhakti poetry where the personal relationship of the poet with the Spiritual or Divine doesn’t take away from common sense or the quest for truth. We have an argumentative tradition, which has to be used within the bounds of poetry, novels, essays, etc. Someone can agree to disagree with me, but can’t draw guidelines for me.”


“Writing may be a lonely job, but writers are engaged citizens”

…on the Indian Writers Forum

Due to constant censorships, last year, Githa along with some writers and activists formed the group online – Indian Writers Forum – to express themselves. “We thought of this forum last year when Tamil writer Perumal Murugan announced that he would put down his pen. Writing may be a lonely job, but writers are engaged citizens. Members of the forum, which includes the likes of  Sachidanand, Romila Thapar, Indira Jaisingh, etc, are in the process of starting a website and an e-journal where we will write poetry, essays, make comments on cultural issues, etc,” says Githa, also a women’s rights activist. She believes that women’s issues in India took a leap after citizens came on the roads post the Delhi rape case. She suggests that this momentum should continue in our classrooms, streets and courts and should not be allowed to die down.


“Gandhi was deeply concerned with the atrocities carried out in Palestine”

…on Palestine Solidarity Committee

Githa is a member of the Palestine Solidarity Committee and has written about the same. She believes that Palestine has particular history because our freedom fighters on behalf of all of us supported any anti-colonial struggle. “Gandhi was deeply concerned with the atrocities carried out in Palestine. He was very clear that it was neither not a religious issue nor the case of setting one right with another wrong and was very clear that Palestine is for Palestinians. There were resolutions taken by then Congress (Congress, which fought for freedom). Since then we have supported Palestine, but over the period of time this has become mere lip service and now it is laughable lip service. We say that we need peace in Palestine, but then we buy more arms from Israel than Israeli Army does. Does that not subsidise war machine?”


“Creative process is not void of the intellectual process”

..on the VRPP

As part of Goa University’s Visiting Research Professors Programme under the Kavivarya Bakibaab Borkar Chair in Literature Githa  is conducting a workshop on ‘Compressing the World: Reading and Writing Short Fiction.’ Speaking about this initiative, she says: “VRPP is a wonderful idea and all our universities should have it. One of the exciting things in a college is to listen to different point of views. Writers and artists are not academicians, but when we speak about the creative process it is not void of the intellectual process. The details and actual mode may be different. But, what is more important is learning from each other.”

When asked whether creative writing can really be taught, she says: “I can’t teach anyone how to think. I can teach those who want to write to read and make books your permanent friends. I can help in developing intellectual reading and show you how to use the tools to this extent. At the end of the course they may not become writers but at least they will be readers and in today’s times we need more readers than writers.”

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