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Death threat to Mauzo: free speech in Danger
Goan writer Damodar Mauzo has never flinched from speaking against the extreme fringed organisations. In the wake of the death threat to the writer, NT NETWORK tries to understand how this is more a threat to freedom than to the man himself

Death threat to Mauzo: free speech in Danger

Danuska Da Gama I NT NETWORK

 

Damodar Mauzo, 74, is an award winning Konkani writer known for his vivid depictions of the socio-cultural life of Goans, propagating values such as freedom of equality, fraternity, pluralism and rationalism through his myriad works.

Mauzo was in the steering committee of Goa’s popular movement Konkani Porjecho Avaz demanding three things – the official language status to Konkani; statehood to Goa and inclusion of Konkani in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India. He has served as member of the Executive Board and Finance Committee of Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, and is the co-founder of the annual Goa Arts and Literary Festival.

He minces no words while expressing his views, opposing a wrong doing, or calling for action. Following the death threat, Mauzo spoke recently at Municipal Garden, Panaji. “I am not afraid of such threats. No one can curb my freedom,” he said. This is the first time that a writer from our peaceful state has been targeted.

 

DAMODAR MAUZO IN CONVERSATION WITH NT NETWORK

 

  1. The ‘voice’ in India found favour since the days of the colonial rule in India and Goa or that of the dalit issues. Speaking up against tyranny, injustice and attempts to unify the nation have been our legacy. This is now changing. Comment.

I grew up reading and listening to the voice of reason. Ever since the government changed hands in 2014, the shift in the approach towards rationalism has become noticeable. Just when we were heading for an inclusive society suddenly we see a spurt in the atrocities against the Dalits and minorities. It seems the anti-social fringed elements are given free hand by the guardians of law and order. As a result people at large are losing their faith in the system.

 

  1. These organised attacks are more than just muzzling people; they shake the very foundation of a nation and threaten the social, democratic rights and unity. Comment.

Yes, the fundamentalists follow the four principles in the Kautilya-Neeti, the ancient Indian political treatise, authored by Chanakya the royal advisor to Chadragupta Maurya, viz. Saam, Daam, Danda, Bhed which mean: discuss/explain to convince, lure with monetary benefits, threaten to be punished with dire consequences and exploit weaknesses or find turncoats within the clan. Thus, democratic rights are jeopardised. This aims at grabbing absolute power in order to thrust upon us their idea of India.

 

  1. Though there have been several issues of intolerance in the past, the intensity of it is on the rise… what do you have to say about this?

They are trying to infiltrate into all the fields, including education and culture, to preach and push their ideology. Thus vigilance is required.

 

  1. There are several fringed extremists organisations in the country; do you believe that banning one organisation is the solution?

Every organisation has right to exist, as long as they work within the constitutional framework. If any outfit is suspected of anti-social activities, it should be properly investigated. This is not happening.

As everyone knows, the only agenda of these organisations is Hindutva. We should be clear about one thing. Hindu and Hindutva are two different things. I am a Hindu. But my religion does not teach me hatred. I expect the same approach from my fellow-Hindus.

 

  1. While people have woken up to such threats, there is still reluctance, fear that’s gripping them…

I am happy with the people who have expressed their solidarity with the cause by coming out openly. The people who are sitting on the fence will join us if they are assured that they have the backing of their leaders.

 

  1. How do you react to the threat to your life?

I am insignificant. It should be perceived as a threat to the secular forces in the country.

 

  1. Is our Goa government playing double standards, by proving you security, yet being mum about it in the assembly and not saying a word against Sanathan Sanstha headquartered in Goa?

I am happy that Goa Government has provided security. But, I am hurt by the apathy of our representatives in the Assembly who claim to be secular and liberal. Also, though media has taken due cognizance of the threat to my life, I feel they haven’t done enough to dig into the repercussions of the threat. It is the responsibility of the media to reach out to the people about the dangers that lie ahead.

 

Targeted for speaking up

Apart from Damodar Mauzo, there are several outspoken and fearless people like Shilpa Singh from Goa who have been targeted by right-wing groups. NT NETWORK is in possession of screenshots of abusive comments made on Shilpa Singh’s social media posts. A believer in Marxist ideas, she speaks up about injustice and wrong doings prevalent in our country. Speaking about the torment she says: “I believe this is one of toughest times to live in since I gained consciousness. Indian democracy has had its flaws, but the kind of systemic repression of independent voices and dissenters we are facing is unprecedented in history. Since I stand in the category of dissenters and more so as I represent ideological left, I have been under constant attack of right wing trolls on social media. My valid critique of xenophobic Hindu nationalism, militarism and persecution of minorities had drawn plethora of threats including sexual assault, possible arrest and police action for being anti-national,” she says.

Singh was bracketed with the likes of Gauri Lankesh and Arundhati Roy by trolls. The most amusing part she says was that they sought to change her religious identity in order to spill communal hatred. “Since I belong to Goa, they called me a catholic evangelist masquerading as a Hindu in order to malign Hinduism and misguide the audience. This is a real danger to the religious harmony of a nation, as such people want to create an illusion that only minorities are against their soft fascism, and thus mobilise Hindus into their fold,” she said.

 

A threat to the nation

HOD, Political Science, Goa University Rahul Tripathi says threats of violence are alien to Goa’s ethos.

Damodar Mauzo is on the hit-list as admitted by those arrested for the murder of activist-journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru.

For many, the threat to Mauzo a threat to an individual, but in view of the bigger picture it is curtailing freedom of speech and expression, doing away with people who advocate peace and secularism or voice out against power exhorted by a majority community.

Though he has been given police protection, Tripathi believes that appropriate police involvement and a bit of alertness on part of civil society should be enough protection. “But this alertness would be required continuously and must not fizzle out,” he says. The threat, he adds, is more to the ideas of moderation, plurality and anything that counters a monolithic view of our cultural identity.

Such threats and killings of people like Govind Pansare, M M Kalburgi, Narayan Dabolkar and Gauri Lankesh are clear examples that show a steady rise in systematic suppression of secular ideas and of people speaking against the majority power, or those who want to foster unity without religious differences.

And thus people martyred or those still standing up for social and humanitarian causes are heroes for those who need a leader. Author and businessman Datta Damodar Naik believes that with the death threats, the fundamentalist are instilling fear in all secular and liberal writers, journalists and artists who fearlessly fight the feudal forces in Goa.

Naik says that the attack, in reality, is on a thought represented by Mauzo. “Damodar Mauzo’s thought is the essence of Goa – communal harmony, peace, equality amongst all communities, brotherhood, fraternity and secularism.”

Echoing a similar sentiment artist Subodh Kerkar believes that this issue is collective and needs more action. “Inaction on the part of our government angers me; the Chief Minister offered police protection, however refused to talk about the organisation which seems to be behind the threat. This sanstha is like a cancer growing in Goa. The previous governments too have shown no action whatsoever,” he says.

Growing culture of silence

A silence is engulfing our population and finding favour among people who would otherwise speak up. “The majority would rather not speak out today openly or on public platform because they would not want to be disturbed out of their comfort zones or they fear reprisal if their view goes against the dominant voices,” Tripathi explains.

We are all fighting individual battles – and there is nothing wrong with that – but as Tripathi says: “those in positions of influence do have an obligation, if not to speak on behalf of the marginal, at least in conjunction with them. We owe this to our younger generation as a model to follow.”

Naik believes that the fringed forces are attempting a rift between the majority and minority communities: “their main problem is that many amongst majority Hindu community are utterly liberal, secular and have a progressive mindset. But the extremists would prefer all Hindus to be conservative, regressive and brainwashed in Hindutva philosophy so that they too can spread hatred, thus they hate liberal Hindus more than leaders from minority communities.”

Young scholar and political science assistant professor, Shilpa Singh who was attacked on social media says that right-wing intellectuals are agents of a weakening democracy. “History will also not absolve the ignorant conforming masses who are strengthening right-wing national-populism upsurge across the world. It’s high time we realise this and stand against this systemic murder of democracy in our country.”

 

Diversity, Nationalism and Hindutva

For many Indians, orange is more than just a colour. It often represents Hinduism, Hindustan and Hindutva. While some political and religious leaders speak about India as a Hindu nation, the others hope pluralism will prevail and that the very foundation of our Constitution speaking of a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic will not be harmed. Deciphering intolerance in our country, Singh says it is important to understand that the genesis of the present crisis dates back to cultural revivalism during the colonial days, resulting in the rise of communal forces in India. Here romanticising ideals of xenophobic cultural nationalism – which sought to build an exclusive homeland for people of specific religious identity – inevitably led to sanctioning designs for persecution of minorities. “The ascendancy of right-wing political forces in India since the demolition of Babri Masjid and its recent consolidation of massive state power has reinvigorated the quest for an ideal ‘Hindu Rashtra’, and its systemic design of persecution of minorities and elimination of dissenters is underway, which we call ‘rising intolerance’,” she says. From mob lynching to dictating food habits, minorities are being targeted. And thus, those Hindus, Muslims or Christians who speak up are considered bad blood, and are on the target. Tripathi says: “It is in the nature of majoritarianism that voices against the dominant thinking are countered with force rather than reason, by argument of power rather than power of argument.”

Disagreeing that rising intolerance is solely because of fringe religious groups, former associate professor of Sociology and member of the Social Justice Action Committee and the Goa Writer’s Group, Alito Siqueira recalls an episode that confirms his perception. “In July 2016, I was sitting in a theatre in Panaji with a friend and his wife. When the National Anthem was played everyone except my friend stood up. Behind me, I noted a couple sing the anthem in tune, very well, and with appropriate vigour. In an instant my friend was rapped on his head and told that he should stand up. The man who sang so well had hit my friend. The couple behind could not have known that my friend was physically challenged and therefore unable to stand up. They were well dressed, clearly Indian and cosmopolitan, extremely articulate, and I assumed well educated, and in all probability from an upper class and caste. I later learnt that the couple were IPS officers with the Goa Police.”

This story, he says, is not about disability. What has stayed with him is this question: “How come a well cultured and trained senior police officer could so impulsively abandon due process and take the law literally in his own hands? How could he initiate an act of bodily violence completely against his training and the law? He was provoked by his own misreading of a threat to the symbolic icon of the nation.”

The irony is that the friend and his wife are children of defence officers who have seen action. The fault, Siqueira explains, is not the police officer’s for not being open to the possibility of disability, for which he did apologise before he left, “The fault lies deeper: in how we have come to construct nationalism and the relentless blinding that comes with the pursuit of this agenda even among the best and most able of us.” He feels it a must to reveal this episode because the social origins of the threats to Mauzo lie in this social confabulation.

Siqueira says that the culture of nationalism is now all pervasive. “Due process and self-preservation slipped the officer who was entrusted with our protection and that of the law. The sensitivities of fringe groups have been internalised within the State apparatus and the wider society.” With these conditions there is a blurring difference between legal authorities and vigilantes, he says: “The state has gone missing. Citizens and democracy are collateral damage”.

Like Mauzo, Kerkar too faced threats from members of Sanatan Sanstha when he drew a series on Lord Ganesha. “They claimed that their religious sentiments were hurt by my drawings. This country is facing an epidemic of a disease called, ‘religious senti hurtitis’,” he says; that he believes is a psychosomatic disease.

“The huge overlapping of identities and cultures that our country does not permit a single ideology to roughshod over multiple voices or identities and our electoral system and democracy offers a good, though not perfect mechanism to channelise this diversity into political outcomes,” he says.

In one of his articles, Tripathi stated that there is no idea of India, but there are ‘Ideas of India’ that operate at the same time, making our country very complex. And thus he calls the present state ‘a point of transition’ rather than ‘a transformation’.

Singh speaks about the fascist upsurge across the world with ascendancy of far right wing forces. “Emphasis on personality cult of a leader, constructed masculine xenophobia and perpetuation of crony capitalism is leading to fascism and tumultuous destruction and exploitation. Socio-economic inequalities are being diverted to an issue of cultural difference, supposedly to be mitigated through national-populism or rhetoric of demagogues – leading to ascendency of ‘Post-Truth Democracy’ where citizens can’t distinguish fact from fiction or fantasy,” she says.

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