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Let Us Listen To Each Other

Two more eminent writers, Hindi author Krishna Sobti and Malayalam novelist Sarah Joseph have returned their Sahitya Akademi awards, protesting the Akademi’s silence on the killing of Kannada author and Sahitya Akademi Award winner M M Kalburgi. Sobti also returned the Akademi’s fellowship, the highest honour of the highest literary institution of the country. Another writer K Satchidanandan, who was a member of the Akademi’s executive board, resigned from all bodies of the Akademi. Hindi author Uday Prakash was the first to return his Akademi award after the murder of Kalburgi, saying that free speech was endangered under the NDA government. Last week, English novelists Nayantara Sahgal and Shashi Deshande and Hindi poet Ashok Vajpeyi returned their Akademi awards. Malayalam short story writer P K Parakkadavu also said he would quit the Akademi membership. More writers are said to be contemplating returning their Akademi awards.

Why are an increasing number of writers giving up an honour that every writer so much cherishes? What is it that is driving them to desperation? Is it just the murder of a fellow writer M M Kalburgi? No. It is the intention and motivation behind his murder that is agitating them. Kalburgi was assassinated for his writings, for his views. The two persons who rode to his home on a motorcycle with a gun and shot him point blank as he opened the door were not ordinary criminals; they were not thieves come to rob his material assets. They had come with a clear intention of assassinating him for his writings and speeches. It was an act of murder intended to kill not a Kalburgi but free thinking and free expression. A connection of Kalburgi’s murder is found with the murder of Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, both ardent champions of rationalism. They had throughout their lives urged people not to believe in anything without asking for a material proof. They were against blind faith and for scientific temper.

It can easily be surmised that the people who planned their assassinations were opposed to rationalist thinking. They were not just opposed but were pathologically opposed. Had their opposition been restricted just to opposition it would have meant just a difference of opinion and peaceful co-existence of diverse opinions. But they took it beyond that. They took recourse to murder. They did not take recourse to a massacre of rationalists; so it is not difficult to understand that their intention had a similar motive as the terrorists have in choosing their targets. They kill their target in order to terrorize the rest. By killing Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi they aimed to terrorize all the rationalists who propagated and believed in scientific basis of things. By implication, they aimed to terrorize all the Indians who believed in free thinking and free expression of ideas that ran contrary to the established, orthodox religious views.

But that’s not all that is agonizing eminent writers. They are fundamentally alarmed by the culture of violence being fostered and practised by a plethora of organizations claiming to be wedded to the cause of restoring Hindu pride. The lynching of the 50-year-old Akhlaq Ahmed in Dadri in Greater Noida by a Hindu mob comprising local villagers was a burning example of this culture of violence. Akhlaq was killed in his home for allegedly slaughtering a calf and keeping its meat in his fridge. The whole chilling murder is coming to be unfolded as a premeditated, planned thing. The intention was to polarize people along religious lines in Dadri. Last week, a similar thing happened in Mainpuri in western UP. A Hindu farmer sold a cow that had died of natural causes to some Muslims who bought it for skinning the carcass obviously for tanning. As four Muslims sat down to skin the carcass, a mob attacked them alleging they had slaughtered the cow and chopping it for beef. Two of them took to their heels, but the mob overpowered the other two and would have lynched them like Akhlaq Ahmed had local police not arrived on time. The mob did not like police intervention and attacked the policemen and set fire to their vehicles. They wanted the police to leave the two Muslims to them for delivering a lesson to all Muslims who slaughter cattle and eat beef.

Our country has witnessed a thousand encounters of people of different religious traditions in history. We are destined to be a multi-religious society. The organizations wedded to making India a single-religion society – or at their charitable best, a Hindu supremacist society – are actually dividing up the country into religious ghettoes. They are closing all the roads leading to an understanding of one another’s religion and culture. They are closing all doors for a dialogue, which has been proven by history to be the best way to understand each other and appreciate each other’s views. All that the writers are saying is end the culture of violence which will only encourage religious ghettoization and reinforce stereotypes, half-truths and irrational fears. Everybody has spoken too much: let us listen to each other.

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