The Hindu Lit for Life 2018

Forces that reshape India

Without fear (Left to right) Rajmohan Gandhi, G. Sampath, Gurmehar Kaur, Arun Kumar. c   | Photo Credit: Without fear (Left to right) Rajmohan Gandhi, G. Sampath, Gurmehar Kaur, Arun Kumar. R. Ragu

Was a rise in populist nationalism, Hindutva ideology, the progressive hollowing out of institutions, a prioritisation of campaigning and electioneering over governance, the “figments of an overheated liberal imagination” or serious cause for concern? This was the question that opened the first session of The Hindu Lit for Life 2018. Titled 'The Changing Face of India' this panel discussion, moderated by journalist G. Sampath of The Hindu, sought to examine the extent to which India is being reshaped, as well as the forces behind this reshaping.

“The abandoning of the fundamental values of the Indian nation in influential quarters of the country is the most serious issue faced by the county today,” said Rajmohan Gandhi, author, professor of history, and Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson. Gandhi highlighted the fact that ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’, France’s national motto, was also found in the preamble to India’s constitution, and that coercion on the street, in campuses, and in cinema halls was an undermining of these values.

Gandhi was referring to cow vigilantism, the shrinking space for discourse on campuses, and a court order, rescinded in early January, that made it mandatory for cinema halls to play the national anthem before movie screenings.

“This, to my mind — the repudiation, the rejection of liberty — is a matter of profoundest concern,” Gandhi said.

Globalisation and the pace of technological change are posing major challenges to the country, according to panelist Arun Kumar, who is a professor at the Institute of Social Sciences and author of Understanding the Black Economy and Black Money in India: An Enquiry into Causes, Consequences and Remedies. The quality of education in the country is, according to Kumar, a part of the problem.

“Desperation of youth for this [jobs] is enormous,” Kumar said, adding that a lack of opportunities for young people allowed irrational ideas to take root in their minds.

Gurmehar Kaur, final year student at Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi, was also part of the panel. Kaur, the daughter of Captain Mandeep Singh, an army officer who died in a militant attack in Jammu & Kashmir in 1999, received threats, including of death and rape, from social media trolls in response to asking for peace between India and Pakistan. The trolling began after she spoke up against violence in Delhi’s Ramjas College in February 2017.

“How did we get here? From a country that earned its independence talking about non-violence and peace… all of a sudden I was being threatened with death for talking along the same lines,” said Kaur, whose book, Small Acts of Freedom, was released earlier this month.

In a connected session later on the same day, 'The Founding Fathers and the Relevance of the Mahatma Today', Rajmohan Gandhi spoke with novelist and publisher David Davidar.

The vision of India’s founding fathers could be found in two or three documents, according to Gandhi, who once more referred to the ideas of equality, liberty and fraternity in the preamble and Rabindranath Tagore’s poem, ‘Where the mind is without fear.’

Gandhi expressed a keenness to bring together those who oppose totalitarianism. “The pen, the song, the drama and the biggest weapon of all… the joke… the joke… which has been the bane of or a great threat to totalitarian societies and regimes… yes we must wage the fight in whatever way, wherever we are.”

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Printable version | Aug 4, 2021 1:46:54 PM |

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