Communalism as a political mobilisation strategy had made “disturbing progress” over the past several years, said N. Ram, Chairman, THG Publishing Private Ltd., on Tuesday, while remarking that the ‘Hindu Rashtra’ ideology preached by the powers that be flagrantly denied equality, fairness and justice to all citizens of the country.
Mr. Ram was delivering the first Dr. Narendra Dabholkar Memorial lecture entitled ‘Three challenges facing contemporary India’ at the city’s Tilak Smarak Mandir organised by the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS), which the late rationalist helped to found.
“The challenge to secular, democratic, and pluralist India has come to the fore at a time the party of the Hindu Right, led by a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak-turned-charismatic mass political-leader, has won a renewed and stronger mandate and is actively consolidating its power at the Centre,” said Mr. Ram, remarking that the ruling party has flanking support from a family of militant Hindutva organisations that used to be regarded as belonging to the ‘fringe’.
‘Blow at secularism’
“It is no secret that this new dispensation is armed with an ideology and a socio-political programme that are at odds with what we have been accustomed to for most of India’s independent career. It is important to realise that when the RSS supremo proclaims that India is a ‘Hindu nation’ and ‘Hindutva’ is its identity, he is striking a blow at the secular concept of Indian citizenship and at the Constitution itself,” he said.
“It does this crudely through spraying anti-Muslim venom into society and, at a more sophisticated level, by advocating the value of ‘positive secularism’,” Mr. Ram said, observing that it was “fashionable” today to decry secularism as “a tired, formulaic, hack concept”.
He said the law of sedition, (124A of the IPC), and illiberal provisions of the IPC like section 153A, and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, and other draconian laws were being invoked in the name of fighting terrorism.
“Legitimising Hindutva, pushing the validity of majoritarianism as an imperative of electoral democracy and calling for an authoritarian ‘national unity’ and ‘patriotism’ on this deeply divisive and reactionary basis is what pseudo-nationalism seeks to achieve for the communalists,” said Mr. Ram.
Expressing grave concern at the threat to the freedom of the press and the freedom of speech and expression in India today, he said that besides journalists, ordinary citizens too found their fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression diminished and constrained by a climate of fear and intimidation.
“A total information blackout and Internet shutdown was imposed in flagrant violation of Article 19 of the Constitution on the entire population of the former State of Jammu & Kashmir for a prolonged period, without the government even bothering to offer a serious explanation as to why such extreme measures were called for,” he said, observing that in recent times, citizens uploading innocuous Facebook posts had been arrested and faced criminal charges even after securing bail.
Mr. Ram said that in 2018, India had ranked 138th from the bottom among 180 countries and territories figuring in the annual World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters sans frontières (RSF), a Paris-based independent organisation dedicated to freedom of information.
He further observed that the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has, after careful enquiry and strict verification, has documented the work-related killing of 1350 journalists worldwide, including 50 in India, since 1992.
“Of the 50 killed in India since 1992, 35 were murdered ‘in retribution for, or to prevent, news coverage or commentary’ while the remaining lost their lives while on ‘dangerous assignments’ or in ‘crossfire’. As the respected Editor of Sadhana, Dr. Dabholkar too figured in the list of journalists murdered,” said Mr. Ram, noting that the Index was a graded indictment of countries where the rule of law does not seem to apply when journalists are murdered in the course of their work.
“The 2018 Index identifies 14 countries in which “impunity is entrenched.” India, along with six other countries, has figured in the Global Impunity Index every year over the decade. It can thus be described as ‘a founding member’, a ‘permanent member’, of this ‘Club of Shame’, Mr. Ram said, adding that the 14 countries accounted for 82% of the unsolved murders of journalists worldwide for the decade.
Lauding the clarity of ideals held by the slain activist-thinkers - Dr. Dabholkar, Communist leader Govind Pansare, scholar M.M. Kalburgi, and journalist Gauri Lankesh - and their unwavering commitment to them, he said that a pattern could be discerned in their unnatural deaths.
“The grim circumstances that led to memorialising in an untimely way Dr Dabholkar and other upstanding fighters for rationality should never have arisen in the first place…which organisation, which ideology, which set of conspirators and killers is involved is no secret – it never was; we are only learning the specifics, the details as the investigations into these cold-blooded assassinations that were meant to send a message of terror through society make their slow progress,” said Mr. Ram, observing that notwithstanding the progress made by the CBI in Dr. Dabholkar’s murder, fingers were crossed about the eventual outcome of the investigation and prosecution of the case.
Praising Dr. Dabholkar’s contribution in founding MANS and in campaigning against, and exposing, all manner of exploitative superstitions and obscurantist beliefs, he further compared the late rationalist’s work to the powerful and long-lasting contribution of legendary activist Periyar Ramasamy.