The intolerance that is manifestly upon us is a resurgence and slow build up of a 19th century streak that got buried in the Nehruvian ideal of building a forward looking nation for a while after the assassination of Gandhiji. It has seen resurgence since the 80’s. The conflation of religion and hyper nationalism is a product of a particular psyche that thrives in the sense of victimhood and a hatred for anything that stands in the way of their monolithic understanding of religion, nation and morality. The favourite trope used repeatedly is the spurious logic of ‘sentiments being hurt’. The trouble is the pusillanimity of all governments in taking a firm stand against this tendency. Unfortunately no political party has come out with a genuine liberal ideology that befits a nation that was born with such lofty principles such as freedom expression, democracy, secularism etc. In this debate it is easy to point fingers at the right-wing parties who thrive in these witch-hunts but even the so-called progressive centrist and left parties have not quite covered themselves with glory. The Taslima Nasreen and Salman Rushdie incidents with Left Front Government in West Bengal are cases in point. The Trinamul Congress of course has shown eagerness to play to the tune of a kind of extremism that is proscribed in Bangladesh but finds a safe haven in this part of Bengal. The Congress has played the foolhardy game of appeasing all shades of extreme opinion in an apparent desire to be even handed. But the BJP gets the credit for starting and now overseeing a regime that is so regressive that it takes your breath away! Their openly divisive agenda of equating majoritarianism with nationalism and in projecting that as their democratic mandate is but a meticulous implementation of the agenda of their ideological mentors, the RSS. The Ramjanmabhoomi movement may have been discarded after it has served its immediate purpose of bringing the party to power but the long-standing and unrequited agenda of building a monolithic muscular majoritarian nation with no scope of dissent is unfolding rapidly. The recent incidents mark a new low not only because dissenting voices are bumped off left right and centre but also because of the foot in the mouth utterances of people in positions of power. The mask is off and all talk of development agenda is increasingly sounding hollow. In an ultimate perversion of logic, protecting the ‘cow and its progeny’ has taken precedence over human lives. The history of cow protection movements in pre-independence India always emerged at times when the polarisation of communities are at its peak and seeing history repeating itself so literally would have been amusingly farcical had it not been so dangerously blood thirsty. Intolerance breed intolerance and all shades of extreme opinion is getting bolder by the day to attack the space that nurtures scientific temper, curiosity to question and disagree. The liberal space has shrunk so much in the last three decades. The writers and artists are at the most vulnerable fringe and easy targets. The threat ‘toe our line or else..’ is not an empty threat anymore but a reality. We will have to come together and refuse to budge. But that is easier said than done because this is a country where a living writer has to announce the death of his creative self, an iconic artist had to be chased out of the country and spend his last days in exile because some people were ‘hurt’ and others were twiddling their thumbs when the judicial process was being abused to harass the man, a student had to spend three nights in jail because someone objected to his painting, numerous books had to be banned because of totally unacceptable arguments of the politically powerful, a public prosecutor have to state publicly that they are being pressured to dilute their cases to protect ideological brethren of the high and the mighty, nobody bats an eyelid anymore if one whose views are disagreeable is bumped off. The assassins are always untraceable and the clueless police anyway is busy expending their limited resources either in protecting VVIPs or looking for smuggled items of proscribed meat. The distorted meanings of words like Anti-national, pseudo-secular, minority and terrorist are daily occurrences. The common ground, the mezzaterra, that allows for exchange and acceptance, that sees difference not as a threat but as strength is an increasingly contested territory. The dark forces are coming out of the woodwork to wreak havoc on beloved and cherished ideals of liberty, dignity and a space for debate and the fundamental right to dissent. There are ominous signs that hard-won rights are on the verge of being swept aside by a tidal wave of reactionary resurgence. The ideals of the mezzaterra are under attack they need to be defended stoutly. The strategies can vary but every one who holds these ideals dear to them will have to fight for them with whatever means they have or all will be lost.
Indrapramit Roy October 2015