On August 15, 2015, India celebrated its independence for the 63rd time. As always, independence may not mean much to those on the peripheries of a republic of inequality. But economic inequality and age-old caste and tribe inequalities have a sharper edge in our country today. Since the BJP government has taken over, divisions of caste and community have become sharper. With right-wing fringe groups springing up every day, insinuating themselves into the mainstream and becoming part of the establishment, we are in the midst of what we can only call the “culture wars”. We are being told what to eat, wear, think, write, and paint. What to think, how to think. How to remember our histories, and how to teach our children.
The Republic of Inequality now has new dimensions: the Republic of Discrimination, the Republic of Hurt, the Republic of Ban.
We at the Indian Cultural Forum want to make sure that we “keep count” again and again so we do not forget any attack on our constitutional right to conduct our lives as free and equal citizens. We want to keep count so we can save our institutions from being saffronised. We want to keep count to honour those who raise their voices against these attacks, and to encourage others to join in.
What follows is a woefully incomplete list between January and August 2015, but even this is enough to give us a clear picture of where we are, and where we are heading. We request our readers to email us at [email protected] with more examples of the ways in which Indian diversity is being damaged.
Eroding of institutions
- Parvin Sinclair, a mathematician of repute and educationist, was Director of the NCERT and chief of curriculum framing since 2005. She was hounded with frivolous charges so that she resigned. NCERT board members feel the HRD wanted to derail the curriculum framing project.
- Y. Sudershan Rao, a historian without any significant publication in the discipline of history and notorious for his anti-Muslim sentiments, was made Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR).
- Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, a reputed historian, resigned in protest against the way Rao was running the ICHR. Rao has claimed that he will focus his attention on Hindu epics and fund research on Hinduism. Historians feel that the debates Rao is focussing on are only interested in reviving the Sangh Parivar’s agenda in the area of history.
- The Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) disbanded the advisory committee of its journal comprising 21 eminent historians from around the world, including reputed historians Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib. The council’s member-secretary Gopinath Ravindran opposed the decision and subsequently resigned.
- The government named the general secretary of the Kisan Morcha, Naresh Sirohi, a man with no experience in broadcasting, as the principal adviser of the soon-to-be-launched DD Kisan channel. The Kisan Morcha is the BJP’s farmers’ wing.
- More than 42,000 state government schools in Gujarat received free copies of textbooks written by Dina Nath Batra taught as reference literature, with titles like Indianisation of Education (Shikhan nu Bhartiyakaran) and Brilliant India. It is not clear what Mr Batra’s qualifications are to write school textbooks.
- Venu Vasudevan, the man who successfully turned around an insipid National Museum, was transferred to the Sports Ministry.
- The government reconstituted the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library Society with 34 members, including BJP supporters such as the economist Bibek Debroy, the journalists Swapan Dasgupta and M.J. Akbar, and Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy.
- A. Sethumadhavan, eminent Malayalam writer, was replaced by Baldev Sharma, ex-editor of the RSS mouthpiece, as the Chairman of the National Book Trust.
- Prasar Bharti is supposed to be an autonomous institution. But it felt free to send orders to AIR to highlight the “successes” of the BJP government.
- Gajendra Chauhan, with no qualifications except his support for the BJP, appointed the head of the Film and Television Institute in Pune.
- Police enter the FTII campus at midnight and arrest students.
Religious and caste apartheid
- M. M. Kalburgi assassinated on August 30, 2015, following for his views on Hindu rituals. The Kannada writer was the third rationalist killed after Dabholkar and Pansare’s assassination last year.
- When MBA graduate Zeeshan Khan applied for a job at Hare Krishna Exports Private Ltd, a representative of the diamond export firm wrote back to him in an email that it hires only non-Muslims.
- Almost 70 per cent of all registered societies in NCR have no Muslim members.
- Sadhvi Prachi calls for all Indians to boycott films by the “Khans”.
- What began as a dispute over land, where the Muslims where constructing a mosque, turned into violence on May 25 in Ballabgarh, with over 2,000 heavily armed men allegedly selectively targeting Muslim homes.
- Vinay Katiyar, Rajya Sabha MP from BJP claimed that the Ram Temple issue is as important as the country’s economic development. If the government did not work toward legislation on this matter, he warned (threatened?) that “The anger of Ram bhakts might erupt as a volcano.”
- Thirteen dalit families in a Maharashtra village live in constant fear of violence. Facing a social boycott from upper castes the Dalit families of Ansurda village in Osmanabad wrote to District Collector Prashant Narnavre seeking rehabilitation near an urban area.
- A dalit youth was assaulted and forced to consume human faeces by three persons at Barkali village under Kotwali police station in Muzaffarnagar.
Eroding heterogeneity: Bans and shrinking India’s plurality
- The BBC documentary “India’s Daughter” was banned from being screened.
- The Madhya Pradesh chief minister rejected a proposal to introduce eggs in anganwadis.
- Beef banned in Maharashtra.
- The Ambedkar Periyar Student Circle (APSC) in IIT Madras was banned. The ban was endorsed by the HRD.
- The Censor Board decided to ban 28 swear words. These “swear words include “lesbian”…
- The government of Karnataka banned foreigners from parties and social events in the state. The rules direct that party and event organisers will have to “obtain permission from district-level committees headed by the deputy commissioner by revealing the project cost, source of funding, names of advertisers and the event schedule”. Parties and events are also supposed to “stay in tune with Indian culture and traditions”.
- Activists such as Teesta Setalvad have been hounded, as are NGOs. In another vindictive action on those who implicated then Chief Minister of Gujarat and present Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi in the Gujarat Pogrom of 2002, IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt was sacked.
- Al-Jazeera was banned in India for five days.
- CPI leader Govind Pansare was assassinated.