The social and political hounding of Kancha Iliah Shepherd with death threats is another dark page in the recent turn of events, where intellectuals in the country have been at the mercy of hoodlums and fanatics of all hue and color, while the state is a mere bystander. In Professor Iliah’s case the state has gone one step further where Telangana home minister has threatened him with legal action while Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister has stated that he will ensure that his book which at the centre of ‘controversy’ will not be allowed in Andhra Pradesh. Prof Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is the Director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy at the Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad.The booklet in question titled ‘Samajik Smugglurlu Komatullu’ (Vysyas are social smuggler) is a reprinted version of a chapter titled ‘Social Smuggler’ from Prof Iliah’s earlier work called ‘Post-Hindu India’ (2009).
The booklet at the center of this row, explains the age old centralization of wealth in the hands of Baniya caste in cohoots with Brahmins at the expense of dalit-bahujans and adivasis. It also explains how due to the monopolization of the wealth by the upper castes makes them completely oblivious to the socioeconomic status of dalit-bahujans and Adivasis and regard them as ‘meritless’. The umbrage taken by the Vysyas community of Andhra and Telangana on the said text, speaks volumes about their social and political dominance and how the same could be used to silence the opposing voice. This reaction of the Vysyas community also underlines the rising intolerance in the country where a work of critical importance and academic repute is physically opposed instead of its being debated, if required.
The Arya Vysya Association (AVA) has filed a petition in the Supreme Court saying the “book hurt feelings of the Arya Vysya community” and sought a ban and legal action against Shepherd. The community staged protests in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and burnt the author’s effigies. Telugu Desam Party MP T.G. Venkatesh addressed a press conference against the author and sought that he be “hanged publicly”. His car was attacked at Parkal by a mob from the community when he was returning to Hyderabad from Bhupalapalli where he had gone to attend a public meeting of the Telangana Mass and Social Organisations Forum.Kancha Ilaiah lodged a complaint with the Osmania University police station as he received threatening and abusive phone calls from unidentified persons.
The sheer impunity enjoyed by these blood thirsty goons, patronized by their political masters is increasingly being bolstered by the conservative and jingoistic posturing of Narendra Modi government at the centre. After the brutal murder of Govind Pansare, Narendra Dhabolkar, Kalburgi and the recent brutal killing of Gauri Lankesh, this tide of hounding the intellectuals to their brutal death is becoming a new normal. Prof Iliah’s name is the latest in this order, where the act of writing has become threat to the status quo of the dominant castes. Lest we as civil society become conditioned to such targeting and threatening of our intellectuals, we must stand together against this calculated and deliberate suppression of critical voices of our society- voices which are absolutely central to the functioning of a political democracy. Civil society must stand up against this goondaism and demand for security for Prof Kancha Iliah as well as punishment to those issuing open threats, before we have another Gauri Lankesh.