I earn my bread and butter through my pen and words. I also romance them; share my deepest fears and thoughts with them. Sometimes I feel no lover or friend is closer to a writer than the pen and words. Also which job in the world gives you this kind of power? A writer gets to write love songs that lovers hum through ages. A writer also gets to shape public opinion. And that is why it pains me when senior Indian writers sought political hypocrisy and selective outrage.
Autumn is my favourite time of the year. There is always love and poetry in the air and the yellowed leaves almost seem to sing a beautiful tune. But this year the air is heavy. No. I am not of the scaremongering group and will not predict any approaching apocalypse. But the air is undoubtedly heavy with hypocrisy. The nation has been bleeding for a long time. Why queue up now and return awards? Why is it that no atrocity made them sit up all this while? Why is it suddenly easy to raise voices?
Writer Shashi Deshpande resigned last Friday from the Sahitya Akademi General Council and said she “deeply distressed by the silence of the Akademi on the murder of Professor M M Kalburgi.” Though I haven’t read MM Kalburgi’s works, I presume he was a great writer and a much respected man. Whether people agreed to what he had to say is not even a point of debate. Dissent doesn’t give a licence to kill anyone, writer or not. I therefore share Ms Deshpande’s anguish. But I fail to share her opportunism.
Unfortunate as it might be, Mr. Kalburgi is not the first rationalist who was murdered by fundamentals. Narendra Dabholkar was murdered on 20th August 2013. No one talked about ‘Silence is a form of abetment’ then. No awards were returned. No emotional resignations were written. But of course there was a UPA at the centre and a Congress in Maharashtra. The lanterns at 10 Janpath were burning very brightly.
They say there is a phenomenal increase in cases of intolerance. I want to ask just one question. When was India tolerant? The idea of Gandhi’s India is probably romanticized in books. But was India really tolerant? Unfortunately I come from a town that has seen cases of ethnic violence and even terrorism from a very close quarter. Only a couple of years back agitating groups in support of Inner Line Permit burnt two people to death. There was a mob that day too. Does the mob remind you of Dadri? Yes I am sure it does. How are two cases different? The right to life of an Indian citizen was snatched away. One was killed because he was trying to earn. Another was killed for a supposed menu that was not even on his platter. In both cases the ‘Idea of India’ was at stake. My liberalism teaches me to not be selective over grief. Dadri made sure I couldn’t eat meat for a while. Whenever I saw a piece of meat, the helpless faces of the victim’s family flashed in front of me. But my liberalism does not allow me to say ‘look here one death is more important that the other’. If I cry for Akhlaq, I will also cry for Prashanth Pujari or Vikas Nandwal.
The Indian writers of course have every right to do what they want with the awards. They can just throw it away. But using their clout to shape public opinion is scary. Which major work of art was banned since the Modi government has come to power? If one calls Fifty Shades of Grey, Unfreedom and AIB roast the epitome of creativity, them may be I am intellectually challenged. Or was the opinionated piece called India’s Daughter an essential aspect for women’s safety in India? Even if I agree with their opinion, I would want to know if these are the only films that were banned? Aandhi and Kissa Kursi Ka are probably the older ones and some might say ‘hey I wasn’t even a writer then’. But what about ‘Girl with a Dragon Tattoo?’ That was banned in 2012 under the progressive UPA rule! Come on. This country has seen a ban on a Satyajit Ray documentary and an Anurag Kashyap film.
Or forget bans. Because that is an uncomfortable subject. Who can forget The Red Saree and the quiet ban on it? Taslima Nasreen is probably not even important, since she was born on the wrong side. Had she been anywhere near to Mr. Kasuri’s residence; things would be different. And Sir Rushdie doesn’t talk about the ban on his books, but just present day India. Let’s just talk about the supposed throttling atmosphere for Indian writers. What was done to Perumal Murugan was sickening. But the fate of Joe D’cruz was of no importance? Today they talk of intolerance. How many of them stood by Shirin Dalvi when she was hounded for the Charlie Hebdo cartoons? A leading opinion portal had in fact put up a headline – ‘Je Suis Shirin Dalvi anyone?’
Today everything has come down to the ‘right to dissent’. Of course that is what Indian writers are all about. Breaking societal norms is what the pen can afford to do. But sadly if we criticize the ‘award wapsi’, we are almost called unlettered, tagged petty commercial Indian writers and also ‘Modi toadies’. But of course. It is the government that doesn’t allow us to ‘dissent’!
A ‘senior’ ‘journalist’ mentioned – ‘The new buzzword is ‘selective outrage’: if you didn’t outrage about a crime against a Hindu you have no moral right to outrage when a Muslim is killed.’ What they fail to realize is it is not about Hindu and Muslim. If slaughter of Sikhs and Kashmiri Pandits is painful, so are Bhagalpur and Hashimpura and Muzzafarnagar. If it is about the Hindus that were burnt to death it is also about the innocent Muslims that were murdered for no fault of theirs in Gujarat. It is about Indians and not Hindus and Muslims. It is also about Graham Staines and every Dalit that has been killed.
Conscience is a very heavy word. It keeps us sane in these times when human bonding is eroding. But if your conscience has slept through when men were sterilized, when public money was usurped with multiple scams, when women’s faces were burnt, when women were raped, when girls were killed in wombs or in the name of dowry; then this country probably doesn’t matter to you.
Indians are Indians. Rationalists are rationalists. I just wonder what kind of liberalism makes one cry for someone and look away when someone else is in grief.
P.S – In these three years of my writing career none of my books have become bestsellers or have attracted awards. Even the national award was not for me but for my film. So I will never have an option to return it. But even if I had I wouldn’t. Because then my conscience would box my ears and say ‘where the hell were you when your country was weeping?’
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