According to the 2017 index of Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), India’s ranks abysmally low at 136 out of 180 countries in freedom of the press. Reporters Without Borders have ashamedly called India “Asia’s deadliest country for media personnel, ahead of both Pakistan and Afghanistan”. Being the largest democratic country on earth that consists of a multi-cultural and multi-dimensional society, such statistics are reprehensible.
Gauri Lankesh: This is yet another scandalous incident of a cold-blooded murder of another prominent left-wing intellectual and respected journalist Gauri Lankesh just outside her house on September 5, 2017. She was sprayed with bullets unless she fell dead, a punishment for her audacity and activism against suppression, advocacy for freedom of speech, and thunderous writings against communalism. Gauri was considered as a Naxalite sympathizer, a term often used by unsophisticated media for communist ideologues. Gauri published Lankesh Patrige, a Kannada weekly she inherited from her charismatic journalist father. She was also a founder member of an informal civil society group Komu Souhardha Vedike (Communal Harmony Forum). Lankesh is another victim of the hysterical right-wing Hindutva force of India that has characteristically ended voices of dissent, under the patronage of their political masters. Both mainstream and social media is flushed with obituaries of sorrow as well as banal misinformation or propaganda. Karnataka government is under severe pressure for criminal investigation whereas the Modi administration is facing wrath for disseminating terror against liberals. The fear among the civil society is that the voices of disagreement will continue to be thrashed as the notoriety of these haters of democracy will receive impunity.
M M Kalburgi: Dr. Malleshappa Kalburgi was a veteran rationalist scholar, teacher, and writer who was murdered by unknown assailants at his house in Dharawad in Karnataka. He was a researcher of ancient Kannada literature who was openly vocal against superstitious practices and right-wing groups. Although he belonged to the Lingayat sect, he had enemies within his community and was given police protection against threats made to him. Kalburgi was the former chancellor of Hampi University who spoke against idolatry at a seminar on the anti-superstition bill in Bengaluru. He was intimidated by local Bajrang Dal leader of a Dakshin Kannada district. His frequent riles against the Lingayat orthodoxy and liberal interpretation of verses had put him under the scanner of Hindutva forces and hardliners, who blamed his book as blasphemous. As his death was celebrated among the conservative Hindu groups, they kept threatening liberal and secular academicians. It shows an ominous reality of Indian hypocrisy where radical and reactionary elements issue open threats on twitter against celebrated writers and thrive unharmed bypassing every law enforcement agency. This politically motivated murder and thereafter inquisition had received outrageous condemnation from the intellectual sections of the nation, sparking a nationwide ‘intolerance’ debate.
Govind Pansare: A senior left-wing politician of Communist Party of India, Govind Pansare was assassinated by a gunshot in Kolhapur, Maharashtra as he was out on a morning walk with his wife on 20th February 2015. He often faced the wrath of RSS because of his opposition to the glorification of Naturam Godse, the man who murdered Mahatma Gandhi. Pansare’s narrations of Shivaji being an anti-Muslim king was considered derogatory and far from the portrayal propagated by conservative sections of Maharashtra. Pansare’s book Shivaji Kon Hota had sold 1.4 lakh copies. His other commendable works were on touchy subjects such as caste and rights of minorities. Not a mechanistic follower of Marxist communist, Pansare’s ideological guidance came from Shivaji, Shahu Maharaj, and Jyotibha Phule. A social reformer of his own kind, Govind Pansare’s murder was a heinous act of crushing dissent that becomes counterproductive as he is now considered as an icon of the battle against fringe elements of Indian society and their retrograde majoritarianism.
Narendra Dabholkar: A rationalist and anti-superstition activist, Dabholkar was the founder of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Unmoolan Samiti. He was murdered on August 20, 2013 while on a morning walk on the Omkareshwar bridge near the Balgandharva Rangamandir. An anti-superstition bill has been pending in the Maharashtra Assembly for more than 20 years that seeks strict action against human sacrifices, religious torture, and rituals on a pregnant woman to produce a son. It also suggests harsh punishment to self-styled Godmen and aghoris who perform evil practices in the name of religion. CBI has been accused of a shoddy investigation by activists and even the Bombay High Court. Dabholkar was the man behind the structuring of the bill. He had received several threats from extremist organizations such as Sanatan Prabhat and Hindu Janajagruti Samiti. Although Virendra Tawde is under trial for his murder, even after four years of his death, his family still awaits justice. His death is considered a blow to the anti-superstition movement and suppression of rationalism.
The Orthodox mindset of a ludicrously small section of society has started desecrating the fundamental principles on which the nation was established, after a massive struggle against colonialism. India is under the threat of becoming slaves to the yet again misinterpretation and misrepresentation of our culture, heritage, and tradition that rests on diversity and not just preponderance of numbers. There is a threat to democracy.
Article by Mausam.