Has India’s tolerance been destroyed by Hindu extremists?

Shiv Sena has gotten away by attacking journalists, TV studios, and all others who didn't subscribe to their...

K S Venkatachalam October 13, 2015
In a shocking and a shameful incident, the Shiv Sena activists smeared black paint on Sudheendra Kulkarni’s face to protest against the book launch of ‘Neither a Hawk, nor a  Dove’, written by Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, the former foreign minister of Pakistan, at Nehru Planetarium, Mumbai. The immediate provocation for the attack on Kulkarni was because he was the person who had organised the book launch.

As Kasuri was a close confidante of former Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf, and also one of the main architects of initiating the peace process with India, it would have provided a great opportunity for the people of Mumbai to have heard his side of the story and interacted with him, especially in the context of growing tensions between the two countries.

Although one wouldn’t like to take up cudgels with the ‘desh premi’  Shiv Senaks, as they are entitled to hold on to their views, but taking the law into their own hands is highly condemnable. It is against the right of freedom of speech, one of our core values enshrined in the Indian constitution. In a bizarre reaction to the incident, the Shiv Sena spokesman Sanjay Raut, instead of showing any remorse said,
“The ink attack on Kulkarni is a mild reaction from Sena; this is not ink but the blood of our soldiers.”

Furthermore, the muzzling of views, especially those of writers, will prove to be counterproductive in the long run. As expected, Kulkarni, who is the main moderator, refused to be cowed down by threats and went ahead with the book launch which proved to be a great moral victory for the secular forces of India. If the organisers had succumbed to such pressure tactics, it would have tarnished the image of India. By going ahead with the programme, Kulkarni has demonstrated that if one has the resolve and courage, no forces will be able to impinge the rights of the ordinary citizens.

Sadly, this incident comes immediately in the wake of the cancellation of legendary Ghazal Singer Ghulam Ali’s programme in Mumbai and Pune, due to threats from the same organisation. It was upsetting to hear Ghulam Ali express his disappointment as he was looking forward to the visit to pay tribute to his friend the late Ghazal singer Jagjit Singh.

In the past, the Shiv Senaks have gotten away by attacking journalists, TV studios, and all others who held contrarian views and who did not subscribe to their ideology. As this organisation enjoys goodwill and support from a large constituency in the Maratha belt, the successive governments in Maharashtra, be it the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) led government, and now the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, they have been hesitant to reign in this group because of ‘vote bank’ politics. The ineffectual governments have only managed to embolden these groups in all their subversive designs.

It is here one would like to give credit to the chief minister of Maharashtra, of which Shiv Sena is a partner, for his courage to ignore the threats of his coalition partner and giving full protection to Kasuri and the organisers. The launch would not have taken place but for his support.

In an article in New York Times, the writer wrote,
“The attacks in India should not be seen as a problem limited to secular writers or liberal thinkers. They should be recognised as an attack on the heart of what constitutes a democracy — and that concern everyone who values the idea of India as it was conceived and as it is believed, rather than an India imagined through the eyes of religious zealots.”

We shudder to see India from the eyes of zealots like Azam Khan, Owaisi, Sakshi Maharaj, Sangeet Som, Sadvi Pragya, Shiv Senaks and their ilk. Fortunately, their numbers are inconsequential to weaken the great country. India has a millennia old history of tolerance, so let’s not let the rich social tapestry be destroyed by a few radical elements.

It is high time that the middle class in India raises its voice against the growing intolerance in our society. If they remain mute spectators, the communal and radical elements, will only feel emboldened to launch more such attacks against all those people who don’t subscribe to their ideology.

If we want to preserve the ‘unity and diversity’ let us learn from what the president of India, said in his recent speech about diversity, tolerance and plurality of Indian civilisation and how it must be kept in mind and cannot be allowed to be wasted.
“These core civilisation values keep us together over the centuries. Many ancient civilisations have fallen. But that is right that aggression after the aggression, long foreign rule, the Indian civilisation has survived because of its core civilisational values and we must keep that in mind. And if we keep those core values in mind, nothing can prevent our democracy to move.”

It is hoped that the vox populi (voice of the people) of this country will raise their voice against such fringe elements so that these forces do not muster courage in future to attack individuals and organisations.

The government, on its part, should no longer remain a mute spectator. They should reign in all such elements, before they succeed in destroying the rich social tapestry of India. They should realise that it is the preservation of the country that is of prime importance and not clinging on to power.
K S Venkatachalam

The writer is an independent columnist and political commentator.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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