Resist The Assault On Cultural Freedom And Indo-Pakistan Friendship

ON 4 October 2016, the concluding day of the 14th national conference of IPTA in Indore, 10-12 goons from a little known organization called Bharat Swabhiman Manch attacked the event, pelting stones and injuring an activist. The RSS Malwa propaganda chief (prior to the attack) and RSS Indore propaganda chief (after the attack) issued statements in which they claimed that “anti-national speeches” were made at the event. It is not difficult to guess the affiliations of this hitherto unheard-of organization which seemed to have sprung up overnight.

This incident is the latest in a series of attacks on artists, writers, and intellectuals by Sangh-affiliated forces, especially in the wake of the Uri attack and the ‘surgical strike.’ Recently the ABVP had protested to disrupt the staging of well-known writer Mahashweta Devi’s “Draupadi” at the Haryana Central University. This story about an adivasi woman confronting the leader of security forces who has ordered her to be gang-raped and killed in an encounter, was branded as ‘anti-army’ and ‘anti-national.’ Under pressure from these disruptive elements, the University has thrown ‘autonomy’ to the winds and instituted an enquiry against two teachers who facilitated the staging of the play. Under the Modi government at the Centre and the BJP-ruled State governments, the morale of hate-mongers who attack freedom of speech has reached a new high.

After the attack on the IPTA Conference, a local newspaper published an article under the by-line of BJP National General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya which attacked an anti-war speech by well-known film-maker MS Sathyu (director of the iconic film on the Partition of India, Garam Hawa) at the IPTA event. In this article Vijayvargiya has questioned MS Sathyu’s right to remain an Indian citizen.

MS Sathyu had said, “War is not the solution to any problem. We are not against just an India-Pakistan war but against all wars.” So according to saffron forces, it is anti-national to make anti-war statements in times of surgical strikes! They also said that plays against the army were being staged at the conference; in other words, support for the oppressive and inhuman side of the army has also become a must for proving patriotism. Vijayvargiya wrote “(JNUSU President) Kanhaiya is also a leftist who was raising anti-national slogans in JNU. The anti-national traitor Afzal Guru was the inspiration for Rohith Vemula of Hyderabad. All these are the festering sores of anti-nationalism. These people, clad in the garb of the Left, are more dangerous than Pakistani Kasab. Chanakya has said that the enemy within is far more dangerous than the enemy without.”

On 14 October the venue permission for the ‘Cinema of Resistance’ film festival at Udaipur, Rajasthan, was cancelled after being initially granted, under pressure from the RSS and the ABVP. This film festival has always been centred on a particular social issue. This time it was centred on the question of justice in the cases of dalit students Delta Meghwal (who was raped and murdered in Rajasthan) and Rohith Vemula (who was a victim of institutional murder). The festival was to screen “Kairana Surkhiyon ke Baad”, a film by Nakul Sawhney exposing the conspiracy to spread communal hatred and violence in Kairana. This is the reason the organizations responsible for spreading communal and casteist poison tried to cancel the film festival, and the Vice Chancellor and Dean of the Agriculture University cancelled the venue permission which had been given just 16 hours ago.

It is the greatest irony that those who are smothering the voices of legitimate dissent, those who are destroying the multicultural fabric of Indian society and culture, are accusing the film festival of screening films that break society. The police in BJP ruled Rajasthan paid no heed to the complaints by the organizers of the film festival. Jan Sanskriti Manch appreciated the courage of the organizers and audience who held the festival at the scheduled time at a different venue where Delta Meghwal’s father Mahendra Ram spoke and a leader of the Una struggle, cultural activist Jayesh Solanki performed poems at the inaugural session and “Kairana Surkhiyon ke Baad” was also screened.

Also on 14 October, an atheists’ conference organized at a private campus in Mathura, attended by writers, journalists, intellectuals, and social activists from various States including Gujarat, Karnataka, Punjab, and Maharashtra was attacked by religious bigots. In all these incidents the connivance of the administration was apparent; some tilak-sporting officers threatened to arrest writers and artists and used abusive language against the atheists. The SP government of Uttar Pradesh, predictably, did not reign in the bigoted mob. Pressure was put upon guest houses and dharmashalas not to give rooms to the participants and to cancel rooms already booked. Finally the administration forced the organizers to cancel the conference saying that it would disturb the peace.

An attack on an atheists’ conference in the country of Bhagat Singh who wrote the piece “Why I am an Atheist”, in the country where many philosophical traditions are associated with atheism, is an attack not only on democracy but also on the country’s rich heritage of logic and intellect. It is bigots such as these who murdered Dr Dabholkar, Comrade Govind Pansare, and Prof. Kalburgi. In spite of all the obstacles and attacks, the people who had reached the venue conducted the atheists’ conference. The next day when the police came to intervene, they challenged the police to arrest them. Religious bigots are giving press statements every day for the arrest of the conference organizer Balendu Swami and threatening him on social media sites.

After the Uri incident the politics of hate against Pakistani artistes has once again accelerated. Till now wars used to be fought between governments but the bonds of art used to hold the hearts of Indians and Pakistanis together. For the first time this unifying bond is being sought to be broken. The irony is that those Indian artistes who are demanding that the Pakistani artistes speak up against their own government are being targeted by the bigots for not becoming part of the government’s jingoistic propaganda. Well-known writer Tasleema Nasreen has rightly said, “Today you will ban Pakistani artistes. Tomorrow you will ban Bangladeshi writers. You will be left alone with only yourselves. Pure Indian blood. Hitler’s idea of “purification of blood.”

A Pakistani classic 1959 film, Jago Hua Savera (Awake, The Day Has Dawned) was dropped from the recently held 18th Mumbai Film Festival sponsored by Reliance Jio, following a complaint by a local group that the film was “likely to flare outrage among people.” This film has screenplay by Faiz Ahmad Faiz based on a Bengali story by Manik Bandopadhyay about the struggles of a fishing community near Dhaka, music by Timir Baran of Calcutta, mostly Bangladeshi actors and one leading Indian actor. How petty and poor the MAMI festival organisers prove themselves when cannot recognise and celebrate the legacy of such a classic! Shamefully, director Karan Johar was bullied into regretting having cast Pakistani actors in his latest film, which could be released only after MNS leader Raj Thackeray, notorious for xenophobic violence, held a meeting with Johar in the CM’s presence, and Johar agreed to Thackeray’s extortionary demands! Union Information Minister Venkaiah Naidu, while claiming that the Government is not imposing any ban or boycott of Pakistani actors, has tacitly endorsed and encouraged the boycott, saying “... It is very simple to say art has no boundaries, but countries [do] have boundaries...When a war is taking place, you have someone doing a drama with that country, that is not expected.” A few brave voices have taken on this kind of bullying. Actress Renuka Shahane and actor Abhay Deol both pointed out the hypocrisy in imposing boycotts of Pakistani cultural figures but not demanding that Indian corporations stop doing business with (i.e making money from) Pakistan! Shahane pointed out that MNS protests against Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan in 2008 for their ‘UP’ and ‘Hindi’ rather than ‘Maharasthra/Marathi’ identity, miraculously vanished after Bachchan became brand ambassador for Gujarat. Raj Thackeray even gave a personally sketched portrait to Bachchan! Similarly, Pakistani artists and actors have visited India and starred in Indian films after the Mumbai terror attack and the attack on the army base in Pathankot.

Particularly in BJP-ruled States the trend of demanding proof of nationalism and patriotism is fast turning into a dangerous and destructive disease. A recent example of this is the incident where wheelchair-bound writer and disability rights activist Salil Chaturvedi was thrashed in a multiplex in Panaji (where he had gone to see a recent Rajnikant film) for not standing during the national anthem. He said, “I just don’t understand why it seems impossible for so many people to express patriotism in a non-aggressive manner. I now believe that even if I could stand up during the national anthem, I would rather not, simply because I am being forced to do so. My father is an Air Force veteran. I represented the nation in wheelchair tennis at the Australian Open. Look at my life choices! Who are you to judge how much I love India? Is this why we fought the colonialists? Did we get our freedom only to become sheep, and that too led by the most sinister, manipulative brutes among us? I will not participate in this sham.”

The calls to boycott Pakistani artists are aimed equally at Indian Muslims. Leading actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui was prevented by Hindu right wing groups from playing a role in the Ramlila performance at his native Muzaffarnagar.

We need to stand up to the bullies and assert that jingoism is not patriotism. Questioning Governments, questioning armies and defending the right to dissent and diversity are essential features of any genuine patriotism.

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