Writers in India Protest Wave of Bigotry, Intolerance

Rohit Wadhwaney
151016-IN-kalburgi-1000.jpg Mourners look on as the body of slain Indian writer and scholar M.M. Kalburgi is buried at Karnataka University in Dharwad, Aug. 31, 2015.

Punjabi novelist Dalip Kaur Tiwana looks back on receiving the Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian honor, as “one of the proudest moments” of her life.

But the 80-year-old writer this week returned the award, which she won in 2004, in protest against a “growing atmosphere of hatred and intolerance” under the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government.

“Being bestowed with the Padma Shri was a great honor, a matter of great pride for me. But keeping the award after knowing that minorities are being crushed and writers murdered for voicing their opinions would be a matter of shame,” Tiwana, an author of 38 books, told BenarNews.

“Returning the award is my way of protesting the atrocities being committed against India’s minorities and intellectuals because of rising communalism under this government,” said the author, who earned the Sahitya Akademi (National Academy of Letters) Award – the nation’s highest literary honor – for her novel “Eho Hamara Jivan” (“This Our Life”), in 1971.

The octogenarian joins a growing list of Indian literary laureates who have returned their awards over the past fortnight as a show of protest against what they call the “fascist agenda” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. As of Friday, 46 writers from across the country had returned their awards, including cash prizes.

These literary lights are protesting what they describe as the government’s indifference toward the Aug. 28 murder of Kannada-language writer M.M. Kalburgi at his home in southern Karnataka state, and the Sept. 28 lynching of ironsmith Mohammad Akhlaq over rumors that he stored beef in his house in Bisara, a village in Uttar Pradesh state not far from New Delhi.

Kalburgi was gunned down for allegedly voicing “anti-Hindu” opinions. The slaughter of cows and consumption of beef, which are taboos among many members of India’s Hindu majority, are banned in 24 of its 29 states, including U.P.

Police probes

According to police, seven of the nine suspects arrested for Akhlaq’s murder are related to a local BJP worker, and they have confessed to inciting the mob that attacked the Muslim family.

Police in Karnataka, meanwhile, say they have found “crucial leads” linking Kalburgi’s murder to the Maharashtra killings of leftwing leader Govind Pansare, in February, and progressive thinker Narendra Dhabolkar, in 2013.

Maharashtra state police, last month arrested Samir Gaikwad, a member of a rightwing Hindu outfit called Sanatan Sanstha, in connection with Pansare’s murder.

Interrogations of Gaikwad revealed the name of Rudra Patil, also a member of the same group, but who is at-large and believed to have masterminded the murders of Pansare, Kalburgi and Dabholkar, police sources told BenarNews.

Kalburgi was killed for his ideological beliefs and Patil is a “person of interest,” Karnataka Director General of Police (DGP) Kishore Chandra confirmed to Benar.

A manufactured crisis?

India’s literary circles squarely blame Modi’s government, which came to power in May 2014 in a landslide victory, for rising tensions between various religious communities and intolerance nationwide.

“The truth is that a lot of nasty people within the BJP are feeling empowered to the point of shamelessness,” Pratap Bhanu Mehta, of the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research, wrote in The Indian Express.

“The blame for this has to fall entirely on Modi. Those who spread this poison enjoy his patronage. This government has set a tone that is threatening, mean-spirited and inimical to freedom,” Mehta said.

On Thursday in West Bengal state, more than 100 eminent citizens, including writers, painters and actors, signed a letter to Indian President Pranab Mukherjee requesting that he intervene to help calm communal tensions in the country.

“The stifling atmosphere of fear and uncertainty is fatal to the freedom of expression that is at the heart of our shared lives, and it is for the restoration of this common fabric that we urge you to intervene,” the letter said.

The BJP, however, looked to downplay the widening protest, calling the returning of awards as a “case of ideological intolerance.”

“Is this protest real or a manufactured one?” asked senior BJP leader and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.

“The new strategy of anti-Modi, anti-BJP sections appears to be to resort to politics by other means. The easiest way is to manufacture a crisis and subsequently manufacture a paper rebellion against the government in the wake of a manufactured crisis,” Jaitley told reporters in Delhi.


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