While it is nobody’s suggestion that India was a tolerant land some three years back and suddenly has developed the intolerance, none can deny the facts that the goons threatening intellectuals and activists have certainly become more arrogant and encouraged by the absolute ‘disinterest’ shown by those in power. In the past few years we have lost number of persons for the cause of human rights and secularism, and probe have reached nowhere even though links with organisations associated with Hindutva groups have been reported in the media. Activists are being threatened; intimidated and street goons have taken it upon themselves to provide the justice. Where the person is a bit powerful, cases are filed against him in the court while goons are let loose to physically intimidate him.
Kancha Ilaiah is a well-known Bahujan philosopher who has been actively critiquing the Brahmanical social order and its injustices meted out to the Dalits-OBCs and Adivasis. Should he not be allowed to do this, or silence him under the garb that it ‘hurt’ the community sentiments? It is not the question of any outsider writing a critique but a person from the community historically denied right. The only difference this time was that his new book that has come out is about the Vaishya community which is basically a trading community. Normally the Brahmins are the target but this time the Vaishyas (Banias) have taken it to themselves and have been protesting against Illaih for his writing against them. The main contention of the community is that they have been called ‘social smugglers’ by Illaih in his book. One of the Member of Parliament from Telugu Desham Party T G Venkatesh has reportedly threatened to kill him and asked for his hanging.
On September 23, Ilaiah’s vehicle was attacked and a prompt action by his driver could save his life. So shocked was Prof Ilaiah that he felt deeply isolated and decided to confine to his home for the next one week. It is sad that an intellectual at this stage is facing so much of threat of physical violence and no assurances from the authorities for his safety. Now the issue is being deliberately being politicized to create a Hindutva frenzy in the state so that corrupt politicians can reap the benefit of the emotional blackmailing of people. This is the new India, where the brahmanical Hinduism will come through violent means. No criticism would be allowed or countered through a fair critique. It is not that Ilaiah wrote it for the first time. His thought provoking books are there in open and should be welcomed. One can disagree with him and for that we have enormous avenues to not merely protest peacefully but also write counter argument to denounce; but that is not happening.
Critiquing India’s notorious caste system is nothing wrong; it will ultimately help India get stronger and united. If Ilaiah has said anything academically or factually wrong, then there are options before the people to go the court or even write rejoinder through engaging in a democratic debate. Huge number of upper caste dominate our media, academia, intelligentsia and they can write a counter critique of Kancha Ilaiah but the abdominal street protests that we are witnessing in Andhra and Telangana are merely political and need to be unconditionally condemned.
The videos of protest using innocent children to urinate in public on the photograph of Kancha Ilaiah is nothing except the sick mindset of the people who are using children to reap the rich harvest of hatred during the election. It is deeply despicable and condemnable. Why children should be used in a debate which is academic. Kancha Ilaiah has not killed anyone, nor is he spreading hatred against particular communities or people, he has not threatened anyone but used his writings to speak up against what he and many like him consider historic wrong. Isn’t it his right to question and speak up against the social injustices that prevailed for centuries in our society?
Isn’t it for Indians to ponder as why one community is in business or knowledge while other is purely for cleaning human excreta? Is this not a reservation which has existed in this filthy society where a few protested but the privileged ones kept quiet? When this hegemony is challenged then the question of merit is raised, as if all those in the Dalal Street in Mumbai are the most meritorious people. Caste system is nothing but hidden apartheid and you cannot hide from the fact that it need to go and should be demolished as Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar as well as many others like him, had wanted.
What is more disturbing is the failure of the two state governments of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana to provide Ilaiah protection and action against those threatening him. A Member of Parliament of Telugu Desham party has openly threatened to kill Ilaiah but there is no action from the chief minister Chandra Babu Naidu. The goons are openly attacking Ilaiah and monitoring his movements, but the two chief ministers remain shamelessly silent on the issue. The way political protests have been launched against him is clear indication of the local politicians who are being encouraged by their respective parties to intimidate a scholar through street goondaism. The two chief ministers of Andhra Pradesh and Telanagana are the same who refused to speak up against institutional murder of Rohith Vemula. Even when the entire country stood up for Rohith’s cause, the two upper caste governments actually were determined to treat him as a ‘non dalit’, a deliberate ploy to divide people on caste lines and deviate from the real issue of the prevailing caste prejudices in their system.
Another appalling thing is the conspicuous silence of intellectuals and political parties as Kancha has himself said. This is a very disturbing fact. This is the period of a great crisis among us. Those who are targeting Ilaiah know it well that there are wide differences among the non-Hindutva groups of people. This is not merely the problems of the left forces but also of the Ambedkarites and Bahujan forces. It is not the time to dig into history and then take a stand. In my opinion every Ambedkarite or a true intellectual of any variety left or socialist or freethinker will always defend an individual’s right to freedom of expression and engage in democratic debates. Moreover, it is not a street brawl that he has engaged in, but a purely academic work which can and should only be countered through academic exercise or democratic protests. The pain is that we have not heard intellectuals, academic taking any stand on it particularly outside Andhra and Telangana except for some individual responses on social media. It is good that the Congress Party has issued a very strong statement in the media as their spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewallah demanded action against the threatening Member of Parliament and protection to Ilaiah. This is certainly a positive sign and we appreciate it.
India is fast becoming a mob republic where power elite has developed various ways to not only intimidate you but put you in deep distress to the strength of physical hurt or elimination. The mobs are being encouraged to take law in their hands and they have the fullest backing through the PR agents who can easily convert a wrong into right and the vice versa but then these should be the finest hours for all of us who are fighting against the subjugation and discrimination as it is the right time to see the truth, our stand and our attitude. We need to develop the culture of debate and discussion as that is the only way to save us as a society and as a nation. Once people start taking law in their hand and judge everyone in the street, we will have none to blame but us. It is better to learn from the experiences of others. People in Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere know well the importance of democracy where in the name of identities and national interests people have killed each other.
India survived as a democracy and fared well because despite all our weaknesses, we promoted ideas through constructive debates. We agreed to disagree. If you don’t like Kancha Ilaiah or anyone like him, don’t read him, switch off your TV or if you are reasonable enough then counter him ideologically and argumentatively through various mediums. Each one of have various options including social media and it should be used to strengthen the debates but don’t fall prey to the political goons who are only using sentiments to spread hatred and promote their political interest. Prof Kancha Ilaiah must be provided all the security that he needs as well as those threatening to kill him must be prosecuted.(Published on 16th October 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 42)