“In the democracy which I have envisaged, a democracy established by non-violence, there will be equal freedom for all. Everybody will be his own master. It is to join a struggle for such democracy that I invite you today” was the call that Mahatma Gandhi made at the Gowalia Tank Maidan of Bombay (Mumbai) to launch the ‘Quit India’ movement in 1942, which is considered as one of the most pivotal and significant milestones in the country’s freedom movement. This was perhaps the strongest and vociferous appeal, the one rebel call that pushed India towards its ultimate freedom.
Recently, the Central Government and, of course, all the State Governments commemorated the 75th anniversary of this great movement. While commemorating and paying our due obeisance to the freedom fighters, it will also be fitting to ponder on the vision that Gandhi had then – an ‘inclusive, democratic and just India’ where everybody is equal – vis-a-vis the atmosphere and situations unfolding today. It is astonishing that he made some prophetic remarks in his ‘Quit India’ speech when he said that free India could be ‘placed in the hands of the Parsis’(Rajiv Gandhi was a Parsi) or ‘some others whose names are not heard in the congress today’ (Isn’t the ruling party in the centre today having no association with the Indian National Movement and so too with Quit India movement? In fact, the Hindu Mahasabha and RSS were against this very movement.)
Contrary to the vision of Gandhi, we seem to be encircled by rising intolerance – religious or otherwise and politics of hatred today. Isn’t our sense of nationhood welded in multi-religious, multi-cultural plurality? This vibrant plurality is actually the cement that is bonding our country together thus far. But in the recent times, the Hindu right wing organisations (parties) seem to be working to thwart this very plurality of India. The bigotry remarks of some senior politicians, that too with distressing frequency, are perpetually fanning the embers of a fear that the government is subscribing to make the country ‘Hindu-Rashtra’. The issues of Ram Temple, Love Jihad, Ghar Wapasi and of course the ban on Holy Cow (beef) consumption are what can be seen as a target to the minorities. The holy cow issue (banning the sale of cows for slaughter) not just hurts the religious sentiments of Muslims and Christians but also lower-caste Hindus, who work in leather industries, and farmers because they will be deprived of a traditional source of income from selling non-milch and ageing cattle. More worrying than hurting religious sentiments is the violent manifestation of intolerance associated with this cow issue. It has led to the incitement of mass hysteria leading to lynching after lynching. Rowdy vigilante bands (gau-rakshaks) seem to have unleashed a reign of terror in different parts of India, which further accentuates animosity amongst different groups.
We also have witnessed the alarming increase in violence against the dalits in the past few years. These acts of violence have risen not just in terms of numbers, but also in intensity. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), crime against dalits – ranging from rape, murder, beatings, and violence related to land matters – is alarmingly on the rise and going by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on the Prevention of Atrocities against Scheduled Castes, a crime is committed against a dalit every 18 minutes. This situation clearly defies the core ideology and spirit of the 1942 movement and it also strongly points that justice, equality, liberty and fraternity – the four basic tenets promised in our constitution’s preamble is not available to all but rampant oppression and discrimination continue unabated.
Gandhi’s dream of a democracy where there will be equal freedom for all, where everybody will be his own master seems to be under a big threat today. The rights of the citizens are not being honoured nor respected, the cultural diversity is not being accommodated and celebrated and there is a constant fear among the people to freely express their thoughts. The right to free expression, a crucial pillar of a democratic edifice, is eroding swiftly. Journalists, writers, scholars and artists are being persecuted, banned, imprisoned, forced into exile or had their works desecrated. In recent times the murder of journalists from Hindustan daily, Taza TV, Aaj Tak, threats and violence on media personnel and, of course, the government’s ban for a day on NDTV and News Time Assam are attacks on free expression. The same fate befalls on the rationalist writers and progressive artists who dare to challenge the narrow conservatism of the Hindu right wing organisations or criticize their bigotry.
This intolerant atmosphere and shrinking free expression are permeating into educational campuses and threatening the very idea of what the universities are meant to be – free enquiry and open debate. We all are too aware of the incidences that had unfolded at JNU, Hyderabad University, Ramjas College, Jai Narain Vyas University, Kirori Mal College etc. These incidences are not just one-off episodes but, lately, have become new norms in Indian universities. These are attacks on what universities stand for. Understood, freedom of expression is to be exercised with reasonable restrictions but what we see today is the hijacking of this ‘reasonableness’ by the brand of neo-nationalism that the Hindu right wing is projecting. But, sadly, this invocation of ultra-nationalism appears to be mere excuse to justify the deliberate targeting of minorities.
75 years have lapsed since Gandhi gave the ‘Do or Die’ slogan to fight imperialism, for equality, democracy with non-violence. The relevance of this cry is very much vital even today when we seem to be just seeing a facade; a veneer of democracy imprisoned by narrow, divisive and conservative mindsets.
Degree of Thought is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. Degree of Thought will delve into the social, cultural, political and educational issues around us. The views expressed here do not reflect the opinion of the institution. Tetso College is a NAAC Accredited UGC recognised Commerce and Arts College. The editors are Dr Hewasa Lorin, Nungchim Christopher, Seyiesilie Vupru and Kvulo Lorin. Portrait photographer: Rhilo Mero. For feedback or comments please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.