A Ray of Hope from the World of Art and Literature
On 28 September 2015, in a village in Dadri, in the state of Uttar Pradesh (India), a mob of more than hundred people attacked the family of Mohammad Akhlaq and killed him, accusing him of killing a cow and consuming its meat. His son was seriously injured in the attack, and other members of the family were beaten. The family had been living in that Hindu majority village for about 70 years. They had cordial relations with Hindus and had many Hindu friends.
For many Hindus, cow is sacred. Hindu fundamentalist organizations have been demanding ban on killing of cows and in many states such laws were passed. In the last few months there were many cases of attacks on minority communities, accusing them of killing the cow. However, this is only one of the acts of extreme intolerance, especially since the new government came to power in 2014 April. Anyone who expresses ideas different from the fundamentalist ideology is attacked. One famous writer, M.M. Kalburgi, in the state of Karnataka was shot dead by unknown persons. He had received threats from Hindu fundamentalist groups for his liberal ideas. Another rationalist in Maharashtra, Govind Pansare, was murdered in the same way.
Following the murders of these writers and thinkers, there have been protests from many well known literary figures. As a protest to the government, which is said to be protecting and promoting such fundamentalist groups, many writers and artists have returned the awards that they had received from the government in recognition of their contributions in the field of art and literature. They have pointed out that there is an atmosphere of extreme intolerance in the country, and that the government is directly and indirectly supporting such ideologies of intolerance. Many of them are Hindus, but they say that this intolerance and violence in the name of Indian tradition and religion are against real values of India. Following them, many film stars (for example, Amir Khan and Salman Khan) and film directors have come forward complaining of increasing intolerance in India in recent months, some of them returning the awards that they had received. These protests from the world of art, literature and film have gained much public attention and have put pressure on the government. Finally, the prime minister and other leaders are compelled to respond, at least indirectly, to these attacks.
Since the present government came into power, India has witnessed unprecedented forms of intolerance — increase in the attacks on minorities, their places of worship, suppression of Non-Governmental Organisations differing from fundamentalist ideologies, attacks on liberal thinkers, attempts to change the curriculum of schools and colleges, attempts to rewrite the history of India giving prominence to fundamentalist leaders in the past and present, etc. This atmosphere of intolerance and violence has spread fear and insecurity in the minorities. Opposition parties have been ineffective in resisting this intolerance. Minorities, including Christians, have been often avoiding protests, perhaps thinking that protests will only provoke more violence and acts of intolerance.
In such a context, this bold protest from the world of art and literature is a ray of hope in the darkness of intolerance and fear. I do not know whether these voices also will be suppressed, but this courageous and bold step taken by these writers and liberal thinkers give us hope again that intolerance and violence will not succeed in a land like India, or at least will not be accepted unopposed.
Often, the Church has not been so open towards liberal thinkers, perhaps fearing that they will also threaten its own power and authority. But, it is necessary that the Church promotes everything truly human, any genuine attempts to uphold human values and freedom. ‘The Spirit blows where it wills’ and greater openness to the promptings of the Spirit, though it may not be within the structures of the Church, is required. Encouraging and working together with all people of good will is needed today more than in any other times.
Shaji George Kochuthara, CMI