To make light of an issue that requires sensitivity, resolution and delicacy, is not the hallmark of a culture minister. His statement is belittling towards writers, thinkers and intellectuals. It is shocking and disappointing. It reveals that he has neither understood the context of the protests nor the subtext. It underscores an almost plebeian attitude towards freethinking. It shows how little he knows of India's cultural milieu. His attitude towards artists, the ones who create things for our society that we define as culture, is derogatory. His opinion of art, as something that need not be created on his word, is reductionist.
Surely, a lack of culture is most unbecoming for a minister of culture.
You cannot honour your country while dishonouring the people you have been elected to represent.
At a time when the government stands accused of suppressing freedom of expression, our country is seeing growing intolerance, a spread of communal hatred, and cultural erosion.
People from the fields of literature and culture are not being allowed to speak their mind, question the status quo, or criticise hegemonic power. There is not only a threat of violence but also an infliction of violence. Rationalists, thinkers, writers and scholars are being targeted in an orchestrated manner. They are being murdered in cold blood, like with MM Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare.
This is against the idea of free India.
The truth is that artists and censors have always been at loggerheads. For aeons, artists have been singled out for many reasons in many ways, whether it was MF Husain for painting or Salman Rushdie for writing. But this time the censor has taken it too far.
That's why our culture minister should have been the first to speak out. He should have condemned the repeated attacks on writers and thinkers who are raising their voice of dissent. As an elected representative he should be committed to the core values enshrined in the Constitution of India, and endorse freedom of speech and life, as well as secularism. He should urge the Centre and the state to act swiftly against the offenders such that these incidents are not repeated. He should think about injustice, and what is right and wrong. He should encourage new voices instead of silencing them. He should act as the vanguard and patron of culture, not its wilful destroyer.
It is safe to say that Mahesh Sharma is not doing a job befitting his portfolio. If our culture minister can tell writers to stop writing, then writers are well within their rights to tell the minister to resign. A cultural naysayer cannot also be a culture minister. He cannot pin culture to an act of renunciation that is unbefitting and cruel. He cannot care so little for culture or its creators. He cannot speak out in a manner that only abets the crimes against writers and intellectuals. It cannot be condoned.
Mahesh Sharma, writers are not going to stop writing. We will not cower and be pushed into a corner. It takes guts to be able to see the truth and speak it. It takes strength to be broke and ravaged for your art, and still keep going on. It takes gumption to live a life without imitation. We are a highly courageous bunch. Our passion is stronger than our fear. With such a constitution we will not back down. We will keep writing, and we will write our way to justice and culture.
And, when you need us to write that resignation letter, we will be at your service.