Why are Hindus behaving like a minority in India?

Utpal Kumar
Utpal KumarOct 30, 2015 | 15:54

Why are Hindus behaving like a minority in India?

Rajesh Joshi is a well-known Hindi poet. Social justice has been a constant theme in his works. When Gujarat witnessed one of its worst riots in 2002, Joshi, a Left-leaning writer, visited several relief camps and vociferously criticised the BJP government for the post-Godhra violence. The same year, he won the Sahitya Akademi award for his anthology of poems Do Panktiyon Ke Beech (Between the Lines), which he readily accepted without any compunction. This despite the fact that the BJP was then in power both at the state and the Centre when 2,000 innocent lives, most of them Muslim, were lost in Gujarat. Thirteen years later, Joshi is in news again. This time for returning his Sahitya Akademi award, won ironically the same year the Gujarat riots rocked the nation, in protest against the government's "silence" over the Kalburgi killing, the Dadri incident, et al. What the death of thousands couldn't do, a few in 2015 did for Joshi this time!

Then, there's Ashok Vajpeyi. He too has returned his Sahitya Akademi award, along with over three dozen other writers. Interestingly, the acclaimed Hindi writer had won the award for his poetry collection, Kahin Nahi Wahin, in 1994, just two years after the Babri Masjid was demolished. One wonders how Vajpeyi, in the first place, could accept the recognition during the regime of Narasimha Rao who was as much, if not more, part of the December 6, 1992, mayhem. The mosque's demolition, after all, led to riots across the nation, including in Mumbai, wherein thousands of lives were lost, and hundreds of temples were destroyed in retaliation in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Weren't Vajpeyi's sensibilities hurt at that time? Maybe he was willing to give the Congress the benefit of doubt, thanks to its "secular" credentials!

But then why did Vajpeyi wait for 21 years to return the award? He could have done it in 2002 when his act of conscience would have made greater sense. As one ponders over all this, one is reminded that Vajpeyi had served, from 1997 to 2002, as the first vice-chancellor of the Mahatma Gandhi International Hindi University in Wardha, Maharashtra, which mostly coincided with Atal Bihari Vajpayee's regime at the Centre. So, should one assume that one Vajpayee escaped another Vajpeyi's ire primarily because the then BJP government was "moderate" enough to tolerate him as V-C in Wardha?

Nayantara Sahgal's case is even more interesting. A vocal critic of Indira Gandhi, she chose to set up the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) to help investigate the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom, the handiwork of the Congress leadership and cadres. (I use the word pogrom because far from being a riot where there's some sort of confrontation between two sides, in Delhi it was a one-sided, selective killing.) But the horrific killing of 1984 never desisted Sahgal from accepting the Sahitya Akademi award in 1986. She even failed to correct the "mistake" in 1987 when more than a thousand Muslims were killed in Bhagalpur, Bihar, again under the Congress regime.

Interestingly, Sahgal's partner in crime... Err protest, Keki N Daruwalla, is guilty of even graver insensitivity. He was, in fact, awarded the Sahitya Akademi in 1984 itself for his poetry collection, The Keeper of the Dead, but Daruwalla found no issue with it. His conscience wasn't stirred even when the Rajiv Gandhi government decided to ban Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, the first country in the world to do so, much before Khomeini's Iran could wake up to the issue.

The case of Ghulam Nabi Khayal is equally scathing. The Urdu writer from Kashmir, while recently returning his Sahitya Akademi award, emphasised on his desire "to live in a country that is secular, not a place where freedom of speech and religious identities are facing threats from communal forces". What a brave assertion from the illustrious writer from Kashmir! But wait a minute. Didn't he accept his Sahitya Akademi award in 1975, the same year Mrs Gandhi imposed Emergency in India. Does Khayal saab mean the situation today is worse than that of Emergency? And why did he keep mum when Kashmiri Pandits were thrown out of the Valley in the name of religion? Wasn't that the blatant case of "religious identities facing threats from communal forces"?

So is the case of Nirupama Borgohain both troubling and enigmatic. She, like Ashok Vajpeyi, received the Sahitya Akademi award for her novel Abhijatri in 1994, just a couple years after the demolition of Babri Masjid. One wonders how the 83-year-old Assamese writer could so easily forgive the then Congress regime, which was also in power both at the Centre and the state when more than 2,000 Muslims were massacred in Nellie, Assam, in 1983. For all these years she did nothing and readily accepted state recognitions even when the minorities in her own state (as recently as 2014 in Kokrajhar and elsewhere in Assam) were killed. Why? Was it just because all these were happening under a "secular" regime? Or was it the case of "a smaller killing" versus "a bigger killing", as a celebrated anchor said in a private conversation, trying to justify the media's silence in some cases while at the same time taking an almost activist-like role in others?

The list of such double-standards is long, almost endless, though there are some exceptions (sadly, very few in numbers) when the authors/artists are consistent in their protests. Like historian Romila Thapar, who refused a Padma award from the previous UPA government citing it would compromise her autonomy as a writer. When she says something on Sahitya Akademi, one is bound to hear her with respect, even if one doesn't agree with her. Or for that matter, the late Nikhil Chakravartty, who too refused a Padma award by explaining that it would curtail his independence as journalist. But what about those accepting state recognitions from one government and returning them when the other comes to power, just because they don't go along well with the latter? Or, worse, those two gentlemen from the film fraternity - one filmmaker and another cinematographer, to be precise - who returned their respective National Awards but refused to part ways with the money associated with the recognition, saying the money belonged to the people of India? Does it mean that while the money has national identity, the awards belonged to the government of the day?

Selective amnesia and inconsistency do more harm than good. For, there can't be a smaller or a bigger killing. Till this doesn't stop, one will find some writers rising passionately for Gujarat and Dadri but apologetically keeping mum on 1984, '87 and '92. This makes an important national issue look sectarian and political. But worse, it makes the large majority believe they are the victims in the country of their own, and thus nurse an inherent anti-minority grudge. This also explains why Hindus in India behave like minorities, and thus the phrase, "Garv se kaho hum Hindu hain", often finds resonance in the Hindi belt. But, even more importantly, the recent incident exposes what many have suspected for long: that these institutions/awards have always been political, and not national, in nature.

And that's the irony of it all.

Last updated: October 30, 2015 | 16:59
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