Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pathetic – this attack on Prashant Bhushan

I am no great fan of Prashant Bhushan. I find him to be rigid and inflexible. My only direct view of him comes from his role as a part of Team Anna. I also find it unacceptable that he comments on everything under the sun – not as an ordinary citizen – but as a result of the clout he has acquired on account of Anna’s movement. But this is the last thing that I would ever wish for him. Prashant Bhushan is an eminent lawyer – and a great civil society member. No matter what his views – and the fact that they don’t agree with mine – the fact remains that he is a shining light of India. And all of us need to condemn this attack on him.
In some ways, I am not surprised something like this happened. We have – over a period of time – accumulated too many violent elements in our politics and society. To be fair to politics, it only represents society. It’s the existence of these elements in society that should worry us. The reason this extremism has taken birth and has developed is that we – the rest of the people – tend to give them space as “nationalists”. Many of us treat them as protectors of our national identity. Over a period of time, their tribe has grown in size spurred on by muted but still encouraging words from others in society. The result is a rise in intolerance and the allowance of the practice of freedom of speech to only a few. For the rest of the people, freedom of speech is permission only within the confines of a protected place.
There have been numerous instances of this. I remember the 1999 incident when Dr. Graham Staines – a missionary worker helping leprosy patients deep inside Orissa – along with his two young sons was murdered by a rightwing activist, Dara Singh. Hindu groups claim that he was converting people over to Christianity. Converting people, who for all practical purposes had been rejected by the larger society. People who couldn’t care less which religion they belonged to as long as they got accepted in society. But leaving aside what our point of view on religious conversions, the fact is that this was a brutal murder.
The Sri Ram Sene group has been in the news quite a few times in the last few years. A simple Wikipedia search reveals the following info about them:
On 24 August 2008, the Sri Ram Sena vandalized an exhibition of M F Husain's paintings in Delhi. The Sena claimed that M F Hussain had painted Hindu gods in a derogatory manner, including a nude representation of Bharathmata (Mother India). The artist's framed paintings and photographs were smashed. The vandals left behind scribbled notes attacking Husain. The Sena has repeatedly spoken out against the celebration of Valentine's Day, and has said it will stage protests against it. The group also finds mention in the Malegaon blast charge sheet filed by the Maharashtra Police. In the transcript of a conversation, the prime accused Colonel Purohit is heard praising the Shri Ram Sena, and calling Muthalik its leader (After the investigation its found that there is neither any involvement of sri ram sena nor Pramod Muthalik in this case)….
On 27 October 2008, activists of the Sena ransacked the central office of the Samajwadi Party in New Delhi, in retaliation to alleged defamatory comments made against slain Delhi Police Inspector M C Sharma by SP leadership.
On January 2009, Muthalik announced an action plan to target couples found dating on 14 February, Valentine’s Day. He said "Our activists will go around with a priest, a turmeric stub and a mangalsutra on 14 February. If we come across couples being together in public and expressing their love, we will take them to the nearest temple and conduct their marriage. On 9th feb 2008, Home Minister P. Chidambaram said that "Sri Ram Sena is a threat to the country. The Centre is watching its activities with great concern". The remarks of Muthalik raised widespread criticism and protests like the Pink Chaddi Campaign. As an additional precaution, Muthalik and 140 others of the Sri Ram Sena have been held in preventive custody on Valentine’s Eve and released 4 days later.
Frankly, many people may well agree with the stand taken by the Sri Ram Sene and may well support their cause. There is nothing wrong in that. India is a democracy and a plural society with people from different religions, castes, races, languages and classes calling it their home. Each person has a right to his or her views and as long as those views are not offensive or causing societal tensions, they are fine to carry. The problem starts when some people start to assert themselves – with violence. Their objective is clearly to mute out any opposing point of view.
There is political patronage that is provided to such groups. Sri Ram Sene has in the past claimed that it is their action that has led to the unearthing of terrorist elements of the extremist organization – the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). But SIMI is a known terrorist organization and it has been banned in India by both the BJP and Congress governments since 2001. Even the judiciary has refused to lift the ban on SIMI. Unearthing acts of terrorism conducted by SIMI is great, but indulging in violence to teach such elements a lesson is not acceptable.
In this particular case, Prashant Bhushan may have made a statement on Kashmir that upset the Sri Ram Sene. I think he said that if there was a plebiscite held in Kashmir, he was ok with it. Kashmir is a complicated matter – there is a huge amount of history which most people of the current generation are not aware of. Kashmir is not the subject matter of this post. No matter what the views of the people on this subject, the fact remains that we cannot mute out a different voice on this subject. It’s the same case with Arundhati Roy who in 2008 said that she favored Kashmir separating from India. Most people in India don’t agree with her views. Thankfully, both the BJP and the Congress opposed her statement and asked her to withdraw it. But thankfully, there was no violence. People can protest peacefully outside her office or home, but they cannot be allowed to take the law into their hands.
The history of Sri Ram Sene is intertwined with the Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Wikipedia again mentions that the organization was founded by one Kalkiji Maharaj who went on to become a leader of some of these organizations. The particular person – Inder Verma – who has been arrested for the attack on Prashant Bhushan is apparently an ex member of the BJP’s Youth wing. Fortunately for all of us – and I would expect no less really – the BJP has come out against the attack and has distanced itself from this person and this body. In fact, Wikipedia says the RSS had distanced itself from this organization a long time back. It states: To distance themselves from the Sri Ram Sena group, the RSS called for stringent action against the group, and said that they would have no objections should the government ban them. I am happy that there is political unanimity on this subject….
The real truth is that such elements as the Sri Ram Sene are only fringe elements of our society. Though it may sometimes appear that their support base is much wider and deeper, in reality, Indian society has limited the activities of such organizations every single time. We are a plural society and people at large will not let that change…..that’s the message we need to give to Sri Ram Sene and all other organizations of its type….

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