Time to combat communalism


Like so many Indians, I admire eminent poet, lyricist and director Gulzar very much. He is one of the finest representatives of India’s secular, pluralist culture .  He has a point when he defends those  authors who have recently returned their Sahitya Akademi awards in protest of the growing religious intolerance in India. In a media interaction last Saturday, Gulzar rightly said (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Returning-award-only-way-to-protest-Gulzar-says/articleshow/49517547.cms?) that the recent killings of Kannada writer MM Kalburgi and other growing instances of attacks on intellectuals were not Akademi's fault but the institution should have recognized and protested against such incidents. He added , "The murder that has hurt us all is somewhere the fault of the system/government ... Returning the award was an act of protest. Writers don't have any other way to register their protest.”

I, however , find it hard to agree when Gulzar says, “ We have never witnessed this kind of religious intolerance. At least, we were fearless in expressing ourselves… Never thought that a situation like this would come where a person's religion is asked before his name. It was never like this ...” The history of the post-colonial India is replete with instances of religious intolerance and violence . Everyone is well aware of what happened , for instance,  to minorities Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims in Delhi, Kashmir and Gujarat at the hands of the majority religious groups in the eighties , nineties and 2002 respectively.

Given the reality of communal phenomenon existent in the country for  a long time now, I wonder why the successive dispensations in New Delhi have refrained from taking effective measures to combat this evil . The other day Prime Minister Narendra Modi  told a newspaper : "Incidents like Dadri and the protest against the Pakistani singer (Ghulam Ali) are really sad . But what is the Centre's role in them?.” (http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/pm-modi-says-dadri-mob-killing-controversy-over-ghulam-ali-concert-sad-1231924)

The Prime Minister’s statement is strange . The law and order is a State subject in India. Our Constitution demands state governments to protect the fundamental rights of its citizens . This automatically demands the states to be duly sensitive and focused about defending the right to life--- the most fundamental of all fundamental rights --- which is often threatened by acts of communalism. If any state government fails in meeting this basic obligation , the Centre can  intervene to defend  the Constitution and  use all appropriate legal and administrative provisions within its jurisdiction to rein in the concerned erring governments .    

Ironically, the successive dispensations at the Centre have so far not functioned in harmony with the Constitution in this regard.  In  the recent decades there have been several cases that clearly show some state governments have failed in protecting their minorities---Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs or Christians---depending on their numerical strength in the areas they live in . These governments have at times failed also in providing due protection to the life and liberties of certain independent intellectuals.  But the Centre has glossed over such lapses on the part of the state governments.

Also, the Centre does not seem to have equipped its own security and intelligence agencies with genuine functional autonomy to corner the communal and criminal elements. According to a news report (   http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/hindu-fringe-groups-not-a-priority-for-intel-agencies/article7716358.ece), Hindu right-wing groups are seldom monitored by our intelligence agencies .

The report quotes an Intelligence Bureau official as saying, “There was a UPA (the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance Government  )  Home Minister who refused to initiate action against Muslims as well as Hindus….He was against the arrest of Muslims in terror-related cases for the fear of losing the support of minorities and Hindus because of his religious leanings.”

The Modi government must take cognizance of such reports and act  . It cannot let the Indian Republic go the way of a Khomenist Iran or Wahhabi Saudi Arabia . Unlike in a theocratic, fundamentalist state, the secular Indian Republic must not have any  space for any investigation conducted along sectarian or religious lines . It should not be difficult for New Delhi to nab communal elements wherever they may be . There is no dearth of officials of character and integrity in our security and intelligence agencies . The Centre could make the best use of their services .