The Death Of The Liberal Hindu?

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Engineer Rashid-the controversial MLA from Langate- who neither shies away from making newsy statements nor public displays of his politics- has been subjected to what amounts to an assault  in New Delhi. Rashid’s face was smeared with ink and mobile oil. This incident comes in the wake of a similar incident in Mumbai when Sudheendra Kulkarni was made a victim of a similar attack by Shiv Sena activists. While Kulkarni’s ‘crime’ was to facilitate the book launch and release of the erstwhile foreign minister of Pakistam, Mehmood Kasuri, Er. Rashid was subjected to an ink and oil attack, because he had thrown a beef party at the MLA hostel. Readers may recall that Rashid was assaulted and beaten in the premises of the Legislative Assembly.

The inference that can be drawn from these incidents is that India appears to be growing intolerant by the day. Any hint of dissent or debate that does not correspond with the world view of a certain ideology is open to not critique but by assault. The irony is that these acts are legitimized by some sections of Indian society. Some may posit that these vigilante acts are the vile actions of a ‘fringe element’. This theory does not , however, appear to hold. These acts of violence correspond to an observable pattern; moreover, if these were the handiwork of a fringe element , then why don’t we see denunciations of these acts? If there are any declamations or denunciations, they are very few.

Kashmir Observer conducted an exercise to test the hypothesis of emergence of intolerance in India. We analyzed the comment threads of a few newspapers on the news items that pertained to the attack on Er.Rashid.

What emerged was something unsalutary and disturbing. The comments on a news item in the Times of India that carried the news of the smearing of ink and oil on Engineer Rashid’s face and appear to validate the observation that  India appears to be growing intolerant by the day. We have culled comments from the comment thread on this news item.  Whilst we were constrained by the sample size but given that the Times of India is a national newspaper of some significance and has pan India reach, we took it as a representative sample. Our working assumption was that newspaper readers-especially the online edition- are generally middle class and have received higher or higher secondary education. We also perused the websites of other newspapers; a similar theme emerged from all. India appears to be growing intolerant by the day especially if the comments are taken as a reflection of the views help by a cross section of the people. Having said this we admit that the presence of some countervailing voices in the comment threads, but these are too small and tiny to constitute a countervailing force and trend.

The theme of the remarks posited by people was that Er. Rashid essentially asked for the ink incident. That is, he deserved it. Interspersed in this commentary were nasty comments about Muslims. Here, most of the comments posited that Muslims should go to Pakistan. Both views are extreme. The former suggests that middle class and educated India appear to be loath to accept and tolerate criticism and free debate. This pertains to the freedoms that the Indian Constitution guarantees. The right to protest, debate and even offend is an indelible part and parcel of a liberal democracy. The dissonance between rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution and the views of the people suggests two things: either people are not socialized into the tenets, theory and practice of liberal democracy or that with the advent of Hindutva and the propelling of its proponents into power, the inner core and real feelings of the people are being spewed into the public domain.

Broadly speaking, what does this say about contemporary India?

It appears that amidst the din and clamor made by those spewing venom, the ‘liberal Hindu’ , has lost his/her voice. There was a vigorous liberal elite in India that valued and espoused the ideas and ideals of pluralism, tolerance and secularism. This elite has either shrunk and joined the band wagon of the Hindutva brigade or has effectively been silenced by the clamor of the far right and its growing number of proponents. Either way, this bodes ill for the minorities that live in India-especially Muslims. Bereft of prudent and forceful leadership, the Indian Muslim is marooned –psychologically, intellectually , emotionally and politically. The liberal Hindu elite that had a certain Idea of India in mind where Muslims had a place and space in India is either dead or has chosen to maintain silence. This can only be ominous.

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