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Vigilantes or vandals?

Vigilantes or vandals?

We have heard of faked police encounters with alleged terrorists in Gujarat and elsewhere. Power vested in the police is abused in such cases and they act in contempt of the Constitution and sometimes violate even the (outdated) Criminal Procedure Code and the (outmoded) Indian Penal Code designed by the British to deal with ‘subjects’, not with citizens of a free country.

The case of art student Chandramohan of the M S University of Vadodara falls in the category of faked cultural encounters of the sort ‘popularized’ by organizations such as the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad which, in their zeal for a Semitized Hindutva fundamentalizing and hegemonizing Indian culture and society, now invade university campuses, art galleries, film clubs, libraries and research centres seemingly with impunity.

Gujarat is supposedly Hindutva’s premier social and cultural laboratory, setting a blazing example for the rest of India. The Gujarat formula for faked cultural encounters would appeal to the latent reserves of power among culturally illiterate masses. Politicized student organizations (such as ABVP) will lead violent protests on the basis of ‘hurt sentiments’, an ailment that threatens to assume epidemic proportions since the virus seems to have been successfully developed in Hindutva’s laboratory.

This virus selectively attacks all but fundamentalist Hindus. It was reportedly developed to eliminate ‘the three Ms’ from Gujarat: The Muslims, the Mahatma and the Macaulayans (those educated since Macaulay introduced his Minute on Indian Education in 1835 according to modern western ideas). Humanism, liberalism, rationalism, secularism, artistic expression, dissenting opinion, scientific research are some of the soft targets of this virus.

M S University’s Fine Arts Faculty is only a symbolic target. But so was Babri Masjid. We are not discussing art or religion, but the right to pursue alternatives according to our own beliefs. We are also expressing concern over coercion, suppression and threats to public order and peace. We will soon become a republic governed by majority sentiment rather than legislative rationality and judicial wisdom, political far-sightedness and the guarantee of cultural freedom and plurality. Will the Gujarat ‘laboratory’ succeed again? For the sake of the Constitution and the future of the republic, one hopes the nation will condemn the perpetrators of such fanatical interventions in the evolution of our democracy and autonomous institutions.

Let us turn to history to grasp the gravity of the threat the ultra rightist fronts pose. On 10 May 1933, student groups in universities across Germany carried out book burnings to destroy works they considered ‘un-German’ in spirit. Six years later, Adolph Hitler launched what became World War II. What commenced in Gujarat may spread to the rest of India if not checked in time. In the Chandramohan case, while the national media reported wide sympathy and support for the Fine Arts Faculty of M S University, the victimized student and the Dean, the Gujarati press has been either silent or has given one-sided coverage of the sordid affair.

This silence is ominous, like Germany’s silence during the holocaust. Or, to take a closer example, like the silence of Afghanistan during the Taliban regime.

Is intolerance all that we have learnt to tolerate? Do we want to lock up our artists and writers for not conforming to the ideology of fanatics? Do we want hoodlums to enter our universities and dictate terms to the faculty and the students? Do we want libraries and museums to be the next targets of organized vigilantes and vandals?

Dilip Chitre is a poet and writer based in Pune. Comment at

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