The murders of rationalists in India must make us all think as to how the Indian tradition of dissent and reasoning would survive.
The tradition of dissent and rationality is not foreign to India. Historically speaking the Indian philosophical thoughts are classified as either orthodox or heterodox. The heterodox school can be broadly classified as those who used logic, rational and were dissenter of the orthodox believe which was based on the logic Karma and believed in the authority of Vedas. In ancient times, Charvaka, Buddha, and Mahavira were the leaders who led the heterodox tradition. Later on, during medieval period Kabir, Tukaram, and Basavanna played a major role followed by Phule, Periyar, and Ambedkar during the modern times lead the movement of rationality and questioning. They were all dissenter of the dominant Hindu beliefs. But, none of them met the faith which the rationalist of today’s democratic India faced. Their arguments were analyzed and countered with a healthy tradition of debate.
In the 21st century India, rationalists are seen as a threat to the social order in general and Hindu society in particular. The murder of rationalists and countless activists must shake the consciousness of every citizen. Further, the justification and defence of these murders on media and particularly social media should force us to rethink as to what model of society and tradition we will be inheriting to our future generations. In the past five years, India has witnessed the murders of three prominent rationalists and most recently the murder of Gauri Lankesh a rationalist/journalist based in Bengaluru.
The murderers of three rationalists Dr. MM Kalburgi, Com. Govind Pansare, Dr. Narendra Dabholkar are still out and now Gauri Lankesh was shot at her house a few days back. All of these four prominent figures had a common aim in life; to make us all rational individuals so that we can question and reason. Apart from this, they all asked everybody to question the myths, superstitions, and discriminatory practices of Hindu religion. This was their only fault for which they were killed. They questioned the discriminatory practices and beliefs not because they were against the religion but because they wanted to create a rational society where individual’s worth will not be decided by his or her birth. In short, they all were fulfilling one of their most important constitutional duties i.e., of promoting scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform among individuals.
The accused in murders of Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, Dr. MM Kalburgi, and Com. Govind Pansare as identified by investigating agencies are all alleged members of Goa based right wing radical Hindu group called Sanatan Sanstha. Justice in each of the case is still awaited. The probabilities are very high that the murderers of Lankesh could also be sharing some affiliation with radical Hindu groups, like those accused in murders of three rationalists though investigative reports are yet to come. We did not only lose rational individuals but also what Ambedkar called ‘Free individuals’ which was a model individual which he wanted all of us to become. He stated “To whom can we say that his mind is free? I call him free who with consciousness awake, realizes his rights, responsibilities, and duties; he who is not a slave of circumstances, and is always bent upon changing them in his favour, I call him free. One who is not a slave of usage, customs, and traditions, or of the teachings because they are brought down from the ancestors; one whose flame of reason is not extinguished – I call him a free man.”
Clearly, all these four rationalists and critique of existing social order had a ‘flame of reason’ which they did not allow to be extinguished under the pressure from dominant hegemonic discourse. It was this capacity of not bending under any circumstances and the quality of reasoning which made them ‘sinner’ in the eyes of religious fundamentalists.
Timely justice in each of the cases under current environment charged with hyper-nationalism and religious bigotry looks a distant dream. Though a harsh statement but, under no circumstance should we expect that the real culprits of these cases to be caught anytime near. The opinion which current regime holds with regards to the intellectuals and rationalists, especially those who are critical of the existing oppressive Hindu social order, are no secret. The present regime has already been successful in creating an environment of hate against intellectuals among the politically active citizens of this country. We must not forget that Swami Aseemanand is out and G N Saibaba has been awarded life imprisonment sentence. We must also not forget that Rohit Vemula has been declared as non-Dalit and Appa Rao Podile continues to hold the position of VC of HCU. The system which is inherently unjust in nature, unbiased inquiry and expectations regarding timely Justice would be too much to expect.
Given this scenario, followed by an environment which is heavily dominated by fake news one would have to ask as to how such incidents can be avoided in the future. Today any intellectual or activist who may or may not have a left leaning and who tries to question the state and societal repression is easily framed as either pro-Naxalite or anti-Hindu with the help of media especially social media as happened in all four cases especially in case of Journalist Gauri Lankesh. Apart from this the conspirators of all the murders knew that there won’t be a public anger given their ability to control the masses through maligning this leader either by labeling them as anti-Hindu or pro-Naxalite as happening in the current. The opponents who have an agenda of creating a Hindu Rashtra did succeed in diverting the attentions of the masses. Had this not been the case, the country would have been on road by now. Hence, interacting with the masses and making them aware regarding unjust nature of society as much as we can remain the only solution for avoiding such incidents in the future. All the great rationalists who were mentioned at the beginning of this piece had one quality in common i.e., the quality of being among the mass.
It is a high time for all of us to decide as to which model of society we will be inheriting to our future generation a society based on myth and superstitions or to resist against the unjust nature of the system/society and fulfill our constitutional and moral responsibility thereby providing a rational society to the upcoming generations.
Raju Chalwadi is a Doctoral Candidate in the Humanities and Social Sciences Department of IIT-Bombay. He also holds a Master’s degree in Development Studies from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.