The Hindutva forces now expect every one to fall in line with their thinking. But they will not succeed. This reminds me of a play Rhinoceros written by Eugene Ionesco, a French-Romanian, a major playwright in the tradition of the theatre of the Absurd In this play over a period , every one turns from a human being into a rhinoceros. But one man refuses. He stands his ground. Others fall victim to propaganda. He does not.

This play was performed in Marathi during the emergency as a quiet criticism of that regime and this came from Latur a district town in Maharashtra in the state drama competition.

Such creative works inspire people in different times. This play came as a consolation to Badal Sircar, the reputed playwright, who was troubled by the rise of the Right wing forces some years ago. This was recalled by Ramu Ramanathan, playwright and director, during a recent discussion on a book of writings to mark the 25 years of the demolition of Babri Masjid.

The day happened to be Sircar’s birthday. The book is brought out by the Centre for the study of society and secularism, founded by the brave secular Asghar Ali Engineer, and now headed by his son activist Iran Engineer.The book of articles is edited by Ramu and Sameena Dalwai, a feminist scholar, and daughter of the socialist couple Husain and Shama Dalwai.

The discussion on this book and another book by Saeed Mirza, Memory in the Age of Amnesia, threw up a lot of interesting ideas and information on the issues of secularism, suppression of democracy and dissent.

Earlier, there was much more communal harmony and less hatred. Joy Sengupta, film actor recalled that his mother avidly read both Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam while his father was an admirer of Baul music, sung by fakirs, and the writer Syed Mustafa Siraj.

Dr Sanjivani Jain, a science lecturer and member of the Communist Ghadr party, said while we remain strong in our secular convictions we should not arbitrarily label people as reactionary or communal. It is possible to change attitudes for the better, as she found during her interaction with her students. A similar point was made by IrfanEngineer. We need to be decent in our response to Hindutva Bhakts even though they tended to use offensive language. A point was also made at the meeting that secularists have acquiesced in Muslim communalism, not opposed it with force.

Indra Munshi, sociology scholar, said several temples were built on Buddhist sites. How far back into history are we to go , she asked, and criticized those wanting to build a temple on the site of Babri Masjid.

Saeed Mirza said at his book release that despite the gloom, he was optimistic when he saw strong protests in centres like Jawaharlal Nehru university. He also said people could perform miracles, like giving a severe drubbing to the BJP in Delhi elections with a thumping win for Aam Admi party.

Recalling the famous song of hope Who Subaha kabhi to ayegi, he said we the people will usher in that morning of hope. He was critical of the media for manufacturing forgetfulness of the days of the demolition and the communal riots of 1992-93. The media had also stopped giving coverage to the radical student leader Kanhaiya.

Saeed was always a progressive film director. But not all film makers are like that. In response to a question Mahesh Bhatt, director, admitted that in reality several film people were not very different from newspaper magnates who were indulging in the vulgar exercise of paid news.

Ritu Diwan, economics professor, said her forthcoming book focused on the plight of construction workers caused by demonetization. Many of them survived on eating in langars in gurudwaras while women had to take to prostitution to survive.

Amidst this pushing common people down into poverty, the political class remains unconcerned even complacent. Even as mob lynching accounted for five deaths of innocents in Dhule district in Maharashtra in July one noticed leaders of the Shiv Sena openly justifying their party’s mob violence in another case in the presence of the inspector general of police at a book release in Mumbai .

The mob violence case is an old one, of 1997, when party workers ransacked the official residence of Chhagan Bhujbal, the leader of the opposition in the state legislature, right in front of Mantralaya.

It is also related to the brutal gunning down of 10 dalits in Ramabai Nagar in Ghatkopar by the police following protests over the desecreation of the statue of Dr Ambedkar a few days earlier. The Shiv Sena had blamed Bhujbal for the incident as he had strongly criticized the Sena’ s stand. In turn he had sought to get Mr Bal Thackeray arrested and for this the Sainiks sought to retaliate.

Interestingly, the police officer who acted swiftly against the violence in 1997 almost apologetically referred to it when addressing Uddhav Thackeray, the chief of the party, at a recent function in Mumbai.The officer Isaq Bagwan, retired assistant commissioner of police, thrice winner of the President’s police medal, is the author of a book on his days in the police force. Ironically, Mr Thackeray released the book at a function with a number of prominent Muslim personalities on the dais and a large Muslim audience at Rangasharada auditorium in Bandra.

Bagwan was suspended by the then Sena-BJP government as it was irked by his crackdown against Shiv Sena workers. He said he was grateful to Mr Bal Thackeray, then Shiv Sena chief, for helping in reinstating him. I had tears in my eyes when in my presence Mr Thackeray rang up the then chief minister Manohar Joshi and gave him the directive.

When the chief minister said the government had some problems , Mr Thackeray told him, let the government go to hell. Follow my orders.

Present on the dais at the function was inspector general of police Qaiser Khalid, along with Nawazuddin, film actor who has played the role of Bal Thackeray in a film, actor Raza Murad with his deep throated voice, retired prominent cop Madhukar Zende and high profile police prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam.

Author cop Bagwan is no doubt brave, he overpowered a revolver shooter in the law court once. But his so called encounters are certainly controversial. Understandably , he does not like the word and says these were not fake. But I do remember distinctly a strong article written by Bharatkumar Raut, prominent journalist of Maharashtra Times, then questioning the death of Manya Surve in that first recorded encounter. It was the first such article questioning such encounters. Raut later became a Shiv Sena MP

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book questioning the automobile-dominated mode of development

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