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A few days ago, I was in Jaipur for the Jaipur Literature Festival. It has now become an annual ritual for me and a dear friend. We were absolutely delighted with the scope and variety of the topics of discussion, the speakers and genres of books launched this year. There was an evident absence of censorship in the talks and ‘mahoul’ in general, a stark difference from last year.

“The change in the State Government has made such a huge difference to the tone and content of the talks na”, said Sneha biting into her pizza hungrily. “You bet. Also, I think people have had enough. I mean since August with Kashmir, then the Ayodhya verdict, CAA-NRC, beating up students and everything else…. Kuch too much hi ho gaya tha”, I replied sipping my beer. “Tu chronology samajh Aditi, first the states will go one after the other and then the entire country in 2024!” We both guffawed in unison.

Over the next couple of days, we soaked ourselves in the words of likes of Nandita Das, Margaret Alva, William Darymple, Ravish Kumar, the rendition of Faiz and Firaq and many more authors. Our lunches and dinners were consumed with passionate discussions and debates around climate change, fascism, anarchy, casteism, rights and duties of citizens and numerous such subjects.

One morning, when we were about to leave for the Fest, I got a call from home. “You please stop discussing politics in the house. There is no need to talk about protests and resistance, Modi-Shah and all that nonsense in the house”. “Slow down Maa, what’s wrong?” I asked, surprised.

My older one (who is a mere 8) had made a statement that morning saying he doesn’t like Prime Minister Modi because he is making people fight and he is not a nice man. “What if he says this in public? Some ‘sarfira’ might harm him. You don’t understand the seriousness of what could happen.” “Just relax Maa. He is growing up and he is going to form his opinions based on what he hears and reads. We can’t stop that.” “No, enough. From today no talking all this in the house.” “Please, I am not going to teach my children to be afraid!” I was quite enraged by now. “There is no point saying anything to you!” my furious mother hung up.

“Kya hua?” Sneha asked amused at my sudden exasperation. “Arre mental jaise Mumma is behaving. Over-reacting unnecessarily. I mean I understand I need to tell my son to not comment on things he doesn’t fully understand, but I’m not going to tell him to be afraid to voice his opinion. What nonsense! Everyone just overthinks everything…. Like anyone is going to be offended by what my little boy says!”

Anyways, all was forgotten and I came back home a couple of days ago. But since my return, every day, I have been coming across very disturbing news. Young children from a school in Karnataka were booked under the sedition law for enacting a play against CAA- NRC. These were children from 4th, 5thand 6thGrades. Kids as young as 9 were interrogated by the police. A chill ran down my spine.

Then, a comedian was banned from flying because he heckled a right-wing journalist on an Indigo flight. A journalist who is known for heckling people, screaming at and humiliating guests on his show. Not just did Indigo ban him from flying for 6 months, but other airlines followed suit based on a tweet by the Civil Aviation Minister. It made no sense. He had not physically harmed or abused anyone. And even if Indigo thought his behavior was inappropriate, why were other Airlines banning him? Moreover, they were all putting it out there on social media, tagging the Aviation Minister, as though telling him, “Boss we have complied with your wishes”.

A prominent BJP Minister raised the slogans ‘desh ke gaddaro ko, goli maaro saalon ko’ at a campaign rally and goons carrying pistols showed up at Shaheen Baug the next day. The Election Commission barely slapped him. While on the other hand a Muslim man was arrested in UP for saying something to the tune of this government is teaching us to be Hindus or Muslims but not human beings.

And today, a CPI leader and several others were detained by Bihar Police ahead of a protest rally while another man fired at protestors in Delhi shouting, “ye lo azadi”.

For the past two days I have hardly thought or spoken about anything else. I didn’t even continue watching ‘Mindhunter’ on Netflix after the kids slept. I was seething with anger. Phrases like ‘kya chal raha hain yaar’ ‘kuch bahut jyada ho raha hain’ ‘kuch bhi allowed hain’ and many more similar thoughts kept cropping up in my mind.

A feeling of helplessness has begun to set in. A sense of despair. And the onset of fear. They can stoop to any level. We have seen them assault college students, beat and arrest protestors. But now even kids as young as 9-10 years old are not being spared. Voicing an opinion against them leads to sedition charges, banning, arrest, detainment. Probably it is prudent to be afraid. Times have changed. Maybe the country we grew up in has slipped out of our hands.

But, how can we live in fear? How can we remain silent? I need to overcome this anguish. Because if we don’t voice our opinions more loudly and clearly than before, won’t we be condemning ourselves and our children to a future filled with censorship and fear?

Aditi Munot is a Pune Based Blogger


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