Just after the end of World War 2, American writer and political radical Dwight Macdonald wrote the essay Responsibility of the Intellectuals in 1945, in which he strongly criticised the war. He was depressed of war efforts and its horror, the bombings and destruction of cities. He asked the question: ‘To what extent the German or Japanese people were responsible for the atrocities committed by their governments? Then he turned to the winning side of the war: ‘To what extent are the British or American people responsible for the vicious terror bombings of civilians, perfected as a technique of warfare by the Western democracies and reaching their culmination in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, surely among the most unspeakable crimes in history’. It means everyone should feel the guilt of crimes committed by their governments. It is the nature of a responsible citizen that he or she critically examine the acts of his or her government. A responsible citizen can not blindly praise the actions of his or her government. It is the true nature of a citizen who himself or herself calls nationalist to recognise the crimes of his or her government. As Benedict Anderson put the finest definition of a nationalist citizen: ‘No one can be a true nationalist who is incapable of feeling ashamed if his or her state or government commits crimes including those against their fellow citizens’. This nationalist definition is enough for the people to question the actions of their governments.

What is the responsibility of the intellectuals? An intellectual is a truth seeker who is obsessed with justice and equality. An intellectual performs for people and stands against the atrocities of any establishments. An intellectual reveals the lies and dirty secrets of the state. An intellectual thinks beyond his or her faith, ideology, nation, ethnicity to pursue justice and equality. An intellectual does not restrict himself or herself to a certain ideology or sect which prevent him or her from seeking truth and recognising justice. There is another question, why someone expects this responsibility from the intellectuals? The towering figure of the academic world, Noam Chomski replies in his famous essay Responsibility of the Intellectuals, he says: ‘Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions. In the Western world [or in a democratic country], at least, they they have the power that comes from political liberty, access to information and freedom of expression. For a privileged minority, Western democracy provides the leisure, the facilities, and the training to seek the truth lying hidden behind the veil of distortion and misrepresentation, ideology, class interest, through which the events of current history are presented to us. The responsibility of the intellectuals, then, are much deeper than what Macdonald calls the “responsibility of the people” given the unique privileges that intellectuals enjoy’.

During the Vietnam War, writers, intellectuals, doctors, psychiatrists, students protested against the atrocities of the US army in the Vietnam War. In these protests, young Noam Chomsky also participated and urged the intellectuals to speak up against the violent act of army in Vietnam. Then he wrote the Responsibility of the Intellectuals in 1967 and with its publication in New York Review of Book, he became leading critics of the war in Vietnam and US foreign policy.

Before Chomski and Macdonald wrote about the responsibility of intellectuals, some people performed their intellectual responsibility by criticising Mahatma Gandhi who did the greatest experiment of non-violence in the modern world. In 1914, Gandhi left permanently South Africa to play a wider role in the Indian national movement. Before coming to India, he left for England to meet his guru Gopal Krishna Gokhale. It was the time of World War 1, Gandhi decided to help the British in war efforts by nursing wounded soldiers. some people such as his nephew Mangalal, Henry Polak and Oliver Schreiner did not like it that a man who claimed to be non-violent, participate in war efforts. Oliver Schreiner was an anti-imperialist novelist. She criticised and wrote to Gandhi: “War was against my religion on – whether it is Englishmen travelling thousands of miles to kill Indians in India, or Indians travelling thousands of miles to kill white men whom they have never seen in Europe”.

Indian intellectuals are playing a more crucial role than American intellectuals during the Vietnam War. At present, Indian intellectuals are trying to save the secular and democratic identity of India. Indian intellectuals from grassroots activism to a legal battle in the Supreme Court, paying their intellectual responsibility while fighting for the rights of common people. There are clear threats against the democratic system of India and these threats are too, against the political liberty of common people including intellectuals. The killing of four public intellectuals – Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, MM Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh – sent a clear message against the rational thinking and anti-establishment voice.

Indian intellectuals always stand against any atrocity or any inhuman act. When Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency then intellectuals and freedom fighters including many Gandhian resisted bravely against this act and were imprisoned. Jayaprakash Narayan, the old Gandhian and once who had been a friend of Jawaharlal Nehru, was the greatest critics of Indira Gandhi’s authoritarian rule, remarked after imposition of Emergency: ‘I have always believed that Mrs Gandhi had no faith in democracy that she was by inclination and conviction a dictator. This belief has tragically turned out to be true’. When India did nuclear test; then Arundhati Roy protested against it and wrote his infamous essay End of Imagination in 1998. She wrote: ‘My world has died. I write to mourn its passing’. Like Chomsky and Macdonald, Arundhati Roy too opposed the warfare. She sees the nuclear test as a major threat to humanity when two rival countries hold the deadly weapon.

At present when Indian Muslims are being killed, tortured, imprisoned and lynched; when Dalits are treated less than human beings; when media is making the accusations of previous governments and opposition for all problems and mistakes; when violence against women is all-time high; when judiciary talks about fundamental duties instead of fundamental rights; when Kashmiri people are facing worst treatment since independence; when university students are called anti-national; when parliament is passing unconstitutional laws; when Prime Minister is silence on atrocities against Muslims, Dalits, tribals and women; then intellectuals speak up to save constitution, to save rights of people, to save the diversity of India and most importantly to save the secular and democratic system of India. Indian intellectuals always speak out against any atrocity, human right violation and crime by any establishment. These intellectuals are the only hope for Indian people who do not want to lose the nation of Buddha and Gandhi.

Kashif Umair is a political commentator


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