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Book review: In time of intolerance, new book brings together writings of dissenters

A new anthology, India Dissents, is a timely reminder of those dissenting voices in Indian history that have inspired revolutions and uprisings, and helped preserve individual dignity and freedom.

books Updated: Jun 20, 2017 14:43 IST

At a time when our right to freedom of expression is being repeatedly challenged and censored, comes a book which collectively presents voices of those who have persisted despite all attempts to muzzle their thoughts and ideas.

Titled India Dissents: 3,000 Years of Difference, Doubt and Argument, the book has been edited by author and poet Ashok Vajpeyi. The 546-page anthology published by Speaking Tiger brings together some of these voices that have sustained India as a great and vibrant civilisation.

The anthology contains essays, letters, reports, poems, songs and calls to action – from texts ranging from Rig Veda to Ambedkar’s famous Annihilation of Caste; and by thinkers like Gautam Buddha, Akka Mahadevi, Lal Ded, Guru Nanak, Ghalib, Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, Sadat Hasan Manto, Jayaprakash Narayan, Namdeo Dhasal, Mahasweta Devi and Amartya Sen.

The anthology, India Dissents: 3,000 Years of Difference, Doubt and Argument, has been edited by author and poet Ashok Vajpeyi. (Wikimedia Commons)

Their words embody the undying and essential spirit of dissent in one of the world’s most diverse, dynamic and oldest civilisations. “It cannot be denied that India had a very restrictive, indefensible caste system and many elements of a feudal structure. But simultaneously it also had a republic of the imagination in which ideas and wisdom had a democratic remit,” Vajpeyi writes in the introduction.

“Whether in traditions of creative expression or in the repertoire of intellectual articulation, in India dissent from faith or from the State has always not only been acknowledged but also been allowed to grow,” he adds.

“Democracy’s one glaring failure in India has been that it gives the elected representatives of the people unbridled power and sanction to crush or curtail people’s right to question, differ and disagree with the government and official narratives,” he further says.

The book is a timely reminder of those dissenting voices that have inspired revolutions and uprisings, helped preserve individual dignity and freedom and promoted tolerance and plurality in thought and lifestyle.

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