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Liberal values in danger, India a mute spectator

Liberal values are being trampled on by various bodies as the state is watching passively.

comment Updated: Mar 03, 2015 23:36 IST

The brutal, physical assault on writer Puliyur Murugesan in Tamil Nadu underscores many tendencies seen in Indian society and polity over the past few years. First, it shows that it is not only the sangh parivar or Islamic organisations that are at the forefront of such illiberalism. Assuming postures of violence comes easily to assertive communities that feel their self-respect has been trampled upon, however attenuated a form that such an ‘offence’ appears to be in. Mr Murugesan allegedly wrote things that verged on obscenity relating to some individuals of a community to which he did not belong, and for that the community took “revenge” on him by beating him up. The guardians of the community did not stop to ponder as to how the mere fictional involvement of a member of a community in ‘obscene activities’ amounts to demeaning all of them. Second, the uneasiness with anything concerning sex is also a product of a siege mentality, which an upwardly mobile caste or a community is unable to shrug off. If all this leads to browbeating a writer and his freedom of expression, that is counted as a ‘small price’ to pay for a ‘higher cause’.

This is, however, not to say that the methods used by the formations that act within the bounds of the formal set-up of the State do not have a bearing on outlier groups. Dinanath Batra, who had been instrumental in taking Wendy Doniger’s book on Hinduism off the shelf by simply pressuring the publisher, may or may not have anything to say on the Murugesan episode. But should he consider getting another book he does not like scuppered, or blue-penciling some lines from a text repugnant to his senses, he would certainly find such instances a useful aid.

The India State for many years has repeatedly succumbed to the sensitivities of various communities. It is also to be noted that only writers of this day and age are bearing the brunt of this. If the same yardstick were to apply to books of yore, many venerable names would come to be ostracised. For example, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee had made uncharitable remarks about some non-Bengali Brahmin clans. Why not leave him to be judged by his readers? It is time the State brought some liberal values centre stage.