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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 38, New Delhi, Sept 4, 2021

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, Sept 4, 2021

Friday 3 September 2021

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, September 4, 2021

In the past seven years, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Government of India and the various arms of the Hindutva right have been busy marking governmental institutions and society with their own ideological and social trademark. A reshaping of the social environment has been underway for some time. The process underway is directed at our minds at our social heritage and historical backdrop –-from built heritage, monuments, to social science syllabi in universities to social spaces, social mixing, and culture. We should remember how the whole Hindutva movement of the late 1980s focussed on a 15th-century historical site, which was eventually demolished —broken to bits by a mob, and years on the courts acquitted them all and legally handed the site over to the Hindutva side. Since then, some of the architectural landmarks built in postcolonial India have been up demolished in the name of modernisation requirements and the landscape re-modelled and new structures built in their place, in total disregard for our cultural heritage, history and conventions. The once iconic Pragati maidan exhibition grounds and the vast Central vista area in the heart of the capital of India where the republic day parade happens and Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad are all under ‘redevelopment’, ignoring all protests and contestation. The recently ‘renovated’ Jallianwala Bagh complex — a site of mass violence during the colonial period, has provoked shock among conservationists. The original site has two parallel walls like a passage that people traversed when they were shot. Now, these walls have been ornamented with tacky murals right under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture and the Archaeological Survey of India. The driving moto is it is all a spectacle. So, thanks to the new breed of rubber stamp bureaucrats this newly ‘disneyfied’ historical site or ‘restored’ complex was approvingly inaugurated by the Prime Minister in person. Our tasteful showman, can give Disneyland a run for its money, he once wore a suit with his own name embossed thousand times over –-this was for real and not for a theatre performance. Every petrol pump has a big billboard with a photo of the Prime Minister for propaganda purposes. Every national Covid-19 vaccine certificate already carries a photo of our Prime Minister. A huge cricket stadium demolished and rebuilt in Gujarat was named the ‘Narendra Modi Stadium’. In Uttar Pradesh State, the prominent city of Allahabad was re-named ‘Prayagraj’ a few years ago, now there is talk of the renaming of the city of Aligarh. Hindu Mahasabha - an entity of the Hindu Right has been campaigning for re-naming of the Delhi University as ‘Veer Savarkar Vishwavidayalya’. In the new social climate of India, icons of the Hindu Right are up for promotion as national figures – Savarkar, Deendayal Upadhyaya, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and the ‘RSS’ has come to acquire a special aura, with its chief granted the privilege of occasional national live broadcasts. New Laws have been brought it multiple states which are making it difficult for people to undertake an inter-religious marriage. This will have long-term effects to undermine social mixing. Over the years extra-legal right-wing vigilante groups are reported to have been forcibly shutting down meat shops in working-class neighbourhoods in certain areas and this is putting pressure on food habits. Books of well-known historians like R.S. Sharma on ancient India and Irfan Habib on medieval India have been dropped from the History syllabi at the university level. Religious literature like the Upanishads and Puranas have been included in a History paper in Delhi University. Secular and inclusive texts such as Kautilya’s Arthashastra, the poems of Kalidas, have been removed. Delhi University authorities have dropped the works of Tamil writers Bama and Sukirtharani, as well as that of the celebrated Bengali writer Mahasweta Devi from the literature syllabus. This is a huge social regression, years of work by university teachers to develop syllabi reflecting an inclusive and cosmopolitan society is undermined but to no avail. It is disgraceful that the Indian Council of Historical Research has dropped any reference to Jawaharlal Nehru from the publicity poster for the celebrations of 75 years of India’s Independence while mentioning other names. They have No business taking away the rightful place of honour for Jawaharlal Nehru as a leading figure of India’s anti-colonial movement and our first Prime Minister. Who will undo all these distortions in our environment? The problem is that these are not seen as wrongs by the blokes in power, but as makeovers, improvements. As the year’s pass, these will become normalised.

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Tributes:

Saleem Kidwai, the former university teacher, historian, translator, and mentor to many in the LGBT movement in India passed away in Lucknow on August 30, 2021. He was the co-editor along with Ruth Vanita of Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History (2000). He had translated multiple books from Urdu into English.

Anand Dev Bhatt, a writer and member of the Communist Party of Nepal and associated with the Progressive Writers’ Movement passed away on August 30, 2021.

Ali Javed, the literary scholar who served a long time as the General Secretary and also as the President of the Progressive Writers Association (PWA), passed away on the night of 31st August 2021. He had suffered a brain stroke on August 12, 2021. Ali Javed will also be remembered for his very prominent role in the All India Students Federation at JNU in the mid-1970s.

Chandan Mitra, a person of the left once upon a time and later a two-term BJP MP, Rajya Sabha 2003-2016. Editor-in-Chief and Director of the Indian newspaper ‘The Pioneer’, passed away on September 1, 2021.

Mikis Theodorakis, the hugely famous music composer from Greece passed away on September 2, 2021. He was also a member of the Greek Parliament from 1981-1993. Theodorakis was a left-winger, had been arrested in 1967 by the dictators in Greece. His powerful film music and his hymns against the dictatorship of the Colonels in Greece will always be remembered.

We pay our tributes to the above figures

September 4, 2021 – HK

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