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Mainstream, VOL LX No 9, 10 New Delhi, February 19, February 26, 2022 [Special Double number]

Silence Is No Solution To Evil | T J S George

Thursday 17 February 2022, by T J S George



It wasn’t long ago that a group of professors and intellectuals sent to the Prime Minister a memo from their hearts. The subject was silence. But it sounded like thunder because it was about the crisis of conscience that threatened the country. The simplicity of the words underlined their power.

"Your silence on the rising intolerance in our country, Honourable Prime Minister, is disheartening to all of us who value the multicultural fabric of our country," the thinkers said. Then they stressed: "Your silence, Honourable Prime Minister, emboldens the hate-filled voices and threatens the unity and integrity of our country."

Simple points, powerfully put. The letter was signed by 183 people, including faculty members of the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad and Bangalore. One of the signatories, an assistant professor, explained that they took the initiative after realising that "silence was not an option any more." He said: "For far too long the mainstream discourse has dismissed the voices of reason as the fringe. That’s how we are here." It was explained that the signatories’ objective was that "if voices of hate are loud, voices of reason should be louder."

Academics had taken interest in India’s contemporaneous problems earlier also. In 2018 as many as 673 of them, including foreigners, had come out in support of 49 retired civil servants who had expressed outrage over rapes in India with specific references to Kathua (where an 8-year old girl was raped and then murdered) and to Unnao (where a 17-year old was gang-raped resulting in a BJP member Kuldip Singh Sengar’s life imprisonment). They charged that the Government "was not doing enough to stop the pattern of repeated targetted attacks on minority communities, dalits, tribals and women." The academics, including big names like Noam Chomsky, said that when the Prime Minister’s silence was broken, it was "wholly inadequate, platitudinous and non-specific in assurances of justice for the victims."

The letter had drawn attention to "a sense of fear in the country now as places of worship are vandalised... All of this carried out with impunity and without fear of the due process." It was a timely warning and should have promptly moved the authorities into action. Nothing of the kind happened. It was alarming that India’s traditional values of tolerance were being overtaken by party-dominated and personality-dominated values that served the interests of individuals. The prime ministerial silence on intolerance must be seen as part of this drop in values. Politics is the dominant theme now — politics and what individuals can gain from it. This is the tragedy of India under the present administration.

The academics’ complaint about "your silence" fetched another deafening silence from the Prime Minister. It was obvious that the academics were on a pointless exercise. Perhaps they anticipated it. They said: "We believe that a society can focus on creativity, innovation and growth. Or it can create divisions within itself." The accusation against the Government was obvious, but the Government preferred to ignore it. The implication was that the Government had chosen a line of action and it did not care what the people thought about it.

If it was a policy play on the part of the Government to say nothing, then its silence was not all that silent. Masters of the human mind often describe silence as "a seldom used means of communication. Your silence can solve problems that you are trying to solve with the verbal battle. Silence can prove to be an excellent problem solver in ways that words sometimes cannot."

In the case of politicians, it is perhaps safer when they talk and talk. When they are silent, who knows what diabolic plans may be taking shape in their minds. In the case of academics, who can beat them in conjuring up dream concepts? They are clear in their view of paradise where "we expect our leaders to motivate us to be human and look beyond differences based on caste, religion, language and other identities." In their heaven "we want to build an India that stands as an exemplar of inclusiveness and diversity in the world." The advantage of being academics is that they can be naive enough to see no difference between J. Nehru and N. Modi.

Actually Academics are not a naive lot. Sometimes they pretend to be so for safety’s sake. But one thing is clear: No academic, no citizen, can change the politician’s inherent nature. That nature demands the exploitation of the country, of the people, of all resources available. That nature will continue.

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