THE social and political hounding of Kancha Iliah Shepherd with death threats is another dark page in the recent turn of events, where intellectuals in the country have been at the mercy of hoodlums and fanatics of all hue and color, while the state is a mere bystander, said a statement issued by the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT), on September 3. In Professor Iliah’s case the state has gone one step further where Telangana home minister has threatened him with legal action while Andhra Pradesh chief minister has stated that he will ensure that his book which is at the centre of ‘controversy’ will not be allowed in Andhra Pradesh, said the statement.
Prof Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is the director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy at the Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad. The booklet in question titled ‘Samajika Smugglarlu Komatollu’ (Vysyas are social smuggler) is a reprinted version of a chapter titled ‘Social Smuggler’ from Prof Iliah’s earlier work called ‘Post-Hindu India’ (2009).
The Arya Vysya Association (AVA) has filed a petition in the Supreme Court saying the “book hurt feelings of the Arya Vysya community” and sought a ban and legal action against Shepherd. The community staged protests in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and burnt the author’s effigies. Telugu Desam Party MP TG Venkatesh addressed a press conference against the author and sought that he be “hanged publicly”. His car was attacked at Parkal by a mob from the community when he was returning to Hyderabad from Bhupalapalli where he had gone to attend a public meeting of the Telangana Mass and Social Organisations Forum. Kancha Ilaiah lodged a complaint with the Osmania University police station as he received threatening and abusive phone calls from unidentified persons.
The sheer impunity enjoyed by these blood thirsty goons, patronised by their political masters is increasingly being bolstered by the conservative and jingoistic posturing of Narendra Modi government at the centre. Prof Iliah’s act of writing has become a threat to the status quo of the dominant castes. We must stand together against this calculated and deliberate suppression of critical voices of our society – voices which are absolutely central to the functioning of a political democracy. Civil society must stand up against this goondaism and demand for security for Prof Kancha Iliah as well as punishment to those issuing open threats.