August 10, 2014

Hindutva Forces Threaten Anti-Superstition Activist with Rape

THE threat from Hindutva fundamentalist forces looms larger each day, and is covering ever-wider ground. Obscurantist views on society are being expressed such as support to khap panchayats. The status and role of women are systematically sought to be undermined including by playing down incidents of rape and blaming women’s dress or “western culture” for the same. Books glorifying an imagined past, and advancing completely erroneous ideas on science and knowledge in ancient India, are being written, endorsed by Sangh Parivar luminaries, and even adopted as school textbooks by “model” Hindutva state governments such as Gujarat. At best, contrary opinions or attempts to debate any of these issues are simply steamrollered by the Hindutva forces. Increasingly though, they are being met with extreme intolerance including physical intimidation and violence. Attacks on religious minorities under one guise or another, assaults on women in public places ostensibly targeting their dress or behaviour, and violent disruption of cultural events or intellectual gatherings are getting more frequent. Police and other government authorities, emboldened by the new dispensation at the centre, often turn a blind eye to such gross violations of civil rights. The extensive use of social media by Hindutva forces in India and their supporters abroad, especially in the run-up to the recent general elections, have been widely noted. What has been less commented upon, though, has been the aggression, and the often abusive and obscene language used by Hindutva proponents in social media discussions. Religious minorities, secularists, liberal and Left forces, and voices of reason are specifically targeted. Efforts by organisations and individuals to promote scientific attitudes and rational thinking are also facing such attacks. India is still reeling from the dastardly murder in Pune of Dr Narendra Dabholkar who was playing a leading role in drafting and steering a new anti-superstition Bill in Maharashtra. The latest such attack has been on N Prabha, secretary, Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samithi (BGVS), Karnataka, a part of the Peoples Science Movement dedicated to promotion of scientific temper and active in spreading literacy, in expanding the Right to Education, and in building informed public opinion on science and technology policies. On July 27, 2014, Prabha had posted a statement on Facebook regarding “Challenges of Superstitious Practices for Scientific Attitudes.” In her post, she had opined that inauguration of various projects through pujas or other ritual observances detracted from appreciation of the creativity and hard work put in by workers and others which had actually brought the Project to fruition. In a response on Facebook, one V RBhat assailed her for being “against Indian culture”, openly threatened her and called for her to be dragged by the hair and publicly raped. (see Prabha lodged an FIR against this bigot who had clearly violated various laws regarding criminal intimidation, sexual harassment and misuse of the internet and social media. Various progressive organisations mounted a campaign against this attack on scientific temper, on freedom of thought and on democratic and secular values, demanding that stringent action be taken against this person to the fullest extent of the law. Protests were also registered with Facebook for allowing their site to be misused for such threats and obviously criminal acts. It should be noted that the bigoted response to Prabha not only attacked the opinion she expressed but threatened her in the most vile manner aimed all women in general. The aim is not just to deter one person but to frighten anyone who holds opinions that the Hindutva forces do not like. People may hold different opinions as to the merits or otherwise of conducting pujas or other rituals to inaugurate projects, especially in official functions in a self-declared secular country, but everybody has the right to hold their own opinion. Intimidation or violence as a means of pushing one particular opinion at the cost of others is an assault on democracy itself and should be resisted at all costs. All progressive and democratic forces should resolutely oppose these Hindutva fundamentalist forces and resist the talibanisation of India. They should also put pressure on governments at the centre and in the states to encourage critical thinking, pluralism of opinion and a scientific attitude as enshrined in the Constitution and as befits the much-touted world’s largest democracy. BJP leaders in the central government have pleaded that such extreme voices are only “fringe elements” and do not represent the “mainstream” of the ruling party and the Sangh Parivar. But when such “fringe elements” keep repeating such acts in different contexts and in different parts of the country, hardly ever get condemned by the Sangh Parivar and are hardly ever brought to book by government authorities especially in BJP-ruled states, and when such “extreme” views get legitimised by incorporation into the government system in one way or another, then citizens of India can only conclude that the “fringe” and the “mainstream” are actually the same. The only silver lining in this cloudy picture is that, in this case, the offender was arrested a few days back by the Bangalore police. Will serious action be taken?