October 14, 2006

Ganesh Devy and the batttle for the Gujarati Mind

Oct 14 , 2006


Anything Muslim is an encroachment for popular will to raze


A new controversy has arisen in Gujarat. This time around Ganesh Devy. That the soft-spoken Devy could cause a controversy would surprise many. But this does not startle those who know the way the Gujarati mind functions — news like this is yet another instance of the growing fascistic tendency in the state. The word “Fascism” is being used here with full responsibility. The Germans had to discover it for themselves that Hitler was no freak, he was a product of the German body polity. Narendra Modi is also not an aberration.

The controversy started after Sankarshan Thakur of Tehelka spoke to Devy after the demolition of a mazar of a Sufi saint in Vadodara by municipal authorities who claimed they had only razed an encroachment. Riots broke out. Tracing the source of the growing violence in Gujarat, Ganesh Devy told Tehelka that there was a relationship between a society’s acquisitive tendency and the emergence of violence. He also talked about the role of the ‘decent’ people in breeding hatred.

Tehelka is not read widely in Gujarat but alert eyes did not fail to spot the hate campaign against Gujarat by Ganesh Devy. Photocopies of the piece were circulated and nearly everybody in Gujarati literature reacted angrily to Devy’s comments. Articles appeared in newspapers and writers made statements demanding that Devy tender a public apology.

Devy wrote to his friends to keep them informed about this development but did not want any campaign in his solidarity. We wanted to respect his decision. He is leading a precarious life in Gujarat. He has created The Tribal Academy in Tejgadh, 92 km from Vadodara. He was instrumental in publishing Dhol, a magazine brought out simultaneously in 10 tribal languages. Through his writing, he explains to non-tribals why we should get rid of our obsession with the mission of bringing tribals to the mainstream.

The Tribal Academy is creating a mass of tribal intellectuals who are defining their own identity — which means that it would not be easy to integrate them in a larger Hindu identity. The academy is, therefore, an irritant for the rss, the vhp and for the flag-bearers of Gujarat Asmita. But Devy believes in a society where cultures interact. As a strategy, he managed to convince the apex Gujarati literary body to hold its annual meet at the academy. Now, literary personalities are demanding that either Devy withdraw his remarks and apologise failing which the meet would be called off.

This is a not-so-veiled threat to the academy that it would be ostracised for Devy’s remarks. This is also a clever move by the mainstream intellectuals to create a rift between Devy and the tribals by conveying to them that he is coming in the way of them being recognised by the Gujarati mainstream?

This attack on Devy reminds me of a meeting at the Gujarati Sahitya Parishad in Ahmedadabad in June 2002. We were happy that finally literary personalities had decided to speak out against the genocide. Speaker after speaker sang praises of the tolerance religion preaches. After a while it became unbearable. We were not far from the spot where Wali Dakani’s tomb stood a few days ago, it was flattened and a road laid on it. And here we were, being served the lesson on how to be tolerant. The hypocrisy of the whole exercise was glaring. To puncture it, a proposal was moved asking for the restoration of the tomb and speedy compensation and rehabilitation of the genocide victims. The moment these proposals were forwarded, all hell broke loose. Accusations were made against our intentions. We were out to vitiate the situation that was returning to normal! Rationalist writers claimed that the tomb was an encroachment and angry voices asked us if the quake victims had been compensated adequately. If not, why were we so worried about the delay in giving relief to the Muslims. The faces of the very people, who sang paeans to tolerance, were now distorted by hatred.

Wali’s tomb was an encroachment, the Sufi mazar was an encroachment, anything which comes in the way of a seamless Hindu Gujarati identity would be stigmatised as an encroachment and then it would be easy to remove it by popular consent. Wali’s tomb is no more, the Vadodara mazar does not exist anymore. Would the democratic world keep watching till something similar happens to Ganesh Devy?

Apoorvanand teaches at the Delhi University