October 18, 2015

India - Assam: Jorhat rises against fundamentalism

The Telegraph, October 17, 2015

Jorhat rises against fundamentalism
Our correspondent

Jorhat, Oct. 16: From the Dadri lynching to the returning of the Sahitya Akademi awards, the burning issues of the country were discussed in the first of its kind citizens' protest meet in the cultural capital here today.

A gathering of around 100 concerned citizens criticised the silence of a leader and of a party that encouraged fundamentalism and intolerance, which had polarised the country and had ushered in an atmosphere of fear, mistrust and violence.

Comparing the situation in the country to the times in Germany when Hitler rose to power, Jayanta Madhav Dutta, a teacher and the convener of the meet, said if they did not protest now, the time would not be far when there would be no one left to protest when one's own turn came.

"What is being destroyed is our fabric of tolerance and respect for each other's social and religious traditions. What has been hit is our fundamental right, the freedom of speech. What has come under attack is our Constitution," he said.

Bishnurat Sharma, another convener also warned against ethnic cleansing on the lines of Hitler.

"It was on February 27, 1933, that Hitler began the process in Germany. In Gujarat, on February 27, 2002, when people of a certain community were burnt in the train and the finger was pointed towards the minorities. The nation is no longer safe," he said.

Speaker after speaker condemned the lynching in which fundamentalists killed Mohammad Akhlaque in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, recently suspecting that he consumed beef. The question here was why Akhlaque was denied the right to eat beef.

The gathering praised those writers who had returned their Sahitya Akademi awards as a mark of protest against the murders of rationalists like M.M. Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar and muzzling of Perumal Murugan's voice.

"Protests by the individuals is praiseworthy but what is the need of the hour is a mass protest by the people who should take to the streets. Jorhat can lead the way and we hope that other parts of the state will follow against such undemocratic governance," Rofique Hussain said.

Jogananda Bora, a retired teacher, said the time was not far when people here would be identified as Muslims and Hindus and not as Assamese.

"We should raise the consciousness of our brethren, especially those who are vulnerable and could be easily influenced by fundamentalists," he said.

All the speakers cited examples from their experience and teachings where innumerable communities in the state had lived in peace for centuries and asked the people to be beware of and block fanatics from their ulterior design.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as a leader of the nation, came under criticism for his stance on such issues, with the speakers stating that religion should not be a part of winning an election.

"Modi has gone to many places abroad. He should pick up from these places schemes that can be made to work and how the country can progress. He can also criticise the Congress for 'failing' on different fronts. This is what makes up political rhetoric and not dividing the country on religious lines and attacking the Constitution," one speaker said.

Devabrata Sharma, one of the conveners, announced that a Sanmilita Nagarik Mancha headed by Bhaba Chetia had been formed in the day's meeting to arrest incidents of the kind which might spiral out of control in the future when dogs of war would be unleashed by fanatical forces.