October 12, 2015

India: Dinkar in the time of the Dadri lynching (comment in MINT)

livemint.com, Oct 11 2015

Dinkar in the time of the Dadri lynching

Narendra Modi needs to amplify the cultural vision that the poet gave us

A few months ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke eloquently about the great Hindi poet Ramdhari Singh Dinkar to mark the golden jubilee celebrations of his works. Modi said that he would strive to make an India that the poet would be proud of.

The prime minister should remember his promise at a time when several writers have returned their state literary awards in protest against growing intolerance in the country. It is petty to question their motives—from how they could accept the awards in the first place from previous Congress governments that also looked the other way during similar episodes of strife to the broader question of whether independent writers need state patronage in the first place. The objective fact is that some of the best writers in the country are deeply concerned about what is happening.

Modi is just one in a long line of political leaders who admire Dinkar. Jawaharlal Nehru wrote a lucid introduction to the cultural treatise by a writer he considered his friend. Jayaprakash Narayan famously quoted Dinkar to warn Indira Gandhi that the Indian people were coming to rattle the gates of her metaphorical palace of power. Atal Bihari Vajpayee always spoke very highly of the poet.

In Sanskriti Ke Char Adhyay, Dinkar puts before the reader the DNA of India’s composite culture, which has evolved through four epochs. He says that even though India is a complicated mix of cultures, languages and religions, they have through centuries of interaction been woven into a composite tapestry. Four confluences are central to our cultural development—between the Aryan and Dravidian civilizations; between Vedic philosophy and the Buddhist revolt against it; between Hinduism and Islam; and finally between European and Indian cultures.

It is this broadness of vision that suffused the Indian national movement. Some of the best minds of the Hindutva movement have also stressed the essential cultural unity of India. These grand sentiments need to be amplified across the political spectrum at a time when a man has been lynched because he was suspected of eating beef, three rationalists have been gunned down, a writer has announced his literary death on social media and the president of the Indian republic has had to remind the nation of its core values.

This newspaper has argued that India needs to do away with the first amendment to the Constitution, which imposes restrictions on free speech, as well as Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, which seeks to punish writers who hurt the sentiments of any religious group. These legal distortions deal with the repressive power of the state. What we have seen in recent months is something even worse—vigilante violence from groups of all hues that, in effect, question the power of the constitutional state. They need to be dealt with severely.

It is important for the prime minister to come out forcefully on the side of our composite culture. In other words, it is time to hold him to his promise—to lead a country that Dinkar would be proud of. The last words should be left to Jawaharlal Nehru, in his introduction to Sanskriti Ke Char Adhyay (this is from a translation by Saurabh Chandra in Pragati magazine): “Looking at India, I feel, as Dinkar has also emphasised, that the culture of Indians is composite and it has developed gradually... This culture had an amazing ability to integrate and internalise new things it encounters. Until it had this quality, this culture remained alive and dynamic. But later it lost this dynamism due to which this culture atrophied and all its aspects became weak. There are two opposing and competing forces that we see operating in India’s history. One force is that which assimilates outside influences, creating integrity and harmony, and the other that encourages division; that which reinforces the tendency to separate one from another. In a different context, we are still facing the same problem even today. There are many powerful forces today that are trying to create not just national unity but a cultural unity as well. But there are those forces also that create a rupture in our lives; that encourage discrimination between people.”