October 29, 2015

India: Stem The Rot - Editorial in The Telegraph (Calcutta)

The Telegraph - 29 October 2015

Stem the rot

In normal times, it would be the stuff of low comedy. Suddenly, mundane choices such as what one wears, reads or eats have become issues of life and death in India. There are apparently groups out there watching closely people's habits, especially the culinary ones. When the State and its agencies get mixed up in such acts of surveillance, things acquire even darker dimensions. This is what happened with the raid by the Delhi police on Kerala House in the capital. The police action followed a complaint, allegedly by zealots belonging to a militant Hindu organization, that beef was being served at the canteen of Kerala House. Fortunately, things did not go as far as they did at Dadri where a man was lynched by a mob on suspicions of having stored beef at his home. But the event, particularly the role of the Delhi police, must be disturbing for people who equate a liberal democracy with a sane society. Following an outcry over its action, the Delhi police sought to wriggle out of the embarrassment by arguing that its steps had nothing to do with the beef fry on the canteen's menu but were prompted by apprehensions of communal tension. The explanation is as dubious as the action of the self-proclaimed protectors of the animal that has suddenly become a symbol of a distorted discourse on religious, political and cultural issues.

It may be a coincidence that the event at Kerala House happened within a day of scientists from India's three best-known scientific academies expressing their "sadness and growing anxiety" over an alarming rise in obscurantist tendencies. It is easy to engage in hair-splitting arguments over what constitutes the so-called Indian tradition. But the scientists are absolutely right in their basic premise - the people encouraging religious or other kinds of obscurantism, often in murderous forms, are enemies of the scientific temper that the Constitution demands of the citizens. The scientists did not name these enemies because they did not have to. Activists of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the many Hindu outfits that owe allegiance to it have been the offenders in most cases. Even governments run by the BJP, such as the ones in Maharashtra and Haryana, have contributed to the stirring of the beef pot in recent months. But a political blame-game is not going to stem the tide of intolerance. The answer lies in liberal voices speaking up loud and clear.