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NI contributor's freedom of speech under threat

NI co-editor Dinyar Godrej, alterted us to the situation regarding political psychologist and NI contributor, Professor Ashis Nandy. Nandy is at the centre of a firestorm over an article he wrote after last year's elections in the Indian state of Gujarat which resulted in the re-election of one of India's most incendiary politicians – Narendra Modi of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. In his article published in the Times of India, Nandy bemoans the current state of affairs in this deeply divided state, and lays the blame firmly at the feet of the urban middle class that have been fanning the flames of communalism, religious nationalism and fundamentalism.

‘Recovering Gujarat from its urban middle class will not be easy. The class has found in militant religious nationalism a new self-respect and a new virtual identity as a martial community, the way Bengali babus, Maharashtrian Brahmins and Kashmiri Muslims at different times have sought salvation in violence. In Gujarat this class has smelt blood, for it does not have to do the killings but can plan, finance and coordinate them with impunity. The actual killers are the lowest of the low, mostly tribals and Dalits. The middle class controls the media and education, which have become hate factories in recent times. And they receive spirited support from most non-resident Indians who, at a safe distance from India, can afford to be more nationalist, bloodthirsty, and irresponsible.’ 

He also highlights the fallout from the accelerated top-down development that has taken place in the region since independence, something he brands 'development authoritainism':

'One of the worst-kept secrets of our times is that dramatic development almost always has an authoritarian tail. Post-World War II Asia too has had its love affair with developmental despotism and the censorship, surveillance and thought control that go with it. The East Asian tigers have all been maneaters most of the time. Gujarat has now chosen to join the pack. Development in the state now justifies amorality, abridgement of freedom, and collapse of social ethics.'

His article has provoked such an outcry in Gujarat and beyond, that a criminal case has been filed and accepted against him. The irony was that it was brought by the Gujarat Branch of the National Council of Civil Liberties. Regardless of what you might feel about his views, the criminal case is clearly an attempt to silence him and thereby deny him his civil liberties.

The Times of India has written an editorial outlining their position on this matter, essentially defending freedom of speech.

An interview with Nandy in Outlook India reveals some of his reaction to the charge including his assertion that the larger issue for Nandy is that: ‘Indian democracy is fast degenerating into a psephocracy – a system totally dominated by electoral victories and defeats. The moment you enter office, you begin to think of the next election.’

Lastly, a number of academics and activists have released a statement condemning the case against him. It concludes:

‘It seems part of the strategy of the most intolerant sections of Indian society today to make a cynical use the language of civil liberties to achieve ends that are the opposite of what the aspirations to civil liberties and the struggles over them represent. The harassment of well-known intellectuals and artists hides we fear, the daily intimidation being faced by members of minorities and especially the Muslims in Gujarat. We demand that all the charges against Professor Nandy be immediately dropped. We understand that there is a great deal of anxiety in Gujarat today about its lost honour.  It might help to remind ourselves that this honour or "asmita"  will not be gained by acts of violence and intimidation but by recovering or discovering the humanity of each other. Gujarat can and will regain its own destiny by remembering the politics of nonviolence, as one of its sons by the name of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi once taught the nation and the world.’ 

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