“Science is always humble. Religion boasts that it gives the correct answer and the answer that it gives is the final one. Religion does not need to go beyond what it knows…as it tells the final truth..Science on the contrary always admits that its knowledge at any given time is limited..”
– Narendra Dabholkar (shot dead, August 20, 2013)
Morning walk. Bullet shots ring out and kill Narendra Dabholkar, Rationalist and fearless critic. Less than two years on, February, 2015, rationalist Govind Pansare went on a morning walk that proved fatal. Bullets felled him too.
The year after, Prof MM Kalburgi opened the door to who he thought were students. His wife went in to make coffee for them, and came back to see her husband murdered.
Now, Gauri Lankesh answered her doorbell and was shot at seven times, and killed.
The attack on articulators of rationalism, reason, dissent and the right to stand up to conservative brute power and the attempt to ‘fix’ India as an idea of sameness has been consistent and it takes no prisoners.
The sub-continent is no stranger to killings like these intended to leave a signature of the killers. There is enough work on this of course and recently in Dhirendra Jha’s ‘Shadow Armies’, which does the tough stuff; it draws out what the so-called fringe violent groups do and perfect, apparently without patronage and then seamlessly merge into mainstream politics and use the hate to further whip the political point and campaign on exclusion. Jha looks at organisations like the ‘Sanatan Sanstha’ implicated in at least two of the previous murder cases of Rationalists who appear ‘random’, threaten, remonstrate and shout, but, what is important is how they then slowly and gently get mainstreamed in the slush of whataboutery and a sons-of- the-soil bid to narrow down who a true Indian is, essentially a majoritarian idea, focussed solely on religious identity.
In the killings of the journalist and filmmaker in Pakistan, Sabeen Mahmud, or of Bangladeshi bloggers like Niloy Chatterjee Neel, hacked to death, we see glimpses of this streak in the sub-continent, which operates in different disguises, the Hindu and Islamic right-wing which would go to any extent to protect its idea of how the ideal citizen should be.
Pakistan has tumbled rapidly down the stairs in the past few years, where parties in power have been hostage to and actively flirted with the Islamic right which holds all to ransom. In Bangladesh, the party currently in power has been pushing against the fanatics, and at least stands to not gain with such forces gaining muscle and power.
In India, political parties which benefit from forces that want to meet ideas with bullets and that privilege ‘mobs’ over the law, have to answer and speak on where they stand on accepting diversity. By privileging the idea of a ‘Oneness’ cast in their mould, believing that democracy is fine only if it invokes a majority, constructed carefully along over identity lines, would have to answer where they stand on such hate which eventually will knock on everyone’s door.