AFTER PROTESTS by writers, artists, scientists and filmmakers, over 50 historians — including leading names like Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, M G S Narayanan, K N Panikkar, B D Chattopadhyaya, D N Jha, Neeladri Bhattacharya, Shireen Moosvi, Indu Banga and Upinder Singh — on Thursday expressed concern about the “highly vitiated atmosphere prevailing in the country”.
“Differences of opinion are being sought to be settled by using physical violence. Arguments are met not with counter arguments but with bullets. When a poor man is suspected to have kept a food item that certain sections do not approve of, his fate is nothing short of death by lynching. At the launch of a book whose author happens to be from a country disapproved of by certain groups, the organiser is disfigured with ink thrown on his face,” said a statement signed by 53 historians.
“And when it is hoped that the head of government will make a statement about improving the prevailing conditions, he chooses to speak only about general poverty; and it takes the head of the state to make the required reassuring statement, not once but twice. When writer after writer is returning their award of recognition in protest, no comment is made about the conditions that caused the protest; instead the ministers call it a paper revolution and advise the writers to stop writing. This is as good as saying that intellectuals will be silenced if they protest,” it said.
“This is particularly worrying for us as historians, as we have already experienced attempts to ban our books and expunge statements of history… What the regime seems to want is a kind of legislated history, a manufactured image of the past, glorifying certain aspects of it and denigrating others,” it said.
“We would therefore urge the state to ensure an atmosphere that is conducive to free and fearless expression, security for all sections of society and the safe-guarding of the values and traditions of plurality that India had always cherished in the past. It is easy to trample them down, but it is important to remember that it will take too long, and will be beyond the capacity of those who are currently at the helm of affairs, to rebuild it once it is destroyed,” it said.
“The number of incidents happening in the country add up to a situation where it is felt that there is no space for dialogue and debate, that the intolerance is growing. What happened at Dadri was very shocking. It all adds up at the end,” said Prof Upinder Singh, head of history department at Delhi University.
Earlier, artists had also expressed their concern about the existing political and social climate. “We can join the dots and see the kind of re-engineering being attempted by replacing the heads of different institutions. There is complete hooliganism, incidents of violence, forcefulness to follow a certain ideology,” said artist Anita Dube.
She was on the panel with artists Vivan Sundaram, Sharmila Samant, Inder Salim and writer Ashish Rajadhyaksha at a conference organised by Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) that was attended by artists Gigi Scaria, Atul Bhalla, Amitava Das and art critic Geeta Kapur among others. Over 400 signatories supporting the statement.