Intellectuals are the Eyes of Society and Without them India would be Lost

Filmmakers (L to R) Kirti Nakhwa, Harshavardhan Kulkarni, Nishta Jain, Dibakar Banerjee, Anand Patwardhan and Paresh Kamdar at a press conference announcing the return of their National Awards in protest against the government on Wednesday. Credit: PTI Photo by Mitesh Bhuvad

Filmmakers (L to R) Kirti Nakhwa, Harshavardhan Kulkarni, Nishta Jain, Dibakar Banerjee, Anand Patwardhan and Paresh Kamdar at a press conference announcing the return of their National Awards in protest against the government on Wednesday. Credit: PTI Photo by Mitesh Bhuvad

More than a hundred Indian scientists, an equal number of sociologists and social scientists, 50 historians, dozens of award-winning writers, artists and film makers have raised their collective voice against the growing atmosphere of intolerance in the country. Some have returned awards they had received from state bodies while others have signed statements. All are united in their sense of disquiet at what is going on in India today. What is the significance of this ?

These intellectuals are not rich or powerful people. Some among them may well have been surviving on some kind of patronage, as their critics contend. However, to my mind their action is brave and commendable.

It is worth reminding ourselves that under the fascist regimes which came to power in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, most intellectuals fell in line and either did not oppose the fascists, or became positive collaborators. India should take pride in the fact that its own intellectuals have not behaved in this manner. On the other hand, the response of the government’s spokespersons and apologists has revealed the ideological bankruptcy of the BJP and sangh parivar.

One and a half year into Modi’s rule, the failure of governance is manifest. Far from the vikas, or development, which was promised, the prices of essential foodstuffs like dal and onions have gone through the roof, and unemployment remains intolerably high.

What is the Modi government – and sangh parivar – doing to tackle this problem? They are diverting attention in a totally reactionary direction, spreading communalism and trying to throttle rational thinking. The brutal killing of Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi,  the lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq and others over motivated rumours of cow slaughter, the escalation of beef politics – these are ominous signs of the times to come.

No doubt some of the intellectuals who have returned awards ought to have spoken out earlier but at least they are doing something to keep the spirit of rationalism alive in our country.

The historians issued a joint statement saying that “differences of opinion are sought to be settled by using physical violence. Arguments are met not with counter arguments but with bullets.”

They allege that appointments to various positions are being made of people who have some connection with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.  “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, without any regard for chronology, sources or methods of enquiry that are the building blocks of the edifice of history” their statement said.

We have a Prime Minister who made a laughable comment that in ancient India we had genetic engineering and head transplants. We have a Finance Minister who calls the protests a “paper revolt” and a Culture Minister who has asked writers to stop writing. It is significant that hardly any scientist, sociologist, social scientist, historian, writer, artist of film personality has come out in support of the government – other than Anupam Kher, who is close to the BJP. That itself is proof of the depth of feeling amongst the intelligentsia in India.

In my opinion, the revolt of Indian intellectuals is of tremendous importance. The message it sends is that a regime that seeks to create an atmosphere of fear and hate everywhere will only bring about its own downfall. In a country like India with its massive socio-economic problems,  the role of ideas is of great importance. India will have no future if it is going to be governed by reaction and hate, and not reason and scientific thinking. It is intellectuals who are the eyes of society, and without intellectuals a society is blind.

Markandey Katju is a former justice of the Supreme Court

  • Goodlord12

    Thank you Justice Katju ! Need more independent judges like you in judiciary who will not succumb to party in power or governmental pressure and stand up for
    individual liberties. Thank God the NJAC was set aside. God save our land from his tribe. We need more like you and Justice JML Sinha !!!

  • S.Thiyagarajan

    They have not understood the meaning of Fascism, which means rule of the majority by the minorities. It is an inappropriate word to be used against govt. which has got the mandate of the majority of the people of India. I donot know why these so called intellectuals have suddenly sprang to life from their deep slumber of 60 years of dynasty rule, to find imaginary faults within 16 months of BJP rule. Surely it is not love of people or love of freedom of speech. If that was the motive, they all could have courted arrest during emergency and became heroes. They all supported emergency by their silence. Why are they omitting Pujari’s murder in K’take. For them the loss of Hindu life is immaterial. Price rise of commodities is a isolated phenomenon; it has happened continuously before and it will happen in future also. It is a seasonal phenomenon. If the farmers who are going to be benefitted by the commodity price rise, why they want to prevent it? Only 200 odd people have returned various awards. There are more than 2000 of them who are cherishing and feel honoured by their awards. These pseudo intellectuals with their jaundiced eyes, will only see yellow everywhere. Nobody takes them seriouly. Nobody is taking their RETURN DRAMA seriouly. It is all motivated and orchestrated. As though no political appointments has taken place in the past and everything happened as per merit. The govt. of the day will appoint only persons of their choice and not the ideologically morbid and people with fossilised ideas who used to occupy every possible position in the past.

    • delta1980

      On some counts the Government has done a fine job and needs to be applauded. However, to the bhakt all faults of the present government are ‘imaginary’. It is a fact that Hindutva was not the election plank that the PM used to win the elections. It was development. While he may not be directly responsible for the wider parivar of his party showing their true colours he would know that many voters can not relate to the lumpen elements and want sanity in society. A society which keeps religion private and national interest public.

  • The Angry Indian

    I am just eager to know that whether the persons who returning the Awards are doing so because a North Indian is harmed or an Indian is harmed ? Because I didn’t see any one returning Awards or any Justice of Supreme Court speaking against the killings happened in Srilanka or the illegal capturing of fishermen from Tamil Nadu who go for fishing . It is really fascinating to see people considering Tamilians like A.R Rahman , Abdul Kalam as Indian and ordinary fishermen from Tamil Nadu ( ordinary people from southern states ) are considered as Tamilians . It is an Incredible India .

  • Omraj Singh

    My friend tell me one thing, since centuries beef has been eaten in the country and RSS came in existence since 1888 why hell they didn’t bark then???? if you do have even a small piece of wise sense i your mind you can understand if they really want beef to be banned and not to be eaten they would have came up with a strong central law because they are in majority in central. suddenly in 2015 cow become the mother of thousands of people. By the way, tell me one thing who is going in market to sell their mothers???? Hindus…..who owes top 4 beef export firms of India? Hindus…..who let their mothers go out to roam and eat Kachra? Hindus……then how are Muslims responsible for cow slaughtering?
    WHY COW NOW????? because RAM LALA is no more in Ayodhya for vote polarization politics. on 10 September 2010 the verdict of supreme court on the Ayodhya land ended the issue between Hindus and muslims and both communities were satisfied with the verdict. now they didn’t have any issue to create to divide the people and polarized the votes of majority. so they came up with mother COW. did you get it?

    Btw i am pretty much sure that you won’t be aware about this fact that RSS never took part in indian freedom fight. they opposed revolution started by Gandhi ji against British rule.

  • Siva

    Article 48 was put in not because of the feelings of people towards cows, but rather because of their utility. That utility is fairly questionable now, given the myriad changes that have taken place in our country. In any case, the real issue is where we draw the line between liberty and offence. I can point out several liberties that are allowed today that do offend me. Also, the constitution safeguards fundamental rights even if they offend the majority. So it’s up to constitution and it’s interpretation by the courts that we ought to go by. At this point there is no law that bans beef consumption.

  • Supriya Narayan

    Here Swami Vivekananda is making a statement about using common sense and logic at all times. It seems we Indians have lost our ability for rational thinking. Eating beef or not eating beef has its roots in the social customs of various times , so in early Vedic times, even Brahmins seem to have eaten beef. The Brahmins stopped eating meat after Buddhism became widespread and it has nothing to do with going to hell or Narakam etc . Hell is an imaginary place. The Buddha spoke out as Mahavira did against harming any living being..man or animal based on compassion for all living things. But you will notice that in all the countries where Buddhism is practised , people eat meat and beef etc. I don’t see any Buddhist priests and monks in these countries urging people to lynch meat eaters.
    Mahatma Gandhi was a strict vegetarian but he never imposed it on anyone, even those in his family. Live and let live.
    Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi would weep to see the level of intolerance preached by the Hindutva brigade.