Ever since the Modi-led NDA government was installed in the seat of power in May 2014, cultural and moral policemen have been on overdrive. I wonder if they know that among tribals, cohabitation is no taboo and consensual sex, whether inside a home or hotel, is no one’s business but theirs. It is shocking to read that hotels in Mumbai were raided to catch couples who choose to go there. What is happening to this country? There are so many criminal activities that go unnoticed, some happening under the very nose of the police but they have no time for real policing work because their bosses direct them to become protectors of people’s morality.
Not long ago came the beef ban. As people whose staple source of protein is beef, we were shocked at this ban on beef. That was when people realised that many more shocks were in store for them. Then pornography sites were banned. Some hack, taking a dig at the Modi Government said, the government actually wanted to ban pork but got the last alphabet of the spelling wrong. What next is what everyone wants to know.
Now let me come to a more sinister story. The Salesian congregation, who are followers of Saint John Bosco, (popularly known as Don Bosco), an educator and friend of the youth, wanted to install a statue of their founder – whose bicentenary year they are celebrating – at Bharalumukh, Guwahati on August 7. The statue was set up late on August 6 and was to be unveiled by Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi the next day. Early on that day some student union members of Cotton College Guwahati and members of the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the students’ wing of the BJP, vandalised the statue, bringing it down and pushing it to the river. The statue was damaged, and so was the cultural thread of the city.
Many from the city, including parents of students and invitees who attended the Don Bosco bicentenary function at Don Bosco School, Panbazar on Saturday evening, spoke with concern at this painful development which threatens to create a religious divide. Those invited to speak on the occasion, and they included the Power Minister of Assam, Pradyut Bordoloi said, “We hang our heads in shame at what happened yesterday. Assamese society has always been tolerant of divergent views and religious practices. Now we are seeing religious polarisation from close quarters.”
Many Bosconians (those who passed out from Don Bosco institutions) have expressed their anxiety on social media. Never before has communal politics sullied social relations. The arrest on Saturday of four people including a BJP woman councillor, Sunita Bhilwaria and her husband, for questioning, indicates which way things are going. Hindutva hardliners are spreading their toxic tentacles in the North Eastern region, which is already fragmented by ethnocentrism and divided along tribal lines. Religious polarisation will further divide the polity and also create a fear psychosis among the tribes about whether they are living in a secular society or whether they will now have to conform to food and other social habits that are alien to them.
Incidentally, Union Power Ministe, Piyush Goyal had come to Guwahati on Saturday, August 8 to inaugurate the Don Bosco bicentenary educational seminar. He could not have been ignorant of the events of the previous day which were orchestrated by his party confreres. That this was not made an issue at the seminar is a measure of the large-heartedness of the Salesians who have learnt to serve with dignity and grace in the midst of all kinds of stormy circumstances.
A section of social media activists who are obviously extreme rightist in their views have been spewing venom about why Don Bosco’s statue should be put up in the city when other statues of icons like Dr Bhupen Hazarika or other Assamese saints and heroes are yet to be installed. The counter question to these persons is, ‘but who is preventing you from putting up those statues?’ Should the government be spending its waking hours thinking about statues instead of cleaning up the filth in Guwahati city?
Some with a streak of vengeance even questioned what the contributions of Don Bosco, an Italian, to Assamese society and culture have bee? One even commented that Sonia Gandhi must have ordered Tarun Gogoi to install the saint’s statue, an obvious allusion to Congress politics being the agenda behind the statue. These ideologues are perhaps ignorant of the vast contributions made by Don Bosco institutions across Assam and the North East. One of the most progressive private universities in the region – the Don Bosco University – is coming up in a 250 acre plot in Assam. Obviously it will serve the educational needs of the region. But bigots refuse to see the bigger picture. They are hell bent on accusing Don Bosco institutions of trying to convert people even though this is not borne out by evidence.
Fundamentalism not a good sign
Don Bosco educational and skills building institutions (the first version of polytechnics) are spread across 132 countries and serve at least 15 million people worldwide. Everywhere they are given due respect including even in Communist-ruled Tripura, where a statue of Don Bosco was set up recently to commemorate his 200th year. Religious fundamentalism of the kind propagated by the BJP and its youth brigade does not bode well for the region. People have to fight these tendencies before they lose their right to speak up and speak out. For the Salesians of Don Bosco, tomorrow is just another day of service to the youth of Assam and this country. They have been magnanimous and said, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” Alas things are no longer so innocent in this country. We are losing our freedom inch by inch and we do not even realise it.
The writer is Editor of the Shillong Times