New Delhi: Between August 20 and 22, the Progressive Writers’ Association held its 18th annual conference in Jabalpur. At the end of the conference, the PWA adopted a declaration in which it discussed the threats to democracy, equality and secularism in India – ideals with the Association see themselves as guardians of.
“We can see that in this century, especially in the last decade, retrograde, regressive, majoritarian, superstitious and revivalist ideas are being institutionalized and glorified at the expense of rationalism, pluralism, scientific thinking and progressive outlook,” the declaration states.
“Unemployment is at its peak, the gap of economic inequality has widened further. The future of the present generation is also in danger. The entire country is being converted into a commercial project by abandoning the concept of a welfare state envisaged by the Constitution,” it continues.
“In the context of the current challenges, our first responsibility today is to protect constitutional democracy and freedom of expression, while ensuring more effective participation with wider mass struggles. For this, there is also a need to form a united front of writers’ organisations …It is the duty of literature to stand for the downtrodden, the oppressed, the underprivileged, whether an individual or a group,” the PWA notes.
Read the full declaration below.
Forty-three years ago in this city of Jabalpur, participating in the national conference of the Progressive Writers’ Association, we the writers of all the Indian languages, as guardians of the glorious tradition and legacy of the progressive writing movement, had committed ourselves to protect the ideals of democracy, secularism and socialism. Today, when we are here together again in this eighteenth national Conference of the Progressive Writers’ Association, we are faced with new challenges to save the values of equity, equality and secular democracy which are cherished by the freedom movement and protected by the Constitution.
Today, Indian democracy is facing an existential crisis like never before. We can see that in this century, especially in the last decade, retrograde, regressive, majoritarian, superstitious and revivalist ideas are being institutionalized and glorified at the expense of rationalism, pluralism, scientific thinking and progressive outlook.
There are clear signs of the conversion of secular democracy to a majoritarian theocracy. Autonomous constitutional institutions are being subverted and destroyed by polluting the atmosphere of knowledge acquisition. The space for free intellectual dialogue is being squeezed everywhere including public spaces, research and academic institutions, universities etc. Ignoring the multilingual, pluralistic and inclusive cultural wealth of the Indian society, it is being made one-sided, singular and narrow. The tradition of the Buddha, Basavanna and Kabir is being erased. The images of Gandhi, Nehru and Ambedkar are being tarnished by de-contextualizing them. Also of grave concern is the apparently direct alliance of the Hindutva politics with capitalist institutional and corporate powers. From this crony capitalism comes the totalitarianism which is the domestic variant of Fascism, but it’s origin and modus operandi are inspired by Hitler’s Nazism. A direct crisis has arisen on the domestic structures. We have many examples of the suppression of the freedom of expression and protests against the same. Many intellectuals, writers, human rights activists have been imprisoned during this period. Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, M M Kalburgi, Gauri Lankesh and Father Sten Swamy had to offer martyrdom. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have been attacked in the name of investigation and forced to stop their work.
In the 1990s, the economic policies driven by liberalization, privatization and global capitalism paved the way for disparity and poverty. In the absence of employment and fulfillment of basic necessities of life, more than eighty crore people of the country are struggling for minimum living facilities. The state has shied away from the responsibilities related to education and medicine. There is unnecessary and excessive taxation on the middle class as well and the class deprived of pension facilities is in trouble. Unemployment is at its peak, the gap of economic inequality has widened further. The future of the present generation is also in danger. The entire country is being converted into a commercial project by abandoning the concept of a welfare state envisaged by the Constitution. Other constitutional institutions like the Judiciary and the Election Commission are being targeted and weakened. Large sections of the print and electronic media have been rendered ineffective and domesticated. Social media is also under tight control now. ’Big Brother’s monitoring is also intensified.
Following the imperialist world order, the role of the state with alternative and independent policies has been abandoned. To divert the attention of public from all these issues, emotional issues like cow protection, love jihad, hijab, Ganga and Geeta are being raised. All kinds of tactics are being adopted to divide the society on the basis of religion, caste and personal beliefs. Forget about any checks or controls from the government side on these notorious and criminal activities, we see the impunity given to such miscreants by the government. All kinds of lies are being spread about the voices of dissent and resistance, stigmatizing them with negative terms like ’Urban Naxals’, ’Tukde Tukde Gang’, ’Award Wapsi Gang’.
It has to be accepted that now the Hindu revivalism is paramount in the form of an agenda as the central ideology of the ruling class. Installation of the religious symbol Sengol by the priests in the Parliament, then the ritualistic participation of the head of the country’s executive in laying the foundation stone of the temple in Ayodhya are a open expression of this agenda. By observing the tragedy of partition as the ’Vibhajan Vibhishika Divas’, the people of the country are being molded into a permanent mood for partition. The public mind is being polluted by miraculous babas and is being made frenzied and they have the support of the government and administration.
From Manipur and Mewat to Uttarakhand and other parts of the country, a new chapter of division and separation is being written. The composite identity is being erased by changing the names of the cities. Enemy images are being created of minority religious communities by declaring them guilty of love jihad, cow slaughter and forced conversion. Murder by frenzied mobs and bulldozer justice are new weapons of the government to oppress minorities and the voices of dissent. Voices raised against the oppression of women, Dalits and farmers or in favor of their rights are ignored and crushed. Protection of musclemen by politics is a new normal. Whoever gives statements that polarize or divide the society is being protected by not taking proper action despite the directions of the court. Increasing discrimination and atrocities on women, tribals and Dalits is the natural consequence of the proud superiority of the Manuwadi ideology of majoritarianism. This text can be read from Una and Hathras to Bhima Koregaon. By uprooting the tribals from their basic cultural consciousness, the unabated loot of water, forest and land is going on, the ultimate beneficiaries of which are the corporate capitalists who have close ties with the right-wing politics.
Ideological disagreement has been brought under the category of cognizable offence. From street demonstrations to court cases to ban on the works of writers in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Gujarati and Santhali (English) languages such as Perumal Murugan, Kancha Ilaiah, KS Bhagavan, S. Harish, Parul Khakhar and Hansda Sovendra Shekhar, has been resorted to during this period. All these situations are infuriating and disturbing to us as writers. The rewriting and rescheduling process of history and curriculum is going on. Historical heroes like Akbar and Tipu Sultan are being excluded and Hindutva heroes are being included in the curriculum. As a result of its inevitable outcome, the understanding of diversity and texture of Indian social structure will be destroyed and the new generation will be cursed to go in a one-sided, incomplete and wrong direction by being deprived of the true knowledge of inclusive and pluralistic history. The regressive changes in NCERT books is a proof of this. The new education policy is an indicator of these changes. We know that all these situations are the biggest obstacle and danger for the development of any country and society.
In the last decade or so, we witnessed the above scenario with our consciousness of the resistance. From time to time, we have also registered our resistance through the common forums of writers’ organizations. Our role has been of support and solidarity in favour of the farmers’ movement, the campaign of women wrestlers and the voices of human rights activists, fearless journalism and the intellectuals and in opposition to the legal proposals related to the citizenship register. In the context of the current challenges, our first responsibility today is to protect constitutional democracy and freedom of expression, while ensuring more effective participation with wider mass struggles. For this, there is also a need to form a united front of writers’ organisations.
In this context, we remember Premchand, who in his famous presidential address in 1936, on the occasion of the Foundational Conference of Progressive Writers’ Association, Lucknow, said, “Literature is the one in which the truths and experiences of life are expressed. In which there is criticism of life. It is the duty of literature to stand for the downtrodden, the oppressed, the underprivileged, whether an individual or a group. Art should also be weighed on the scales of usefulness. We have to change the criteria of beauty or parameters of aesthetics. The whole world should be in the broad spectrum of beauty, which is in good taste, self-respect and should not be opposed to humanity. The writer exists along with the society, if separated her or his value becomes zero. We do not consider literature only as an object of entertainment and luxury. Only the literature which has high thinking will pass our test. May it be the sense of freedom, the essence of beauty, the soul of creation, the light of life’s truths, that stirs and put us at unease, do not lull us into sleep, for too much sleep is a sign of death.” These words of Premchand are still relevant and guiding and inspiring in challenging times. We are collectively determined to be the claimants of this glorious heritage.
Drafted by –
Virendra Yadav (U. P.)
Kumar Ambuj (M. P.)
Translation from Hindi to English –
Om Prakash Sharma
Shivpuri (M. P.)