On Day 2, celebrating reason and secularism

If the first day of the Mumbai Collective conclave on ‘Celebrating Freedom And Pluralism’ was about fiery speeches to defend dissent and free speech, the second day was a celebration of reason and secularism.

Senior journalist P Sainath’s lament on Saturday about how the media had failed Narendra Dabholkar, Comrade Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi as much as the State government and the police, appeared to have carried through to the next day in the form of the first panel of the day: The Assault On Reason and Higher Education.

“The Central government, State governments and the CBI failed us,” declared Hamid Dabholkar, psychiatrist and son of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, who was brutally murdered in Pune in August 2013. “We repeatedly told the police that this was not a personal or family murder but a political one. We even warned them that there could be more such political murders,” stated Mr Dabholkar.

Prabhat Patnaik, Professor Emeritus at the Centre for Economic Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, pointed out the significance of pluralism. “Any thinking requires raising questions, which often results in multiple answers from multiple people; multiplicity is thus a symptom of thinking. The killing of multiplicity is the killing of thoughts,” stated Professor Patnaik. He noted how the various protests had only taken place in public institutions such as the Jadavpur University, but not in private institutions. He blamed the ‘commodification of education for profit’, where students only function on the desire to make money, not to reason or raise questions.

Appropriation and communalism

The panel of ‘Artists Against Communalism’ featured film-makers Kabir Khan and Anand Patwardhan. Mr Khan talked about the resistance he faced for naming his movie Bajrangi Bhaijaan , ranging from VHP filing a case to the speculation that love-jihad was the theme of his movie. But Mr Khan refused to buckle under any pressure such as a delayed censor screening, and questioned why the right-wing should be allowed to appropriate Hanuman.

Mr Patwardhan reflected on how it had become unfashionable to think well of Mahatma Gandhi and argued that it was important to note how radical Gandhi became as he got older. He showed excerpts from his past work such as Jai Bhim Comrade and War and Peace to shed light on Gandhi’s legacy. Mr Patwardhan also showed a few clips he had shot at the JNU campus in the past week as a part of his documentation of the recent student unrests such as FTII protests.

Advocate Mihir Desai gave a historical breakdown of sedition in India and the correct understanding of the term in its legal sense in the session on ‘Sedition and the Spectre of the Anti-National’. Referring to the sedition trial of Mahatma Gandhi in 1922 as the ‘Gandhian Blunder’ of the British Empire, he described the case against Kanhaiya Kumar as the “Gandhian blunder” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and HRD Minister Smriti Irani. “If they had read history, and not mythology, they would have realised their blunder,” commented Desai, as he appealed for removal of the sedition law under Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code.

A call for popular resistance

The final panel of the conclave saw political leaders appeal for popular resistance amongst the masses against communal and divisive forces.

“MPs and MLAs who used to earlier hand you character certificates are now giving certificates of patriotism and nationalism,” said NCP MLA Jitendra Awhad. “Whenever you have mishandled student politics, the political equations in the entire country have changed,” said Awhad as he remembered the Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi.

PM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury called for popular resistance cutting across democratic and secular lines. “What is happening today is part of a jigsaw puzzle with the basic function of an insurrection against India and its Constitution,” stated Mr Yechury. “We will have to resist in our own way, in our societies, buses, and local trains,” he said pointing out that vicious trolls and untruths spread on social media were no longer on the fringe but now had State sponsorship.

MPs and MLAs who used to earlier hand you character certificates are now giving certificates of patriotism and nationalism.

Jitendra Awhad (NCP MLA )

Source – The Hindu