We’re at a moment of crisis because freedom of speech is being threatened, with every single writer who dares to voice something that goes against the grain are in danger for their lives. We are at a moment of crisis, because never before in the history of our country has religious intolerance been so easy, so casual, a matter of pride almost.
The citizens of this country are being urged to be politically incorrect and no one is stopping them. You’re handing angry people weapons and you’re whispering in their ears about why they should kill, slaughter and maim. And meanwhile, the headlines hold a photo of a dotcom millionaire beaming at our prime minister and he’s so happy, and we’re so happy, look we made it, we’re acknowledged by the west! And back home, in the country he seems so desperate to flee, we talk about good diets and bad diets, only they’re not just “bad” diets, they’re a crime.
We’re regressing almost as fast as our representative makes his way around the world and no one seems to care, as long as we have jobs, as long as private companies seem poised to enter, as long as vast amounts of money might possibly one day come in, who cares that “secular” is now, apparently, an insult?
As a writer, the tools of my trade are words. This is how I build an opinion for you to see, this is how I hope to convince you. I want you to think about words right now, words not spoken, words that are buried in people’s throats, when a life is less important than a vote bank. My fellow writers have been returning their Sahitya Akademi awards as a way of telling the system that they refuse to be silenced by sots, and as a wave of protest, it seems to be growing.
You might have even rolled your eyes at the news, but you can’t deny it is news. Words are the one thing politicians and writers share and while a skilled orator may use his words to weave you a pretty dream of a future where India is global and modern and all the things you’ve always wanted it to be, he also has to not use some words, lest you think he’s slipping up. A comment can be misrepresented, a no comment can be put down to general busyness.
A writer’s job is then to step in and remove the paper off the cracks, show you what they’re not saying.
They’re not saying religious intolerance is a bad thing.
They’re not saying they have a policy in place to deal with further rumblings.
They’re not saying they will stand by anyone who makes a well reasoned argument and make sure that that person is not in danger.
I, and many of my other colleagues in the writing world, am a commercial writer. I write novels that deal with urban India, stuff like religion or violence rarely comes up, except as a plot point. But we have an audience hey, maybe even you, who is reading this right now! And our audience should know how we feel about these things. This is how I feel, guys. And I think it’s my responsibility as a writer to let you know.
(a version of this appeared as my column.)