LIV­ING WITH THE DEATH THREAT

Does life change for In­dia’s free thinkers un­der con­tin­u­ous threat when one of their own is mur­dered in cold blood?

Mid Day - - FRONT PAGE - GITANJALI CHANDRASEKHARAN gitanjali.chandrasekharan@mid-day.com

COME take a ride on In­dia’s bul­let train” reads the cap­tion of a pho­to­graph that was posted on the evening of Septem­ber 14, on the Face­book page of Hu­mans of Hin­dutva. The page that par­o­dies the right wing has over 95K ‘likes’, and has helped In­di­ans in the last five months, find hu­mour in a vi­o­lent en­vi­ron­ment. The said bul­let has on it pho­to­graphs of MM Kal­burgi (the ra­tion­al­ist who was killed out­side his Dhar­wad res­i­dence in Au­gust 2015), Naren­dra Dab­holkar (killed in Pune in Au­gust 2013), Govind Pansare (killed in Fe­bru­ary 2015 in Mumbai), Ma­hatma Gandhi (shot dead by Nathu­ram Godse in Novem­ber 1949) and Gauri Lankesh.

Lankesh, a Ban­ga­lore jour­nal­ist who edited Lankesh Pa­trike, a Kan­nada weekly, was shot to death by un­known as­sailants out­side her home in Ra­jara­jesh­wari Na­gar on Septem­ber 5. At the time of her death, Gauri was known for be­ing a critic of right-wing Hindu ex­trem­ism.

But, the HOH post it­self was a sur­prise. Af­ter all, only on Septem­ber 9, five days af­ter Lankesh’s mur­der, the ad­min of the page (who has re­mained anony­mous) an­nounced that it was time to call it quits.

He wrote: It was a good run but ul­ti­mately I re­alised that you guys are not worth a bul­let in my f ***** g head. Some of my favourite writ­ers were as pro­lific...only they didn’t have some­one call them a “ma ****** d” ev­ery 5 min­utes. I thank you guys for read­ing through my ran­dom thoughts. But now it’s come to the point where I have to ar­gue with peo­ple who I thought were on the same side as me. I’m tired of ex­plain­ing the in­ten­tion be­hind my words again and again and again.” That was at 7.41 am. At 10.58 pm, he re­turned with an­other snarky post and faux farewell speech.

In an ex­change with mid-day over FB mes­sen­ger, the ad­min says, “I re­ally did want to quit, but came back when I saw the re­ac­tion of the right wing, who thought I re­ally was scared of the bul­let. Their sick cel­e­bra­tion over my gen­uine worry, made me re­con­sider.” He says he re­ceives threats and abuses on a daily ba­sis, but can’t re­port it as that would end up re­veal­ing his iden­tity.

If the Hu­mans of Hin­dutva ad­min did re­veal his iden­tity, he’d prob­a­bly join the long list of thinkers who have been of­fered po­lice pro­tec­tion by their state gov­ern­ments.

The names men­tioned on the bul­let are only of those who have taken the bul­let. Many live un­der the shadow of one ev­ery day.

‘My ideas get more trac­tion’

Early last week, the Congress-led Kar­nataka gov­ern­ment said it had pro­vided se­cu­rity to 21 “in­tel­lec­tu­als, pro­gres­sive thinkers and ac­tivists who have been given po­lice pro­tec­tion” in the wake of Lankesh’s killing.

Among them is ra­tion­al­ist KS Bhag­wan, 72, a re­tired English pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Mysore.

Bhag­wan, who has in the past trans­lated the works of Shake­speare into Kan­nada, in 1982 wrote a book ti­tled Shankaracharya and his re­ac­tionary phi­los­o­phy. Here, he crit­i­cized the phi­los­o­phy of eighth cen­tury philoso­pher and the­olo­gian Adi Shankaracharya — cred­ited with uni­fy­ing and es­tab­lish­ing the main cur­rents of thought in Hin­duism. Bhag­wan says that in his tenets, Shankaracharya says that Su­dras have no right to knowl­edge or school. That they are born to serve Brah­mins. “He also called women, sin­ners. With this he has con­demned 95 per cent of In­di­ans. I wanted to put light on and fight this dis­crim­i­na­tion,” Bhag­wan says.

He ex­pected crit­i­cism. “Af­ter 1,200 years, some­one was ques­tion­ing the phi­los­o­phy of Adi Shankaracharya, but af­ter Kal­burgi was shot dead, I be­gan re­ceiv­ing sim­i­lar threats.”

The day af­ter Kal­burgi’s mur­der how­ever, Bhag­wan says, two po­lice of­fi­cers ap­pointed by the state gov­ern­ment landed at his door, of­fer­ing full-time pro­tec­tion. They fol­low him ev­ery­where. It’s not a hin­drance to his daily life. “Though I didn’t want it, I wel­come it.”

The threats have waned but not stopped. Some­times, they come via let­ters, at other times, via texts on his cell phone. They range from “you are not the son of your fa­ther” to “you will not breathe to­mor­row”. Com­plain­ing about them no longer means run­ning to the po­lice sta­tion. With the of­fi­cers around, he sim­ply writes a let­ter de­tail­ing the text and the num­ber he has re­ceived it from. The of­fi­cers sub­mit it to the lo­cal po­lice, who then trace the sender and hand them a warn­ing.

Doesn’t his fam­ily worry? “If my wife had got up­set, I would have been shaken. But, she tells me that what I do is for the good of the coun­try. Let

‘I re­ally did want to quit, but came back when I saw the re­ac­tion of the right wing, who thought I re­ally was scared of the bul­let. Their sick cel­e­bra­tion over my gen­uine worry, made me re­con­sider’ Ad­min, Hu­mans of Hin­dutva ‘If my wife had got up­set, I would have been shaken. But, she tells me that what I do is for the good of the coun­try. Let the life go. They can kill me, not my ideas’ Ra­tion­al­ist K S Bhag­wan

the life go. They can kill me, not my ideas.” If any­thing, he says, the fun­da­men­tal­ists aim­ing threats at him only means that more peo­ple are read­ing him and about him. His 1982 book is now in its 19th edi­tion and has been trans­lated across sev­eral lan­guages.

Some barks, some bites

The ad­min of the Hu­mans of Hin­dutva page says of the threats, “They are mostly all bark and no bite. When I threaten to take ac­tion, they run away and don’t bother me again.”

While the threats to him come via so­cial me­dia, oth­ers get them via snail mail. KP Ra­ma­nunni, 61, is an award-win­ning novelist who was un­der at­tack for a six-piece ed­i­to­rial he wrote in July in the Malay­alam daily Mad­hya­mam, urg­ing Hin­dus and Mus­lims to drop their hos­til­i­ties against each other.

Ra­ma­nunni, was raised in Pon­nani, a vil­lage in Mal­abar, Ker­ala, and did his mas­ters in English from Mysore Univer­sity. Af­ter tak­ing vol­un­tary re­tire­ment from the State Bank of In­dia, he now works as the ad­min­is­tra­tor of Thun­chan Me­mo­rial Re­search Cen­tre in Tirur. His first novel, Sufi Paranja Katha, about the life of a Hindu girl who mar­ries a Mus­lim boy, won two pres­ti­gious awards — the Ker­ala Sahitya Akademi award and the Edassery award. And so, he finds the se­cu­rity he has had to ask for since the ed­i­to­rial, a bit cum­ber­some.

The first set of crit­i­cisms that came his way, hurt. Even to­day, he be­lieves, much of the ha­tred that comes his way is ei­ther from the “north” (be­cause Ker­ala has a tra­di­tion of mu­tual re­spect and love be­tween re­li­gions, he claims) or Hindu fun­da­men­tal­ists (try­ing to show Mus­lims in bad light). “Some let­ters come on post cards, so that ev­ery­one can read them. This one, how­ever, was closed.”

This, is the let­ter that had him com­plain to the po­lice, re­sult­ing in full-time pro­tec­tion. The writer, pre­fer­ring to stay anony­mous, says: “We have read your ar­ti­cle pub­lished in Mad­hya­mam daily ad­vis­ing both Hin­dus and Mus­lims. In that you are pre­tend­ing to be im­par­tial and try­ing to lock the two to­gether. Hindu re­li­gion wor­ships stones, cows, rats, ev­ery­thing. Is­lam wor­ships only the Almighty god and that’s the mes­sage given by Prophet Mo­hammed. You have tried on many oc­ca­sion to show that you are on the side of Mus­lim be­liefs. But we know that it is only pre­tense on your part which we are in­tel­li­gent enough to un­der­stand. Through those ar­ti­cles you are try­ing to pass on as be­ing friendly to Mus­lims. Read­ing be­tween the lines, one can un­der­stand that you are blam­ing Is­lam.”

The writer then abuses Ra­ma­nunni call­ing him a b ***** d, a worm, and threat­ens him with con­se­quences sim­i­lar to those of TJ Joseph, the pro­fes­sor whose right hand was cut off in 2010 af­ter he in­cluded a para­graph, that al­legedly in­sulted the Prophet in an exam he was giv­ing to BCom stu­dents of New­man Col­lege, Thodupuzha, where he taught Malay­alam. Ra­ma­nunni was told to con­vert to Is­lam within six months.

Now, ev­ery­where Ra­ma­nunni goes, the po­lice goes too. “I can’t even travel to Tri­van­drum with­out in­form­ing them in ad­vance. Be­cause, if I move cities, the lo­cal po­lice will come and pro­vide me pro­tec­tion, so they need no­tice. It’s bor­ing some­times. If I at­tend a pro­gramme, I have to tell them who is or­gan­is­ing it and work ac­cord­ing to the Spe­cial Branch’s method­ol­ogy.”

Down­ward spi­ral af­ter 2014

But, not all be­lieve that po­lice pro­tec­tion will help.

Mumbai jour­nal­ist Nikhil Wa­gle is no stranger to threats. He has been re­ceiv­ing them since be­fore cell phones ex­isted, when he’d get calls on his land­line in the late hours, call­ers threat­en­ing harm to his then in­fant son. To­day, he treats them as rou­tine.

The jour­nal­ist who has writ­ten against ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties — hav­ing even faced phys­i­cal at­tacks from Shiv Sena mem­bers — says though he has been of­fered po­lice pro­tec­tion, he has al­ways re­jected it. “They will not be able to save me,” he adds.

He says that a cop once told him a po­lit­i­cal party was eas­ier to deal with than the likes of the Sanatan Sanstha, the Goa-based Hin­dutva or­gan­i­sa­tion, which has been linked to the mur­ders of Kal­burgi, Pansare and Lankesh. “Sena is just a po­lit­i­cal or­gan­i­sa­tion, the Sanstha is a cult,” Wa­gle says the of­fi­cer told him.

A Septem­ber 2015 ar­ti­cle by scroll.in re­ported that the Sanstha has been on Wa­gle’s trail since he, as then edi­tor of the Marathi chan­nel IBN-Lok­mat, an­chored a pro­gramme on ra­tio­nal­ism and the need for an anti-su­per­sti­tion law. The Sanstha rep­re­sen­ta­tive had walked out of the dis­cus­sion.

The re­port says, “The next thing Wa­gle knew, his mo­bile num­ber was be­ing cir­cu­lated widely, he was re­ceiv­ing abu­sive calls, threat­ened with death, and the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s pub­li­ca­tion, Sanatan Prab­hat, had pub­lished ar­ti­cles de­nounc­ing him. His pho­to­graph was put up with a cross over it, just as the or­gan­i­sa­tion had done with pho­to­graphs of ra­tion­al­ist Dr Naren­dra Dab­holkar and ra­tion­al­ist-Left­ist Govind Pansare.”

Speak­ing to mid-day, Wa­gle says that while he has of­ten re­ceived flak from po­lit­i­cal par­ties and their sup­port­ers for his sto­ries, the abuse on­line has got out of hand since 2014. “The at­mos­phere is much more in­tol­er­ant now.”

Ac­tivists at a protest against the gov­ern­ment for not step­ping up in­ves­ti­ga­tion in the mur­der of ra­tion­al­ist Dr Naren­dra Dab­ho­lakar, at Azad Maidan, in 2013

PIC/AJEESH F RAWTHER

Ra­tion­al­ist KS Bhag­wan with a po­lice of­fi­cer. Bhag­wan, who has crit­i­cised the writ­ings of Adi Shankaracharya in his books, was pro­vided se­cu­rity by the Kar­nataka gov­ern­ment af­ter Kal­burgi was killed.

PICS/GETTY IMAGES

Theater per­son­al­ity Girish Kar­nad with so­cial ac­tivist Medha Patkar at a public rally by the Fo­rum Against the As­sas­si­na­tion of Gauri Lankesh at Cen­tral Col­lege Ground on Septem­ber 12 in Ban­ga­lore. Kar­nad is one of 21 in­tel­lec­tu­als in Kar­nataka who has been pro­vided se­cu­rity. Left: A protest in New Delhi af­ter Lankesh’s mur­der.

A Septem­ber 10 post on the Hu­mans of Hin­dutva page with this pic­ture reads: “And then I was all like ‘Don’t fall prey to so­cial me­dia pro­pa­ganda’ when ev­ery­one and their dog knows that we spread pro­pa­ganda on so­cial me­dia faster than a Chetan Bha­gat novel spreads il­lit­er­acy.” “Ha ha next time you should tell them that women should be re­spected and mi­nori­ties should have the same rights as Hin­dus.”

Malay­ali au­thor KP Ra­ma­nunni has faced threat af­ter a se­ries of ed­i­to­ri­als he wrote for the daily Mad­hya­mam, urg­ing Hin­dus and Mus­lims to drop hos­til­ity against each other

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