Teesta Setalvad’s Speech at Pratirodh, Protest of Writers at the Mavlankar Hall, Constitution Club, New Delhi

November 1 2015

We are at an interesting point, cross roads of a sort.

Teesta Setalvad

Protests against the over-arching sanction to hoolaganism and violence, against the violent targeting of already targeted and vulnerable sections of Indians, against the fundamental and Constitutional Right to critique and offend, are not just being reviled but curtailed. That these protests have come from a vast body of Indians, from different disciplines as different as science, literature, history and cinema, that these protests in fact signifiy a re-assertion of the right to a multi-faceted dimension of culture, language and belief. This is what makes them significant. That this represents a Cultural Protest, a Scientists Protests, an Intellectuals Protest which is Diverse and Varied and Heterogeneous makes them even more difficult to undermine.

As crucial as celebrating these protests and in the hope and belief that they morph into a manifest struggle against Fascists who hold positions of power today; congratulating each Individual and Collective effort that has made this possible I would only add..

Individual liberty, including the right to offend is a crucial and inalienable value of a free society and a democratic one. However when that liberty gets consistently abused –as for example to systematically demean a section of our own, be it Muslims, Christians, Dalit, Women, or just the Poor then such so called “Free Speech” needs to be publicly challenged an curtailed through collective protest against such abuse of freedom. This then is not free speech but Hate Speech.

When those if positions of power and governance, be it members of Parliament, Judges, Policemen or Teachers thus abuse free speech, regularly creating a climate of intimidation and threat by the use of hate speech that violates the law, such a challenge becomes even protest becomes imperative.

When the media remains a dull spectator, not interrogatng the transgressio of this freedom into incitement to violence, the time is even more ripe for such a protest.

So coming as it has, this September and October (2015) and knowing that this is but the only the beginning I would like to humbly suggest that these protests are about but not just about

The lunching at Dadri and the Burning at Sumpeda village

But also of Chimma’s axeing as he tried to enter a temple in Hamirpur near Kanpur

But as much as these horrific shameful incidents enabled by the ever prevalent atmosphere of intimidation and threat, felicitated by hate speech,  it is about MPs, and Ministers, even the prime minister abusing positions of Constitutional power, positions they enjoy only by the authority and the writ of the Indian Constitution.

For example when they say:

That Hindu men should rape Muslim women, even dead ones. And such a man is thrice elected MP of the ruling party and remains so, unchallenged by the rule of law, even today

Or when the selective denigration of sections of our population, Muslims and Christians (just as we see in the newspapers today) takes place by a body, unconstitutional in ideological foundation and belief, the Rahstriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). It is shameful and shocking that such a body, un-Constitutional in function and belief dares to denigrate and criticize the constitutional authority of Vice President, at least thrice since the beginning of the year. It needs to be remembered that each time the RSS has been close to the centre of power, this tendency to browbeat, intimidate, threaten, close the space of intellectual freedom has shown up. In 1977 as former prime minister Moraji Desai visited the Gandhi Smruti with then housing minister Sikandar Bakht, and the Guide at the memorial where Gandhi was shot narrated the antecedents of Nathuram Godse saying that he belonged to the RSS, hoodlums of the ABVP beat up Damodaran Nair for narrating a slice of history. Then in 2000-2001 the home of historian DN Jha was vandalized because he dared t tell the truth about meat/beef eating in early times, including the Vedic period. Threat, intimidation and violence is their way.

The list is endless.

Dr Narayan Dhabolkar, Comrade Govind Pansare, Professor Kalgurgi martyrs in the cause of a rational and free thinking society. Comrade Pansare’s work, Shivaji Kaun Hota, written three decades ago, and translated into Gujarati, Urdu, Hindi and English provided a mass level consciousness against the communalization of Shivaji, a ruler of Maharashtra. Today when some accused are arrested, they are clearly threatening senior writer/editor Nikhil Wagle and film maker Anand Patwardhan. Let us remember that even as we meet the threat from this politics of hate and unreason is a live one to those inside and outside this hall. Let us stand in solidarity with all including the young Tamil writer accused of sedition,

The dignified and significant protest that has colasced today is an expression of revulsion against this 18 –month’s of systemic hate-letting, from the top, let loose by this Regime.

It is time to call for a stop to this hate and blood letting. Now

Teesta Setalvad, writer, journalist, activist and educationist

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