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Sunday Section

New Delhi, 17 September 2018

Attack on Swami Agnivesh


                                                                     By Proloy Bagchi


 “My ideal of social justice runs counter to the casteism of Sangh Parivar,” wrote Swami Agnivesh in the daily Indian Express about the attack on him by BJP workers and the reasons for the same. He was going to the BJP Party office to pay homage to the late former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee last month when he was accosted by the roughnecks of the Party and assaulted by them who tore his clothes and brought him down on the road. Although Agnivesh escaped with minor injuries, the matter was reported to the police and a few of the miscreants were arrested.


These party workers apparently called him a fake swami and alleged he was defaming the Hindu religion. They had numerous issues against him that prompted them to assault him. It is ironical that Agnivesh was assaulted when he was on his way to pay homage to late Vajpayee ji even as the entire political class, including that of the BJP, of the country was acclaiming him as one of the finest liberal prime ministers and only the second “statesman” that India produced after Jawaharlal Nehru.


Swami Agnivesh is a follower of Arya Samaj, a well-known Hindu reformation movement started by Swami Dayanand Saraswati in the 19th Century. The movement promotes Vedic Hinduism and is against Hindu superstitions and worship of images. It even shuns pilgrimages and condemns, for example, worship of the ice lingam at the Amarnath cave in Kashmir.


Agnivesh had once done just that i.e. he condemned the Hindu pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave to worship the ice lingam as a representation of Lord Shiva as he said it was just a stalagmite and had nothing divine about it. Hindus were enraged by such disparaging criticism of Hindu beliefs. Amarnath is reckoned as the holiest shrine of Hinduism and finds mention in the holy Hindu ancient texts. Their belief is that it is here Lord Shiva had, inter alia, explained the secrets of life and eternity to his “divine consort Parvati”. The rabid Hindu groups were enraged by Agnivesh’s iconoclastic talks.


It seems the ruling establishment and its various subaltern outfits cannot stand any criticism of their religious orientation. They cannot even stand thoughts that are rational – based on science and reason. There have been numerous instances where rationalistic proponents of analytical and logical thoughts have simply been eliminated. There are organisations subscribing to conservative Hindu thoughts which train people to kill rationalists. That they have lately been nabbed and are facing music at the hands of the police investigators is another matter.


Nevertheless, recently a picture appeared in the Facebook of a minister in a State government, who very brazenly said rationalists should be shot dead. Such is the unmixed hatred among rabid Hindus and their shadowy and sinister organisations for rationalists. In point of fact they are no better than what is termed as the Talibans of Pakistan.


The silence on such incidents of the ruling establishment, especially of its higher echelons, gives stimulation to the perception that such acts are condoned by it. Some even think that these acts are fostered by it. That is precisely why the ruling party and their various outfits are accused of intolerance of contrarian opinions, especially insofar as Hindu religion is concerned. In pursuance of this thriving intolerance at least four persons acclaimed as brilliant rationalists have been eliminated. The only consolation is that the murders are being investigated and the criminals are being identified and arrested wherever possible.


While in respect of their cases the law will take its own course, it is a pity that there has been no reprimand issued by the higher functionaries of the ruling party to the organisations members of which harbour such violent hatred for people – the rationalistic Hindus – holding opinions based on reason and logic.


Such violent incidents have given rise to fear in the society. People have become careful, guarded and refrain from giving honest expression to their thoughts, Physical assaults or even elimination from a bullet from the barrel of a gun tends to make one feel diffident in expressing one’s opinion.


Even as I write this, I too have that lurking fear that whatever I write could be misconstrued and I might even be assaulted or killed. It is, therefore no wonder that after the ‘age of intolerance’ we have quickly progressed into a “Republic of fear”, as Pratap Bhanu Mehta, an intellectual and currently Vice Chancellor of Ashoka University has put it.


I am not inclined to go into the details of Mehta’s thesis as it has been provoked by Modi’s failure to speak in his Independence Day speech about the violent orientation of the Hindu extreme Right-wingers. But, there indeed is a genuine fear among the thinking public, the free-thinkers, about speaking out and ventilating their views that might not match up with those of the extreme Hindu Right.


The arrest in a country-wide swoop of as many as five intellectuals who also are human rights activists has caused further consternation among people. Even the Supreme Court found the action of the police extraordinary and ordered only house arrests for them. Each one of them is an intellectual and most intellectuals generally appear as Left-leaning though not every intellectual is a Left activist.


Some may sympathise with the marginalised Left and even render intellectual assistance to them but they seldom work against the State. Perhaps, for some act of this nature, the five individuals were nabbed in country-wide raids and put in remand for alleged offences for which the courts failed to find evidence. Even the apex Court extended their house arrest and warned the government against “muzzling dissent”. The five activists have now acquired the sobriquet of “Urban Naxals”.


Recall, Vajpayee ji stood for observance of “Raj Dharm”, which surely includes tolerance of opposing views. If Agnivesh has beliefs that are contrarian to general Hindu beliefs and attitudes it certainly does not mean that his voice should be muzzled by inflicting bodily harm to him. He has the freedom to have his own views and practice them just as the perpetrators of the crime have freedom to have their own.


Nothing, therefore, could be more condemnable when a devotee of Vajpayee ji is roughed up to pay his last respects to the latter. There was nothing moral or ethical or spiritual about the treatment meted out to the Swami. The BJP workers did not in any way serve the interests of their own party and their government. In point of fact, they only gave expression to their ‘fascist’ tendencies bringing their party and government in disrepute. ---INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

New Delhi

13 September 2018


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