NEW DELHI (TIP): More than 50 historians from across India, including eminent names like Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, B D Chattopadhyaya, Upinder Singh, M G S Narayanan and D N Jha, have issued a statement expressing concern about the “highly vitiated atmosphere prevailing in the country, characterized by various forms of intolerance”.
They have urged the State to “ensure an atmosphere that is conducive to free and fearless expression, security for all sections of society and safeguarding of the values and traditions of plurality that India had always cherished in the past”.
“Differences of opinion are being sought to be settled by using physical violence. Arguments are met not with counter arguments but with bullets. When a poor man is suspected to have kept a food item that certain sections do not approve of, his fate is nothing short of death by lynching,” the historians said.
The statement follows others released by well-known scientists and several instances of writers returning their awards to the Sahitya Akademi and lately film personalities announcing that they will turn in their national awards.
The historians pointed to the attack on Sudheendra Kulkarni and said, “At the launch of a book whose author happens to be from a country disapproved of by certain groups, the organizer is disfigured with ink thrown on his face. And when it is hoped that the head of government will make a statement about improving the prevailing conditions, he chooses to speak only about general poverty; and it takes the head of the state to make the required reassuring statement, not once but twice.”
The statement also talked about writers returning awards and the government’s silence. “No comment is made about the conditions that caused the protest, instead the ministers call it a paper revolution and advise the writers to stop writing. This is as good as saying that intellectuals will be silenced if they protest,” they said.
The historians said the trend was worrying as many of them had “already experienced attempts to ban our books and expunge statements of history despite the fact that they are supported by sources and the interpretation is transparent”. They said the present government wants “a kind of legislated history, a manufactured image of the past, glorifying certain aspects of it and denigrating others, without any regard for chronology, sources or methods of enquiry that are the building blocks of the edifice of history”.
Signatories included Y Subbarayalu, K M Shrimali, A R Venkatachalapathy, Rajan Gurukkal, Nayanjot Lahiri, Mridula Mukherjee and others.
Responding to finance minister Arun Jaitley’s attack on him, eminent scientist and founder of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology P M Bhargava told TOI that since the situation had “completely gone out of control today” and
“limits had been crossed”. Asked if he expected the Prime Minister to take note of the protests, he said, “It’s up to him to react, though it is unlikely that he will.”