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Vikram Seth- ‘No leader should demean Indians on food, gods or love’

Vikram Seth is one of the world’s finest writers and poets. Recently bestowed a Lifetime Achievement Award at Mumbai‘s TOI Litfest, Seth spoke with Sugandha Indulkar about the intolerance debate, the long wait over India decriminalising homosexuality, revoking `The Satanic Verses‘ ban ­ and writing `A Suitable Girl‘:

Is India today as tolerant as it was before? What is your reaction to this much-discussed wave of intolerance in India?

For all our basic tolerance, there have always been intolerant people in India ­ but repeated inflammatory remarks from legislators, office-bearers, ministers and even governors of a ruling party are something quite new.

So is the sick phenomenon of internet trolling, often organised and sometimes expressed in the most disgusting and aggressive terms, of anyone who disagrees with any aspect of present polity . Let us hope these trends are curbed, and not merely for tactical purposes.They lead to a sense of antagonism and insecurity within the country and do no good to the image of the country , either in our own or in others’ eyes.

Is the government being undemocratic with regard to beef bans?

Plenty of people in India eat beef. Draconian legal punishments and incited mob action against those who do (or are even suspected of so doing) are cruel and bizarre.

One should not treat human beings as lesser animals than animals.

Should BJP now revoke the ban on Salman Rushdie‘s novel `The Satanic Verses’?

Congress should never have slapped the ban on in the first place. It was an unjustified constraint on freedom of thought and expression.

If you don’t want to read a book or see a film, turn your eyes away . Boycott it if you like ­ but don’t prevent others from reading or seeing it.

And don’t give in to religious bigots of any persuasion ­ it only encourages them.

What about the lack of decision on legalising homosexuality in India?

On the legislative front, Congress could have changed the law when in power ­ but didn’t. BJP so far has done nothing either ­ but it is interesting that both Mr Chidambaram and Mr Jaitley recognise the inhumanity and absurdity of this law and have spoken against it.

On the judicial front, things are stalled, one hopes only temporarily . In 2009, two judges of the Delhi high court made a reasoned and humane judgment that decriminalised homosexuality on the basis of sound constitutional principles.

But in 2013, two judges of the Supreme Court struck this down in another judgment ­ which was universally condemned in both legal and general circles.

The Supreme Court then agreed to hear (in open court and before five judges) a so-called curative petition that could reverse this two-judge decision. But this hearing has been stalled for a year and a half.

I do not see the point of promising justice ­ or at least a proper and open hearing in the interests of justice ­ and then doing nothing for years while tens of millions of ordinary citizens remain in the status of unapprehended felons.

How would you define `Indianness’ today?

I wouldn’t presume to! I hope that if others do, their definitions will be welcoming and inclusive, not parochial and exclusionary ­ especially if the people doing the defining are our political, social or religious leaders.

Here, however, is something i can state quite flatly ­ any Indian who demeans another Indian on the basis of the food he eats, the god he prays to or the person he loves is not worthy to be an Indian leader.

Where has the Indian polity gone wrong, both with Congress and BJP?What could be probable solutions to correct the situation?

If i addressed this question in your columns, i’d have no time to write my novel!

Can India still live upto its image of being the world’s `spiritual’ capital?

Possibly. But there’s no point in making high spiritual claims while maligning or mistreating your neighbour.

A far more important thing to teach the world would be how to live in compa rative peace in a crowded country ­ an art based on sympathy and practicality that i hope we will never forget.

Do you think Indian youth has the potential to take the country ahead in terms of our national image?


Can you evaluate India’s education system?

Seriously , this is far too complex a question for a pat answer. I really should get back to writing my book, part of which, as it happens, deals with education.

So many years after your book ` A Suitable Boy‘, you are writing a `jump sequel’, as you call it. Why? And will readers be able to manage the jump between the two stories?

I’m not sure why the long gap in time ­ except that i wasn’t inspired to write a sequel and there’s no point in writing something simply because there’s a demand for it.

I have no idea at all what readers will make A Suitable Girl’. But of ` then, i didn’t when i wrote ` A Suitable Boy’ either, so many years ago.

 ‘No leader should demean Indians on food, gods or love’

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