There is great fear among intellectuals after the BJP came to power, says the political scientist, against whom the police has filed an FIR for a newspaper article he wrote.
Kancha Ilaiah: 'Neither the Sangh Parivar nor the Telangana government can arrest my pen'

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Renowned social scientist Kancha Ilaiah speaks to about why the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Hyderabad police are harassing him, and about his disappointment with left-liberal scholars for not supporting him in his battle for free expression.

Why did the VHP file a complaint against you, on the basis of which the Hyderabad police registered an FIR? The police have now served a notice on you. Is it aimed at harassing you?
They were angered because of the newspaper article I wrote titled ‘Is God a democrat’? In it, I compared Hindu gods, particularly Vaishnava gods, with Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad. They say their gods are gods and I have compared them with human beings, and that I have compared Hinduism with foreign religions, namely, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. That’s the nub of their complaint.

Now, Buddha is considered god by the eastern world. Jesus is considered god and prophet of the Christian world. Prophet Muhammad is considered to be the messenger of god, but for many he is a divine force. They [the VHP] think their own mythological gods are gods, but not the prophets whom the world worships. I think they are wrong, spiritually wrong.

What does the notice that the police have served on you say?
The notice says that there is a case against me under Section 153 (a) and Section 295 (a) of the Indian Penal Code [which empower the authorities to act against people who commit deliberate and malicious acts aiming at outraging religious sentiment and spreading enmity between groups], that whenever required, I should cooperate with and assist the police and the court. I am a law-abiding citizen, and if there is such a need, I will certainly do what is asked of me.

Is it just the VHP that is harassing you or do you think the police is tacitly encouraging its leaders?
The VHP wants to harass me so that I don’t write what I have been writing till now. But there is more to it. This case is in the state of Telangana. The FIR says that the article has been written to trigger a fight between lower and upper castes.  But there is no reference to caste in the article. It only talks about religions and divine forces.

If the article is deemed to be triggering clashes between two classes of people, then I must point out that similar complaints and cases were filed against Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, who was accused of creating a conflict between the Andhra and Telangana people during the agitation for a separate state. Such complaints were also filed against some of his ministers. Did the police serve on them the notice it has on me? The police are bound by the procedure of law.

What I wrote was published in a Telugu daily. It is there in black and white. Similarly, the chief minister and his colleagues made public statements. There are video recordings of it. Why haven’t the police served notice on them? Obviously, the Telangana government thinks I should be fixed.

But why would the Telangana government want to fix you?
I wrote several articles saying that the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh would harm the Telangana region itself. My main argument was that a state was being created without a sea coast. It is a dry region and therefore its economy wouldn’t be sustainable. I also wrote saying the Naxalites came here, and flourished, because the region is dominated by a feudal system.

The KCR [the chief minister’s] family comes from an Uttara Telangana feudal background. They, therefore, think I should not write articles [critical of the feudal system.] I think it is the grudge KCR bears against me.

Do you think your writings can be provocative?
I am a social scientist by training and an academician by profession. I have to raise questions that are important for our times. Just because the VHP and the Telangana government don’t want me to write, I am not going to keep quiet. Neither the BJP at the centre, the RSS-VHP, nor the Telangana government can arrest my pen. I believe in raising questions and building indigenous social science knowledge.

But the Sangh accuses Indian social scientists of not creating indigenous knowledge, of being influenced by western thinkers, particularly those who subscribe to Marxism.
Let them look at my writings. In my first book, Why I am not a Hindu, which is now considered a classic, there isn’t a single reference to any western scholar. That book is entirely based on the knowledge of tribals, Dalits, backward classes, and the women of India. As far as I know, from the time the Hindu Mahasabha was formed, to the earlier writings of Hindutva personalities like Savarkar and Golwalkar, to even now,  there is no thinker in the RSS school of thought who has written about the philosophy, psychology, life and relations of productive masses of India. I have done that.

In another of my book, Post-Hindu India, I have looked at the contribution of tribals to our food culture, of Dalits to our leather technology, of OBCs to our engineering technology, and of shepherds to our milk and meat economy.

Are you saying the Sangh wants to control the production of knowledge, that is, to determine the type of knowledge scholars create?
The Sangh wants people to have only the knowledge of worshipping idols, rituals and the Hindu scriptures, such as the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. This is the reason the BJP government appointed Y Sudershan Rao as chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research. I know Rao from his Kakatiya University days.

Rao has done research only on the dates of the Ramayana. Now, that is not history. The history of people’s food culture, their creativity, their architecture, the relationships between communities, that history is more important than the Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Vedas.

Do you think Rao as historian isn’t really up there in the top bracket?
He was a professor of history who produced no knowledge about the history of people. He has done some work around the Ramayana.

My point in writing an article comparing spiritual figures was to show how political ideology and philosophy emerged. The theory of democracy is based on comparison. But the VHP says I shouldn’t compare Hinduism with Islam or Buddhism, that I shouldn’t compare Hindu Gods with Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad.

But democracy as a system came in comparison with monarchy, in comparison with dictatorships and oligarchies. Political science is methodologically a science of comparison. If the Sangh Parivar is interested in building social science knowledge, it should contest me in writing, not file cases against me and think of sending me to jail. Let them know, even if I go to jail, I will keep writing. Gandhi, too, wrote from jail. So why can’t I then?

Are you suggesting the Sangh Parivar is opposed to social sciences?
There is something deeper here. I am the only person who has been writing on food rights. If you go to the debate on beef, the most democratic of social scientists hasn’t written in defence of beef food.

For example, I have a lot of respect for Romila Thapar. She wrote this famous article [titled] ‘To question or not to question’ [in the Economic and Political Weekly, basically saying that after the BJP’s rise to power, no one is questioning it at all.

But here I am, a person who comes from the margins of society, from a marginal university, who is questioning the Sangh-BJP’s ethical values and its social science standards. Why aren’t academicians coming to my defence? After all, social science doesn’t just live in Delhi, Oxford, Cambridge or Harvard. It lives among the people of India who produce; it lives in the civilisation of this country.

So you feel left-liberal academicians haven’t been forthcoming in their support of you as they should have?
So far they haven’t said anything, even though wrote a piece on my case. Other websites too carried the Scroll piece. But they haven’t come out opposing the VHP’s tactics of filing a complaint against me.

Why would that be the case, given that left-liberal social scientists too are facing enormous heat from the Sangh Parivar?
As Romila Thapar put it, fear has crept into social scientists after the BJP came to power. If the Left and Dalit-Bahujan Samaj forces are reeling under the fear the Sangh is generating, I think what Thapar has said will become a reality.

There is already some sort of fear psychosis. Tamil writer Perumal Murugan, not wanting to face the Sangh forces, tweeted that he was withdrawing from writing. Then Penguin withdrew the book of Wendy Doniger. That should not be the course we should take today. We should face them head on.

The problem is, I am known as a buffalo nationalist scholar. Now the cow nationalist…

Why are you called a buffalo nationalist?
I wrote a book on buffalo nationalism, in which I said the buffalo is the original milk-producing animal, that it is indigenous to the country, that on its milk much of the nation survives. On the other hand, the cow came with the Aryans. While the buffalo feeds the nation with milk, it is being killed in Maharashtra and Gujarat for food – the two states that have banned cow slaughter. In other words, the Sangh wants to protect the cow because of its association with the Aryans.

You were talking of being a buffalo nationalist…
If all my friends in the academic world think they shouldn’t go to the rescue of the buffalo nationalist scholar, they would be committing a historical blunder. They ask the question: should democracy be debated around gods? They think democracy should be debated around capitalism, globalisation, liberalisation, but not about Hindu or Muslim or Christian or Buddhist texts, all of which are also in India. I think Indian democracy is not really stifled by capitalism or globalisation as much as it is by Hindutva forces.

Do you sense there is fear in the academia?
There is enormous fear. It is there in Delhi’s higher educational institutions. They are all scared of being dubbed anti-Hindu. Recently, all newspapers carried a story quoting an RSS organ describing protesters at FTII and IIT, and the IIM director as anti-Hindu.

Since [some] communist friends come from the upper caste, they don’t want to be dubbed as anti-Hindu.  It creates a fear psychosis among them. It also creates a tremendous fear psychosis among Christian and Muslim intellectuals. The atmosphere in the academia is far more vitiated than it was during the Emergency.

Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist from Delhi. His novel, The Hour Before Dawn,published by HarperCollins, is available in bookstores.