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In Defence Of Liberalism

Shatam Ray

Sahmat, Delhi, 2016, pp. 152, Rs. 150.00

By Dabholkar , Pansare and Kalburgi
Sahmat, Delhi, 2015, pp. 120, Rs. 120.00

VOLUME XL NUMBER 8 August 2016

Political writing is dangerous in proportion to the ignorance and fanaticism of hearers and readers, and it is more than likely that, if sedition continues to avowed [sic] with impunity by a few, it will become the leading idea of many. It is very easy to attribute these words to any leading light of the present government. However, these words that betray so much anxiety with so much candour belong to a nineteenth century colonial official. Writing in 1875, M. Kempson, Director, Public Instruction was building a government consensus towards a greater clampdown on political literature in public circulation which was to eventually culminate in the Vernacular Press Act, 1878. In the case of draconian colonial laws, we often have the luxury of hindsight on our side. But contemporary governments and their pallbearers often speak in forked tongues and are seldom so candid about their intentions. It is then left to us to look for our sources elsewhere. In the immediate aftermath of the lifting of the Internal Emergency in India (in 1977), the market was inundated with ‘quickies’. As the name suggests, quickies were hastily written and published memoirs of Emergency days (mostly by journalists), recounting the excesses committed in that extraordinary period of post-Independent India. These quickies played an important role in popularizing the quotidian experiences under the then Congress government as well as articulated a collective sense of the time. The clampdowns on civil liberties and a tight control on existing modes of communication/ transmission, provides a backdrop to why these books were able to create a certain consensus against the ruling dispensation. It is noteworthy that then, as now, a vague rhetoric of ‘acche din’ or order and peace was deployed to justify the growing restrictions on everyday freedoms in the country. SAHMAT’s twin publications In Dark Times: Voices Against Intolerance and The Republic of Reason: Words They Could Not Kill comes out in a similar backdrop of growing restrictions on freedom to articulate dissent and differences albeit the differences between the two times is also crucial to note. The prevailing sense of intolerance is not officially state-mandated (characterized most notably then, by the suspension of all civil liberties) but instead marked by resort to both ministerial and extraconstitutional attacks on individuals and institutions that seem to puncture the present government’s narrative on the nation and its components. In most cases, the chief protagonists of this unsaid ...

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