HIMMAT is starting off as a blog by Rajmohan Gandhi who has written on the Indian independence movement and its leaders, South Asian history, India-Pakistan relations, human rights and conflict resolution. His latest book is Modern South India: A History from the Seventeenth Century to the Present (New Delhi: Aleph, forthcoming).

A very different India

The 42-year-old Chennai-based maestro, T M Krishna, was scheduled to sing at a festival in New Delhi’s Nehru Park on 17 & 18 November but on Wednesday the 14th– on Nehru’s birthday --, the event was abruptly cancelled following trolls attacking Krishna as ‘anti-India’, ‘an urban Naxal’ and ‘a converted bigot’ who ‘sings about Jesus and Allah’. (Indian Express, 15 Nov.)

Famed dancers Sonal Mansingh (recently named to the Rajya Sabha) and Priyadarsini Govind as also the distinguished sitar player, Shahid Parvez Khan, were to perform along with Krishna at the scratched weekend event, which was planned jointly by a government-of-India body, the Airports Authority of India, and SPIC-MACAY, the society promoting India’s classical music.

Born into an eminent South Indian Brahmin family, Krishna’s extraordinary gifts and voice have rocketed him to fame but his defence of equal rights for all castes and religious communities has incurred the displeasure of Hindu radicals who wield a clout in today’s India that appears in some ways to exceed the influence of Muslim extremists in today’s Pakistan.

The outstanding historian, Ramachandra Guha, himself a recent victim of bigotry (he was forced out of an appointment to teach Gandhi at the prestigious and private Ahmedabad University), has aptly called the cancellation of Krishna’s Delhi event ‘barbaric’.

In approximate numbers, India holds 180 million Muslims, 30 million Christians, 30 million Sikhs, significant numbers of Buddhists, Jains, Zoroastrians, Jews and atheists, as also scores of millions adhering to local faiths. Moreover, its 80 percent Hindu population worships a range of different deities.

Imposing homogeneity in religion is a pipe-dream in India. Freedom of religion and freedom of expression are not merely constitutional requirements in the land. They are practical necessities.

For the time being, however, a government that talks big and controls immense resources, including police forces, is a mute and helpless spectator as groups of bigots dictate what musicians may sing in India’s capital and what professors may teach in what once was Gandhi’s Ahmedabad.

The India where these coercions and silences are being enacted is very different from the land that seemed to promise much to the world for seven decades following independence.

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