The Times of India – Intolerance on rise, defend the spirit of Constitution

New Delhi, 13 June 2017. Painting a bleak picture of “rising authoritarianism”, “intolerance” and “majoritarianism”, a group of retired bureaucrats has issued a direct appeal to public authorities and constitutional bodies to take corrective action to defend the spirit of the Constitution.

In an open letter, 65 former bureaucrats of central services said they decided to speak out in view of “a sense of deep disquiet at what has been happening in India” and had no political affiliation.

It is a litany of complaints that has agitated intellectuals and activists over a couple of years and dominated the political discourse during the Narendra Modi regime.

Among those who have signed the letter are super cop Julio Rebeiro, former Prasar Bharati CEO Jawahar Sircar, former secretary, planning commission NC Saxena, EAS Sarma, Harsh Mander, Aruna Roy among others.

The former officers, who have worked with central and state governments for decades, have lamented a “growing climate of religious intolerance that is aimed primarily at Muslims”, tracing it to the Prime Minister’s controversial remarks about “burial grounds and cremation grounds” (shamshan vs kabristan) and power supply during religious festivals of different communities, widely seen as a dog whistle to Hindutva storm-troopers during UP elections.

“In the run-up to the elections, an odious and frankly communal comparison was made…” the letter says, without referring to the PM.

Pointing to a conspiracy against Muslims, the letter points out that banning the slaughter-houses targets the livelihoods of minorities besides breeding communal violence.

Referring to the lynching of Akhlaq in Dadri, Pehlu Khan in Jaipur, attacks on nomadic shepherds in J&K, the petition points to the wider problem of “vigilantism” which also underlines the functioning of “anti-Romeo” squads.

“Gaurakshaks function with impunity and seem to be doing so with the tacit complicity or active encouragement of state machinery….(anti-Romeo squads) a thinly-veiled effort to prevent Hindu-Muslim relationship or marriage, there is no justification to harass these couples,” it says.

The former top bureaucrats said students and academics who talk about social justice and equality are being subjected to harassment by the administration, backed by a “supportive government”, as seen in Hyderabad and JNU campuses.

“Argumentation and discussion about different perspectives, the lifeblood not only of institutions of learning but of democracy itself, are being throttled,” the letter laments, adding, “Disagreement and dissent are considered seditious and anti-national. Such attitudes have a chilling impact on free speech and thought.”

The letter also accuses the government of using violations of FCRA and IT Act to target civil society organisations who have taken a critical stand against the State, while underlining the “ugly trend of trolling and online intimidation of activists, journalists and intellectuals”.

“In the face of rising authoritarianism and majoritarianism, which do not allow for reasoned debate and dissent, we appeal to all public authorities, public institutions and constitutional bodies to take heed of these disturbing trends and take corrective action. We have to reclaim and defend the spirit of the Constitution of India,” it says.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/intolerance-on-rise-defend-the-spirit-of-constitution/articleshow/59116622.cms

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