Interview: Rahman Abbas

‘Collective protest of Indian writers has made history’

Print edition : November 27, 2015

Rahman Abbas Photo: Rahman Abbas

“It is our duty to raise our voice against fascism and the right-wing intolerant forces’ lawlessness, which are being promoted as a strategy to divide the country on religious lines,” declared the Urdu writer Rahman Abbas, who recently returned the award conferred on him by the Maharashtra Urdu Sahitya Akademi, as a mark of protest against the Dadri incident. Abbas, who was in Chennai to take part in a protest meeting, discussed various issues relating to the climate of intolerance in an interview to the Tamil writer D. Ravikumar. Excerpts:

Why did you take this decision now?

The hate politics and the use of religion for vote-bank politics had suffocated all of us. On the other hand, the killing of social activists and writers had already left me saddened. The murder of Akhlaq on the basis of a rumour that he had consumed beef was a direct attack on our democracy and was unbearable for me, as I am a firm believer in a multicultural liberal democracy. This murder was committed by goons affiliated with political parties, and senior writers had started returning their awards in protest. In this scenario it was difficult for me to be silent.

What are the qualitative differences between the previous regimes and the present one?

Not many, but yes, this government, which came to power in the name of development, is seemingly paying more attention to the agenda of right-wing elements, who have increased their hate speeches, and tribal people, Dalits, Christians and Muslims have begun to feel insecure. The core secular and liberal values and institutions of our country are being systematically saffronised.

Returning awards and resigning from posts are symbolic forms of protest. Will this symbolism work in a fascist atmosphere?

I was the fourth or fifth person to return an award. At that time I hadn’t expected our symbolic protest to make any difference. But I am happy that it has worked positively. The Centre has been given a concrete message that the citizens of this country are against intolerance and hate culture. Moreover, we want peace and an inclusive democracy where all religions, castes and faiths are respected along with their ideological and cultural differences. The collective protest of Indian writers has made history by raising a demand during this difficult time of fascism.

The Hindutva onslaught is aggressive and explicit. What other forms of protest are available to us?

Every form of protest which is democratic and permitted by our Constitution is available whenever we need it to express our concern to protect democracy from the onslaught of Hindutva, which is in fact a threat to Hindu faith and culture.

Is there any precedent for this in countries with authoritative regimes?

It is difficult to say as I am not a historian, but I think in Middle Eastern [West Asian] countries and in Latin America, writers have time and again exposed fascism. Having said that, it seems to me that this is the first time in recent history that so many writers from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds have taken a position against a regime. I daresay other countries will follow this in the future.

There seems to be a big gap between the struggles of the intellectuals and those of the common people. How do we synchronise them?

The intellectuals have multiple roles, but some can only take part in a symbolic movement, whereas others can join public platforms and stages to create more awareness about the rights of people and the value of freedom of expression and democracy. I personally believe that a writer should play the role of an activist in the interest of his/her country, but I do also respect those writers who think differently. The gap will reduce when different media and people from different walks of life take part in raising their voices to protect freedom of expression and dissent.

Most secularists see the religious intolerance of the rightists as a sign of fascism. How do you situate the question of caste in fascist design?

Fascist regimes will try to disfigure caste identities to erase them from history as fascists are against everyone except those who fall in their category.

The Dadri lynching incident shattered hopes and instigated an intellectual backlash. Why does Dalit lynching fail to have a similar impact on our conscience?

The Dadri lynching is in fact like a Dalit lynching. Similarly, the murder at Dadri was as disheartening and unbearable as the murder of Prof. Kalburgi.

The trend of writers returning awards was initially started by Uday Prakash, in reaction to the Sahitya Akademi’s silence over the murder of Prof. Kalburgi, and later this protest turned into a movement against all forms of intolerance. Dalit lynching or humiliation of Dalits must affect our conscience as it is human lynching and humiliation of fellow humans. There should be no scope in our society to condone it. Let us unite against it.

What is the relevance of Ambedkar in the age of Hindutva?

It is not only relevant, it is a counter against the philosophy of hate and dividing and lynching of people.