Religious Illiberalism: Why Blame the State for It All?
By Akshaya Mishra
Feb 6, 2013
Different geographies, different people, different cultures, different governments and one common theme: the diminishing relevance of the state. As cultural India remains hostage to the whims of communal hotheads, both Hindu and Muslim, with indistinct yet certain political links the state is often accused of being the silent collaborator. The common grouse: It is not strong enough to stare back at the goons. It has enormous muscle but it is averse to using it when necessary. At a superficial level, it is true.
But there could be another way of looking at the reality: the state is not the collaborator, but the victim. Over the last few years the idea of the state – identified roughly with the government and its machinery – has been under tremendous attack from all quarters. The media, the civil society, the judiciary, the intellectuals, the man on the street and even the political parties who are part of the establishment are chipping away at the authority of the state. There’s a whole new generation out there convinced that the state is evil, not even necessary evil. In the online universe the state does not exist at all.
It is far more easy to attack the government – any government – than the groups running loose with their self-serving agenda these days. Because every single entity that has the manpower support on the ground or the ability to make noise is more powerful than the instruments of the state. Sometimes the entities collaborate – the civil society and the media; and intellectuals with communal leanings and the hard-line fringe groups, for instance – to pose a formidable challenge to the state. The judiciary is proving to be a sturdy adversary of the governments at all levels by entertaining PILs of all kinds and taking an ideological position on policy issues.
The purpose of this article is not to maintain that everything is hunky-dory with the state and its authority should be beyond question. It is the inefficiency of the state which has created a situation like this in the first place. However, the real question that faces the country is how far we can weaken the state. A weak state works to the detriment of everyone, particularly the freedom-loving intellectuals.
Now let’s take a look at some recent developments:
In Bangalore, an art academy is forced to remove nude paintings from their exhibit after protests by a communal group.
In Delhi, an art exhibition at the Delhi Art Gallery shuts temporarily after protest from Durga Vahini, the women’s wing of the VHP.
In Tamil Nadu, little-known Muslim organisations find parts of Kamal Hassan’s movie Vishwaroopam offensive and manage to stall its release for over a week.
The all-girl rock brand in J&K stops singing after opposition from local religious leaders.
In parts of Karnataka, outfits like the Hindu Jagran Vedike and Sri Ram Sene have been busy conducting moral policing while the state looks on.
Public censorship of art and culture is in full swing across the country. Freedom of expression is under attack from religious fringe groups. Illiberal, undemocratic and intolerant forces have become more visible than ever before. The running theme in all these is the weakness of the respective state governments in taking firm action. But why blame the state when we have tried so hard to diminish its powers – though the media, through civil society and at every possible level?
When there’s police action on people, there’s an outrage, when the police don’t take action there’s outrage. When the government passes an ordinance to make into law anti-rape recommendations, there’s outrage, when it holds it for discussion in Parliament, it is accused of resorting to the delaying tactic. When there’s tough action against the religious vandals, the issue invariably veers from the original issue of hooliganism into a larger political debate. The governments in question stand accused by intellectuals of playing the communal card. If it acts against tough against the Naxals, the judiciary steps in. Do the governments really have a way out?
Everyone out there is playing a dangerous game. It could be a self-defeating exercise in the long run. Intellectuals have to take a position because they cannot fight the Hindutva or Muslim trouble-mongers on their own. They will need a strong state for their own good.