NEW DELHI: Even as the right wing Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha performed a “buddhi shuddhi” yagya for “divine powers to restore some sense” to the writers who have returned the Sahitya Akademi awards,women and academic organisations “Black, South Asian and Minority” along with at least 70 sociologists have joined the protest against intolerance showcased by the central government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

A glimpse of the intolerance was again visible in the so called yagya where the Hidu Mahasabha accused the writers of being traitors. Over 40 winners of the Sahitya Akademi award have so far returned their awards, in protest against the murders of rationalist Narendra Dabolkar in Maharashtra, Kannada writer MM Kalburgi, and the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri by a mob acting on rumours that he had eaten and stored beef.

Women and academics representing the Black, South Asian and Minority organisations have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi questioning the government’s relationship with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The sociologists have questioned the government’s complicity in creating the current environment of intolerance, and reminded it of the pluralism of India reflected in the right of choice. The intellectuals are pouring out to defend the diversity of India even as the right wing organisations, including Ministers in government, are writing posts attacking the writers who set the ball of protest rolling by returning the Akademi awards.

The statement by the 70 sociologists reads as follows:

We, as sociologists and concerned citizens, feel extremely concerned about the lynching at Dadri, and the murders of scholars and thinkers like MM Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and others, and wish to register our strong protest.

We are not just shocked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s late response, but also by the implications of the victim-blaming statement he made. To say that ‘Hindus and Muslims should not fight each other but should fight poverty instead’ puts the onus for peace and fighting poverty entirely on civil society and communities and absolves the state of any responsibility for both. As Prime Minister, he should have asserted that the state would defend the rule of law.

In a country with some 4693 communities and over 415 living languages, each community is bound to have its own customs, including dietary choices. Individuals may also follow practices different from the ones followed by the majority of their community. Any attempt to impose a uniform belief or practice, on either individuals or communities, is antithetical to the freedom enshrined in the Constitution. It is the state’s responsibility to ensure this freedom.

Further, as scholars, we are extremely worried about the implications of these recent developments for our ability to study and write about different life ways, and to critically analyse society, including social phenomena like religion.

SIGNED (in alphabetical order)

Janaki Abraham, University of Delhi

Anuja Agrawal, University of Delhi

Yasmeen Arif, University of Delhi

Mahuya Bandyopadhyay, University of Delhi

Xonzoi Barbora, Tata Institute of Social Sciences- Guwahati

Amita Baviskar, Institute of Economic Growth

Pratiksha Baxi, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Jyothsna Belliappa, Azim Premji University

Anjali Bhatia, University of Delhi

Reema Bhatia, University of Delhi

Vasundhara Bhojvaid, University of Delhi

Anuj Bhuwania, South Asian University

Rita Brara, University of Delhi

Anand Chakravarti, rtd. University of Delhi

Ruchi Chaturvedi, University of Cape Town

Radhika Chopra, University of Delhi

Dia Da Costa, University of Alberta

Ajay Dandekar, Shiv Nadar University

Ankur Datta, South Asian University

Satish Deshpande, University of Delhi

Vincent Ekka, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Tanweer Fazal, Jamia Millia Islamia

Shalini Grover, Institute of Economic Growth

Radhika Gupta, Max Planck Institute, Göttingen

Chandan Gowda, Azim Premji University

Rajesh Kamble, University of Mumbai

Sasheej Hegde, University of Hyderabad

Farhana Ibrahim, Indian Institute of Technology – Delhi

Surinder S. Jodhka, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Kalpana Kannabiran, Centre for Social Development

Ravinder Kaur, Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi

Sakshi Khurana, V. V. Giri National Labour Institute

Ravi Kumar, South Asian University

Satendra Kumar, Lucknow

C. Lakshmanan, Madras Institute of Development Studies

Amman Madan, Azim Premji University

T. N. Madan, Institute of Economic Growth

Nissim Mannathukkaren, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Nayanika Mathur, University of Cambridge

Deepak Mehta, University of Delhi

Gayatri Menon, Azim Premji University

Arima Misra, Azim Premji University

Radhika Mongia, York University

Geetha Nambissan, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Balmurli Natarajan, William Paterson University

Tiplut Nongbri, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Rajni Palriwala, University of Delhi

Amrita Pande, University of Cape Town

Sujata Patel, University of Hyderabad

Tulsi Patel, University of Delhi

Shilpa Phadke, Tata Institute of Social Sciences- Mumbai

Purendra Prasad, University of Hyderabad


Raka Ray, University of California at Berkeley

D. R. Sahu, University of Lucknow

Savyasaachi, Jamia Millia Islamia

Manisha Sethi, Jamia Millia Islamia

Hira Singh, York University

Alito Siquira, University of Goa

G. Srinivas, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Sanjay Srivastava, Institute of Economic Growth

V. Sujatha, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Nandini Sundar, University of Delhi

Ravi Sundaram, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies

Renny Thomas, University of Delhi

Patricia Uberoi, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies

Carol Upadhya, National Institute of Advanced Study

Divya Vaid, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Sudha Vasan, University of Delhi

A. R. Vasavi, Bangalore

Susan Visvanathan, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Anurekha Chari Wagh, University of Pune

Virginius Xaxa, Tata Institute of Social Sciences– Guwahati

The letter to PM Modi by the women and academics is as follows:

To the Prime Minister of India,

7 Race Course Road, New Delhi

Dear Prime Minister Modi,

Recently, you, along with top ministers of your cabinet, reported to an unconstitutional authority, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), who have called you to account for your actions.

As women concerned with combating violence against South Asian, Black and Minority Ethnic women and girls, we find this extremely disturbing because the RSS is a paramilitary organisation modelled on the Italian Fascist and German Nazi parties and is known, along with its allied groups, for its violent misogyny openly displayed in the pronouncements of its leaders.

RSS Chief, Mohan Bhagwat, for example, declared in 2013 that rape happens only to westernised women.

Revered RSS ideologue V.D. Savarkar exhorted Hindu men to prove their masculinity by raping non-Hindu women, who are seen as ‘symbols’ of the ‘enemy culture’. The public condemnation of this aspect of Savarkar's ideology by you is, we feel, particularly important, because it was under your watch as Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2002, that this 'theory' was put into practice with countless Muslim women raped, mutilated and murdered

Few of those responsible for the rapes and murders during the pogrom have been brought to justice.

Babu Bajrangi, a leader of the Bajrang Dal, sister organisation of the RSS, was caught on camera, in 2007, boasting of the rapes and murders he had committed in Gujarat in 2002 and recounting how he attacked nine month pregnant Kauser Bano. Her belly was torn open and her foetus wrenched out, held aloft on the tip of a sword, then dashed to the ground and flung into a fire. Bajrangi has been charged for these terrible crimes but he is continually out on bail and like many others who were involved in the rapes and murders during the 2002 pogrom, he is effectively free.

Equally worrying is the fact that your own cabinet includes a number of ministers against whom criminal cases, including rape, are pending (Sanjeev Baliyan the Minister of Agriculture is one example). We urge you to dismiss these men and also dismiss your advisor, Amit Shah (an RSS cadre and President of your party the BJP) who directly incited rape during your election campaign in April 2014 calling on Hindus to ‘take revenge’ on 'those who have been ill treating our mothers and sisters' sisters'.

After the brutal rape and murder of two young oppressed caste women in Uttar Pradesh in 2014 you did not condemn the culture where such rapes and murders of Dalit and oppressed caste women are commonplace or do anything to prevent such brutality taking place again. Instead you declared that 'honouring women and protecting them should be the top-most priority of the government' despite the fact that such concepts of 'honour' and 'protection' are routinely used to justify violence against women. Again, after a nun was raped in May this year, in West Bengal, you did not condemn the rapists or launch an investigation into the right-wing Hindu organisations which support them.

These organisations are also responsible for vicious 'moral policing' which has led to murderous attacks on couples who cross religious and caste boundaries. Your silence sends them a message of approval. A number of laws directly contribute to gender violence, for example, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act which allow the police and armed forces to perpetrate horrific sexual violence (effectively with impunity) in Kashmir and the North Eastern states of India the law which permits marital rape; and the homophobic section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalises LGBT people. But despite popular campaigns against these laws you have chosen to retain them. What does this say about your attitude to gender violence

We would also like to point out that the overseas wing of the RSS is currently being investigated by the British Charity Commission for hate speech against Christians and Muslims Surely these are not organisations by which a Prime Minister of democratic and secular India should be guided, or held accountable.

We urge you Prime Minister Modi to make your position clear. Do you approve of the hate crimes, patriarchal violence and misogyny perpetrated by the RSS and its affiliated organisations? If not, we urge you to openly condemn these organisations.

Zlakha Ahmed, Director, Apna Haq, Rotherham

Ila Patel, Director, Asha Projects, London

Shaminder Ubhi, Director, Ashiana Network, London

Sarbjit Ganger, Director, Asian Women's Resource Centre, London

Mwenya Chimba , Director, Black Association of Women Step Out, Cardiff

Anjona Roy, Director, Dostiyo, Northampton

Camille Kumar, on behalf of Freedom Without Fear Platform, London

Firoza Mohmed, Director, Humraaz, Blackburn

Marai Larasi, Director, Imkaan

Carolina Gottardo, Director, Latin American Women's Rights Services, London

Baljit Banga, Director, Newham Asian Women's Project, London

Priya Chopra, Director, Saheli, Manchester

Pragna Patel, on behalf of Southall Black Sisters

Sanjeevini Dutta, on behalf of Kadam Asian Dance and Music

Dr Camilla Bassi, Sheffield Hallam University

Dr Brenna Bhandar, SOAS

Professor Gargi Bhattacharyya, University of East London

Dr Sukhwant Dhaliwal University of Bedfordshire

Dr Meena Dhanda, University of Wolverhampton

Dr Aisha Gill, University of Roehampton

Dr Surinder Guru, University of Birmingham

Dr Marsha Henry, London School of Economics

Dr Rubina Jasani, University of Manchester

Dr Nisha Kapoor, University of York

Dr Sneha Krishnan, University of Oxford

Dr Sumi Madhok, London School of Economics

Dr Sarita Malik, Brunel University

Dr Suryia Nayak, University of Salford

Dr Goldie Osuri, University of Warwick

Dr Navtej Purewal, SOAS

Professor Shirin Rai, University of Warwick,

Dr Anandi Ramamurthy, Sheffield Hallam University

Dr Parvathi Raman, SOAS

Dr Ravi Thiara, University of Warwick

Dr Rashmi Varma, University of Warwick

Dr Kalpana Wilson, London School of Economics