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Sri Ram Sena should be strongly disciplined; its origins thoroughly investigated

by Sahmat, 27 January 2009

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SAHMAT
- 8 Vithalbhai Patel House, Rafi Marg
- New Delhi 110 001
- Telephones: 23711276/ 23351424
- email: sahmat at vsnl.com

27.1.2009

Press Statement

We join all right-thinking people in condemning the criminal assault on a group of women at a Mangalore pub by hooligans operating under the banner of the Sri Ram Sene. We remind the public that this group (whose name has been spelt as it is in phonetic loyalty to the Kannada language) is the same as the Sri Ram Sena, which carried out an attack on an exhibition mounted by Sahmat in August last year, celebrating M.F. Husain’s contributions to Indian art.

We take note of the hurried and deeply embarrassed statements by the leaders of the Hindutva cultural fraternity, dissociating themselves from the Mangalore atrocity. Yet we denounce their concurrent assumption of the power to legislate on what social practices are true and what are not, in their relationship with Indian culture.These are not decisions to be made by a sectarian political leadership.

The Sri Ram Sena was little heard of or known, till it attacked the exhibition that Sahmat mounted in August to protest the exclusion of M.F. Husain’s work from a major display and sale of Indian art that was mounted at that time.

Sahmat sounded the alarm then about this debutant group, a spawn of the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, both credentialed members of the Hindutva family. And Sahmat has continued to warn about the dangers posed by the new organisation within the Hindutva fold, which has been showing the kind of destructive energy that belies its fledgling, newborn, character.

Clearly, the Sri Ram Sena has emerged out of the campaign of hatred and intolerance that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its affiliates within the broader Hindutva parivar launched many years back. The BJP leadership has issued some hasty and embarrassed statements distancing itself from the atrocities in Mangalore. But these have little credibility, since the BJP continues to take political capital out of the legacy of its baleful campaign of moral majoritarianism.

We call for the immediate arrest and prosecution of all those who have participated in this atrocity in Mangalore, or contributed to it in any fashion. The prosecution should be purposive and should address all individuals who bear constructive responsibility for creating the climate of intolerance that made this criminal assault possible.

We urge the investigating agencies to pay attention to the growing evidence that this is about more than an art exhibition or about an incident in Mangalore that may seem trivial in relation to the scale of atrocities perpetrated in the last two decades by the agents of majority communalism.It has been credibly reported that the elements who directed the Mangalore attacks were in intimate contact with individuals currently being prosecuted for their culpability in the Malegaon bomb blasts of September 29 last year.

The individual identified as the leader of the assault on Sahmat’s exhibition last August, was also the principal agent of a severe transgression of the basic ethos of academic life, when he spat at a college lecturer who had been invited to a discussion on the scourge of terrorism at Delhi University in November. Again, the Sri Ram Sena drew its moral and ideological sustenance from the Hindutva parivar, since the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, a recognised affiliate of the family, had prepared the ground for this act of barbarity, by pronouncing an anathema on the college lecturer invited to speak about his first-hand experiences as a victim of so-called “terrorism” investigations.

The Mangalore incident shows that terrorism has several manifestations and multiple protagonists. We appeal to the public to break out of the template on terrorism that has been moulded by the Hindutva parivar and to recognise that all offences against civilised norms of conduct and the rule of law, contribute to the triumph of terrorism.

The police and investigating agencies, we urge, should not fail this test of standing up for the rule of law. Regrettably, their conduct over the last many years gives us little confidence that they will.

Finally, we would like to appeal to the media to evolve a set of norms on the coverage of such acts of criminality. We do not go along with the stricture handed down by Karnataka’s Director-General of Police, that the media should have informed the authorities of this criminal gang’s intent once it got advance notice. This is an issue that each media professional should resolve in accordance with his or her own sense of civic responsibility and his or her own ethical commitment.

We do believe however, that the media should evolve a credible set of norms on the coverage of criminal acts that it has advance notice of. Clearly, the Mangalore hoodlums staged their criminal act in the belief that they would, through the breathless reporting of India’s booming and thoroughly irresponsible electronic media, enjoy a few minutes of nationwide fame.

If the media were to deny moral vigilantes the coverage that they so desperately seek, it would deny them the oxygen of publicity that they flourish on. Media professionals need, in this context, to clearly lay down the norm that they will not succumb to competitive pressures and provide any variety of coverage to the perpetrators of criminal actions, even when these are dressed up in moral and political terms.

Ashok

for SAHMAT