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Words Matter - K. Satchidanandan - The Sunday Indian
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Saturday, July 21, 2018


Words Matter


K. SATCHIDANANDAN | Issue Dated: November 5, 2016, New Delhi
Tags : Words Matter | K. Satchidanandan |


Words Matter

Edited by K. Satchidanandan
Penguin Random House India

Edition: Hardcover
ISBN: 9780670088935

Pages: 260

Price: Rs399

In September 2015, a week after veteran Kannada writer-activist Professor M M Kalburgi was gunned down in Dharawad district of north Karnataka, a journalist friend who edits features pages of a Hindi daily approached me asking if I would have access to the translation (English, if not Hindi) of his writings because he wanted to reproduce some his writings in the daily. Unfortunately, I did not nor I could find any online. However, I promised that I will enquire about it from my friend in Karnataka because I was hopeful that they will certainly have it. To my utter surprise, even they did not have it. Needless to say my friend could not publish Kalburgi’s writing in his newspaper simply because Hindi or English translation was not available in the public domain.

Thankfully that’s not the case anymore. Today, Kalburgi’s translated writings are available (not all of his works but a select few) in public domain both in English as well as in Hindi. First collection of his articles along with of Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare (both killed in a similar manner and for similar reasons) was published by Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) towards the end of 2015. Titled as The Republic of Reason, a booklet was brought by SAHMAT in order to pay tribute as well as a form of resistance at a time when the trio was killed because of their writings and works they were doing.

Words Matter can be seen as an addition to that act of tribute and resistance because, like the previous one, this takes forward that spirit. And it is clearly laid out in the introduction. “The idea of this book emerged from the critical moment when several Indian writers, followed by artists, scholars, arose in spontaneous protests in the late 2015,” reads the very first sentence of the introduction.  

Divided in three sections, while the first part of the volume presents curated writings of Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi respectively, the second section presents the essays analyzing the present scenario and third part is focused on the possible response of the situation. Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi writings resolve around the subjects of faith, superstition and reason and what differentiates faith from superstition. These writings are not just full of arguments and wisdom, but they carry a deep sense of empathy and compassion in them. They are like doctor’s medicine which might be a bitter pill to swallow but their ultimate aim is to cure the patients, in this case society at large. What is even more remarkable is that, the fact they are dealing with deep philosophical, spiritual and complex issues, these writings are lucid and easy to access for one and all.

K. Satchidanandan, editor of the book in his introduction presents an incisive and all-encompassing analysis of the situation and challenges faced by the Indian democracy today. In doing so he holds no bar and he is almost ruthless in his exploration of the current scenario. The editor is of the view, rightly so, that the Indian present government cannot be called fascist in a classic sense however one can clearly see almost all the indications “at times in transformed, veiled or diluted forms, in the attitudes and practices of the Hindu right wing forces" which has the full support of the current political dispensation. To explain his points further, he cites a number of examples of repeated instances of attack on and suppression of freedom of speech and expression and religion.

However, it would unfair to assume that the editor is just critical of one party. “(This) hatred of democracy is not new and has not been confined to just one party or group. We have witnessed several instances where the state has exceeded its mandate in order to suppress popular dissent (as during the Emergency); to protect corporate interests by diluting environmental safeguards (as done both by the last UPA government and the present NDA government); used legal shortcuts and hurried executions, forging formalities (as in some high-profile cases); or justified/trivialised genocides as spontaneous emotional reactions (as in the anti-Sikh of 1984 or the Gujarat pogrom of 2002)."

Words Matter is an important and courageous attempt of carry forward the legacy of writing against the silence. But it is just not that because not only contains writings of and on the Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgibut much more than that it presents before us thoughts of a range of writers, activists, academicians, journalists and public intellectuals. Apart from the trio whose writings are included in this volume, a few notable others mentioned are: Historian Romila Thapar, poet and ex-police officer Keki Daruwalla, writer Nayantara Sehgal, former Supreme Court Judge Markandey Katju, novelist Githa Hariharan, academic Gopal Guru and poet Meena Kandasamy.

The reviewer is an activist and writer. He tweets @MahtabNama



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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017