Shrinking Liberal Space In 50th Year of Maharashtra

Last month – or, more appropriately, a month before Maharashtra was to celebrate golden jubilee of its existence - Marathi literary meet held in Pune with much bang. Surrounded by controversies, the event offered nothing great except for the fact that publishers sold books worth Rs 7 crores.

One would say, it held for the sake of it.

Not quite true.

On the second day, the meet had a discussion on freedom of expression. Worth to note, chief minister Ashok Chavan attended it, albeit, after loosing his own freedom within the party. The CM was to come on third day and share dais with Amitabh Bachchan. Political compulsions forced him reshuffle his visit.

Today, if compulsions dictate most political actions, count shrinking “liberal space”, a fallout of it.

In a span of five years vandals backed by some or other offshoots affiliated to political parties have always overpowered. Be it vandalizing the internationally acclaimed Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) or attack on Kumar Ketkar or Mumbai office of Navakal, Maharashtra’s "liberal space" shrinked consistently even if the state marched ahead building highways or signing MoUs with Industrialists.

The most recent example to be in the news was controversy over a book Santsurya Tukaram, authored by renowned marathi writer Anand Yadav. Warakari sect (followers of Sant Tukaram and Sant Dyaneshwar), unhappy over references attached to Sant Tukaram, heckled Yadav, forcing him to withdraw his book and resign from the prestigious post of literary meet president.

Conspicuously, a common thing in all the incidents is: State hasn’t intervened to erase that space, which many call “liberal”. Equally, state did nothing to protect that space either. If conflict among the classes or castes is one reason, notoriety, which for many means publicity, is another reason. Not to wonder then, notoriety is gaining recognition to be an effective tool to defeat the cause.

Noticeably, most of these incidents were directed against Brahmins. The message is clear: If Brahmins have retained clouts for years with the support of pen, which they often used to paint convenient picture, others have understood it. And to end that clout, others wants to suppress that writing using notoriety.

Pune Rikshaw wallahs

If today’s city rikshaw-wallahs are all known to fleece customers, it is because they have owned up this quality from their predecessors.

Article in Sakal tell us: Historic document like “Dnyanprakash”, a journal published in 1856, reporting on incidents of passengers being cheated by cart (horse or bullock) drivers. Compliants at Faraskhana, as reported, suggest that passengers were duped not just by charging more than decided, but sometimes drivers used longer routes. Today carts have been replaced by auto rikshaw. But drivers continue to hold same old penchant.