April 10 was the auspicious occasion of Ram Navami.
Hindus celebrate the event to mark the birthday of one of their revered gods, Lord Ram, a king of Ayodhya who was known for his compassion and for fighting against the evil.
Shortly before the Indian diaspora in Canada was about to exchange greetings, CBC News came out with a story of 18 academics being hounded by supporters of the right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government in New Delhi.
Some of these individuals have faced death threats for raising inconvenient questions about growing attacks on religious minorities under BJP rule.
The news wasn’t surprising considering what scholars advocating for secularism in India are going through.
Many of them, including former Delhi University professor G.N. Saibaba, who is disabled below the waist, continue to be incarcerated under brutal conditions.
Though Saibaba was first arrested in 2014 under a different regime, he continues to be denied bail on compassionate grounds under the current government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Saibaba was held under trumped-up charges for merely defending the rights of the poor and oppressed, as well as persecuted religious minorities.
Incidentally, this year’s Ram Navami coincided with the second anniversary of the arrest of another teacher and author, Anand Teltumbde. He is the grandson-in-law of and undisputed Dalit icon and an architect of the Indian constitution, B.R. Ambedkar.
Ironically, Teltumbde was sent behind the bars on April 14, the birth anniversary of Ambedkar, which is celebrated by the Indian state. Like Saibaba, Teltumbde also risked his life by questioning power and advocating for the rights of the marginalized.
In order to silence any voice of dissent, apologists of the BJP government both inside and outside India frequently label such scholars as “antinationals” or even “anti-Hindus”. That’s how they have also tried to portray academics facing harassment in Canada.
This is in sharp contrast to what Ram stood for.
According to one version of the epic of Ram, his father advised him to value criticism of the thinkers in the society if he wanted to govern well.
However, the BJP government, which misses no opportunity to play politics over Ram, is sending out conflicting signals by locking up intellectuals and dreamers, who have been struggling for a just society.
Its agents overseas too, in the name of defending Hinduism, are trying to cover up the wrongdoings of the BJP by attacking the right to question in a free society.
It’s time that Canadian politicians, especially those of Indian heritage, take notice and speak out. Until now they have been reluctant to say anything on behalf of Saibaba or Teltumbde, but there shouldn’t be any excuse after the problem has spilled over to Canada.
It’s a shame that most Indo Canadian media outlets are also silent about the issue. That, in itself, explains the pressure of the Indian consulates on ethnic media in Canada.
The academics interviewed by CBC acknowledged the fear of being denied visas by the Indian authorities. Liberal Hindus also need to show some spine by standing up against such nuisances perpetrated in name of their faith. Modi and his buddies cannot be allowed to appropriate Hinduism.
Let the tyrants in India know that they can neither get away by throwing scholars in jails nor browbeat those outside the country through their puppets.