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Indian Literary Uproar – 41 Writers Return Indian Award, Cite Climate of Intolerance

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India Literary Uproar_AP

India’s literary community is disgusted. Dozens of writers say every day brings more evidence of intolerance and bigotry going mainstream — a man lynched allegedly for eating beef, an atheist critic of Hindu idol worship gunned down — all met by a deafening silence from the government.

As of Wednesday, 41 novelists, essayists, playwrights and poets had returned the awards they received from India’s prestigious literary academy to protest what they call a growing climate of intolerance under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

The writers are also angry that India’s Sahitya Akademi, or National Academy of Letters, has said little about the murder of the well-known rationalist Malleshappa Kalburgi, an award-winning Kannada-language writer, gunned down in August for his writings against superstition and false beliefs.

The government has dismissed the writers’ protests, questioning their motives and accusing them of being politically motivated.

“If they say they are unable to write, let them stop writing,” culture minister Mahesh Sharma told reporters.

The writers say they cannot remain mute spectators to numerous incidents of communal violence, attacks on intellectuals and increasing curbs on free speech.

“It’s become a question of an individual’s right to speak, to think, to write, to eat, to dress, to debate,” said Maya Krishna Rao, a playwright and theater actress, who returned her award to the academy this week.

When Modi won a landslide victory in May 2014, many voiced fears of right-wing Hindu nationalism leading to communal violence and religious intolerance. Modi, who had spent years dodging allegations of failing to stop riots in Gujarat state in which around 1,000 Muslims died, assured the nation that he was prime minister for all and would work for everyone.

But the last year has seen a rising crescendo of violence by Hindu fringe groups, trying to force a regressive Hindu nationalism on all, causing fear among India’s minority communities. State governments ruled by the BJP have cracked down on cow slaughter, and even buffalo meat, a key source of protein for poor Muslims and lower caste Hindus, has become scarce. The ban on cow slaughter has given rise to Hindu vigilante groups and mob violence has risen. Last month a Muslim man was lynched in northern India over false rumors that his family had eaten beef for dinner.

On Wednesday, in response to persistent demands that the prime minister break his silence on the lynching, Modi said the mob killing was ” sad and undesirable,” but added that his government could not be blamed as the local administration was responsible for the state.

Last week, well-known writer Nayantara Sahgal returned her academy award, triggering the return of awards by other writers. Sahgal, a niece of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, is known as a fiercely independent political writer who had crossed swords with her cousin and another former prime minister, Indira Gandhi, when she imposed a state of emergency in India in the mid-70s.

Referring to recent violence by Hindu groups, Sahgal said in an interview to The Indian Express newspaper that there was “an attempt to blow up the idea of India and to put in its place a kind of travesty of Hinduism, a kind of monoculture, which has nothing to do with Hinduism.”

Sahgal’s views are echoed across the literary spectrum.

Ghulam Nabi Khayal, a Kashmiri language writer, said earlier governments would try to restore peace in situations of communal conflict.

“But that’s no more the case with the rise of Hindu rightwing BJP,” Khayal said in Srinagar. “For the past one year, the Indian state has become suffocating and extremely intolerant.”
The government was “now brazenly and institutionally backing this communal hatred,” he said, justifying his decision to return his award.

It wasn’t the first time that Hindu conservatives silenced an author or forced a book to be withdrawn.
In January, novelist Perumal Murugan went into hiding and said he had quit writing after his latest book sparked virulent protests.

Hindu nationalists organized weeks of demonstrations demanding that Murugan delete portions of the Tamil-language book because they found them offensive. Instead, the writer stopped writing altogether, his voice muted by the angry protests.

Last year, Penguin India decided to destroy all copies of historian Wendy Doniger’s book on Hinduism after an outcry. In 2011, the state of Gujarat banned Joseph Lelyveld’s biography on pacifist freedom fighter Mohandas K. Gandhi, after reviews suggested Gandhi had a homosexual relationship.

Writers who voiced support for Sahgal and other authors are facing the wrath of Hindu hard-liners on social media as well.

Internationally renowned novelist Salman Rushdie, who was born in Mumbai, said he had received nearly 10,000 hate messages after he came out in support of the writers. Rushdie said the government’s silence was allowing a new “degree of thuggish violence” in India.

BJP has often tried to distance itself from extremist fringe Hindu groups, but the failure to crack down has emboldened them.

“The prime minister remains silent about this reign of terror. We must assume he dare not alienate evil-doers who support his ideology,” Sahgal said in a letter to the academy while returning her award.

Madan has studied English Literature and Journalism from HP University and lives in Shimla. He is an amateur photographer and has been writing on topics ranging from environmental, socio-economic, development programs, education, eco-tourism, eco-friendly lifestyle and to green technologies for over 9 years now. He has an inclination for all things green, wonderful and loves to live in solitude. When not writing, he can be seen wandering, trying to capture the world around him in his DSLR lens.

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CM Jairam Thakur Tests Positive for COVID-19, Quarantined

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HImachal Pradesh CM Tests Positive for COVID-19

Shimla-Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, Jairam Thakur, have tested positive for COVID-19 and has been quarantined at his official residence. The report was confirmed by the Chief Minister through a tweet in which he informed that he was under quarantine at his residence after coming into contact with a COVID-19 positive person. On the appearance of symptoms, he got himself tested and the report was found to be positive, he informed.

According to the initial report, the Chief Minister had come in contact with some COVID-19 positive persons in Manali. MLA of Banjar, Surinder Shourie, who was positive for COVID-19 had participated in the event organized on the occasion of the inauguration of Rohtang Tunnel, had also tested positive. Shourie had spent the entire day with the Chief Minister, reports said.

His private secretary had also tested positive, and there are chances that the Chief Minister might have contracted the infection from him. However, there is no certainty regarding the contact who infected the Chief Minister.

Other than Chief Minister, three Cabinet ministers – Urban Development Minister Suresh Bharadwaj, Power Minister Sukh Ram Chaudhary, Jalshakti Minister Mahender Singh- have tested positive so far.  Over ten MLAs have already tested positive and some of them have recovered too.

Meanwhile, despite community spread, the testing and tracing seem to have fallen and the fatality rate has witnessed a steep rise. Till 12 pm today, the COVID-19 death tally for the state was 245, and the total number of cases registered was 17414. But these are official statistics and these numbers are likely to be much higher. 

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Himachal: COVID-19 Kills 59 in 9 Days, Govt Still Clueless About Actual Number of Cases

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Himachal PRadesh Jairam Thakur

Shimla-COVID-19 continue to wreak havoc in Himachal Pradesh as the death tally spirals upward rapidly. Currently, 240 people have lost their lives due to COVID-19. Fifty nine of these deaths have been reported during the last nine days of October month, which is quite alarming. But contrary to that, the attitude of the state government, as well as, the public is becoming more casual. The SOPs issued by the government are hardly being followed anywhere. The fact that with the community spread, the cases of COVID-19 are falling in the official information released by the state Health Department.

On October 9, the Department traced only 199 cases but reported seven deaths. The total number of active cases was cited to be 2856. The deceased included three females and four males aged between 49 -75 years. View details of the deceased in the below-given table:

Shimla-covid-19 deaths in himachal pradesh

The total number of cases, as per the official statistics, had reached 16977 till yesterday evening (9 PM). But these are official statistics and the real number is likely to be much higher due to a community spread. Similarly, the actual number of COVID-19 deaths could be higher than the official statistics. Despite it, the state government is reluctant to release any projection regarding the real numbers. No statements have been issued regarding the current situation and strategy to combat the rising fatality rate. Rather, the state appears to be refraining from bringing up the matter.

The oppositions, HP Congress and CPI (M), are targeting the government over its failure to combat the spread of COVID-19. However, this opposition is quite feeble and hasn’t resulted in any reforms in the attitude of the government.

In a statement to media, Sanjay Chauhan, former Mayor of Shimla and a senior CPI (M) leader, said that the rise in fatalities is the result of the government’s lackadaisical attitude. The suicide committed by a positive patient at the DDU COVID-19 hospital is evidence of it, he said. He said this approach has endangered health lives of ministers, officials, and the staff at their offices. Further, he said, health staff, paramedical staff, and police staff are getting infected, and even losing lives due to the government’s unpreparedness.  The government had even compromised the safety of the Prime Minister and Education Minister by violating norms set regarding COVID-19, he said.

HP Congress chief, Kuldeep Rathor also expressed shock over the presence of COVID-19 positive MLA of Banjar, Surender Shourie, in the event organized for the PM. He alleged that by violating all norms, the MLA concealed information regarding his COVID-19 positive status and did not quarantine himself, which reflects the state government’s attitude toward management of the corona pandemic. He had demanded registration of an FIR against Shourie and action against erring officials.

Sanjay Chauhan, further said that the government did not prepare itself to combat the pandemic the way it was expected to. The people of the state had followed the lockdown and sacrificed their livelihood with a hope that the government would prepare itself during this period to combat the spread and to strengthen the health infrastructure and services. But instead, the government indulged itself in making people clap and beat ‘thalis’.  The Chief Minister adopted and preached unscientific practices like performing a ‘havan’.  Despite a steep rise in fatalities, the government is still not serious about the situation, he said. 

He said the CPI (M) demands that the government starts working on war footing to prepare a strategy by involving health experts, strengthening the health services by recruiting doctors, para-medical and other staff, and constitute a task force to deal with the situation. The government should work diligently on following the norms set for prevention from COVID-19, he added.  

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Shocker for Himachal as Ex-CBI Chief & Governor Ashwani Kumar Found Dead at His Shimla Residence

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Himachal IPS Officer Ashwani Kumar found deat in shimla

Shimla-Ashwani Kumar – 1973 IPS officer from Himachal Pradesh cadre who had served as the Director-General of HP Police (2006-2008) and CBI chief (August 2008 to November 2010), and was later appointed the Governor of Nagaland in 2013-was found dead at his residence in Shimla on Wednesday evening. The news came as a shocker as Kumar was considered as one of India’s finest and honest officers.

Superintendent of Police, Shimla, Mohit Chawala, in statement to news agencies, confirmed the report. According to the initial report, he reportedly hanged himself and ended his life. However, no formal statement was issued regarding the suicide. According to the police, a suicide note was also recovered from the spot. However, the note was yet to be verified.

Kumar was a well known name as he had dealt with famous cases including that of Arushi Talwar murder and fake encounter of Sohrabuddin Sheikh in which current Home Minister Amit Shah was arrested in 2010.

He was one of the first appointees made to resign from the post of Governor, Nagaland, as soon as the current ruling party came into power in 2014. He also remained Governor of Manipur for a short period of time. After his retirement, Kumar was serving as the Vice-Chancellor of a private university in Shimla.

The officials who have served under Aswani Kumar have expressed shock over his demise in such a manner. 

Director-General of Police, Sanjay Kundu, and a team of medical staff was rushed to the spot. More details are awaited as the district police have not issued any formal statement regarding the incident.

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