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.
HP Govt Employees to Get Higher Pay Scale on Completion of Two Years of Service: CM Jairam
Shimla-Himachal Pradesh Government employees working in different departments before January 3, 2022, would be given a higher scale at par with other employees on completion of two years tenure of regular service. A higher pay scale was also announced for the Junior Office Assistants (IT) on completion of two years of regular service.
Chief Minister Jairam Thakur made these announcements during the Karamchari Maha Sammelan of the Himachal Pradesh Non-Gazetted Employees Federation at the hotel Peterhof on Sunday.
He appreciated the role played by the employee especially frontline workers in the battle against the pandemic.
He said most of the government employees in the state have been given revised pay scales and on average, every employee has got the benefit of a 12 to 15 percent salary hike. There has also been an increase in the pension of about 1.50 lakh pensioners of the state. The financial benefits of Rs. 7801 crore have been given to state government employees and pensioners from the year 2018 to 2022. The pensioners who retired before 2016 are getting the benefit of a 15 to 20 percent increase in the pension while around 40 thousand pensioners who retired after 2016 would be benefitted soon, he said.
He said the daily wages were Rs. 210 in the year 2017 which has been increased by the present state government to Rs. 350. Similarly, 12 per cent interim relief annually has been provided to government employees and pensioners during the present government’s tenure. He said the Himachal government has provided Dearness Allowance to its employees and pensioners on the lines of Punjab and Central governments from the due date. The Punjab government has given only 5 percent interim relief to the employees while the Himachal government has provided 21 percent interim relief to its employees.
“Out of the total interim relief amount given to the employees and pensioners amounting to about Rs. 6500 crore, Rs. 3500 crore has been paid during the tenure of our government” added the Chief Minister.
He said that the state government has increased the government contribution for NPS employees from 10 percent to 14 percent benefitting more than one lakh employees. The NPS employees are being given the benefits of retirement and death gratuity at par with employees falling under the old pension scheme. The government has also increased the upper limit of death gratuity from Rs. 10 lakh to Rs. 20 lakh.
The Chief Minister said the state government has also increased the honorarium of para-workers working in various departments. The salary of outsource workers has been hiked by Rs 1,500 per month.
Non-Gazetted Employees Federation President Ashwani Thakur thanked the Chief Minister for providing various financial and other benefits to different categories of government employees.
Most Covid Restrictions to be Lifted From March 31, Mask and Hand Hygiene to Continue
New Delhi-The Centre has issued a notification to the States informing that the provisions of the Disaster Management (DM) Act, 2005 will not be invoked in the country after March 31. The Union Health Ministry said that the use of face masks and following hand hygiene will continue.
It implies that most of the Covid-related rules and restrictions would end.
Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla issued the notification which said that the decision was taken following the overall improvement in the situation and the preparedness of the government in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, local authorities and State police can still invoke fines and criminal cases against persons violating COVID-19 norms under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), a senior government official said.
The DM Act was invoked on March 24, 2020, due to the pandemic
“Over the last seven weeks or so there has been a steep decline in the number of cases. The total caseload in the country stands at 23,913 only and the daily positivity rate has declined to 0.28%. It is also worth mentioning that with the combined efforts, a total of 181.56 Cr vaccine doses have been administered,” the notification said.
“I would like to mention that in view of the nature of the disease, we still need to remain watchful of the situation. Wherever any surge in the number of cases is observed, the States/UTs may consider taking prompt and proactive action at a local level, as advised by MoHFW (Health Ministry) from time to time,” the notification said.
The Indian government had issued various guidelines and measures for the first time on March 24, 2020, under the Disaster Management Act to curb the COVID-19 situation in the country, which have been modified several times thereafter.
India currently has 23,087 active COVID-19 cases and recorded 1,778 new cases and 62 deaths in the last 24 hours. The daily positivity rate has also declined to 0.28%.
HP Cabinet Decisions: Country Liquor Made Cheaper in New Excise Policy, Read All Decisions
Shimla-A meeting of the Himachal Pradesh Cabinet was held on March 20, 2022, under the chairmanship of Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur.
The excise policy for the financial year 2022-23 was approved. Approval was also given for the renewal of retail excise vends in the state for the financial year 2022-23 at the renewal fees of 4% of the value of unit/vend.
The State Government said that wants to enhance the government revenue and curb the smuggling of country liquor from the neighbouring states by a reduction in its price.
The brands of Country Liquor will be cheaper as license fees have been reduced. This will help in providing good quality liquor at a cheaper rate to the consumers.
In the new excise policy, the 15% fixed quota of country liquor for manufacturers and bottlers to be supplied to the retail licensees has been abolished. According to the government, this step will give the retail licensees to lift their quota from the suppliers of their choice and further assure the supply of good quality country liquor at competitive prices. The MRP of country liquor will be cheaper by 16% of the existing price.
In this year’s policy, the Gaudhan Vikas Nidhi Fund has been enhanced by Re.1/- from the existing Rs.1.50 to Rs.2.50.
The fixed annual license fee of Bars has been rationalized by abolishing the area-specific slabs of license fee. Now throughout the State, there will be uniform license slabs based upon the room capacity in hotels.
Rates of the annual fixed license fee of Bars in the tribal areas has been reduced considerably.
Further, all the above stakeholders will have to install CCTV cameras at their establishments as it was made mandatory for them.
Wholesale vends and retail vends, the penalty provisions under the H.P. Excise Act, 2011 have been made more stringent.
An end to end online Excise Administration System would be established in Himachal Pradesh, the government said.
HP Government estimates a collection of Rs 2131 crore revenue during the year, which will be Rs. 264 crores higher than the financial year 2021-22 – growth of 14% in state excise revenues.
The Cabinet also gave its nod to amend Himachal Pradesh Disaster Relief Manual-2012 to include deaths due to biting of honey bees, hornet and wasps, accidental drowning and deaths due to accidents of vehicles (including land, water and air) under this Manual.
The Cabinet gave its approval for filling up 11 posts of ‘A’ Class Tehsildar in Revenue Department through direct recruitment on regular basis through Himachal Pradesh Public Service Commission.
HP State Toll Policy 2022-23
The HP Cabinet also gave its nod to HP State Toll Policy for the year 2022-23 which envisages auction cum tender for all the toll barriers in the State. During the year 2021-22, toll revenue has registered a growth of 20 percent of the previous year’s revenue.