"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.

If Premchand has really touched Modi, why are so many scholars rotting in jails? Featured

Gurpreet Singh  

July 31 marks 140th birth anniversary of a renowned Indian author, the late Munshi Premchand.  

Born as Dhanpat Rai in British India, he was forced to adopt an immortal name after his collection of short stories was seized by the authorities who found them to be seditious. 

These stories, which reflect the struggle of working class and the oppressed groups under British occupied India, and highlighted the freedom movement, were provocative for the foreign rulers. By all standards, their response was an assault on free expression. One such collection translated in Punjabi bears the title,  “Munshi Premchand’s stories that were confiscated by the British.”    

Apart from focussing on the liberation struggle, Premchand was among the founding fathers of progressive literature. He showcased the richness of pluralist culture of India through his novels and short fiction.  

His work has become even more relevant today, under a right wing Hindu nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Ever since he came to power in 2014, attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents have grown. So much so, the authors and scholars are being frequently detained and thrown in jails for questioning the power.  

Ironically, Modi is a Member of Parliament from Varanasi, the birthplace of Premchand. It is not surprising to see how he is trying to appropriate the late writer, who continues to dominate the literary landscape of the country. Last year,in his radio address to the nation, Modi went to the extent of claiming that he was deeply touched by the stories of Premchand.         

If Modi really means what he says, then he should start releasing all the scholars and intellectuals who have been detained by his government for questioning the power. Among them is an 81-year-old revolutionary poet Varavara Rao, who was hit by COVID 19 in jail, and Delhi University Professor GN Saibaba, who is disabled below the waist. The list is long and includes published authors, like Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha. These individuals were arrested on trumped up charges for merely raising voices for the poor and marginalised.  

Also, Modi’s ideology completely contradicts that of Premchand. Whereas Modi wants to transform India into a Hindu theocracy, Premchand’s work stands for an inclusive and tolerant society.  

Modi's government is behaving no differently than the British rulers, who seized the short stories of Premchand to crush resistance. If he cannot do this, then he should at least stop lying about his feelings in public.  

*** 

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Last modified on Sunday, 02 August 2020 13:52
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