The Gauri Lankesh murder, one more in a series of attacks against secular writers, was a dire warning about the growing intolerance in the country aimed at journalists, intellectuals, rationalists and just about anyone holding a political or social opinion. Yet another writer under attack now is the historian Ramachandra Guha, who has been issued a legal notice by the BJP in Karnataka. While anyone has a right to seek legal redress, such pinpointing may create a situation wherein lumpen elements begin to use intimidatory or criminal tactics to heap pressure on social thought leaders. It is the primary duty of the state to protect the lives of all individuals, be they of any political persuasion.
The point is there is little space for hate speech and communal targeting in a democracy which is gaining a reputation for intolerance that is even affecting India’s image abroad and in world forums. The case of Guha is quite perplexing. Although he is in trouble for hazarding a guess on the likely assassins, he is also known to be an acerbic critic of the Congress and the dynastic succession it has been practicing and hence there may be less reason for the BJP to take offence at his views. In standing up for pluralism in a very diverse society like ours, Guha is not speaking out of turn. The freedom of speech must be respected in a democracy but not when some misuse such freedom to pour calumny on those who think differently. Unless governments are willing to act against provocative elements decisively the incipient web of distrust and hate can destroy the very freedoms we are so proud of.