Jaipur, Jan. 27: A remark by social scientist Ashis Nandy at the Jaipur Literature Festival yesterday led to an FIR being lodged against him for allegedly defaming Dalits and tribals, a charge he denied.
As protesters hit the streets calling for his arrest, Nandy cut short his participation at the event and left Jaipur this morning. A clarification he had issued last evening said he was “sorry if some have misunderstood me, though there was no reason to do so”.
Nandy’s remark had come during a session titled “Republic of Ideas”, where his fellow participants were the author Patrick French, scholar Richard Sorabjee and journalists Tarun Tejpal and Ashutosh. Writer and historian Urvashi Butalia was the moderator.
Speaking of inequality in Indian society, Nandy said there were only four level playing fields where discrimination based on caste or religion did not interfere: sports, entertainment, crime and politics. Tejpal added a fifth: corruption. Tejpal reasoned that for India’s most deprived populations, barred from accessing the country’s resources, the only way out was through subversion of the law, maybe through a bribe.
Nandy said that this was the reason the most corrupt were the most deprived. He said he would name the sections that were most corrupt: “The OBCs, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.”
He added: “If people like me or Richard Sorabjee want to be corrupt, I shall possibly send his son to Harvard giving him a fellowship and he can send my daughter to Oxford. No one will think it to be corruption. Indeed, it will look like supporting talent.
“But when Dalits, tribals and the OBCs are corrupt, it looks very corrupt indeed. However, this second corruption equalises. It gives them access to their entitlements. And so, as long as this equation persists, I have hope for the Republic.”
While French and Ashutosh immediately said they disagreed with Nandy, parts of the hundreds-strong audience exploded. Two angry women said Nandy’s statement was biased.
Nandy sat smiling on the stage, but the protests grew through the day. Protesters gathered at the venue as the day’s events were drawing to a close, shouting “Ashis Nandy murdabad”.
Rajpal Meena of the Rajasthan SC/ST Manch lodged an FIR against Nandy and festival producer Sanjoy Roy under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and an Indian Penal Code section dealing with criminal intimidation.
Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati described Nandy’s remarks as “reflective of a casteist mindset”, demanded an apology and asked the Rajasthan government to immediately put Nandy in jail, PTI reported.
Later yesterday, Nandy told reporters: “This is not what I meant or what I wanted to say. I endorsed the statement of Tarun Tejpal, editor of Tehelka, that corruption in India is an equalising force. I do believe that a zero-corruption society in India will be a despotic society.”
He added: “I hope this will be the end of the matter. I am sorry if some have misunderstood me, though there was no reason to do so. As should be clear from this statement, there was neither any intention nor any attempt to hurt any community. If anyone is genuinely hurt, even if through misunderstanding, I am sorry about that, too.”
He left the festival although he was to address more sessions.
The People’s Union For Civil Liberties condemned the lodging of the FIR saying Nandy had not made a casteist remark and had only suggested that no section of society was free of the corrupt.
“Now that he has apologised and regretted what he said, the matter should be closed,” said its general secretary, Kavita Srivastav.
“The entire episode is thought terrorism. Does 10-odd people protesting make them the representative of an entire community?” festival producer Roy told The Telegraph. “Look at Nandy’s work for 50 years on minorities. Does all of it change in 10 seconds?”
Dalits, tribals and OBCs held protests yesterday and today at several places in Jaipur, demanding Nandy’s arrest. Most of the protesters were from the Meena Mahasabha, an organisation of the Scheduled Tribe Meenas, and were led by Dausa MP Kirori Lal Meena. The Jats, who are OBCs, joined the protests.
Roy said Nandy had met Kirori Lal Meena yesterday at the festival venue and the MP had then “seemed pacified”, but the protests continued today.
Roy said the programme tapes and all required papers had been handed over to the police, who have begun inquiries but have not yet questioned the organisers.