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Amish: You cannot judge 1.25 bn people by 5, 10 incidents

November 06, 2015 10:20 IST

Writers and activists protest growing intolerance

IMAGE: Writers and cultural activists tying black gags and arm bands at a solidarity march to protest the growing intolerance in the country in New Delhi. Photograph: PTI

'When you are returning your award you are commenting on the country and not the government.'

'Can we say a vast majority of Indians have become communal? The data shows actually no. That is not true.'

'In religious terms India has a lot to teach the world because we are genuinely liberal, but in gender terms we have to learn lot from the West. In gender terms, we are terrible.'

Bestselling writer Amish Tripathi on why he does not agree with writers and others returning awards.

Bestselling author Amish Tripathi speaks against writers who have returned their awards to the government.

Known for books like the Shiva Trilogy and the Scion of Ikshvaku, Amish, below, left, spoke to Syed Firdaus Ashraf/ on why he feels the returning of awards by writers was not a good gesture.

Why do you feel our country has not become communal?

Essentially it is based on data. We often tend to forget that we are a country of 1.25 billion people. We have more people in terms of population than North America and South America put together. We are more like a continent than a country.

So if you want to make a statement on 1.25 billion people it needs to be covered by data of a few millions and not by a few incidents, and look at the data which is publicly available.

Religious violence in India today or 10 years ago was not very high in comparison to the proportion to our population. The kind of violence that is very high as compared to the proportion of our population is 'gender violence,' as the data shows.

From being in the womb till they die, women suffer the most violence in India. Religious violence is not that high.

Don't you think communal statements made by BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) leaders and ministers threaten the social fabric of our country?

I never comment on politics or what politicians say. I don't comment on any party. My entire comment is on India as a country and India as a society. All I am saying is that we should focus on the right issues.

Let me give you some numbers, 5 lakh (500,000) girls are killed in the womb every year. Every year that is the scale of violence that women face in India.

I am just trying to say that we as a country need to focus on this violence. Religious violence is nowhere on that scale and gender violence is extremely high. On some parameters Indian women are treated more badly than Saudi Arabian women. That is how badly we treat our women.

Do you mean we are wasting our time on communal issues and must rather concentrate on gender discrimination issues?

I would not say wasting. I have said there are incidents that have happened which are horrific. The criminals responsible for those incidents must be punished with the full force of the law.

I am talking as a country; which is the most serious violence problem we face? It is gender violence and not religious violence.

Why do feel writers should not return their awards?

These writers are my seniors. They have written for many more years than I have. I am just requesting with complete respect that they must look at the data. Remember, the award that they received was not from any government, but from the State, the Indian people.

So when they are returning the award they are not returning it to the Indian government but to the Indian nation, to society. In a way, they are judging 1.25 billion people.

Can we actually say that a vast majority of Indians have become communal? The data shows actually no. That is not true.

A large majority of Indians of all faiths are not communal, they are deeply religious and liberal. The sad truth is a large number of Indians are misogynist and they are not treating women well.

You say artists must not return awards. But when an actor like Shah Rukh Khan says there is intolerance in society he is told to go to Pakistan by BJP leaders. So what is the right way to protest if I am unhappy with the government?

We are a free country. Everyone has a right to say what they have to say because everyone is free. There is nothing wrong in that, but all of us have a right to protest on what you have to say.

Everyone has a right to their own approach. My only submission is that intolerance in India is more on women rather than the religious issue.

Certain sections of Indians feel threatened by the government's authoritarian attitude. Don't you think this has to be addressed? People are getting killed on mere suspicion that they ate beef.

These issues are horrific. These criminals need to be arrested and the full course of the law has to be applied. I completely agree with that. Justice has to be done in that particular case. There are a few incidents that have happened and we need justice there too.

What you are doing here is that you are confusing two separate issues. One is the judgement on Indian society itself, that is a separate issue, the second is justice in these cases. And justice must be delivered in these cases. We need to put pressure on the local police to investigate these cases and punish the criminals.

The trouble arose because there was silence from Prime Minister Narendra Modi post the Dadri lynching. Don't you think Modi should have spoken out on this issue?

Again, you are going into political territory. Sorry, I never comment on politics.

Do you feel Hindu society has become very intolerant and that the wrong message is going around the world?

I think people of all faiths in India -- Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrian and even Jews -- are deeply religious and deeply liberal. You see that in data and you see that in the celebrations of so many festivals. I think we should not forget that.

I am in Delhi right now and Ajmer Sharif is close by which is dedicated to a Muslim Sufi saint and you will find more Hindus than Muslims there. I live in Mumbai and you go to Haji Ali dargah and there too you will find more Hindus than Muslims there.

During the Ganesh Chaturthi festival, a little known fact is that a large majority of idol-makers are Muslims. And many of them have a tradition that they do the first puja before they sell it to Hindu customers.

You go to Mount Mary Church in Bandra (northwest Mumbai), and you will find many Hindus and Muslims there. You will find Rakshabandhan and Diwali festivals being celebrated by people of all faiths and not just Hindus.

To me this is the real India. A vast majority of Indians are like that and you must not forget this despite some horrendous incidents.

In Rajasthan there is a sect like the Manganiyar Muslims. Their profession is to sing devotional songs and they sing the Ramayan. I have seen their performance and we tend to forget that real India.

Everybody wants to see this real India, but this real India itself is under threat by the government in power led by Modi. That is the fear.

I am saying again that I am not commenting on politics. I am only talking about Indian society. I am very proud of how Indians so naturally co-exist with each other across all faiths. But something that disturbs me a lot is how Indians across all faiths treat their women.

There is a feeling that writers are the first to see the bad things in society.


Amish Tripathi


But you as a writer are only seeing positive things. Is it because you are young and the people who are returning awards are old?

I don't know. I am a lover of India and I am a patriot. I feel whatever needs to be proved must be based on calm reflection and not emotions. It must be based on calm analysis of your data.

Therefore, if you see, I always say the biggest oppression that is happening in India is the oppression of women.

Is it because of your management background (Amish went to IIM-Calcutta) that you talk of data and logistics while writers don't think like that but rather react based on emotions?

(Laughs) The point I am making is that we are not a country, but we are a continent. You have 1.25 billion people and you have to look at big data. You cannot judge on 5, 10 incidents. Admittedly, that is horrific. But you cannot judge 1.25 billion people on those 5,10 horrific incidents.

This is not a judgement on 1.25 billion people. The writers are judging the Modi government which is not tolerant.

That is a separate issue. Whatever the political debate is I have nothing to do with that. I am only saying that if you see the international press or the English press, they are saying India has become intolerant. On religious terms India is not intolerant.

The New York Times, for example, writes that India has become intolerant and I am saying that is not correct. The data does not show that.

India is not tolerant on gender issues, the data clearly shows that. I have myself written an article on that. It is shameful.

You are being very diplomatic by not answering my questions on Modi's silence and his not commenting on communal issues bothering India. He has to answer those questions and not Amish Tripathi or anybody else.

This government or the previous government, I have never commented on politics. It is for the simple reason that India already has a lot of people who comment on politics. Many of them come on television channels at 9 every night.

I think the kind of books I write, I am not cut out for politics.

Do you feel Hinduism, and hence Hindu society, is more tolerant than say Islamic societies or Christian societies?

I have not read about other countries. In India the way all religions are practised here -- they are all tolerant. In my puja room I have an idol of Lord Shiva and idols of other Gods too, but I also have the Star of David. I have a picture of Mother Mary, Jesus Christ, a picture of the Ka'aba and a picture of Guru Nanakji.

Whenever I say this in India nobody gets surprised. They find it normal. Even in the US and UK where I have gone, people ask me how can I do this? They wonder how can I pray to all Gods? I ask them why can't I? This is the way we Indians live. This is not only true for Hindus.

In religious terms India has a lot to teach the world because we are genuinely liberal, but in gender terms we have to learn a lot from the West. In gender terms, we are terrible.

I thought you would comment on politics because you were upset after some writers returned their awards.

On returning awards, I commented because that is a comment on the country. Any other protest is your choice, but when you are returning your award you are commenting on the country and not the government.

You see The New York Times article. They are commenting on India, not the Indian government. 'India has turned communal' (the New York Times article said) which I disagree. India is not communal.

Were you hurt when you read that article?

No. It is not that one bothers to think what The New York Times thinks. The New York Times cheered America's invasion of Iraq, which led to the deaths of one million Iraqis. So, I don't think we should be bothered about what The New York Times says.

Syed Firdaus Ashraf