Book Review – Battling for India: A Citizen’s Reader by Githa Hariharan and Salim Yusufji

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Published: June 16, 2019 12:09:50 AM

Edited by Githa Hariharan and Salim Yusufji, Battling For India: A Citizen’s Reader is a collection of articles, essays, interviews and poems by writers and intellectuals during the period to address these concerns.

Battling for India, A Citizen's Reader, Githa Hariharan, Salim Yusufji, Dalit, India, lifetyle news, book reviewBattling for India: A Citizen’s Reader by Githa Hariharan and Salim Yusufji

India has seen a variety of protests in several spheres in the last decade that owe their origin to a complex web of factors. From the farmers’ and adivasis’ unrest to Dalit protests and award wapsi campaign, these voices are trying to reclaim the space that has been vitiated by the ongoing politics. They have been prompted by many incidents, ranging from the killings of MM Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh, Rohith Vemula’s suicide, attacks on Muslims and episodes of mob lynching.

Edited by Githa Hariharan and Salim Yusufji, Battling For India: A Citizen’s Reader is a collection of articles, essays, interviews and poems by writers and intellectuals during the period to address these concerns.

Among the poignant poems in the collection is Death of a Young Dalit veteran English poet Meena Alexander (she died in November 2018) wrote after Vemula’s suicide in January 2016. Describing her experience of composing the poem, she wrote: “I was consumed by the tumultuous hope and the very real despair of a young man I had never met.”

Acclaimed Hindi writer Uday Prakash has a powerful poem about the attacks on free speech. “After he dies/he thinks/nothing. After he dies/he speaks/nothing. When he does not/think or speak/he dies.”

Divided into six sections, the book has some of the most credible voices of contemporary India ranging from Nayantara Sahgal, Ashok Vajpeyi to Shanta Gokhale, K Satchidanandan and Harsh Mander. It also has voices of many little-known Indians, farmers, activists and students, who are leading quiet struggles to secure a space for the marginalised and disadvantaged, to ensure that the constitutional guarantees are not granted selectively.

In an interview, Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad, alias Ravan, highlights the need to have representation of Dalits in various spheres of public life. Scholar and activist Nandini Sundar points at the lawlessness in Bastar that has made the region “a state without a constitution”.

What distinguishes most of these voices is their unfailing optimism. They are cognisant that their fight is against a mighty force, but they have not lost hope. “A poem becomes a poem when it speaks of big things out of a little mouth,” Ashok Vajpeyi writes in a poem. “Let my poetry talk big; let it hold its head high. Never let my poetry or my head bend for anybody.”

They are the torchbearers of democracy, conscience-keepers of the nation who place the public good before personal interests. Soon after receiving the Sahitya Akademi award in February 2018, Malayalam writer KP Ramanunni announced that he would take only `3 from the award amount and give the rest to the mother of 15-year-old Junaid Khan who was killed by a mob when he was returning with his brothers from Delhi to their village in Haryana.

Rabindranath Tagore once wrote that the idea of a nation is “one of the most powerful anesthetics that man has invented”. A lot of violence in the last century on the planet can be attributed to the flawed appropriation of this idea. As the idea once again gains threatening colours, this anthology offers a creative and constructive way to make it more inclusive. In smaller struggles, led by a poem or a short story, lives the soul of the nation.

(A fiction writer and journalist, Ashutosh Bhardwaj is currently a fellow at Indian Institute of Advanced Study in Shimla)

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