Letter to the Editor:
Andhra Jyoti, a popular Telugu weekly magazine, received a long story, a provocative rendition of Ramayana, with the title "Raavana Josyam (Raavana's Prophecy)" from D. R. Indra, and decided to publish it in three parts. The first part of the story apparently angered some people. The magazine received a letter, which threatened dire consequences should it continue publishing the story. Naamini Subrahmanyam Naidu, the editor of the weekly magazine, refused to be intimidated, and went ahead with the publication of the second part of the story. In response, nearly a hundred men and women, all self-proclaimed members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), forced their way into the office of Naamini in the afternoon of January 25th, showered him with obscenities, rampaged his office, and threatened him with physical harm. A staff member who came to his rescue was physically assaulted.
Cowed down by the threats and vandalism, the editorial management of Andhra Jyoti not only meekly stopped the publication of the third part of the story, but also published an apology to readers for "...unintentionally hurting their sentiments."
We are appalled by this incident and are very much concerned about its implications. Freedom of thought and expression has been highly valued by the Telugu people for centuries. This blatant attack against the editor of a reputed magazine, and the shameful surrender to the hoodlums by the management of the magazine, should come as wake-up calls to every Telugu person who takes pride in the pluralistic and open Telugu society.
Naamini Subramanyam Naidu, the editor harassed by these thugs, is one of the most respected modern writers in Telugu with an unparalleled artistic courage. He is well regarded for his utterly transparent presentation of his own life and that of his people with an utter lack of assumption and pretence, a rare phenomenon in literature. The attack on Naamini and the tolerance (and the implicit endorsement) of that attack by the management are themselves acts of desecration.
Andhra Jyoti itself has had a long-standing tradition of high standards of journalism under eminent editors such as Narla Venkateswara Rao and Puranam Subrahmanya Sarma whose courage in publishing provocative articles is well known. Andhra Jyoti has a history of standing up to the blackmail by the state government when the latter did not like the magazine's political stance. Now, by meekly submitting the magazine to the chauvinism of a bunch of overzealous thugs, the current management of Andhra Jyoti brought shame to this once reputed magazine's proud heritage. The management of Andhra Jyoti should be aware that the role of the responsible press in a free society is to provide an effective forum for reflection and discussion of contesting views in a civil dialogue; and that the management has an obligation to protect its editorial staff when its editorial freedom is under attack.
The perpetrators of this incident should themselves understand that such behaviour is harmful to their own causes too. Once free speech is sacrificed on the altar of thuggery and mayhem, no cause is safe. We offer the closure of the play, Godse Speaks, as an example. It is in everyone's interest, and everyone's obligation, to actively support freedom of expression.
Also ironic is that this cultural police have curtailed the publication of a different rendition of Ramayana. Historically in India, the great narrative tradition of the Ramayana lived because it was an open tradition, available for multiple readings, interpretations and examinations. Ramayana would have died a long time ago if it were kept closed, with only one authorized text, and one authorized interpretation. Within Telugu literature, a variety of Ramayanas kept the multiple meanings of the text alive. These include versions by Bhaskara, Buddhareddi and Molla. Thanks to the modern poets and writers, this tradition continued into the twentieth century. Muddukrishna, Chalam, Tripuraneni Ramaswami Chowdary, Narla Venkateswara Rao, Ranganayakamma, Vijayalakshmi and Sivasagar have kept the multi-vocality of Ramayana discourse alive as did Vavilikolanu Subbarao, Adibhatla Narayana Dasu, Viswanatha Satyanrayana, Tenneti Hemalatha and others. When Naamini published D. R. Indra's "Raavana Josyam", he had only followed the Ramayana tradition continuing in Andhra for centuries.
Sadly, what these RSS militants are doing, in their zeal to impose a bigoted and homogeneous interpretation on the Ramayana, is to kill a living text and our civilization with it. In a diverse and dynamic society such as ours, various marginalised groups are continually engaged in struggles for empowerment. Towards this goal, they seek to voice their perspectives of the sacred texts that represent Indian culture. The cultural police, intolerant of any voice that differs from their own, arrogate to themselves the role of limiting the meanings of such texts and impose an artificial purity on them. The recent assault on Andhra Jyoti is a grave reminder of how easily they resort to violence to silence such voices.
We applaud Naamini for his courage in publishing the story. We also applaud the author, D.R. Indra, for his determination in ensuring that the story is published elsewhere, when Andhra Jyoti stifled it.
We condemn RSS and its allies, as well as any others playing cultural police, for their mindless assaults on everyone's freedoms and their arrogance in attempting to silence the free voices. We unequivocally condemn such acts against freedom of the press and freedom of expression. Terrorising editors to prevent publication of what one does not want to see in print is shameful and criminal.
We request the Government of Andhra Pradesh to take the necessary legal action against the perpetrators in the interest of preserving the freedom of press and freedom of speech.
We expect the management of Andhra Jyoti, as well as all other publications, to exercise their responsibility to protect and safeguard the freedom of the editors who work for them. And we demand that Andhra Jyothi publish Indra's story in its full.
We appeal to all concerned citizens to express solidarity in support of all journalists. We appeal to you to come together and speak out against threats to our freedom of expression regardless of our ideology or politics.
Velcheru Narayana Rao, Professor, University of Wisconsin, Madison; Meena Alexander, Poet & Novelst,Distinguished Professor, CUNY, NY; Shaina Anand, Graduate Student & filmmaker, TempleUniversity Melliyal Annamalai; Sitaramayya Ari Associate Professor, Oakland University, MI; Kulpreet Badial, Software Designer, Ottawa, Canada; Dr. V. Balaji, GFDL, Princeton University, NJ; Srikanth Bandi, Ph.D., London; Ayan Banerjee, IISc, Bangalore; Dr. Sumit Basu, Technical University of Delft, the Netherlands; Satyam Bendapudi, Research Assistant Purdue University; Akkiraju Bhattiprolu; Prof. B. Chandrasekaran, Computer Science Dept., Ohio State University; Murali Chanduri, Chief Editor, America Bharati, Los Angeles; Mrinal Chaudhuri, Consulting Engineer, Houston, TX; Sudhakar Chelikani, Yale University; Sreedhar Chintalapaty; Prasad A. Chodavarapu; Preeti Chopra, Doctoral Candidate, University of California at Berkeley; Satinath Choudhary, Visiting Associate Professor, Lincoln University, PA; Sreenivas Chukka, Ph.D, Boston; Geoffrey Cook, Ph. D, Co-Chair, East Bay Sanctuary Covenant; Debjani Das, International Human Rights Association, Germany; Suprio DASGUPTA; Ananya DASGUPTA; Dr. Lilarani Dasverma, Consultant, Mission Viejo, CA; Harminder Dhillon, Electrical Engineer, Toronto, Canada; Ajay Divakaran Maruthi Dogiparthi; Sundeep Dougal, Holden Caulfield, New Delhi; Ira Dworkin, Professor of English, GSUC, City U. of NewYork; N.ELangovan, Chennai; Maureen Fadem, Graduate Student, City University of New York; Nandita Ghosh, Fordham University; Sujatha Gidla; Babu R.R. 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Nelson, Associate Professor, Dept. of Religion, U. of San Diego; Sankhavaram Panini, Associate Professor, East Tennessee State University; Aruna Panini, M.D., Assistant Professor, East Tennessee State University; Sreenivas Paruchuri, U. of Paderborn, Germany; U. Pavuluri; Sheldon Pollock, Professor of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, U. of Chicago; Satyanarayana Ponamgi, Ph.D; Ismail K. Poonawala, Professor, U. of California, Los Angeles; K. Pravasi, Dallas, TX; Dr. N.S. Raja, Institute for Astronomy, Univ. of Hawaii; Gauhar Raza, Scientist; Siddharthan Ramachandramurthi, Boston; Gurumurthy Ramachandran, Associate Professor, U. of Minnesota; Dr. K.V. Bapa Rao, Computer Scientist, Los Angeles; Sangeeta Rao, University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Ravi (email@example.com); Dr. U. Roesler, Dept. of Indology, U. of Marburg, Germany; Dr. Rathin Roy, Academic Director - PPM, SOAS, U. of London; Sharmila Roy, Downers Grove, Illinois; P. S. Sahithi, Ph.D., Lecturer, UNL, London, U.K; Balram Sampla; Prof. Dheeraj Sanghi, IIT, Kanpur; Nasy Sankagiri, Research Engineer, Ford Motor Co., Detroit, MI; Prasad Saripalli, Ph.D; Dr. D.V.N.Sarma, Retired Reader, O.U., Hyderabad; Dr. Pramathanath Sastry, Mehta Research Institute, Allahabad; Hari P. Sharma, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Simon Fraser University; J V R Sharma; Shailja Sharma, DePaul University, Chicago; Bapsi Sidhwa, Novelist, Professor of English, Brandeis University; ; Bhupinder Singh, Software Engineer; Sailendra Singh, Director, CL Inst. of India Pvt. Ltd., Calcutta; Ramana Sonti Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI; Lakshmi N Srinivas, Novi, MI; Dr. Roland Steiner, Assistant Professor, U. of Marburg, Germany; Abha Sur Program in Science, Technology, and Society, MIT, Cambridge, MA; Vishwanath Tirupattur, India Alert; S. P. Udayakumar, Ph.D., Managing Trustee SACCER; Dr. Vasudeva Varma, Project Manager, Santa Clara, California; Venkateswar Rao Veluri, Ph.D, Founding Chairman India Literacy Project; Syam Veluri, Boston; Ramanna Vishnubhotla, Rochester Hills, Michigan; Michael Witzel, Wales Professor of Sanskrit, Harvard University, Boston; Robert Zydenbos, Ph. D, The Netherlands; The Coalition for an egalitarian & Pluralistic India, Los Angeles; I.K.Shukla (writer); Sandip K. Dasverma (Engineer); Monideepa Sharma Vocalist; Syed Riaz Mahdi, Investment consultant; Tarun Sharma, Financial Adviser; S. .M.Shahed, Computer Engineer; Prof. Asha Shahed, and friends; Manushi, New Delhi
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