Intellectuals and activists represent the conscience of any society. Yet in today’s India they find themselves plunged into crisis. This, however, is not one of their own making as last month’s killing of Guari Laneksh only serves to highlight. She is the fourth intellectual activist to be murderously silenced in recent years. Earlier, Narendra Dabholkar, a rationalist activist, was killed back in August 2013 due to his work to counter prevailing superstitions such as black magic and child sacrifice. Then came the 2015 murder of Govind Pansare, a left-wing politician and writer from Shivaji Kon Hota; his only crime was to talk about the secular side of Maratha icon Shivaji. Kannada scholar MM Kalburgi was also murdered in the same year over allegations of hurting Hindu sentiments. Thus the message is clear: in India today, those who make it their life’s mission to seek change through thinking, writing and speaking will pay the very highest of prices for their endeavours. Regarding the above murders, the finger of suspicion falls on those with close affiliation to Hindutva ideology, whom are said to view such activism as posing a threat to prevailing power structures. Kalburgi and Lankesh had more than a dozen cases filed against them in different courts by various extremist Hindu groups. After her death, a BJP member of the Karnataka state legislature suggested that had Lankesh not criticised the Hindu nationalist movement, the Sangh Parivar — she would still be alive today. Ideologies, by definition and practice, restrict thought and place this within fixed boundaries, whether in terms of time or space. This gives rise to irrational and destructive trains of thought, such as those associated with communalism, fascism, Maoism and, indeed, nationalism. The Hindutva, too, falls into the same category. And its followers have a myopic worldview; one that is rooted in myths and the Manusmriti, an ancient religious-legal text. The task of the intellectual is to travel beyond ideologies, beyond time, even, to seek the truth; challenging explaining and expressing social reality through the means by which he lives: writing, thinking, speaking. Or as Nigerian author Chinua Achebe puts it, to create new social values. Yet this is anathema to status quo forces such as the Hindutva A writer, a thinker, an intellectual is diametrically opposed to all that this stands for. His task is to travel beyond ideologies, beyond time, even, to seek the truth; challenging explaining and expressing social reality through the means by which he lives: writing, thinking, speaking. Indeed, one may recall the words of the Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe, when she succinctly put it that the writer’s job is to create new social values. However, this is anathema to status quo forces such as the Hindutva. Thus when the Dalit activist and political theorist Kancha Ilaiah argues that the latter promotes social smuggling; or when Kalburgi, talks about the disconnect between the distinct Shaivite religious tradition of Lingayatism and Hinduism — the only recourse that the Hindutva can envisage is silencing those who challenge its ‘teachings’ and, thus, its grip on political power. And when intimidation and harassment prove insufficient, all that remains is to purge the individual. Jawaharlal Nehru wrote The Discovery of India in the 1940s, underlining a set of new values on which the Indian constitution would later be based; thereby becoming the supreme ideology shared by all the citizens of the new republic. And the state of Emergency (1975-77) notwithstanding, writers wrote, in the words of French philosopher and activist Jean-Paul Sartre, “to exist and express their freedom”. Indeed, this liberty that he talks of is one of conscience, of fulfilling, to borrow once more from Sartre, “their moral and ethical responsibilities of observing the social political moments, and to freely speak to their society.” But that was then. In today’s India, writers find themselves in an extremely precarious position. On the one hand, society has become so radicalised that intellectuals, as a social class, are perceived as a threat. And on the other, the country’s constitution is unable to protect them because those whose job it is to ensure its implementation have no faith in it. Addressing its lawyers’ wing last week, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat stressed that the constitution should be changed according to the ethos of the country. When it should, of course, be the other way around. Pondering the state of Indian intellectualism today, one is reminded of Turkey from about a decade ago. Meaning when Nobel laureate Ohran Pamauk was charged by the authorities of “insulting Turkishness” back in 2006. His crime was that he had dared to refer to the Armenian genocide of 1915-1917, which the nationalist government in Ankara still denies. The aforementioned coincided with the beginning of the Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s rise under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan; which gradually led to the state apparatus cracking down on any form of dissent. Today hundreds of writers, journalists and activists — including country director and chair of Amnesty International in Turkey, Idil Eser and Taner Kilic — remain in jail. Additionally, the Erdogan regime holds near total control of the country’s media and access to the Internet. In short, to quote Pamuk, ‘so many crazy, unacceptable things are happening’ in that country. The ruling party, however, remains in denial and wants everyone else to be, as well. For it still insists that Turkey is a secular parliamentary democracy, thereby fulfilling the vision of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the country’s founding father. Coming back to India, therefore, one can’t help but wonder: is this the fate that awaits us? Are we hurtling down the same path towards autocracy that Turkey is? It’s a pertinent question, sadly. The writer is a Melbourne-based author Published in Daily Times, October 18th 2017.