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Contemporary India is witness to a huge change in which, space for serious conversations on all aspects of culture, is receding. The advocacy of religious-cultural nationalism has come to replace all forms of culture. It has also come to take many forms.
For instance, the murder of rationalists – Kalburgi, Pansare, and Gauri Lankesh – underlines the contested nature of secularism, and the fragile space for freedom of thought in religion, media and culture in India. There has been a determined attempt to rewrite the cultural history of India, a project that has fed into the writing of school textbooks.
The rise of online archival projects offering alternative accounts of Indian history, the popular cultures of televised Hinduism, curbs on art and cinema, the huge nexus of religion and market, rise of hate speech are signals to a certain kind of revivalism. Writings that celebrate plurality and tolerance are being decried, systematically countered and a monolithic agenda of culture is gradually being established. In the absence of a real space for cultural conversations, politics dominates all kinds of discourses.
In this episode of BIC Talks Aruna Roy, Activist & Former Civil Servant, sheds light on these receding spaces. This lecture took place at the BIC premises in early January 2024 as the U R Ananthamurthy Memorial Lecture.
Aruna Roy is one of India’s most prominent activists. She was a civil servant from 1968 to 1975. In 1975 she resigned from the Indian Administrative Service to work with the rural poor in Rajasthan. Along with Nikhil Dey, Shankar Singh, and several others from the local community in Devdungri district, she collectively formed the MKSS Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (Organisation for the Empowerment of Workers and Peasants) in 1990. The MKSS played a pivotal role in drafting and advocating for the Right to Information Law which was passed by the Indian Parliament in 2005. She has also worked with campaigns for the access of the poor to constitutional rights for equality and justice- the Right to Work, Food Security and the Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties.
She is a prominent member of many democratic struggles and campaigns, and currently is the President of the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW). She was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2000, the Nani Palkiwala Award and the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Award for Excellence in Public Administration, Academia and Management in 2010, and listed as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by the TIME Magazine for 2011.