The Indian state under the current ruling political formation has over the past few years been pursuing a virulent campaign of a populist anti-intellectualism, targeting the humanities and the social sciences in particular.
Many academics from these disciplines, alongside journalists, lawyers, and civil rights activists, who have sought to question the inegalitarian aspects of social structures and public institutions, are subjected to arbitrary tests of allegiance to sectarian and divisive definitions of the nation, people and culture, threatened with fraudulent charges, arbitrary detention or imprisonment, allegations of being anti-national, and even murder. The diversity and ferment of debates in public life, especially universities, are stifled, while new voices from marginalised sections that have entered university spaces over the past two decades are met with brutal repression.
The attacks on academics, intellectuals, and activists, however, need to be understood as part of the accompanying wholesale subversion of democratic institutions, intensified under cover of the Covid-19 regime of lockdowns and “social distancing”. The contributions in this issue of Against Social Distancing to this larger context—carried in the special section of this and subsequent newsletters—will reflect on various aspects of the institutional erosion and their social consequences. These will be followed in the first issue of 2021 of Postcolonial Studies, by slightly longer reflections on the attacks on university spaces in particular. The current issue begins these reflections with three contributions on the media and its complicity in the undermining of Indian democracy.
The contributions to the ‘Whither India?’ section have been curated by Ira Raja and Shaswati Mazumdar.