Belgium-born economist and social activist Jean Dreze could not complete his speech at a programme in Ranchi when Jharkhand agriculture minister, Randhir Kumar Singh, reportedly heckled him as he was offended by some of the statements made by the social activist, media reports said.
According to a report in The Indian Express, Dreze said that communalism was most dangerous when the state itself created antagonism between the communities. Singh took strong objection to this and stopped Dreze from making his speech and asked him to apologise. Union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh, who was also present at the event, had to come to the dais and ask Singh to calm down repeatedly. The Union minister then assured Singh that he would address the point raised by Dreze. By this time, Dreze went back to his seat and left his speech unfinished.
During his speech, Dreze had brought up an advertisement taken out by the government a day before it tabled and passed the anti-conversion bill in the Assembly, according the report. The advertisement had quoted Mahatma Gandhi asking Christian missionaries to not participate in the conversion of poor and gullible tribals.
Dreze said that the government was misleading people and attributing the thoughts of the RSS to Gandhi, reported Hindustan Times. He also condemned the government for the rise of crime in the state and pointed out the criminal records of the state's lawmakers.
When The Indian Express contacted the state minister, he said, “I only objected when he began talking about RSS. I told him that he doesn’t know about RSS.” For his part, Dreze said that no one asked for him to complete his speech, so he "just sat down." He further said that he would like to meet his critics and engage with their arguments, if they were willing.
The treatment meted out to Dreze prompted protests in front of Raj Bhavan in Ranchi as several intellectuals and activists demanded apologies from state ministers for disrupting Dreze’s speech, reported Hindustan Times. The protesters also gave a unanimous statement which said: “This incident is yet another example of the growing intolerance and attacks on people’s fundamental rights to freedom of speech, expression, assembly and movement, the right to practice any occupation, the right to preserve one’s culture and even the right to life and liberty in Jharkhand.”
Dreze has on earlier occasions criticised the government's policies. In July, he had said that the RSS and its affiliates had embarked on a "very dangerous" project of controlling both the body and mind of people of the country through violence and the rhetoric of its cultural nationalism. He had said that the violence, including on the pretext of dietary habits, was being done to ensure that only their version of thought process would count.
Updated Date: Aug 15, 2017 10:55 AM