Tuesday, August 14, 2007

'Our sentiments are hurt'

'Our sentiments are hurt by the works of others' seem to be the prevailing disease in India. Of late, some Indians have attacked others because their 'sentiments were hurt' by the work of the others. They have taken up arms to bash up the person, arsoned their homes, ransacked the proceedings and filed police cases. The Indian Government, instead of coming to the defense of the victims of such attacks, has instead colluded with them in certain cases. This country has consistently turned a blind eye to such attacks and in some cases has colluded with such attackers. And therefore, this state and its people have not set the right examples.

Bad Examples

A Muslim party (MIM) of Hyderabad attacked Taslima Nasreen, a Muslim author, for her works, which according to these attackers 'hurt the sentiments' of 20 Crore Muslims of India. They said they anger was so much that they would have killed her. The MIM party which spearheaded the attack on Taslima has gone ahead to file a case against her for 'promoting communal enmity'.

Sikhs in Punjab protested against Dera Sacha Sauda Chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, for donning attire 'impersonating' one of their gurus, Guru Gobind Singh. The fuming Sikhs said that 'their sentiments were hurt' by these actions of Dera Chief. The Sikhs have rioted with the Deras and also filed a case against the Dera Chief. Few people were injured in the riots and the police firing.

A Christian in Mumbai went on a hunger strike to force the government to ban 'Da Vinci Code'. The governments of AP, Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Goa went ahead and banned this book citing the reasons that Christians' 'sentiments would be hurt' by this movie.

Hindu protestors stormed an art gallery, filed a case and beat up some people when an art student showcased his art for 'internal' assessment in a university. In another case, Hindu protestors stormed an art gallery which showcased MF Husain's paintings, and filed a case alleging him for 'hurting the sentiments' of Hindus. This artist is now baited by police and the courts in India waiting him to come back from his self-imposed exile.

Indian nationalists and regionalists protested against Narayana Murthy when he preferred the National Anthem to be played by music and NOT sung. This particular incident has 'hurt the sentiments' of many patriotic incidents who have gone onto register a case against Narayana Murthy under a silly act called Insult to National Honor Act.

Such incidents are NOT symptomatic of just one religion or region. ‘Our sentiments are hurt’ is a disease that has caught with almost every religion and region in this subcontinent. We are making new rules and laws now. They are based on what we call as 'sensibilities'. We are affected by what you wrote, though we have never read it. We are affected by what you think, though we don't know what it is. We are affected by what you paint, though we have never seen it.

Selected justifications

Some Hindus are of the opinion that it is OK to vandalize and kick out MF Husain, but it is NOT OK to attack Taslima. Some Sikhs are of the opinion that it is OK to target Deras but not OK to ban the book detailing 1984 riots. Some Muslims are OK with attacking Taslima but not OK with Hindus running riot in Gujarat. These people who opinionate these so selectively are educated and uneducated, both men and women, are coming from rural and urban India. Such selected preferences of our sympathies and selected justifications of curbing of our rights has become symptom of this disease. When we sympathize with those who banned the book that detailed riots of 1984, and when we sympathize with those who ban Da Vinci Code, why can't we sympathize with attack on Taslima now?

Some people justify the Hindu actions, such as those perpetrated against M F Husain or against the artist from Vadodara, as 'largely reactionary and politically motivated'. However, they reason that the cases coming out of Muslims to be entirely different from these actions of Hindus. This preferential treatment holds true for each religion and its supporters. They reason that their own fights are somehow justified and completely valid compared to those of other religions.

Is a 'reactionary' movement slightly better one compared to other kinds of fanaticism? What if one were to prove that the present Islamic antagonism originates from Post-WWI events, and therefore is a 'reactionary movement'? Would that somehow legitimize the Islamic fundamentalism and the terrorism? Aren't MIM actions 'politically' motivated? Is a politically motivated action slightly better than other actions?

While many Hindus have joined the protest against what happened to Taslima in Hyderabad, which everyone agrees is a despicable and shameful attack, they have NOT raised a protest when the book detailing riots of 1984 was banned by the Government of India. What outrages us the most? Is it the 'kind of action itself' or the 'blind irrationality' that motivates those actions? How come so many Hindus, even the educated and elite, actually supported and rationalized the vandalism against MF Husain's paintings terming it a 'natural outburst'? How come so many Hindus justify the Godra incident as a 'natural reaction' to the torching of train by alleged Muslim arsonists?

Such selected justifications will only take us down a spiral path into middle ages. We need to condemn all such actions, whether it comes from a Sikh, or a Hindu, or a Muslim, with the same vigor. We don't seem to do that. We seem to sit back and rationalize some of them 'as reactionary', somehow making them look better!

Educated people support such attacks

A Muslim commenter wrote on a forum that his well-educated sisters support this attack on Taslima. He reasoned that these sisters are quite OK to apply Sharia in such minor doses and they actually welcome it.

These little rationalizations of irrationalities spell the doom for all of us. If ever there is a little room for rationality in this country it is because of its diversity. If this nation were overwhelmingly Muslim, Sharia would have been implemented in much larger doses affecting (negatively) all of us. And if it was overwhelmingly Hindu, we would have sanctioned the plight of untouchables as verdict of God.

When educated people condone certain irrational acts, under the name of any blind belief, we set precedents for much larger actions in the name of that belief. How will the same well-educated sisters react if they are excommunicated from all public places in the name of Islam as done under Taliban? When the educated and elite support these little incidents, they are giving power to such elements who would eventually impose radicalized versions onto these supporters.

In one of the earlier articles ‘India Curbs Freedom of Expression I’, I urged each of us to oppose all such acts. I repeat myself here.

I see dangerous trends coming from different parts of India. As a first step, only selected few will be targeted - those who criticize, enjoy artistic freedoms, call spade a spade, will be attacked for their liberal views, for their expressions of art, and for their individuality. But once that is done, they will come back for the rest of us.

The goons and activists are entering the political body of India while their silent sympathizers provide the necessary support. These little demons that we are nurturing and abetting now will come back to haunt us as evil giants, who will take away all our enshrined freedoms which come so dear to us. When they do come back as grown up usurpers of freedoms, they will affect our mainstream life affecting each of us, including the silent sympathizers, not just that single artist who painted erotic art.

How to vent one's anger

In a country like India, where legal recourse is expensive and usually a long ordeal, how does a common man vent his anger and frustration at the system? What does he do when he believes that an author or painter has defiled his sacred objects - his gods, his prophets, or his nation? Should he take up arms and cudgels every time he gets angry with the system, or an author or a painter?

I was talking to a wise Turk in his 50s. He said, 'In those days, in Turkey, if one disagreed with the other, the only way to deal with it was to kill the other. What we owe to the Englishman is that he taught us to say to each other, "We agree to disagree"'.

We need to educate our people on how to vent their disapproval, disappointment, anger and anguish in a civil manner, which does not involve ransacking a gallery, vandalizing a house, hitting him, ambushing him, killing him/her, etc.

If one believes that certain blatant lies are spread about one's religion, one can go about correcting them. If a book has spread those lies, you can also write another book to correct them. If indeed those lies can be combated in a court, you can take the author to the court. There are civil ways to deal with a disagreement. Ransacking and attacking the proceedings is not considered civil.

We need to create an atmosphere of healthy debate in this country (not like the ones shown on TV these days), where we can agree to disagree, where we do not curtail other person’s right to express something just because our ‘sentiments are hurt’. Consequences of curbing of freedom of expression, even if that expression includes ‘lies’ and ‘propaganda’, are more disastrous than living with ‘lies’ and ‘propaganda’.

Voltaire supposedly said- I disapprove of what you say; but I will defend your right to say it.


  1. You forgot to mention the following two examples -

    (1) Fatwa against Salman Rusdie (Satanic Verses)
    (2) Dannish Cartoons

  2. It will also help to read "The Idea of India" - Sunil Khilnani.


  3. Hear Hear. Note to investigate one's prejudices. I liked the point on selected justifications.

  4. I think Voltaire's comment was: "I detest what you say, but I'll give my life for your right to say it".

    If we're serious about freedom of speech, we should be defending the freedom of speech of precisely the people whose views we despise.


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