By Ram Puniyani
The index of the health of democratic society is gauzed by the feeling of security experienced by the minorities. Similarly one can say that the degree of democracy in society is reflected by the degree of ‘freedom of expression’ in society. In India, we see that both these indices have been slipping down during the last few years. There are observations that the religious minorities are being relegated to the second class citizenship. Muslims on one side and Christians on the other have been feeling more insecure during the last few years, to be particular. Even before this, it’s not that the things were too good for them. The feeling of ‘security of religious minorities’ and ‘freedom of expression’ have been constantly being undermined for decades, the acme of this is being witnessed since BJP led NDA has come to power in the centre. As such both these, security of minorities and freedom of expression run parallel to each most of the times.
This fact came to surface yet again when Naseeruddin Shah, one of the legends of Indian cinema, poured his heart out in the backdrop of the murder of Sobodh Sing in the violence related to Cow in Bulanshahr, UP. Shah was talking to Karvan-E-Mohabbat. This group, led by the indefatigable activist Harsh Mander, has been a humane response to the rising Hate crimes. The group has taken upon itself to visit and show solidarity with the families of the victims of Hate crimes, to try to put a soothing balm on their wounds of having lost their dear one. This remarkable gesture is steeped in compassion and love for the members of our diverse society.
Shah told them that “In many areas, we are witnessing that the death of a cow has more significance than that of a police officer. I feel anxious thinking about my children. Because they don’t have a religion… tomorrow if a mob surrounds them and asks ‘are you a Hindu or a Muslim?’ they will have no answer. It worries me because I don’t see the situation improving anytime soon. These matters don’t scare me, they make me angry,” He also said that the hate prevalent in the society is like a djinn which has been released from the bottle and now it may be difficult to put it back. He observed that the people have became emboldened to take arms and do violence as they know that they can get away with it.
In any society where love and amity are the norms this statement from a citizen would have made the society introspect. Some of our progressive organizations like from Progressive Writers Association in a statement did come forward to show solidarity with him. Some others like Ashutosh Rana stood with him in this anguish of his, but a bigger section came down pouncing on him. His co-star of many films Anupam Kher ridiculed him saying that there has been free to throw stones on the army and freedom to bad mouth the top military officers, so how much freedom Shah wants? Uma Bharati, the Cabinet Minister in Modi Government said that people like Shah are part of the conspiracy of the divisive politics. Baba Ramdev, the Baba cum business tycoon, called him anti-national and some others went on say that he can go and stay where he feels secure! While the UP state BJP Chief called Shah a Pakistani agent. To cap it all Shah was booed in the Ajmer Literary Festival and was prevented from speaking.
It is not the first time a Muslim actor has been treated so shabbily. We recall that when Shah Rukh Khan in 2015 commented on growing intolerance in society, he was compared to Hafiz Sayeed of Pakistan. In the year next in the face of growing intolerance due to which a large number of prominent people were returning their national awards, Aamir Khan shared his wife Kiran Rao fears about their child. He was also dubbed in the similar vein.
What has been happening during the last few years? It’s true that there has not been any violence of the scale of post-Godhra Gujarat or Kandhmal 2008 or Muzaffarnagar 2013. What has been happening is that chronic violence is becoming endemic and some ghastly individual incidents of horrific nature are coming to the fore. These frighten the Muslim community. Attacks and disruptions on prayer meetings of Christians are making them more insecure than before. The issue of Cow related violence starting from Mohammad Akhlaq to Juned and Rakbar Khan has given the signals that food habits will be dictated by the foot soldiers of communal politics. To cap it all those accused have been given recognition by those in power like central ministers Mahesh Sharma draping the body of accused in Akhlaq case with tricolour and Jayant Sinha honouring the accused in lynching case.
Love Jihad related violence of Afrazul in Rajasthan by Shambhulal Regar showed the extremes to which the humanity can degenerate. Regar not only killed Afrazul in a horrific manner but went on to get the video of the ghastly crime made by his nephew. To cap it all a committee to honour Regar was formed. What is divisive politics of which Shah is being accused by the worthies like Uma Bharati? What is divisive: raising the communal issues like Ram Temple, Holy Cow or stating one’s fears in the light of these massive violations of human rights? What must have irked Shah most was that in the wake of the murder of a police office primacy was given to the killing of Cow. The mobs which have got emboldened over a period of time are imbued with Hate ideology, hatred for the religious minorities. Shah’s anger should be a wakeup call for the democratic spirit of our society to try put back the djinn of hatred back in the bottle, the bottle which needs to be discarded for good.