The index of 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 a society is reflected by the degree of ‘freedom of expression’ in the society. In India we see that both these indices have been slipping down during last few years. There are observations that the religious minorities are being relegated to second class citizenship. In particular, Muslims and Christians have been feeling more and more insecure during the last few years. Even earlier, it’s not that things were very good for them. ‘Security of religious minorities’ and ‘freedom of expression’ have been constantly undermined for decades in the country. But it has reached its acme ever since the BJP led NDA has come to power at the center.
This fact came to the surface yet again when Naseeruddin Shah, one of the legends of Indian cinema, poured his heart out in the backdrop of the murder of police inspector Subodh Kumar Singh in the violence related to cow slaughter in Bulandshahr, 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 soothing balm on their wounds of having lost their dear ones. This remarkable gesture is steeped in compassion and love for the members of our diverse society.
Shah told them, “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 genie which has been released from the bottle and now it may be difficult to put it back. He observed that people have become emboldened to take arms and indulge in violence as they know that they can get away with it.
In any society where love and amity are the norm, this statement from an eminent citizen like Naseeruddin Shah would have made the society introspect. Some of our progressive organisations like the Progressive Writers Association have come forward and released a statement in solidarity with him. Some others like Ashutosh Rana have also stood by 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 freedom to throw stones on the army and freedom to bad mouth the top military officers, so how much freedom does Shah want? Uma Bharati, a Cabinet Minister in the Modi Government, said that people like Shah are part of the conspiracy of divisive politics. Baba Ramdev, the Baba-cum-business tycoon, called him anti-national, 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 the growing intolerance in society, he was compared to Hafiz Saeed of Pakistan. The next year, in the face of growing intolerance due to which large number of prominent people were returning their national awards, Aamir Khan shared his wife Kiran Rao’s fears about their child. He was also denounced in a similar vein.
What has been happening during last few years? It’s true that there has not been any violence on the scale of post-Godhra Gujarat or Kandhamal of 2008 or Muzzafarnagar of 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 of prayer meetings of Christians are making them more insecure than before. The issue of cow related violence, starting from Mohammad Akhlaq to Junaid and Rakbar Khan, has given the signal that food habits will be dictated by the foot soldiers of communal politics. To cap it all, the accused in these lynchings have been honoured by those in power, like Union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma draping the body of one of the accused in the Akhlaq lynching case with the national flag and Union Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha honouring the accused in the Alimuddin Ansari lynching case after they were released on bail by the High Court.
The Love Jehad related murder of Afrazul in Rajasthan by Shambhulal Regar showed the extremes to which the humanity can degenerate. Regar not only killed Afrazul in horrific manner but even got the video of the ghastly crime made by his nephew. Worse, a tableau of Shambhulal Regar was taken out by Hindu outfits during a Ram Navami procession in Jodhpur. What is the divisive politics of which Shah is being accused by worthies like Uma Bharati? What is divisive: raising communal issues like Ram Temple and Holy Cow, or stating one’s fears in the light of these massive violations of human rights? What must have irked Shah the most was that in the wake of the murder of a police officer, primacy was given to the killing of the cow. The mobs which have got emboldened over a period of time are imbued with Hate ideology and hatred for religious minorities. Shah’s anger should be a wakeup call for the democratic spirit of our society to try put back the genie of hatred back in the bottle and discard the bottle for good.
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