Indian Express
New Delhi, 16 April 1995
7. Pampering the minority ego
Talveen Singh

Are there no limits to what Muslims can demand, and get away with, in the imagined cause of their religion? India is not a Muslim country and, by the grace of our 30 million gods, never will be. So there is no reason why our political leaders should have to start kowtowing and running scared everytime a bunch of semi-literate mullahs gets up and starts making a noise.

Whenever this happens, it angers non-Muslim Indians and strengthens the hands of Hindu fanatics. And yet, we have just seen Shiv-Sena government in Maharashtra buckle under Muslim pressure and suspend the release of Mani Rattnam’s Bombay. It is a film about inter-religious marriage and the triumph of peace over communal hatred. These are subjects that should be close to the heart of our allegedly secular rulers. Bombay should have been encouraged with tax exemptions, awards, premiers on Doordarshan. Instead it has been considered ‘controversial’ right from the start.

Except in the eyes of fanatics and fundamentalists, who would prefer a film about Hindu-Muslim hatred, what can be considered controversial about communal harmony? Surely, the Maharashtra Government, which is in any case not well-known for its fondness of the Muslims community, could have taken a firmer line against the ragtag bunch of maulvis and Muslim fundamentalists who were making a noise? They could have been told that stem measures would be taken against anyone who tried to disrupt the screening of the film.

Instead, after seeing the film they came up with a list of objections so absurd that they should have been considered ludicrous in our secular land but they have been taken seriously.

They object, we are told, to the last shot. The Muslim girl while eloping with her Hindu husband carried the Koran in her hand. This was bad, they said, because it seemed to imply that her marriage had Islamic sanction. They also objected to verses from the Koran being chanted in the background.

Nor did they approve of the film’s first scene which shows a woman lifting her burqa off her face. They need to be asked why this is suddenly objectionable when thousands of other Hindi films have shown similar sequences to great romantic effect. But nobody asks these questions so the list continues. Offence was taken, we are told, because a Hindu family was shown being burned alive. A Muslim family is also shown being similarly murdered, because this also happened in the terrible riots of 1992, but our Muslim objectors are selective in their disapproval.

The question that the Maharashtra Government needs to answer is why it is trying to reason with fundamentalists instead of telling them firmly that their threats and protests will not be tolerated. Could it be that the State’s new BJP Home Minister is following the same Congress policies that the leader of his party, L.K. Advani, so effectively rubbished as ‘appeasement’ when he trundled across India on his rathyatra? Ibrahim Tai of some organisation called the Raza Academy is reported to have said, “If this movie is shown there will be a third riot in Bombay.” Should he not have been arrested instead of being invited to a private screening of the film?

If one bunch of fundamentalists can get away with their threats of violence how is it going to be possible to stop another bunch from tearing down the next mosque they come across?

Emboldened by their success in stopping Bombay, Maharashtra’s Muslims notched up another little fundamentalist victory last week. Nine Ahmediyas, who were peacefully distributing religious literature in Malegaon, were attacked by a mob of armed Muslims who beat them within an inch of their lives with sticks, whips and stones. They were inspired, clearly, by the fact that the Pakistan Government has declared Ahmediyas as heretics. After the attack, Malegaon police arrested 15 of the culprits but this is what happened to them, as reported by this newspaper.  “…All those arrested were let off soon afterwards when a section of the mob marched to the police station and demanded their release, threatening to otherwise attack the police,” Appeasement, Mr. Advani?

Yes, Appeasement it is.  The same kind of appeasement that caused the Rajiv Gandhi Government to change maintenance laws for Muslim women, in accordance with the Shariat, and to ban Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses because Muslims thought of it as a blasphemous book.

Inevitably, the country paid the price with a Hindu backlash but nobody has ended up learning any lessons. Especially, not Muslim leaders. They still haven’t understood that by raising objections to films on communal harmony and by making other, similarly silly demands they divert attention from the genuine problems that the community suffers from.

There is, for instance, the question of TADA. It has been seriously misused by State Government, especially Gujarat and Maharashtra, and most of the victims have been Muslim. There are problems like the fact that most victims of communal riots tend to be Muslim and that justice rarely gets done. If organisations like the Raza Academy and the Muslim League would raise these issues, along with issues of education backwardness among Muslims and instances of discrimination in employment, they might find genuine support from other Indians. They might also do real good to their community but they continue to talk of irrelevances, of matters they consider Islamic, and even when it comes to Islamic matters they are selective.

We did not hear one word of criticism, for instance, from organisations like the Raza Academy, and similar ilk, when a 14-year-old Christian boy was sentenced to death in Pakistan. I remember asking an Imam about it and he said that there was nothing wrong with the punishment because it was in accordance with the Islamic law of blashphemy. When I pointed out that the boy was illiterate and so could not have written the allegedly blasphemous slogans he said, “Well, it must be alright, they must know what they’re doing.”

The boy survived. But, in Iran, women criminals who are virgins are raped before being executed. That is the law. Next time Muslim leaders demand Shariat laws they should ask for Shariat punishments as well. Perhaps, this will make our secular leaders realise that India is not a Muslim country. We cannot be secular if we continue to pander to every, silly religious demand.


This columnist is no friend of Hindus or Hindutva. She believes that Hindu-Muslim differences are no more than ‘a fight between two brands of fanatics’, which superior minded fence-sitters like her can resolve if given a chance. Her ire is directed towards ‘Hindu fanatics’, most of the time. But once in a while, she does come down upon ‘Muslim fanatics’ as well.

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