Vantage point

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Double Standards?

I have always been appalled by the safron brigades philistines like VHP, Bajrang Dal and the RSS who seem to have nothing better to do than whip up the Hindutva bogey. What do they get by opposing secularism ad hoc, I wonder.

And yet, there are some incidents which make me realise in some measure, the reason behind how they can derive support from the masses. The strongest reason is not some belief in the superiority of the Hindu religion as one might imagine. Most of the masses side with the Saffron because of what they perceive as "appeasement" of the minorities. They claim that even the media supports this.

A few years back M F Hussain painted nudes of some Hindu goddesses. The Shivsena did not like this and told him to close down the exhibition. He refused, citing "freedom of expression", and I found it quite reasonable. How can any group tell him what he can and can not do, I thought. This was followed by "direct action" on part of the Shivsena. They attacked the exhibition and made it shut shop.

The media went berserk, talking about how the values like freedom of expression were being compromised by some fanatics. Hussain himself crowed a lot as well. I was on Hussain's side then, and in debates with my friends, attacking the Shivsena for its retrograde actions. At that time I read Thackeray's interview in the paper in which he said "Would Hussain dare to insult Muslim or Christian religious feelings like this? And if he did, would they not react the same way? Why did we ban satanic Verses after all?".

I saw this as the standard pathetic Thackeray ploy of saying "We are evil? well, they are more evil!!"

Now consider what happened a few days back. Hussain's movie Meenaxi is a story which does not even remotely insult Islamic figures, like Rushdie's banned novel does. The All India Ulema however came out in the press lambasting the movie because of a song which mentions something like "let there be light". This hurt their sentiments because the movie shows it as referring to the heroine, while the Quran uses the term to refer to Allah.....or something like that.

All in all, a petty and tame objection.

What does Hussain to in reaction? Withdraws the movie from the theatres!! Nary a murmur about his freedom of expression. No condemnation of fanatics being intransigent.

What shocks even more is the fact that the media too has merely reported the issue and moved on with its life. Hardly any editorials, op-eds, columns, talk shows and all discussing how religious fanatics are undermining Indian secularism. Not even 1% of the reaction that followed the Sena reaction.

Double standards? Some might say "The Sena's violent methods are what we criticised. The Ulema just expressed their displeasure vocally". OK, if that is the counter-argument, read on.

For the past few months some lunatics that go by the name "Sambhaji Brigade" have been creating a lot of fuss about a book some American called James Laine wrote. This book apparently makes some pretty lewd statements about Shivaji and Jijamata. The Sambhaji Brigade has ransacked a few offices and houses belonging to Indians who helped Laine write the book.

This is a pretty stupid reaction by some people and it deserves to be condemned. The media has been at the forefront, with editorials, op-eds, columns and talk shows galore, all tearing apart the extremists.

However a couple of years ago, some Muslim youths in Solapur took out a protest march against American author Jerry Falwell making derogatory comments about the Prophet Mohammad. The march was accompanied by a bandh and they vented their anger by attacking shops that were open and vehicles that dared to come out on the streets.

As far as I know not a single Indian has anything to do with Falwell's book. Yet this Moplah-rebellion-like attack on people who had nothing to do with it.

As despicable as the Sambhaji Brigade actions, you think?

Well, the media certainly does not think so. The media at that time completely ignored the stupidity of protest marches and bandhs in India. I hardly saw any editorials or talk shows criticising the action of Solapur Muslims. The only columns written were by the rightist columnists, and hardly any Muslim columnist condemned the bandh.

Such examples make it easier for me to understand why the Saffronites draw big crowds.