When the pseudo-sentiments of the pseudo-religious are pseudo-hurt

In neighbouring Pakistan, an Islamic cleric recently accused a young Christian girl, Rimsha Masih, of blasphemy, a charge punishable by life imprisonment. He said she had burnt some pages that contained verses from the Quran. The 14 year old girl hails from a poor family and suffers from Down’s Syndrome. An eyewitness to the event showed courage and told a magistrate the truth: it was the Muslim cleric who had put those burnt pages in Rimsha’s bag. The cleric has been arrested and is set, in turn, to be charged with blasphemy.

I have been thinking about the incident. Insulting somebody’s religion is bad. It may cause offence. Often it is intended to cause offence. If somebody insults Islam, by doing things like burning pages containing verses from the Quran, it is bound to outrage a Muslim.But what happens when the Muslim has burnt those pages to implicate a Christian? Where does the outrage disappear? Why are the right-wingers and the mullahs in Pakistan suddenly silent? The cleric’s lawyer had threatened the judge that if the girl is let off she could be lynched – such was the outrage! Where has the outrage suddenly disappeared? Where are the calls for lynching the blasphemer to death?

And what does this hypocrisy tell us? It tells us that such outrage is, in the first place, fake.  That their religious sentiments weren’t really hurt when they said they were hurt. It was just that they wanted to persecute Christians and for doing so they were happy to commit blasphemy that they could then accuse Christians of doing!

What does that tell you of the claims of such people over how strong their religious, nationalist or whatever “sentiments” are?

I have noticed several such incidents in both Pakistan and India in the recent past. Let me give you a few examples.

In April this year, in Indian Hyderabad, police had to impose curfew to prevent violence when two Hindu temples were desecrated – raw beef had been hurled at them. Note that the rioters who began destroying public property and pelted stones at the police had taken care to examine whether the meat thrown was chicken, mutton or fish, and concluded it was beef! A Hindutva website noted, “The naturally agitated Hindu youth protested against this sacrilegious act,” and then went on to falsely claim that the street violence was being conducted by Muslims.

It turned out that the beef was thrown by four Hindus! The police went looking for them but they were absconding! I don’t know the status of the case since one of them, G Shiva Kumar, was arrested. Apparently, a local politician was trying to heat up the atmosphere to divide the electorate on Hindu-Muslim lines and become a Hindu messiah and win votes. Politicians do this sort of stuff all the time. But what about the people? The people who were pelting stones and burning buses, where did they disappear when the beef throwers were identified? Where was the outrage?

Now,  I am not arguing that throwing beef at a temple is okay. Far from it. As a Hindu it hurts my sentiments too. I feel outraged at Mr G Shiva Kumar. But what about Hyderabadis? What about those Hindutva websites? What about their sentiments now? Or shall we say pseudo-sentiments? Pseudo-sentiments don’t get hurt? Not even pseudo-hurt?

I could give you dozens of examples of the pseudo-hurt of pseudo-sentiments.

Some in Pakistan, as we all know by now, did not think twice of using images of events like an earthquake in Tibet to pass them off as images of massacres of Muslim Rohingyas in Myanmar. The people who made those fake images and added text of outrage and circulated them on social media – what does it say about them?

Here’s what it says about them: they are not really outraged by people dying, because Rohingyas were indeed being killed. But not in numbers large enough to shout “genocide”. It is almost as if they wanted more Rohingyas to die, so they could show more outrage. When these images started emanating from Pakistan, many, many Pakistani liberals pointed out in Pakistani mainstream and social media that the people showing this Outrage were not being outraged by the persecution of minorities in Pakistan – Hindus, Christians, Hazaras, Shias, Ahmadiyas or even by the atrocities of militant groups who did not check religion and sect of people before bombing them.

I saw many appeals on social media to Protest the Genocide of Muslims in Myanmar. Sceptical as I am of all claims of victimhood, I looked up mainstream news sources and thought something wasn’t right. And then a Pakistani blogger exposed the fake images. Again, no outrage at those who created those fake images which cheapened the suffering of both the Rohingyas and Tibet earthquake victims!

Hindutvawaadis have a long tradition of copying Islamists. So when Muslims in Mumbai violently poured their outrage on the streets in an organised protest, there was outrage amongst Hindutvawaadis. How dare they disturb public order! And when they saw an image of a green religious flag, they immediately lied on Twitter it was the Pakistani flag. Again, it is as if they wish it was a Pakistani flag so they could question the loyalty of Indian Muslims. When many exposed this lie on Twitter, the Hindutvawaadis fell silent. Similarly, fake news and images were circulated about the violence in Assam in order to cause outrage, such that one community could be condemned, and their own community could be presented as the victim.

I could still give you many more examples but I think you’ve got my point.

It is not just Hindus or Muslims or Indians or Pakistanis whose pseudo-sentiments are prone to pseudo-hurt. Right-wing politics all over the world is like that: it seeks to victimise the weak and powerless by falsely claiming victimhood.

Be very afraid of people who claim to be victims, because the real victims often don’t have a voice.

(First published in Rediff.)

25 thoughts on “When the pseudo-sentiments of the pseudo-religious are pseudo-hurt”

  1. Just a thing aside: I am sure that Rimsha suffers. She probably suffers because she is imprisoned. She may also suffer because she is poor. But she does not “suffer from Down’s syndrome” – as all news report her doing. Down’s Syndrom doesn’t hurt, neither mentally nor physically, and if people with Down Syndrom suffer, it usually because other people treat them badly.

    1. Rimsha’s medical condition is not really the burden of the argument, you seem to have missed the forest for the trees.

  2. An excellent analysis. The outrage is fake. It always was. It’s just an excuse for feeling rage at another community. More people should understand this in others an in themselves as well.

  3. Absolutely spot on as far as all the manufactured rioting and burning is concerned. And of course, we should not forget the craven failure of weak states to enforce the law and prevent such outrages (and frequently to encourage them in a short-sighted and self-destructive attempt at immediate political gains). But on a side note (and this is REALLY a side note, the main point of this excellent article fully stands) I dont think ALL the “hurt” is imaginary. We are a pathetic species in this respect and can be brainwashed to get “hurt” by all sorts of things. Among Muslims, this propaganda is extremely pervasive, so there are definitely many Muslims (not all, but many), especially with a little education (or even a lot of specialized education) who are socialized to get outraged and genuinely outraged at paper being burned or symbols being laughed at. Their existence is the reason you can and do get a mob going very very fast on this stupid blasphemy issue in Pakistan (it may be different in other muslim countries..the extent of Islamist brainwashing is NOT the same everywhere, though modern communication is making it a bit more uniform).
    This is my anecdotal experience, but I find that many Hindus also get “hurt” by blasphemous speech or cartoons or images of beef, but the “hurt” seems more like a slow burn and less like an explosive eruption. Maybe its just a different class of Hindus I meet. I am sure the RSS and their various babies have managed to create some sort of constituency for “hurt sentiments” that is easily provoked to violence, but it seems less universal than the Muslim version. Maybe it will take some more time. The “Islamization” of Hinduism being an ongoing project, not yet complete.
    Christians in Western countries have been socialized to accept a lot of abuse in the name of free speech and are harder to “hurt” in these symbolic ways, though its only a matter of degree perhaps. Flag burning still sets off some Americans, but even flag burning is not as emotive for most Americans as Quran burning would be for Muslims.
    My point? nothing about the article really…just adding on the fact that this “hurt” business is not evenly distributed and has some local variations, but the bullying aspect is much more uniformly fascist.

    1. @omar ali
      You seem to have missed the point of the article. The author wishes to focus upon the fact that the ‘hurt’ – be it explosive or slow burn – is consequential to the veracity of victimhood at the hands of the ‘other’. As long as the hand that burns the pages belongs to that ‘other’, there is widespread outrage and hurt (be that any religion) and the moment this false sense of victimhood is demolished, the hurt vanishes.
      And when they’re caught, the ‘strategic planners’ of such events only cite the ‘greater good’ that will come out of this polarisation and widespread flow of ‘hatred’. Religion, race, caste, linguistic groups, economic classes – they all behave similarly.
      The only way to battle such hate campaigns is to run counter-campaigns of liberal thought and spread wisdom (not just literacy) – and this will always be a never ending process, because human beings are naturally susceptible to thoughts of supremacy (based on their race, religion, caste, language, etc.) followed by hatred.

    2. I concede there can be genuine outrage. I am expressing outrage about all kinds of things all the time and would certainly like my outrage to be taken as genuine – from the mass graves in Kashmir to the destruction of Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan to the destruction of Sufi shrines by Islamists in Mali to the activities of a Hindutva terrorist organisation called Abhinav Bharat and I am by no means suggesting the Rohingyas are not having a hard time. My case is more about those who claim to express outrage about their religion and on behalf of co-religionists. A case in point is that of Hindu groups in the US who have forever been outraging about Americans and others doing stuff like painting Hindu gods and goddesses on chappals and undergarments. Now I understand this can be hurtful. But how many Hindus do you find going mad about it? Not many, because their faith and belief is not affected by how others portray their icons. They go about their pujas like they always did. Who’s stopping them? And yet, Hindutva groups in India used to worry about such misuse of Hindu iconography a lot – to further the political, rather than religious, sentiment that the Christian West is out to get them.

  4. This is absolutely one of the best write ups on this theme. Such is typical right-wing behaviour – self-righteous, overly emotional but one-sidedly and often involved in concocting stories of victimhood.
    Ishtiaq Ahmed
    Author, The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed (Rupa 2011)

  5. THERE were in Pakistan only a handful people who were soaked in religious fanaticism from top to bottom;Jinnah used religion as a political weapon and consequences were horrible but still knew it too well that to continue with it after the creation of Pakistan meant sealing the fate of the newly created STATE. Unfortunately after his death Jamait-i Islami cemented every type of religious fanaticism headed by Maududi-see his statements before Chief Justice Muneer’s Court. And when Zia came to power he gave full encouragement to this wild and brutal trend and that too under the guidance of USA; Laws were changed and every attempt was made to distort Islam to suit the interests of Jamait-i Islami and USA’s PERVERTED bosses.What is happening now is the result of that satanic plan.Still I am sure that democratic- secular forces will come to the rescue of an innocent girl – zulm ka zehar gholnei walei kamran ho sakein gei aaj na kal(Faiz).

  6. Omar: One more thing. What I am basically saying is that all too often we take it for granted that there is genuine hurt and outrage, when it may be fake outrage. It’s difficult to tell sometimes, but that these outraged people are willing to go to the extent of cooking up hurt by committing blasphemy themselves, by desecrating their own temples to blame the Muslims, is some indication of how we should be a little more sceptical of hurt sentiments.

    1. Take away from the article: Whoever disrupts order (exp in public space) by claiming victimhood are most probably brainwashed puppets stage managed by their political and religious masters while whoever does not reveal their ‘hurt’ but silently advocate to silence the perpetrators of such ‘hurt’ behind the scenes are civilized beings who have actually learnt not to get hurt. No matter whether the means employed for silencing are ethical or not just because it does not disrupt our imagination of peace and order.

      I dont think you understand the social fact that not everybody can work behind the scenes to sabotage or lobby interests and for some violence might be the only option that they (their bodies) are capable of performing in order to garner attention. It is in this context that though I disagree with the use of wrong pics for Rohingya violence but at the same time understand the desperation and helplessness that might have lead people to do so. It is practically meaning less to compare 2 same acts of different people without first understanding their social location and avenues available for grievance redressal/recourse.

  7. All this makes sense only if we understand the enabling environments that allow such ‘hurts’ to be used as weapons. Blasphemy is an old issue and the West has struggled with that. In India too it can be made into an issue but things go very far when the punishment for that alleged ‘crime’ is death penalty.

  8. Brilliant piece Shivam. And the last sentence is stunning “the real victims often don’t have a voice.” So true !

  9. Nothing in this post that I would disagree with. However I have a larger question about this blog – Kafila has consistently raised its voice against persecution of vulnerable and oppressed communities, which have included Christians, muslims and tribals. Therefore, I find it somewhat disturbing and confoudning to see it silent when the persecuted community happen to be hindus. This particular post itself touches upon the plight of the harassment meted out to a hapless christian girl in Pakistan, which is well and good. But what about the violence and indignities heaped on the Hindu community in Pakistan? Why doesnt that merit even a post in this blog? There was a post expressing outrage at the suppression of religious freedom in Kashmir when a pastor was hounded out of the state. But the post did not even note the violation of religious freedom, a thousand times graver that the aforementioned one when Kashmiri pandits were forced out of the valley by rabid fundamentalists. I have not come across any posts in this blog discussing the plight of the KPs in a sympathetic way. And I can recollect only a solitary post about the persecution of Hindus and Bangladesh.

    1. Since I do not know you I cannot question you on the silences in your politics. I cannot question you why your heart bleeds for X but not Y. But you are free to ask this about Kafila. One answer could be that many in Kafila try to bring attention to things the media ignores – and both Kashmiri Pandits and Pakistani Hindus are widely covered by media. Another answer could be that you haven’t looked upKafila archives. Here are some articles about Kashmiri Pandits: http://kafila.org/tag/kashmiri-pandits/ Here is a profile of a Pakistani Hindu: http://kafila.org/2012/04/19/a-meeting-with-deepak-perwani/ Here is an article about the restoration of a Hindu temple in Peshawar: http://kafila.org/2011/11/02/a-temple-in-peshawar-reopens-for-the-first-time-since-1947-shabbir-imam/ There will soon be an article or two about Pakistani Hindu refugees in India. Do let me know what else you think is not covered here. Surely if we don’t have a post about eskimos we must be anti-eskimo too?

  10. Its true. No one truly feels ‘outraged’ (whatever that means) about torn pages of holy books or desecration of places of worship. They just use that excuse to claim victim hood and sympathy. People who cant feel even a bit of outrage at all the outrageous things that are happening to woman, kids, dalits and whatnot along the length and breadth of this country have no moral right to get ‘outraged’ on behalf of a God who can surely take care of himself. Moral of the story, never swallow all that you see and hear, don’t jump to conclusions, use common sense and look for some facts before believing. Especially when it comes to matters religious in nature.

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