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.)