The Parliament which has remained rather dysfunctional for different reasons all the year witnessed a strange bonhomie few days back. It was difficult to believe that they are the same representatives of people who could not see eye to eye on various issues of concern and were always keen to score their point over their political adversaries. Led by the likes of Laloo Prasad Yadav – interspersed with slogans of ‘Jai Krishna’ – the government’s alleged silence on the developments in a faraway court in Russia was called into question.
Interestingly, BJP the party which happens to be the chief opposition party, found itself playing second fiddle to the troika of Laloo, Mulayam and Sharad Yadav on this matter. The issue related to proceedings in a court in Tomsk which supposedly had found portions of ‘Gita’ objectionable and ‘extremist’ and was contemplating to ban it.
A news item from some weeks ago, which has gone curiously unremarked and un-commented upon has made me think about the limits that the freedom of expression debate and the discourse on secularism in India unwittingly or knowingly does not seem to be able to cross, despite repeated provocation.
We all know that when the Hindu right comes to town – declaring that this or that text should not be taught in the university, or this or that painting should not be seen, or this or that film should not be shown – the secular left-liberal intelligentsia in India automatically gets outraged, signs petitions, holds press conferences and generally vents it righteous anger. I know this because I do all these things, along with all my friends. I sign the online petitions, attend the demonstrations, express my anger and do some (or all) of that which needs to be done, that should be done. We should never give an inch to the hoodlums of Hindutva.
However, when it comes to responding to the equally aggressive, reactionary and utterly arbitrary actions of sections of the Muslim clergy and other self appointed leaders on the ‘Muslim Right’ a strange inertia seems to take hold of the best and boldest foot-soldiers of secularism in India.
Recently the Supreme Court of India upheld the constitutional validity of extending subsidy on air fare to the Hajj Pilgrims. This year Rs.280 Crores were reportedly spent by the Government of India to subsidise the air fare of one lakh pilgrims. This amounts to a subsidy of Rs.28000/- per pilgrim. The subsidy provided to the pilgrims has understandably generated a lot of debate within political and social circles in India. While the right wing political parties, when not in power, consider it as an unnecessary appeasement of Indian Muslims, the governments formed by any party have always seen it as a necessary expenditure to help Muslims perform their religious obligation of Hajj.
Since I have also performed my Hajj this year, I decided to do some quick calculations to check the veracity of the tall claims made by the GoI and the Hajj Committee regarding the subsidy amount (see box). The results were quite shocking. I checked with one of the service providers —‘makemytrip.com’— and it showed up the Saudi Airline’s fare of a little over Rs.26000/- for a return Delhi-Jeddah ticket with a gap of around forty days. It was amazing to find that the total airfare of Rs.26,000 for a hajj pilgrimage is even lower than the subsidy amount of Rs.28,000 thousand which is allegedly paid by GoI to airlines to subsidise the “high cost” of the air tickets. Continue reading The myth of India’s Hajj subsidy: Muhammad Farooq→
Bangladesh will mark its 40th year of independence in 2011. The celebrations have already begun, and will continue until next December. The TV channels are already playing patriotic tunes. One such tune is Shona shona shona. The song says the land, mati, of Bangladesh is better than gold, and under this land sleeps many heroes: Rafiq, Shafiq, Barkat, Titu Mir and Isa Khan.
Who are these heroes? Rafiq, Shafiq and Barkat were killed by the Pakistani authorities during the language uprising of 1952 — a milestone moment in Bangladesh’s nationalism. Titu Mir defied the East India Company and organised a peasant revolt in the 19th century. Isa Khan was a Bengali chieftain who resisted the Mughals in the 16th century.
Notice how all of these heroes are Bengali Muslim men?
Till a few days ago, I hadn’t heard of Aqeel Shatir. A friend sent me a link to a report in the Indian Express on December 20 about a poet who had been asked to pay for an anti-Narendra Modi remark in his anthology, Abhi Zindaa Hoon Main (I Am Still Alive). I got in touch with the reporter, in Ahmedabad, who had filed the story and soon after that spoke on the phone with Shatir.
Aqeel Shatir is his takhallus or literary alias. The name his parents gave him was Aqeel Ahmed. His ustad offered him a choice of two pen-names. One was Aazar, which means a sculptor, someone who carves beautiful forms from marble. The other was Shatir, whose literal meaning is chess-player but denotes someone who possesses cunning. Continue reading “I Am Still Alive”: Amitava Kumar→
Starting today eighteen years ago, for much of December and January (and then March 12), Indian killed Indian on the streets of my city. Terror at its most elemental: I felt it then. I saw it then. Others told me about it then.
Some memories of those weeks, in no particular order but they all still make my hair stand on end.
[That the BJP expelled Jaswant Singh for writing a book on Jinnah is hardly surprising, even if it represents really the most rotten part of contemporary India’s political culture from the Right to the Left: intolerance of intellectual differences. What is intriguing is that Jaswant Singh wrote the bookknowing well that this would be the end of his political career; even LK Advani could not survive his praise of Jinnah and even though he came back, he remains a pale shadow of his former self. So Jaswant never really had a chance. I have not yet read the book but have tried to follow those who have. While a more detailed analysis will have to wait, I am posting a piece I had written sometime ago as part of a larger academic paper which deals with Advani’s Jinnah episode and the seductions of secularism. – AN ]
Advani Meets the Ghost of Jinnah
On 5 June 2005, Bharatiya Janata Party leader and former Deputy Prime Minister, Lal Krishna Advani unleashed a storm within his party and its allied organizations of the Hindu Right. On that day, speaking at a function organized by the Karachi Council on Foreign Relations, Economic Affairs and Law (KCFREAL), Advani referred to Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s speech in the Pakistan Constituent Assembly on 11 August 1947 and described it as ‘a classic exposition of a Secular State’ and Jinnah as a genuine secularist (Advani 2005). In this speech, sections of which Advani read out at length, Jinnah, the founder of the ‘Islamic state of Pakistan’ had said: ‘You are free, you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed; that has nothing to do with the business of the State…You will find that in the course of time Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State’ (Jinnah 2005).
On the previous day, Advani had already fired his first salvo. He had visited the Qaid-e-Azam mausoleum where he made the following entry in the visitor’s book: ‘There are many people who leave an inerasable stamp on history. There are very few who actually create history. Qaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah was one such rare individual.’ And further, recalling Sarojini Naidu, underlined: ‘Sarojini Naidu, a leading luminary of India’s freedom struggle, described him as an ambassador of Hindu Muslim unity. His address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947, is really a classic, a forceful espousal of a secular state…’ (Sarwar 2005, Kapoor 2005). If there was any doubt in anybody’s mind that this was not just a polite entry in a visitor’s book, made in a formalistic way, Advani hastened to clear it in the speech that followed the next day. Continue reading The Ghost of Jinnah, Advani and Jaswant Singh→
It is this silence — ‘indifferentism’ as Ambedkar had prophetically termed the caste Hindu/liberal attitude to anti-caste concerns — that continues to echo for Badhal… When only Dalits are forced to bear the burden of articulating Dalit issues they are dubbed sectarian; the casual betrayal of Dalits by the rest of society passes for secularism.
Navayana publisher S. Anand wonders why the left-liberal set stood up for an art student in Baroda but not for Dalit students at AIIMS.