When was the last time Hindus and Muslims stood united on an issue?
Well, it’s a rare occurrence. For the politics that breeds the Hindu-Muslim hatred is more complex and entwined and just cannot be ended by the rhetoric of “Hindu-Muslim bhai bhai”. Their “respective” religious leaders and the nation’s political leaders know this, for they themselves are responsible for it!
However, there is one issue against which they both stand united i.e. Free Speech.
What is it that forced Penguin to agree to ‘pulp’ all the existing copies of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus?
I think, the best answer from the flood of articles being published since yesterday is given by Kenan Malik in The Hindu:
“The notion of giving offence suggests that certain beliefs are so important or valuable to certain people that they should be put beyond the possibility of being insulted, or caricatured or even questioned. The importance of the principle of free speech is precisely that it provides a permanent challenge to the idea that some questions are beyond contention, and hence acts as a permanent challenge to authority.”
Here are some instances when both, Saffron and Green stood together hand-in-hand to curb free speech:
1. Rajiv Gandhi’s government in 1989 bans Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses
2. The Maharashtra government bans James Laine’s book Shivaji
3. The Saffron witch hunt to persecute M.F. Hussain for his paintings on Hindu Goddesses
4. The Withdrawal of A.K. Ramanujan’s essay ‘Three Hundred Ramayanas’ from Delhi University syllabus under Saffron pressure
How could the God-less Communists stay behind and just be mere spectators of this drama?
So, they chose to ban two books of Taslima Nasreen, author of Lajja. But, they didn’t stop at that and made sure that she be persecuted further under the pressure from Muslims in West Bengal (the so called land of Indian Renaissance!). The communists refused even to provide protection for her in Kolkata, so that she had to leave the city to seek refuge elsewhere.
In the name of God?
In July 1991, Hitoshi Igarashi, a Japanese professor of literature and translator of The Satanic Verses, was knifed to death on the campus of Tsukuba University. That same month another translator of Rushdie’s novel, the Italian Ettore Capriolo, was beaten up and stabbed in his Milan apartment. In October 1993, William Nygaard, the Norwegian publisher of The Satanic Verses, was shot three times and left for dead outside his home in Oslo. Bookshops were firebombed for stocking the novel.
What do these events point out?
Shut your f***ing mouth!
A humble suggestion by Ramchadra Guha
In December 2006, when (MF) Husain was still alive, He (Guha) wrote an article suggesting that, in the next Republic Day awards, he (M.F. Hussain) be given the Bharat Ratna, with Salman Rushdie being simultaneously honoured with the Padma Vibhushan. That would have been a just assessment of their respective contributions to art and literature, as well as a blow for artistic freedom.
I end up this post with a poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz who was jailed for his poems in Pakistan.
Speak, your lips are free.
Speak, it is your own tongue.
Speak, it is your own body.
Speak, your life is still yours.
See how in the blacksmith’s shop
The flame burns wild, the iron glows red;
The locks open their jaws,
And every chain begins to break.
Speak, this brief hour is long enough
Before the death of body and tongue:
Speak, ’cause the truth is not dead yet,
Speak, speak, whatever you must speak.