‘Victims of Religious Violence are Always from Poorer Section’

Anwar Ali, a Thrissur-based poet, filmmaker and lyricist for Malayalam cinema, condemns the Udaipur killing and says communalism and violence are being normalized in India. His views:

I condemn, I condemn, I condemn… I am sad, but not upset. For, we are all now used to with this kind of brutalities. If it had happened a few years back, it would have been truly shocking.

Communalism and its criminal acts have now become the ‘way of life’ in the India and the subcontinent. Though we cannot blame the insecure Muslim community as a whole for the Rajasthan incident, which is always the hidden agenda of the Hindutva Parivar, the aspects of hatred and criminality are the very same in killing, looting and setting fire to houses. If you closely watch the communal riots in India, the prey in most gruesome murders would be down-trodden people, mostly slum dwellers and the poor, either Hindus or Muslims.

Most nationalist agencies try to find the Pakistan connection of the accused, for their political gain from the narrative of Hindu-Muslim combat. They are not at all anxious about its consequences. They are least concerned to regain the socio-cultural harmony of South Asia which has been reverberated in the verses of Kabir, Bulle Shah, Basavanna, Mahadevi Akka and Narayana Guru.

Communal divide and caste discrimination are the order of this terrain. In history, it has been cohabited with harmony too. Art and culture always tried to compensate the killing fields of political power. Wherever war set fire, art poured rain.

Coming to the contemporary scenario, this kind of ‘othering’ between Hindus and Muslims has never happened in a pan-Indian scale before. Both global and territorial factors have made this acute situation; the corporate centrism of power across the nation-states and the legitimisation of Hindutva ideology and its successful regime in India.

Ali feels there has been an unprecedented ‘othering’ between Hindus and Muslims of late

Mob-lynching, attacks and demolitions have not only increased but have become acceptable to the so-called creamy layer of Indian civil society. Under this regime in Delhi, entire institutions of modern India are undermined. Several artists, journalists, intellectuals, students and activists are targeted. As Arundhati Roy observed recently, the downtrodden societies will rise up to fight it out, but we would have to spare a lot of our lives and blood before it.

ALSO READ: ‘Policing & Local Intelligence Failure Behind Udaipur Incident’

Two decades back, in 1998, I had a chance to meet Eqbal Ahmad, the renowned Pakistani political scientist, during a conference in Delhi. Those days, I was trying to be a freelance journalist and did an interview with him. As a spokesman of secularism with a lead role in protecting the rights of Hindu minorities in his country, he was a big headache to the dictatorial Zia ul Haq regime for long. As a political migrant in the United States, he had created problems for Richard Nixon’s government during the ‘Viatnam War’ too. After my formal interview, he expressed his concerns about the gradual growth of political Islam in India after the demolition of Babri Masjid.

After his unexpected demise in 1999, I came to know that he had an Indian childhood and has been a victim of Partition. Eqbal Ahmad was born in a village near Gaya, where Buddha got enlightened. When he was a young boy, his father was murdered over a land dispute in his presence by a Hindu group. During the Partition, he and his elder brother migrated to Pakistan on foot. That means, he was a prey prior to Partition. After eventful explorations across the continents as an international academician and an anti-war activist, he returned to Islamabad in 1997. There, he fought for the rights of the Hindu minority in Pakistan. What a life!

The BJP and RSS do not represent any of the South Asian traditions of tolerance. Their ideology, derived also from Savarkar’s Hindutva, is one of the most racist and venomous in the modern world. They resemble Nazis in the 1930s and 40s. They and ISIS are birds of the same feather. How can they condemn the ideological killings and genocides?

Like genuine secularists and Muslims, so many genuine people who follow various Hindu religious practices, are deeply concerned towards the continuous victimization of Muslims in our country. That is why Hindus and Muslims in Jehangirpuri in Delhi reclaimed their native unity after the brutal demolitions by police.

Five years back, I wrote ‘Mehaboob Express – A Life Sketch’, a narrative poem which depicts the story of Mehaboob, a soldier, and his grandfather, a freedom fighter. It is also on the doom of our country; about a life-train crisscrossing undivided India. Passing the soundscape of history, it ends in the silence of Cochin Metro, inaugurated by the Indian PM in November, 2017.

Unfortunately, year after year, the poem does acquire new connotations prophesying the doom of the nation. A poet would have been proud that his text became a prophecy, but, how can I feel pride, while silence is growing, while surveillance is grinning, while justice departs judiciary?

As told to Amit Sengupta

My Name is Khan And I’m the Idea of India

The success of cinema anywhere, more so in Bollywood, depends upon how effective the climax is. Everyone has been denied that thrill in the latest ‘film’ in which Shah Rukh Khan, or SRK, has neither acted, nor invested, but as things have ended in an anti-climax, it could well be about him.

After displaying all the fury amidst media fanfare, and keeping them in jail for three weeks, the government’s Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) has sheepishly dropped all charges against SRK’s son Aryan and five others who were arrested in a raid on the passengers of a cruise ship last October.   

It was not one-off. In the Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide case also, the NCB and other central agencies had launched parallel investigations. They were apparently given full rein to chase celebrity targets and dismantle the “Bollywood drug citadel”. In both cases, the NCB appeared to be chasing the suspected consumers, suspending its basic mandate of investigating the sources of drugs.

This is not a defence of SRK, SSR or the multi-billion enterprise called Bollywood that likely has its dark side(s). But sections of the media hinted at the impending elections in Bihar from where Rajput hailed.  Aryan’s case was connected to “drug cartel with terror connections.”

Rajput’s friend Rhea Chakraborty, bailed out after stinging comments by the high court, was a “high-value asset”. Aryan was probably rated even higher. “Red flags should have gone up in Delhi early enough. The fact that they didn’t”, the Indian Express wrote, “may have had something to do with Maharashtra being an Opposition-ruled state.”

Or, given the current political/social discourse, was SRK the target?

It has been a taxing time for Khan. He remained silent through it all, choosing to fight the legal battle, not declaring innocence, seeking sympathy or scurrying for support or a pardon for the son. He remained in the public eye, his sorrow and that of his family, on display for all to consume, discuss and digest.

This silence has heightened the anti-climax. Which also makes it easy for him that after a spell of illness and enforced absence, he is completing his movies, back in public, and back on the balcony of his famous home.

It’s déjà vu for Khan. He has often used this French expression. In simple English, it means, here we go again… It sums up his agony.

Much younger Aryan figured in an interview Khan gave in 2013. His children born of a Hindu wife, were consciously given generic names that denote no religion. Aryan and Suhana asked what religion they belong to.

“… like a good Hindi movie hero, I roll my eyes up to the sky and declare philosophically, ‘You are an Indian first and your religion is humanity’,” Khan said that his family and friends “are like a “mini India”.

ALSO READ: Two Indias – With Hate And Hope

Workwise, Khan has evolved through hits and flops. The writer was among those who, through the 1990s, dismissed him as ‘ham’ and ‘commercial’, till I saw Swades (2004), a robust theme that may or may not have attracted many among the diaspora to return. I liked him in Chak De India! (2007), saga of a Muslim hockey player righting a wrong done to him by bringing glory on the field and My Name is Khan (2010).

That the United States chose to collaborate with an Indian team, making SRK and the film its global goodwill ambassadors, points to efforts at its own image correction. The film’s message post 9/11 was and remains unmistakable.  

SRK has shown the temerity to ‘clash’ with the greats, enacting Devdas (2002) played by the likes of K L Saigal, P C Baruah, Akinneni Nageswara Rao and Dilip Kumar. Or, a senior contemporary, Amitabh Bachchan, doing Don (2006) and Don 2 (2011).

Noble values come forth even in his negative roles. Dhanda mera dharm hai, par main dharm ka dhanda nahi karta” (Trade is my religion, but I don’t trade in religion). This punch line in Raees (2017) could show the mirror to any society.

As a public person also, through whatever happened to Muslims in India and elsewhere since 9/11, SRK has evolved. For one, he has faced with aplomb the Pakistan-jibe, due to his Peshawar roots, the family of Frontier Gandhi, Abdul Ghaffar Khan and a Congress activist father. He responded with a mix of straight-forward logic to the unsolicited “come hither” from Hafiz Saeed, the Mumbai terror attack mastermind.

Yet, he remains immensely popular in Pakistan. When federal government banned Raees, Punjab and Sindh protested. The latest is Ms Marvel that starts streaming on June 8 on Disney+. Its co-creator Sana Amanat has said she would re-film the entire series if SRK agrees to join in.

For a while Khan was in the company of another Bollywood celebrity, Aamir Khan, whose cinema is more meaningful than SRK’s.

They are not too close, going by Bollywood gossip. But they have made enemies expressing forthright views on issues that fall well outside the world of entertainment. The two Khans are products and protagonists of a composite culture of mutual respect and tolerance – indeed, the Idea of India.

For long, both have engaged in a valiant, but as yet unproductive, even counter-productive, effort to open closed minds that abound across India and Pakistan.

Now, both have fallen silent. Besides unwelcome visits by government officials, trolling on the social media can be agonizing. One has to protect not just personal and professional reputation, but also the family. The Aryan episode is a warning.  

Not including the other Khans – Salman and Saif Ali – who are not known to speak on political issues, Naseeruddin Shah’s is the only prominent Muslim voice of Bollywood that continues to speak up. There seems no way Bollywood can escape social and political polarization. Billions ride on their shoulders. This is a hazard they must face.

Why is it so?

Kaveree Bamzai, the author of book Three Khans: And the Emergence of New India points out in an article aptly titled, Shah Rukh Khan was India. Then India Changed: “If Bollywood, on the Bharatiya Janata Party’s radar since it gave it industry status in 1998, has to sell the idea of a new Bharat to the world, the old icons have to be brought down to earth, and new stars and stories created.”

That process is on – no names need be mentioned.

These challenges also carry an opportunity for Bollywood that is facing serious southern Indian challenge, in multiplex halls and on the OTT platforms. Can it tamper its risky, crass commercialism and return to its earlier role as an educator for society and a symbol for reassurance of values that it has forgotten?   

The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com

Vajpayee: A Democrat To The Core

By H K Dua Of all the leaders of the BJP, it is only Atal Bihari Vajpayee who represents the idea of India in all its shades. And that is the reason Vajpayee’s passing away marks a sense of loss for all the people of India irrespective of religion, caste, region and language. It took more than half a century for Vajpyee to become a national and much loved leader of the country. His prime ministership is also marked for major initiatives to improve relations with Pakistan and to resolve the Kashmir question — two of his dearest missions as prime minister. Despite his belonging to the BJP, which had roots in the RSS philosophy of Akhand Bharat, he went to Lahore by bus and visited, of all the places, Minar-e-Pakistan where he announced that India recognised the identity of Pakistan. Even though the three service chiefs of Pakistan boycotted Vajpayee’s visit to Lahore and the Kargil war launched by General Parvez Musharraf, the army chief of Pakistan at the time, he offered a hand of friendship with Pakistan. I was there in Srinagar with Vajpayee as media adviser to the prime minister when he made the famous statement that he would love to have talks with the Hurriyat and other sections of the society within the framework of ‘insaaniyat’. Vajpayee had gone to Kashmir in 2000 after millitants killed 25 people in Pahalgam. Vajpayee decided to visit Pahalgam and on return to Srinagar airport, he discovered that he has to address a press conference being held next to the helicopter hangar. The third or the fourth question at the press conference which I was anchoring was, “Prime Minister sahab will the talks on the Kashmir question be held within the framework of the Constitution or outside?” “Talks insaniyat ke dayre mein hongi (talks will be held within the humanitarian framework),” said the prime minister. My comment on this is who can differ with this delectable statement that came out of Vajpayee’s heart. In the Valley, he is still remembered for it. I was his media adviser for nearly two years, at no stage did the prime minister try to avoid the media or uncomfortable questions posed by the media. At no stage, during my two years, did he suggest that I should call up an editor or a proprietor of a newspaper objecting to a particular write up. He believed in the freedom of press. This is because essentially Vajpayee was a democrat to the core. He never for a day wavered from his belief in the essential liberal policies of parliamentary democracy. He was certainly the most outstanding parliamentarian of India. He was very severe in his criticism of Jawaharlal Nehru’s China policy, yet his speech on Nehru’s death in May 1964 was the most illustrious in quality and content. Within the Jan Sangh, the predecessor of the BJP, another contemporary leader Balraj Madhok described Vajpayee as a ‘Nehruite’ to me in a conversation. “What about you Madhok sahab,” I asked him. He replied, “I am a Patelite”. Even in these days the Nehru-Patelite argument is still prevalent within party circles. (The writer was media adviser to Atal Bihari Vajpayee for two years during his premiership)]]>