Ladies and Gentlemen! As of today, we are back to where we were a while ago. No, I am not just talking about the New Year, which is one circle around the sun, so if you think about it we are technically back to where we were a year ago. But I am also talking about this strangely familiar narrative about intolerance suddenly back in public discourse. This very same narrative came up a few years ago via an immensely talented and universally loved actor, who said that ‘his wife’ was disturbed by the rising intolerance and suggested immigration.
Why this was strange is because, just a few years ago, a movie had released with the noble intention of educating on the evils perpetrated in the guise of organized religion. It took creative liberty to the very extreme with respect to just one religion. It had a long sequence where a man dressed as a revered Hindu god was shown urinating in the bathroom (complete with his regalia), and when the protagonist confronts the man dressed as a god, the god runs for his life with extreme panic writ large on his face, he is shown hiding under the feet of men and women. Readers who know about subliminal programming, will quickly understand what effect was desired. The second interesting fact about this movie, was that with a playing time of close to 150 minutes, idiosyncrasies of other faiths was not more than 5 seconds!
Also, during the time of release of this movie, 2 gunmen murdered 12 and injured 11 in an attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo for publishing a “cartoon” that showed the holy prophet of another organized religion in bad light. And during this very time-period, the third interesting fact about this movie was that, it collected a record revenue in India and aboard. The fourth interesting fact about this movie was the man who starred in it was the one complaining about intolerance. My intention is not to spew hatred but to juxtaposition facts so that the contrast is sharp.
I do not know the personal religious or ideological inclinations of this actor. And I respect his privacy on it. Although he has carefully curated public image of a secular, liberal, and tolerant man. However, his name suggests that he is affiliated with the Islamic faith. But, what’s in a name?
In 2008, a sleeper hit by the name “A Wednesday” drew the attention of most Indians, as in a gripping fast paced movie, it attempted to surface a common angst that most Indians feel. The supremely talented Nasseruddin Shah played the principal protagonist in this movie. When the protagonist is asked his name, he responds “with a name, people figure out religion”. This was the very crux of the movie, because, it meant to drive home the point that it isn’t about religion but about country. Only an actor as gifted as Shah could have pulled off such a nuanced act. He is one of my all-time favorite artists, with the unrivaled legacy of giving stellar performances movie-after-movie – Aakrosh, Mandi, Bazaar, Masoom just to name a few. And whenever, I read or watched his interviews, I always felt that there is a sensitive “thinking” man behind the actor. However, based on the recent statements he has been making, I stand corrected. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Often, we begin to believe that the characters artists play onscreen are who they are in real life. And when you have talented actors then this conviction becomes even more deep-rooted. But, we fail to realize that they are just playing a role. Once that role is over they become who they truly are. Very rarely one gets to see the sliver of the personality that an actor truly is deep down inside. Nasseruddin Shah has proven that quite a few Muslim Indians have warped myopic view of their environment which is more often than not colored by the faith that they were born into or subscribe to. This is not just a cultural phenomenon, it’s a scientific fact that can be traced back to Suffragette Movement and in popular psychology is called the “Minority Influence” wherein a consistent messaging by a minority over a period of time within a social group is able to change the dominant thinking of the majority of that said social group.
So whenever, a narrative arises that counters the Muslim “Minority Influence”; or, attempts to blunt that drivel; or endangers the people, ecosystem which supports that agenda; then such sleeper cells become active.
And the modus operandi of such activation is fairly simple. An eminent well-established face is recruited to bemoan the state of affairs; to talk about a time that resembles closely to the normal which has been recently changed or is being attempted to change. Then a bunch of lesser known voices are added to the lamentation to bring more credibility and give more volume to the dirge of an apparently deceased nation. Often surprise elements are added for shock value – Award Wapsi, Amnesty International, Foreign funded documentaries etc. Sounds familiar?
So what results are being expected from such actions? That also is fairly simple to answer. The older generation will respond, “This is the guy who was in Aakrosh, Bazaar. He stood up against the scourges of society. If he is saying this, then something must be wrong”. The younger generation will respond, “Hey this is that dude from A Wednesday, what an effing-patriotic movie it was? Gave it back to the damn terrorists in the language they understand. If this guy is complaining, then something must be wrong”. And that’s exactly what the desired result is – the doubt that “something must be wrong” to creep into our collective intelligence. Because this doubt makes us uncomfortable, distracted, and confused. Discomfort, Distraction and Confusion affects our attitudes. Changed attitudes change voting patterns. Changed voting patterns change governments allowing a conducive dispensation to settle in and bring the system back to the old normal.
Then the question arises why now? Why at such set intervals? That too is fairly simple to answer. A major referendum is looming on the horizon. A large socio-political group across ideological lines feels its future is endangered. Cognizance of an asymmetrical national and social narratives is high. And, a lot of people have begun asking uncomfortable questions. Questions such as:
- Why is the equality and freedom enshrined in our constitution conditional and preferential?
- Why is that you can make fun of my traditions and religion, but I can’t say a word against yours?
- Why is that on one hand, my community is systematically, increasingly broken down on basis of caste, region, and language, and on the other hand I am told that you are majority so be kind and broadminded to the minorities?
- Why is the right to correct the practices in my traditions, religion available to the whole world, but I dare not point out the rottenness in other faiths?
- Why is that a terrorist or suspected traitor from a faith different from mine get a signed mercy petition, an urgent hearing by the courts in the dead of night, but an issue related to my faith can drag in court for decades?
And after all this asymmetrical onslaught, my faith is termed as a travesty! I am orthodox! I am perverted! I am uncouth! I am an angry mob that lynches! I am ill-bred! And ‘most unkindest cut of all’, I am ferocious and hence must be tamed!
And it is this slap that Nasseruddin Shah is conveniently rapped across our collective faces in his interview. (I am going to dissect just 3 lines in his statement as published in the Times of India) to prove my point.
- "I had received religious education as a child". What he meant to convey was that while he received religious education it can’t be doubted, because of a preconceived notion that his religion is bereft of any social malpractices or orthodoxically ideas. In his mind, there is no doubt that the religion to which he belongs and has received education of, is by default secular, liberal, and extremely tolerant. And since it is so, and since he has been educated in it he has the moral authority to question other faiths, their traditions, and orthodoxies. Additionally, the implied suggestion is also that no one should even try to question this preconceived notion.
- "Ratna (his wife) was from a liberal household so she received next to none". This by far is the most complicated and loaded statement that he made. Because in this one statement, he implied multiple things simultaneously. One, he implied that his wife, Ratna is from a faith different from his. Two, a preconceived notion is put forth that the fundamentals and education of that faith to which she belonged are definitely substandard to his faith and its education. Third, he implies that his wife’s family had either given up on their faith or deemed that the education/introduction of it to their daughter would ruin her. And combined result of the three points, is the fourth, that since her family prevented her from receiving any education on her faith, she was shielded from its ideologies thus making her into a secular, liberal, and tolerant individual. And through these four points he makes an implicit allegation that those who have been exposed to the Hindu faith are by default, communal, orthodox, and intolerant or have propensity to be so.
- "I did make them learn a few verses from the Quran Sharif, as I believe reciting them improves one's articulation": He goes on to say that he and his wife made a conscious choice to not provide any religious education to their offspring. However, he did teach them a few verses of the Quran Sharif, as that would help in their articulation. In all fairness, he does add that shlokas from the Mahabharat or Ramayana can also help in improving one’s diction and articulation. And now, since they know little about any faith but do know a few verses of the Quran, Shah believes that in an untoward situation his kids could harmed. Leading him to be angry with the way things are. Fair point. But, the question arises that if his faith makes him secular, liberal, and tolerant as he suggests in point 1, he could have taught his kids shlokas from the Ramayana or Mahabharata along with verses from Quran Sharif. But in Point 2 he has already proved that the said religion is bad. Convoluted logic isn’t it? Articulation and diction can only be improved when one knows what one is speaking about. If this wasn’t the case, people could have learnt Latin poems. It’s an age-old tradition to teach one’s offspring verses, shlokas from one’s religious text not just to improve their diction but also to expose the children to the tenets of one’s faith. Nasseruddin Shah has followed in the same path but conveniently glossed over one facet of it. He wants the propagation of his faith and not of his wife.
And therefore, through the interview, with the audience, and the section of ecosystem he is pandering to, he attempts to take the higher ground. Because he believes in his warped reference frame, that he is morally and ideologically unassailable.
So now that we have decoded this interview, the background to it, and the intended result it should have, the fundamental question is – who is secular, liberal, and tolerant?
- Nasseruddin Shah and his ilk are secular, liberal and tolerant.
- Their sympathizers in political circles, bureaucracy, and elite society are secular, liberal and tolerant.
- The Kashmiri stonepelters and their leaders are secular, liberal and tolerant.
- Those who fan the insidious flames of sedition and naxalism are secular, liberal and tolerant.
- Those that complain about smoke on Diwali, water wastage on Holi, but condone the public slaughter of goats and relish the roganjosh on Bakrid are secular, liberal and tolerant.
- Those that proudly demonstrate the power of their numbers by blocking roads and public parks to offer namaz, but find issues when a Durga Visarjan happens, are secular, liberal and tolerant.
- Those who frown on triple-talaq but celebrate the entry of women in Sabrimala as the victory of feminism are secular, liberal and tolerant.
- Those who call the filth of Purani Delhi as “part of the experience” but keep a handkerchief on their face and scowl at the dirtiness of a Banaras gali are secular, liberal and tolerant.
- Those that say playing “Jan Gan Mann” at movie theaters is not necessary but refer to the constitution of that very country which the song celebrates and say that a mosque at Ayodhya is the need of the hour, they are secular, liberal and tolerant.
- A soldier lays downs his life defending his country, his daughter says that her father wasn’t killed by terrorist but by war and basks in the applause of champagne socialites, that apple-of-her-father’s-eyes is secular, liberal and tolerant.
- Those who didn’t bat an eye as the hereditary priest of Tirupathi was unceremoniously shunted out but are up in arms if the Maulana of the neighborhood mosque is in grief. Such kind-hearted souls are secular, liberal and tolerant.
- Those who not only defend the bail of rapist bishop but also celebrate his homecoming with drums, but demand “jail-without-bail” for any wrong-doing baba, such champions of justice are secular, liberal and tolerant.
- One community that has never claimed its minority status, has resolutely stood with the nation, and selflessly given innumerable sons to the Indian forces; those who paraded the slaughterers of that community as leaders. Such people are secular, liberal and tolerant.
- Those who turn a blind eye towards the plight of Kashmiri Pandits, refuse to talk about the atrocities committed on them, and yet beat their chest on misfortune befallen on the Rohingyas are secular, liberal and tolerant.
- Those, who on social media, television and public rallies, grind their teeth and hiss “let us get into power, I will take care of you”, they are secular, liberal and tolerant.
- And finally, those, who say to themselves “As long as it’s not me, who cares?”, they too are secular, liberal and tolerant.
Then lastly if all these are secular, liberal, and tolerant, who are you and I?
- We, Ladies and Gentlemen, are a distracted and confused majority.
- We are those shameless ones, who are teased and ridiculed as Bhartiya, Indians, Hindus, and Bhakts
- We are those apologetics, who are crushed based on our caste, region, language, or economic status
- We are communal, we are narrow-minded, bigoted intolerant people although we accepted everyone
- We are those, whose thinking is rotten, our traditions are sham, and our history is dubious
- We are a community which is responsible to carry the weight of this nation but not groan or complain
- We are those that ensure the secular, liberal and tolerant can live freely and call us bane of their existence
- We are those whom the secular, liberal, and tolerant can point to and educate their kids what not to be
- We are those Stockholm Syndrome patients who don’t believe in our own identity and anyone who tries to help us find it becomes our enemy number 1
- We are those who avoid asking difficult yet fundamental socio-political questions at parties, meetings because we are those who seek approval and identity from these very secular, liberal, and tolerant people.
- We are the misfortune of our country!
However, while realizing all this, we shouldn’t chastise ourselves. Neither should we be disheartened. We must understand that we have been administered this drug for generations – sometimes by brute force, sometimes through coaxing and cajoling. Sometimes by our enemies but most of the times by our very own. Read through the history of this land and you will find these secular, liberal and tolerant people in every age. Just their names keep changing.
So grave is this crisis and so profoundly diabolical is this plot that if we don’t become alert and aware, we may not lose this land, but we will lose our generations and our identities forever.
मन एव मनुष्याणां कारणं बन्धमोक्षयोः। The mind alone is the reason for a one’s bondage and freedom.
We should not have enmity with any community or creed. We should not want to usurp the rights and privileges of another. But a handful of people for their own vested interests want to usurp what is rightfully ours and give to others. So, reject this appeasement politics. Refuse this free-food, free-everything policies. Along with freedom and democracy, vociferously demand equal rights and uniform civil code. Channelize the anger to become more resolute and tell those who want to usurp our rights, our heritage that respect, kindness, tolerance, and sensitivity to one another is a two-way street.
In his interview, Mr. Nasseruddin Shah with a great sense of entitlement and with an angst of a man being wronged claims, “This is my country”. With utmost humility I would like to remind him, Sir, it’s my country too.
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