In defence of Naseeruddin Shah: hail more reactions like his

This country needs to discard hate and intolerance. We need to accept diverse opinion and we must feel angry at animals being accorded more importance than human beings

Photo courtesy: social media
Photo courtesy: social media

Dr Ram Puniyani

The index of a society’s health is gauged by the feeling of security experienced by the minorities. At the same time the degree of democracy is reflected by the degree of ‘freedom of expression’. On both these indexes, India has been sliding perceptibly in the last few years.

There is a growing feeling that religious minorities are being relegated to second-class citizenship in the country. Both Muslims and Christians have been feeling insecure. Not that their conditions were much better earlier. But nothing beats what they have had to go through in the last five years or so.

This again became evident when Naseeruddin Shah, one of the legends of Indian cinema, poured his heart out in the backdrop of the murder of policeman Subodh Singh in Bulandshahr(UP).

Shah was talking to Karvan-E-Mohabbat, a group, led by the indefatigable activist Harsh Mander, which has been visiting families of victims of hate crimes and show solidarity as human beings. Their attempt is to try and put a soothing balm on their wounds of having lost their dear one. This remarkable gesture is steeped in compassion and love for the members of our diverse society.

Naseeruddin Shah told them that “In many areas we are witnessing that the death of a cow has more significance than that of a police officer. I feel anxious thinking about my children. Because they don’t have a religion...tomorrow if a mob surrounds them and asks ‘are you a Hindu or a Muslim?’ they will have no answer. It worries me because I don’t see the situation improving anytime soon. These matters don’t scare me, they make me angry.”

He also said that the hate prevalent in the society is like a djinn which has been released from the bottle and now it is proving difficult to put it back. He observed that people have become emboldened to take up arms and indulge in violence as they know that they can get away with it.

Need for introspection

In any society where love and amity are the norm, this statement from a citizen would have called for the society to introspect. Some of our progressive organisations like the Progressive Writers Association in a statement did come forward to show its solidarity with him. Some others like Ashutosh Rana stood by his side but a much bigger section of society abused and trolled him on social media.

His co-star of many films Anupam Kher ridiculed him by saying that there has been freedom to throw stones on the army and freedom to bad mouth the top military officers, so how much more freedom did Shah want? Uma Bharati, a Cabinet Minister in the Modi Government said that people like Shah were part of the conspiracy of divisive politics. Baba Ramdev, the Baba cum business tycoon, called him an anti-national and others went on say that he could go and stay where he felt more secure! The UP BJP Chief called him a Pakistani agent. To cap it all, he was booed at the Ajmer Literary Festival and was prevented from speaking.

It is not the first time a Muslim actor has been treated so shabbily. We recall that when Shah Rukh Khan in 2015 commented on growing intolerance in society, he was compared to Hafiz Sayeed of Pakistan. Next year when in the face of growing intolerance and violence to protest which a large number of celebrities were returning their national awards, Aamir Khan shared his wife Kiran Rao’s fears about their child. He was also hounded and trolled in similar vein.

It’s true that there has not been any violence of the scale of post Godhra Gujarat or Kandhmal, 2008 or Muzaffarnagar 2013. But chronic violence is becoming endemic and some ghastly individual incidents of horrific nature are coming to the fore. They frighten the Muslim community.

Attacks and disruptions on prayer meetings of Christians are making them more insecure than before. The issue of Cow related violence starting from Mohammd Akhlaq to Junaid and Rakbar Khan has given out signals that food habits will be dictated by the foot soldiers of communal politics. To cap it all, the perpetrators have been given recognised by those in power like central ministers Mahesh Sharma draping the body of the accused in the Akhlaq case with the tricolor and Jayant Sinha honouring the accused in a lynching case by garlanding them.

Love Jihad related violence of Afrazul in Rajasthan by Shambhulal Regar showed the extremes to which the humanity can degenerate. Regar not only killed Afrazul in a horrific manner but went on to get the video of the ghastly crime made by his nephew. To cap it all a committee to honour Regar was formed.

What is the divisive politics of which Shah is being accused? What is divisive: raising communal issues like Ram Temple and the holy cow or stating one’s fears in the light of violations of human rights?

What must have irked Shah the most was that following the murder of the police officer, primacy was given to the alleged slaughter, now disproved, of a cow or cows.

Shah’s anger should actually be a wake-up call for the democratic spirit of our society to try and put back the djinn of hatred back in the bottle, the bottle which needs to be discarded for good.

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