Fidelity and Fatwas

The saffron brigade has got itself a new scapegoat. Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram had to beat a hasty verbal retreat a few days ago when BJP leaders accused him of anti-nationalist activities. The well-intentioned Minister had attended a conference of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind at Deoband, during which the Muslim outfit passed a resolution against the patriotic song Vande Mataram. This was merely a replay of the 2006 fatwa passed by the Darul Uluum seminary, opposing the song on the grounds that it contains anti-Islamic texts.

BJP senior party members Murli Manohar Joshi and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi immediately attacked Mr. Chidambaram for being involved in this act of ‘unpatriotism’’, and the Minister hurriedly stated that the resolution was passed in his absence. This claim is highly unbelievable and also tragic because it seems that even members of the ‘’secular’’ UPA government play partisan politics to save face.

A close look at the verses in question reveals that India is referred to as the Mother, before whom the singer bows. The Muslim leaders say this is against the tenets of monotheism which prohibits idol worship or indeed worship of anyone or anything other than Allah. The nation is also referred to as Durga, the Hindu goddess. To top it all, Vande Mataram was published by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay in his book Anand Math – a text that allegedly contains anti-Muslim sentiments. It’s not difficult to see where the Jamiat’s grouse stems from.

The Jamiat has clarified that it does not wish to politicise the issue or create a communal divide. In 2006, the Darul Uluum also stated that it was completely loyal to India but could not allow Muslims to sing words that challenged their faith.

Kicking up this dust may seem like a publicity stunt to many, but it was in fact provoked by the BJP’s insistence on the introduction of the song in school curriculum 3 years ago. Vande Mataram was celebrated, sung in government schools and broadcasted on national TV in September that year. Notably, many Muslims did not send their children to school that day at the urging of pro-Muslim outfits.

The ghosts of the past have returned after the same practice is being introduced in BJP-ruled states now.

Despite the Jamiat’s disclaimers, pro-Hindu organisations such as the BJP, the VHP and the Shiv Sena have jumped at its throat. It is embarrassing how the self-elected representatives of Hinduism are flinging ludicrous remarks around blindly. A few interesting examples – Uddhav Thackeray announced that the Shiv Sena would plaster Maharashtra with Vande Mataram posters, and Muslims who did not like the song could go to Pakistan. BJP Vice-President Mr. Naqvi denounced the Muslim body’s action as anti-Constitutional, and VHP boss Pravin Togadia called it anti-national.

Mr. Thackeray does not realise that this kind of response, though predictable, can be inflammatory in communally tense areas. Riots and violence are often fuelled by sudden, directionless anger and carried out by mobs who are not really aware what they are fighting for. Unless it is the Shiv Sena’s intention to ignite Hindu-Muslim fire, they would do well to temper their statements.

As for the other two veterans, the government ought to send them back to high school where they can study the Constitution of India in greater detail. The Preamble to the Constitution states first and foremost that India is a secular Republic. The following text guarantees citizens liberty of thought, expression, faith, belief and worship – in short, it guarantees cultural pluralism.

If the Hindu leaders are agitated by the Jamiat on a personal level, they can just ignore them. This would be a more peaceful alternative both for them and the government.

In my opinion I do feel that the Muslim protest is unnecessary, but for different reasons. Vande Mataram is not the national anthem, it is a patriotic tribute to the country. It was rejected as the national anthem in the 1920s because of these very same verses which not only conflict with Islam but also other religions. However, as a song it should be appreciated for its emotional and musical depth. The representatives of the Indian Muslim community should widen their view and understand this. Even A.R. Rahman, who converted to Islam out of admiration for the religion, rendered a soulful and classic version of the timeless lyrics. Cynics may snort at the old chestnut that music transcends all boundaries but it is no less fanciful than the words of our political leaders.

Moreover, there are certain cultural binding agents that hold together a national ethos – patriotic hymns being one of them. Vande Mataram is the song of our freedom struggle that has passed down through the Indian consciousness generation after generation. Along with historical music, art and literature, it comprises part of our legacy. At some point, national identity does stand above religious identity. The situation is not much different from that in Christian missionary schools where students from different religious backgrounds recite prayers to the Lord during morning assembly. The purpose in the modern day is not conversion, but simply to stand united for a few minutes in peace and humility.

Having said this, I would like to assert that India has granted her citizens the gift of democracy along with these cultural gifts. If a minority group objects to something peacefully and with legitimate cause, it cannot be pointed a finger at. Yes, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind and other Islamic outfits have outraged the country in the past by publicly opposing women empowerment and the anti-AIDS movement. Nevertheless the fact remains that this is an independent issue that must be judged without bias. The Supreme Court upheld that singing of Vande Mataram is not compulsory, a solidly fair and logical judgement in my view.

Several Muslim organisations that seem extreme in nature have in fact contributed substantially to their own community in areas like education and employment. Credit must be given to those who can follow their ideologies without disturbing the national psyche. This is a marker of true patriotism and commitment – not the veneration of one song just because it is endorsed by the majority of the population.

Let the Jamiat and its followers go their way, there are plenty of Muslims who have no time for debates on the song’s origins and will sing it with pleasure. I would like to say that the media is hyping this controversy, but unfortunately I am part of it. Perhaps the media-generated public support will atleast encourage Mr. Chidambaram to be less shaken by bullies.

Kruttika Nadig

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