“Over the course of this century, religion has reinvented its own antithesis, modernism has created its own straw version of religion as a cloak of benighted ignorance that had to be destroyed by weapons of literary, artistic and scientific progressivism, but running parallel to this is also a fantastic version of religion as a bulwark against dehumanization of contemporary life.” Amitav Ghosh, in his prose-piece, The Fundamentalist Challenge, hits the bulls-eye while contemplating religious supremacies and its ugly forms.
It is often the case in religious outbursts that the members’ protesting communities are unaware of the issue they are fighting for. As it so happened when Haji Yaqoob Qureishi, the then Minister of Minority Welfare demanded the beheading of Danish cartoonist who had drawn some caricatures which affected the sentiments of the Muslim community. He was joined by thousands of supporters who had never seen the cartoons and were totally oblivious of their content.
So is the case of the highly infamous novel of Taslima Nasreen, Lajja, which has been banned in the sub-continent, the author herself has been barred from entering her own country, and protests were made in Kolkata, where she has taken refuge, to deport her. But how many of those “religious fundamentalists” who have created havoc in the city by protests and mobs, actually gone ahead and read the book? Most of them are just supporting a clown-headed stupid voice that believes it is “un-religious” to Islam and has managed to incite their sentiments in the name of “religion”.
And it is at this point that I would like to argue: Is religion so fragile and baseless that people are ready to burn, rape, fire each other’s communities? Isn’t humanity more important than these dense religious beliefs, which encourage people to go ahead and do all this? And isn’t humanity actually the gist of all religions? How can someone’s views expressed on paper be so provocative as to inflame people to actually take lives? This is a complete paradox on the case they are fighting for and it is not just these “religious fundamentalists” who incite violence but also are political leaders, who make such sensitive issues pawns to electoral success, be it CPM leader, Biman Bose, or the “Invincible” Modi. Words fail me as I try to express as to how the political leaders of a nation can stoop to unfathomable levels for personal gains.
As I tried to delve deeper in the issue and read about the novel, I realized the futility of this debate. The book refers to the incident that occurred in 1992, when several thousand Hindu supremacists demolished a 400-year-old mosque, The Babri Masjid, in Ayodhya, claiming that it was built upon the birth-place of their mythical hero, Lord Rama. The Indian Government, besides adequate warning failed to take any action against the demolition (thus silently supporting it) and was negligent in protecting the archaeological site that was destroyed by Hindu fanatics in the service of utter delusion. This caused social unrest and tension not just in India but also in Bangladesh and Pakistan where temples were burnt and Hindu families were driven homeless.
It is here the book fails to tackle the issue of communal violence intelligently by decentralizing the issue by talking of greater violence in Bosnia and the terror of a Muslim family caught in a riot in Bombay. Even though I haven’t read the book, and in most probability not the right to person to comment about the flaws in the book that has caused nothing short of a communal holocaust, I believe that it is one thing to have freedom of expression but another to exploit and reduce incidents of such communal sensitivity to mere spectacles thereby hurting religious sentiments.
The religious extremism so ironically prevalent today, has little to do with matters of dogma and belief. Its real texts have been borrowed from sociology, demography and political sciences. There is absolutely no validation to religious incomparability and it is absolutely profane. The legacy of violence mars the relationship between communities as well as the humanity and courage of ordinary people, and thus should be condemned in all its forms by one and all.
Be it Taslima Nasreen’s novel, or MF Hussain’s “explicit art”, freedom of expression has become a debatable topic, people arguing “how much is too much”. In this battle of Freedom VS Faith, it remains to be seen what conquers the other and emerges victorious.