Some few months back, when BJP and VHP activists went on a rampage demanding the closure of an exhibition held by the students of M S University, Baroda, for ‘hurting Hindu sentiments’ (what else?), the student community in Delhi was positively outraged. Chandramohan’s arrest was followed by widespread candle light vigils and protest demonstrations. There were attacks on the Gujarat state government from across the nation, condemning its acts as fascist and fundamentalist. The primary cause for uproar being – as a democracy, how could we allow a bunch of goons – backed by a Hindu fundamentalist party, decide what was ‘good’ for the rest of the country.
The recent harassment being faced by Taslima Nasreen is no different from that faced by those art students in Baroda. Only this time I see no agitation or unrest among my fellow students across the country. There is a complete silence regarding the entire episode – starting from banning her book, to evicting her from her home in Calcutta, the media seems to be the only one talking about it. It forces me to think on those lines, which – we who call ourselves ‘progressive liberals’ – try hard to avoid. Are we too – the modern, freethinking youth, falling prey to the dirty vote bank politics that our politicians are so famous for? Are we too (unintentionally perhaps) looking at appeasement of the minority communities as an easy way to evade the challenges that a young democracy poses? By the look of it, yes, we are surely heading that way. How else can we explain our verbal and perhaps even violent response to the moral policing by Hindu fundamentalists in Baroda and a comparative indifference to the same by Islamic fundamentalists in Calcutta? My argument here is simple. When it’s the Bajrang Dal wrecking havoc over erotic depictions of Hindu gods, we are up in arms against the gross violation of our rights to the freedom of expression. However when similar rights are curbed by fundamentalists belonging to minority groups, we choose to look the other way, afraid, like our petty politicians – of offending some sect or the other and losing out on their precious votes. That perhaps explains why we agreed to have a disclaimer at the end of ‘The Da Vinci Code’ when the whole western world survived without it. It explains why we banned Rushdie’s ‘Satanic Verses’ even before a public outcry could emerge against it. This, sadly, is also the reason Taslima Nasreen is being pressurized to leave the country and seek sanctuary elsewhere in the world. We not only allow those few men in power to decide for the masses what could ‘hurt the sentiments of the minorities’ but also abide by the decisions made by them. But isn’t that the very cause for our resentment towards the VHP and their brethren, that they by means of muscle power and pure hooliganism become the self-proclaimed custodians of Hinduism? Then why do we let a few fundamentalists, become the representative of the entire minority-community?
At the moment this is how the situation stands – Taslima Nasreen has had to flee from her home, because a bunch of (probably illiterate) men have decided that her book might not make for a pleasant coffee-table read, and hence demanded for the cancellation of her visa, or at least deporting her from Bengal. The secular state govt. at once takes cue and responds warmly to their undemocratic methods of making themselves heard. The writer is given hints to clear off as soon as possible, of course “for her own safety!” (Obviously implying – “We have warned her, it’s no more our business how many death threats she receives.”) Poor Taslima, so much for talking about women’s issues and human rights!
I have a feeling; no Muslim woman (or even man, judging by what happened to Rushdie) in India is going to pen down her/his radical ideas again, for a very long time. The reason is, as Karan Thapar wrote in an article, “Democratic we may be, but liberal we most certainly are not.”