By Sidharth Bhatia
Sep 15, 2014
What next? Muslims should not be allowed to play cricket? Will we soon hear a demand that any film producer who takes Salman Khan in his film will be boycotted?
YouTube is a wonderful invention. One has tens, maybe hundreds of millions of songs at one’s finger tips and no sooner than a song plays in the head — an earworm as it’s colourfully called — than one can go to YouTube and play it, which you will agree is immensely satisfying.
Last week, for some reason, the song Mohe Panghat Pe Nandlal Ched Gayo Re popped into my mind and wouldn’t go away. It is a lovely song from a much-loved film, but I hadn’t heard it for years and felt the urge to see the video right away. I did and as we all know, the scene, showing an ethereal Madhubala dancing to the song in praise of Lord Krishna is an unforgettable one.
By a coincidence — or not — I recalled the song around the time I read a news item about some Bharatiya Janata Party worthy (I forget the name, there are so many now saying all kinds of things) declaring that Muslims should not be allowed to participate in Garbas. As we know, Garba and Dandia songs traditionally are about Lord Krishna and so perhaps in my subconscious the two got connected. This particular song is also interesting in another way — almost everyone associated with it, barring the singer (Lata Mangeshkar), is a Muslim — the lyricist (Shakeel Badayuni), the music director (Naushad) and the actress (Madhubala). So, it is pertinent to ask — if this had appeared in a film today, would there be demands to get it banned?
There are many similar songs in Hindi cinema — Man Tarpat Hari Darshan Ko Aaj from Baiju Bawra has a similar pedigree. Actors routinely play roles of characters from another religion. The secular character of the Hindi film industry is well known and is taken for granted. India’s traditional culture too is imbued with the same spirit; we don’t make a big deal of it.
That very spirit that makes India what it is, a diverse land with a multitude of religions, ethnicities, languages and dialects. It has its fault lines and conflicts, but the character has survived centuries — whoever came here got absorbed into the larger whole. The phrase unity in diversity, often used by Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s enlightened and visionary first Prime Minister, was no cliché — it summed up the ethos of the nation. Despite provocations and crises, that ethos has survived.
Until now. All of a sudden, as it were, voices of hatred and divisiveness, out to separate and divide communities, are being heard all over the place. It is not as if such opinions didn’t exist in the past — hate-mongers have been around for a long time — but now they are coming out, as never before, in the public domain. By words and deeds, they are spewing out their ugly message and finding a voice in the social media and in the mainstream press and on television. The media, always on the lookout for the sensational, is giving them a platform, more so since many of these purveyors of hate are important people — MPs, MLAs, ministers. When a Lok Sabha MP, who uses the foulest communal language in Parliament, is made the chief campaigner in crucial by-elections in Uttar Pradesh, where Muslim families had to flee their homes, it becomes a story.
The bigger story is the fact that these hate-mongers are getting away with it. They seem to be immune not only from prosecution or punishment but also reprimand. No one in power from the BJP, leave alone the government, has seen it fit to pull them up or make a public statement condemning such declarations. India’s home minister gets away by innocently telling journalists he does not know what “love jihad” is. That this campaign against the so-called “love jihad” — an allegedly diabolical plan by sexually-charged Muslim youths to lure and seduce naïve Hindu girls — is being waged in his former state and is all over the newspapers seem to have escaped his eagle eye and that of his intelligence agencies. The BJP president, the “man of the match” who won the Lok Sabha elections for the party with his canny strategies, says his party has not talked about “love jihad”, but then adds, “It is a grave problem that we must do something about”. As far as the Prime Minister is concerned, he is too busy with matters of state and foreign policy — you cannot expect him to talk about everything, say his devotees. So there you have it — an administration looking the other way and pretending to be unaware of what everyone can see and hear while the damage is done on a daily basis. Why should the lady who wants Muslims not to attend Garbas feel nervous about saying the un-sayable in public? After all, it is her government now.
What next? Muslims should not be allowed to play cricket? Will we soon hear a demand that any film producer who takes Salman Khan in his film will be boycotted? Or it could be done in a less obvious way — Muslim technicians and scriptwriters should be disbarred from their unions. Already it is difficult for a Muslim to rent or buy an apartment in “cosmopolitan” Mumbai — maybe this will be banned by law. (That genius Pravin Togadia has already shown how to legitimately get Muslims thrown out of their own homes).
Fortunately, voices of protest against this madness are being heard. The social media is not just a cauldron of bitterness and bigotry but also has a large and vocal contingent of sensible people who push the secular agenda. The strong speech made by eminent jurist Fali Nariman against rising majoritarianism and intolerance is an encouraging sign. And the people of India themselves are wise enough not to fall for this scheme which will divide them forever. So there is reason for optimism. Those who are out to spread their particular message of communalism, and those who hope to reap its harvest, may feel encouraged at the moment, but India at its core remains the country where we can all enjoy a song or a film or a play without caring about who is involved in its creation.