'Truth spoken without moderation reverses itself'
This blog is a source for intellectual exploration. It includes a list of alternative resources and a source of free books. The placement of an article does not imply that I agree with it, merely that I found it thought-provoking. There are also poems and book reviews. Texts written by me are labelled. Readers are free to re-post anything they like.
Thursday, December 17, 2015
MANASH BHATTACHARJEE - Throwing Trust into the Cesspool of Jingoism
दुखी मन मेरे, सुन मेरा
जहाँ नहीं चैना, वहाँ नहीं
O my sad heart, hear what I have to say/
Where I find no
respite, there I won’t stay – Lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi, Funtoosh (1956)
The Bombay film industry is a largely apolitical industry,
where people stay away from politics. Politics is seen as a controversial
antithesis to business, as the industry survives purely on economic fortunes.
But even though people may stay away from politics, they do hold political
views like the rest of the society. Many stars from the film industry are today
MPs in both houses of parliament, representing the political party of their
choice. On occasions, film stars have voiced their opinions on national issues.
Recently, many stars including Shahrukh Khan, spoke their
concerns in the national media on the question of rising political intolerance
in India. Two writers were killed this year for their critical views,
challenging certain historical and religious beliefs held by Hindu
nationalists. A Muslim man was lynched to death in an Uttar Pradesh village on
suspicion of eating beef. This led some of the country’s most important poets,
writers, artists and scientists to return their state awards and resign from
official posts. Shahrukh Khan, recently honoured by the University of
Edinburgh, supported the protest by writers and artists on national television,
for which he was hounded by ‘patriotic’ trolls on social media.
It is now the
turn of Aamir Khan, another prominent star from the industry, to face the wrath
of Hindu nationalists, after he aired his wife’s apprehensions about staying on
in the country. Aamir said his wife, Kiran Rao, is scared for their children’s
safety in the prevailing atmosphere of intimidation and violence. Such a fear,
increasingly felt by those who wish to live, work and voice their opinions
under liberal and secular conditions, is reminiscent of the days during – and
immediately after – India’s Partition in 1947.
Saadat Hasan Manto, who has written the starkest stories of
Partition, was also a scriptwriter in Bombay’s film industry in the 1940s. When his friend, the legendary actor Ashok Kumar and his
producer-partner, Suvik Wacha, took over Bombay Talkies, they offered – in a
redeeming gesture that resisted the septic atmosphere of communal violence and
disharmony – the most senior positions to Muslims. For this, Wacha received
mails threatening arson and murder, but he and Kumar stuck to their guns.
Despite such a show of solidarity by friends, the atmosphere was perhaps
poisoned beyond redemption for Manto when he discovered his Hindu friend
Shyam had violent feelings against him after they together heard stories of
communal violence from a Sikh family who escaped from Rawalpindi. It was thus a
major personal incident that fuelled Manto’s decision to leave the Bombay he
loved, for Pakistan.
Another famous, left-wing writer of those times, Josh
Malihabadi, much admired by Jawaharlal Nehru, finally shifted to Pakistan in
1958 despite his intense reluctance to leave India. Malihabadi, besides his
growing concern about the fate of Muslims, was also deeply disturbed about the
future of Urdu in India. Nehru made keen efforts to make him stay, even
suggesting he travel back and forth whenever he liked, but Malihabadi was torn
by the practicalities. He finally succumbed to the wisdom of his friend
and chief commissioner of Karachi, Syed Abu Talib Naqvi, who told him, “Josh
saheb, you can’t cross a river with your feet anchored in two boats.”
Malihabadi’s own narration, his meetings with Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad made
him apprehensive about staying in India once Nehru was no more. He shared those
fears with the prime minister but the “narrow-minded patriotism of the
Hindus” that Nehru thought his poet-friend could ignore proved decisive
Today, some in the country appear hell-bent upon replaying
the times of partition. There are no official assurances to minorities feeling
insecure in the country. When a Shahrukh or an Aamir voice their concerns
publicly, we get an inkling of what much less privileged Muslims are
facing. Aamir, while upholding the protest by historians and
scientists against intolerance, has neatly articulated his expectations from
the state: Firstly, a sense of justice and security to the common man, and
secondly, a strong response by political representatives when people take law
in their own hands. It does not take much to see how it is becoming difficult
for Muslims in the country to continuously answer questions on terrorist
violence by Muslim organisations around the world, including in India.
Muslim is being morally and mentally implicated in the violence unleashed by
Islamist terror, which is partly thriving due to the machinations and dubious
policies of Western powers. In India, since the 1992 demolition of the Babri
masjid and the 2002 Gujarat riots, Muslims are a beleaguered community,
with numerous cases reported in the media of young boys and families being
harassed by the state on the pretext of suspicion alone. These mishandlings
show a discouraging pattern of prejudice that seems to be growing against the
The present situation is a snowballing of already
entrenched prejudices. After the beef ban in particular, Muslims are being
targeted with a justificatory zeal by Hindu vigilante groups. These impudent
crimes, dismissed as “stray incidents” by important government officials, only
help to trivialise the issue. The active show of disinterest by the government
has been read by concerned citizens as a tacit act of encouragement.
From Manto’s and Malihabadi’s examples, it is clear that the
desire to leave one’s own country does not only come from a real or perceived
threat to life. It also comes from a radical breakdown of trust which
contributes to an intense feeling of humiliation. When Manto, as he recounted
in his memoir, asked his friend, Shyam if after hearing the stories of Muslim
atrocities he wanted to kill him, Shyam replied, “Not now, but when I was
listening to them… I could have killed you.” In Manto’s admission, he
understood the “psychological background” of the “communal holocaust of
Partition” from Shyam’s desire to kill him when he was hearing the story, but
It told Manto, communal feelings can cast a spell where both
objectivity and friendliness are eclipsed by an overwhelming sense of hate. In
that mindless moment, a person’s religious identity is implicated without
moral, ethical and even affective registers of belonging. The person is
stripped of all human meanings that made the friendship possible in the first
place. The fact that the person who goes through that moment of intense hate
calms down later proves the momentary but fatal nature of the illness. The
shock of that revelation led Manto to leave.
This growing communalisation of relations today is
reminiscent of what happened during Manto and Malihabadi’s time. Along with friendships, trust at a wider level of social
relations gets narrowed down under such conditions of intolerance. Aamir Khan’s
statement on Kiran Rao talking about leaving the country was meant to
highlight a sense of personal agony, rather than a threat or possibility.
“That’s a disastrous … statement for Kiran to make,” he stressed. Yet, it was
used by nationalist trolls to hurl all kinds of insults and accusations at him.
The beloved star turned into a figure of hate and ridicule overnight. Trust was
thrown into the cesspool of jingoism.
Those who attacked Aamir perhaps felt implicated by his
comment, and ironically proved him right by trying to refute the accusation of
intolerance with a fresh volley of intolerant remarks. Till yesterday, when the
star was part of a preachy, patriotic campaign, he was fine in the eyes of his
current detractors. It is instructive that Hindus, who accuse Indian Muslims of
having their heart in Pakistan and advise them to go there at the
slightest opportunity, are the ones who remain obsessed by Pakistan and their
pathological discomfort with that country. For them, the clock stopped at
Partition. Unfortunately, for such nationalists, the remembering of Partition
is not an occasion for regret, empathy and mourning. It is simply an occasion
to rake up selectively chosen wounds and return with vengeance to that moment
of horror. The inability to mourn a horror is the surest way to repeat it.