Friday, August 15, 2014

Kerala says no to Vande Mataram

.....A private school in south Kerala removed Vande Mataram from Independence Day programme after a religious outfit allegedly threatened management...... The school also dropped the namaste gesture from a dance number performed during Independence Day celebrations, inviting sharp criticism from various quarters....
Vande Mataram (not) singing is a perennial favorite, this movie is re-released every time the extremists (on both sides) need a bite from the original apple and to boost morale.

To summarize, muslims (and assorted other communities) have objections in singing Vande Mataram because it hurts religious sensibilities. The idea is that the song propagates worship of the mother (and mother-land, mother Goddess....) and muslims pray only to Allah.  

However we should note that there is no general agreement on this point and many muslims find nothing objectionable in singing Vande Mataram: the song (as they see it) is a salute to the the version popularized by AR is Vande Mataram....Ma Tujhe Salaam.

Let us be crystal clear on this point - no single individual can be forced to sing a song (the Supreme Court agrees). This is true even if it is the national anthem (Jana Gana Mana). But to jump from there to a ban on singing Vande Mataram and saying Namaste is a step too far.
If your (muslim) child attends an (school) assembly, she can be advised to stand respectfully while others sing (this is a normal thing in any school assembly, many students do not bother to sing, some do not know the words, let alone the meaning....). If it is a school function, the child can request to be excused from that particular assignment (there is lot of flexibility- many children across many programs).  If you want not even a shadow of doubt to cross your mind, then simply request your child to stay home for the day (Independence day, Republic day,...).  

Yes, all such rules may well appear to be a burden on your child. But then nobody said that standing up for your principles should be easy-peasy. Indeed it would be a good place to reflect if burdening your child with super-tough principles (say for example, no chocolates for pure vegetarian Hindus) is also the right thing to do (as we see it parental rights are not absolute).

Vande Mataram is the national song and hence a national symbol (of equal importance to the anthem, lest we forget). Forget about the background (Ananda Math by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay was the source book) and controversy around the novel (describes the  rebellion of sanyasis or monks against oppressive muslim rulers), that was all duly considered during the extended debate on the song.

Only the first two paragraphs of the original Vande Mataram are considered as the body of the "national song" version. This was specifically done in order to take muslim sensitivities on board. No less than Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (whose patriotism for India and devotion to Islam cannot be questioned, we hope) informed the debate and was satisfied with the compromise.

Now we have SDPI (Social Democratic Party of India) thugs threatening a Kollam school to drop Vande Mataram and also not to say Namaste. Well, how to put it politely, this sort of arm twisting will only invite retaliation (from the extremists of the other side).

We are (as many times noted before) unqualified to give religious advice. However as we understand it, muslims are advised to follow the local sensitivities of the land in which they live. It is unfortunate that very few Hindus now live in Pakistan but we are sure that they would try to honor the blasphemy rules (written) and the public fasting rules (unwritten). And if they do not...well we know what would happen...right?

The response to the above point is two-fold, both of which deserve careful scrutiny. First, thank god that Muslims have a homeland where they can be free from Hindu persecution. That answer is only a partial tuth. The cross-migration doors were open only for a few years after partition (I). After partition (II) the option of migrating to Pakistan was not even available for a few hundred thousand desperate Bihari refugees in Bangladesh. So, for all practical purposes, the left behind muslims are without a home-land and at risk of persecution from Hindus and Bengali nationalists.

To their credit, the pre-partition muslim leadership did consider this eventuality...well not quite. During deliberations on the impact of partition they made it clear that there would be Sikhs and Hindus in Pakistan and Muslims in India both requiring protection from the majority population. As they saw it, this was a good enough insurance policy....because if you touch a Muslim in India, a Hindu gets hurt in Pakistan.

Take the example of Israel (yes we know it is Satan and all that). Many a scholar has pointed out the similarities between Israel and Pakistan. However, there is one major (and startling) difference. Israel will always welcome Jews to come back home, even some very strange Jews such as Manipuri and Mizo tribes-people (the lost tribes). That is not the case for Pakistan.

The leadership perhaps never imagined that one day Pakistan would be empty of all minorities such that such a rough and ready logic of the streets will not work anymore. They probably never imagined that muslims will be harmed by other muslims in Pakistan...but that is another story. The insurance policy has been declared as null and void and the insurance company has been declared bankrupt. This is a point on which serious reflection is required, not idle gloating.

The second response is that India (as determined by her founding fathers) is a secular republic, home for all people, not just Hindus. The freedom to practice religion is guaranteed in the constitution. And that is a perfectly fine response at an individual level, a muslim today may well find Vande Mataram (the national song version) offensive (disregarding the wisdom of Maulana Azad). However freedoms are not absolute, indeed freedom of speech is curtailed by the rule that no one can use speech to hurt communities (say for example, by committing blasphemy). 

Why was Salman Rushdie banned from even speaking at the Jaipur Lit Fest? This is not secularism, it is self-convictions (no doubt sincerely held) forced on others by threatening extra-constitutional measures.  If we just let the thugs win, in the long run, it will be Hindu thugs who will prevail in India. That is a very unpleasant prospect for the truly secular folks...and even the not-so-ideological aam admi.

What happened in the Kerala school was not people following their conscience but instead group thuggery by the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI). No, they are not communists, rather they are part of an umbrella of extremist groups such as the Popular Front of India (PFI), which cut off the hands of a college teacher (TJ Joseph) for having committed blasphemy (in reaction, his son was beaten up by the police and his wife committed suicide by hanging). To add insult to injury the (Christian) college terminated his job!!! 

This is what the Hindu and Outlook had to say on this matter of muslim extremism in Kerala:
The Hindu: "Freedom of expression has increasingly come under attack from religious fanatics in democratic and secular India and it is the duty of society and the political system to intervene more effectively to defend those who are targeted even if they express unpopular views”. 
"The act of a gang that cut off the hand of a college teacher, by wielding an axe on a thoroughfare in Kerala in broad daylight, had Talibanism writ all over it. This act of barbarism, however, points to the rise of blood-thirst driven by religious fundamentalism that certain fringe elements may be seeking to impose on the State. That it was a planned operation carried out with brutal intent adds to the shock.".
Littérateur M.N. Karasseri, himself a retired professor and someone who keeps tabs on Muslim politics, noted in an Outlook article, “The Muslim youth today are looking for idealism and adventure. They are being misguided by the proponents of Maududism that espouses a do-or-die battle for ensuring hukumathe ilahi (the rule of Allah). The SDPI (Socialist Democratic Party of India), Jamaat (Jamaat e Islami Hind) and several other outfits subscribe to this philosophy. If the rest of society does not realise the inherent danger, more Taliban-model reprisals will follow.”

Progressive Muslim writer Hameed Chennamangaloor says in an The Economic Times article, "the circumstances are ideal for fanatics to convince their community members here that the problems their community faces in Iraq or Afghanistan are their own problems. The fact is that the problems of even the Muslims in Kerala are quite different from their community members in northern states. Some of these groups have more funds than even mainline political parties like the Congress or the CPM, and can hire any number of hands".

There are two problems with the thugs-r-us phenomena. For the sins committed by some stupid thugs in Kerala, muslims outside Kerala may pay a price (at the hand of other stupid thugs). Second, even the fort of Malappuram may not be that robust. One day, two years ago, when we were driving around in Mangalore (a few hundred km to the north), we were amazed to see countless saffron flags in a district that has significant muslim population.  

If it comes to a fist-fight we somehow doubt that the Christians in Kerala (and others) will stand with Islamist outfits (which are cut from the same cloth as the Islamic Caliphate that is stomping on all Christian communities in Syria and Northern Iraq). This would then continue the ghetto-ization of muslims (which is exactly what the extremists want). And no good will come from this.

A private school in south Kerala removed Vande Mataram from Independence Day programme after a religious outfit allegedly threatened its management saying some of the words in the song were against the religious belief of a section of the community. The school also dropped the namaste gesture from a dance number performed during Independence Day celebrations, inviting sharp criticism from various quarters.

Initially TKM Centenary School in Kollam, 65km south of Thiruvananthpuram, had planned a dance fusion with Vande Mataram playing in the background. But it was replaced with an orchestra after workers of the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) threatened to disrupt the programme.

The national song was dropped after several rounds of rehearsals.
When the issue snowballed into a raging controversy, school management denied any external pressure.

"Since there were even three-year-old children, we made some changes in the dance programme to ensure they are not stressed. It has nothing to do with external pressure," said administrator of the school, K Abdul Majeed. However he did not elaborate how 'Vande Mataram' and 'namaste' put some pressure on children.

Various student outfits later took out protest marches to the school seeking strict action against the management and the principal.
However, the SDPI justified the changes in the programme.
"We approached the school management after a number of parents complained that some words in Vande Matraam and the gesture namaste were against their religious belief. We only requested the school to respect their sentiment," said SDPI leader AK Salahuddin.
Police said they received a complaint and started an investigation in this regard.

School principal Latha Alexander was unavailable for comments.




No comments:

Post a Comment