Sunday, July 25, 2021

Intolerance at large

It is a sad reflection of the state of things in a 70 year old democratic country if a well known film star like Naseeruddin Shah is put on trial and forced to explicitly profess his secular and patriotic credentials for uttering his concern about the worsening communal divides, hate-politics and increasing incidents of rioting or about a state policy where cow slaughters are deemed far more important than murders of the country’s citizens including policeman. To any sane and liberal person, there is nothing wrong in what the veteran actor spoke about. All liberal minded people are aghast at the way the BJP government lead by Yogi Adityanath has given precedence to cow slaughter than to the shocking murder of a cop by a mob, or by the brazen manner in which several state governments and the Centre have maintained cryptic silence over the increasing cases of mob lynching and the many cases of hounding and intimidating minorities or against those who dare to criticize the Modi government at the Centre. They are as much concerned about issues of safety of their own family and the rights of citizens by trampling civil liberties and freedom of expression through muscle power of the mobs on a daily basis. To those who cherish and have faith in democratic norms, Indian constitution and its liberal spirit, the questions raised by Naseeruddin Shah were vital and mirrored their own anxieties, concern and anger. But the question is not really about whether he spoke right or wrong but about the freedom he enjoys as an ordinary citizen to say something. No sooner did he uttered his concerns during an interview, the verbal lynching squads were up in arms against him on the social media and the political world, baying for his blood or telling him to leave the country. Such shameful behaviour that the actor was expressing about was once again put on display, vindicating his stand. With all their threats and intolerance to his remarks, they only proved he was saying something right and much needed. Silence indeed is no longer the option for the right-minded people of the country and the right to freedom of expression needs to be upheld and stood up for against this ongoing madness of the state-sponsored fringe. A bigger shocker in the entire episode came from the manner in which the organisers of a literary festival, where Naseeruddin Shah’s book was to be released and where he was to address a gathering, decided to secretly release the book by shifting the venue without giving him the audience he deserved. Literature is all about freedom of expression and if platforms such as literary festivals cannot defend the right of people to speak their mind out, without provoking hatred or inciting violence, the entire purpose of such events is defeated and relegated to a mere commercial enterprise. The other significant aspect of the Naseer episode is that it is once again a shocking reflection of the manner in which minorities of the country are put on trial if they dare to speak out and forced to prove their nationalist credentials. On previous occasions that such outrage over concerns of the increasing culture of intolerance in the country, Muslim actors like Shahrukh Khan and Aamir Khan have borne the brunt and been branded as ‘anti-nationals’. One can easily notice the difference in the tone and tenor of the trolls and the verbal abuse that Muslims have had to face in comparison to Hindus like Vishal Dadlani, Ashutosh Gawarikar, Swara Bhaskar and Prakash Raj for saying similar things. It is extremely worrying that the tags of ‘anti-national’ and ‘Pakistani’ come so easily whenever a Muslim, howsoever notable his or her social status, dares to speak out to challenge a majoritarian dominant discourse. In view of such a darkening scenario, Naseer’s words are sanguine, more than relevant and need not be lost in the din. They need to be grappled with through reason and logic and the deepening vortex of intolerance that this country is slipping into needs to be opposed.