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Nupurquake and after effects

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T S Dhakshinamurthy
T S Dhakshinamurthyhttp://teeyesdee.blogspot.com
Retired banker.  As a youngster published poems in Youth Times, Mirror, Indian Express, Poetry Chronicle, Poesis etc. Translated modern Tamil poems into English for Sahithya Akademy's special edition on Tamil Poetry. Translated Ionesco's Rhinoceros from French to Tamil, published by CreA, Chennai. Served as a Volunteer with Sneha, Chennai Chapter of Samaritans International (non religious organisation for prevention of suicide and helping the lonely, depressed etc. Interests include art films, religion, politics, economics, rock music, cricket etc.

Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum(To such heights of evil are men driven by religion.)
LUCRETIUS, DE RERUM NATURA

I faintly recollect a passage from Irving Wallace’s Seven Minutes (a favourite author during our teens). A book is being tried for obscenity and proscription. The cross-section of the society testifying for obscenity and pleading for ban includes an honourable housewife. As she takes the stand, representative of good American wives, the defence lawyer reads out to her from a book with covered jacket. As he reads out her face gets taut, then livid, and she screams how dare you read out such smut to me. Madam, the lawyer responds, I was reading from the Holy Book…. Thunderous silence.

The common man is unscientific and irreligious, said Bernard Shaw. All hell broke loose after Nupur Sharma’s response in kind to a provocation in a TV debate was resurrected days later by a website funded from abroad. Her own explanation and apology were ignored. One can even understand, rather helplessly, the way the incited mobs went about their usual business of arson, incendiary, vandalism, death threats, killings, not knowing, not caring to know, what was said, why it was said.

One would have thought, nonetheless, in a cultured, civil society, with an impartial intelligentsia, a team of scriptural clerisy and exegetes would have been immediately formed to anatomise Nupur’s words and conclude if indeed there was blasphemy. Unfortunately, however, almost globally now, in all matters concerning Islam, no informed debate or meaningful discussion is possible. Nupur Sharma was hanged without being able to offer her defence. Nobody wanted it, because they feared it.

The moment must have been apposite to define and codify what is blasphemy in the Indian context. Of course, in India calling Sri Ram a drunkard, taking his statue in procession while beating it with chappals, the evangelists hurling abuses, equating Hindu gods with Satan (even by a lady teacher in a Government school in TN to her students), abhorrent comments on Lord Nataraja and Lord Krishna, portrayal of Ma Kaali with a cigarette, insinuating her to be a lesbian, et al do not constitute blasphemy. That privilege belongs to a select few. Even in this incident, Nupur Sharma was only responding to continuous obnoxious, odious comments about Lord Shiva, clearly a retort for a preceding blasphemy.

In the maelstrom of orgy of violence that followed, however, the crux of the issue was buried four fathoms deep. Propensity and capacity for violence set the narrative and soon enough Islamic countries, paragons of religious pluralism and tolerance, jumped into the band wagon. The issue took on a dynamism of its own and swiftly snowballed into a foreign relations crisis. We would have done ourselves proud, if we had looked at them in the eye and told them, look, we have an independent, functional judiciary, which will take appropriate action if in fact blasphemy has been committed. But such is the power and solidarity of the Islamic countries, there was hardly any room for reasoned response. Quatar, believed to be a bank-roller of Jihadi outfits, led the way.

Soon enough, predictably, epithets started flying – loose tongue, motor mouth, rabid hate-monger, fringe element (the unkindest cut of all), you name it!

She is none of it by a long shot. She is a tigress, who, in a sharp departure from the customary timid, self-effacing Hindu trait- swallowing humiliations in silence, gave back in equal measure.

So, she was sacrificed on the altar of mollification. The party distanced itself. Even the section of media generally not antagonistic to BJP disowned her. She was judged on the ferocious reaction of fanatics and not on the merits of the issue.

Plethora of cases were filed against her throughout the country. Strangely, not a single one was filed for the obnoxious remarks on Siva Lingam by a fellow panelist. Her plea to the Supreme Court for clubbing of multiple FIRs into a single jurisdiction, a legal entitlement under Article 20(2) safeguarding against double jeopardy and SC’s own judgement that subjecting an individual to numerous proceedings on the basis of the same cause is violative of fundamental rights, elicited a fusillade of denunciation, albeit obiter dicta, holding her singly responsible for the wanton violence witnessed in the country and the slaying of at least two persons.

The remit is always to examine the issue on its own merits dispassionately, insulated from possible consequences.  In one stroke, extenuating circumstances attended the arson, destruction of public property and homicide. If Nupur’s comments were to be responsible for the frenzy and thuggery and slayings that ensued, does it not necessarily follow, on the same analogy. that her own comments, provoked in turn by a fellow panelist’s sacrilegious comments on Lord Shiva, become legit and he be held equally responsible for the aftermath?

And we were all under the impression that regardless of the severity of provocation, resort to violence is impermissible in a country with Rule of Law, where adequate legal avenues are available for redressal of grievances. The entire liberal gaggle shied away from any condemnation of the violence.

Resort to mindless violence in similar circumstances is not on display for the first time. To cite a recent representative example, when rumours did the rounds in Bangalore of a certain MLA’s son having posted derogatory remarks on Prophet Mohammed in Facebook, within no time, thousands thronged the MLA’s house, set fire to vehicles, pelted stones, called for the head of the offender who had to flee, all for certain unknown FB comments that few had seen or read. The mob had to be propitiated with unconditional apologies.

As to Prophet Mohammed’s marital life, respected Islamic scholars, numerous official Islamic websites, provide authentic information on the 12 wives Prophet Mohamed is said to have had (including, according to William Muir, Zeinab, wife of his adopted son Zeid, a marriage ratified later by a revelation). And also, the Coptic Christian teen Mary, one of the two girls sent as a gift from the Byzantine ruler of Alexandria. According to some sources he later freed her from slavery after she bore him a child, and married her.

As regards Ayesha, the scholars have explained that according to Islam, marriage with a girl who has attained puberty can be consummated and in the hot desert conditions girls attain puberty at a much early age. All this information is in public domain.  The caveat that all this has to be seen in the context of social and cultural ethos prevalent at that time and age and not judged by present day standards, is in order here (applicable in general to all scriptures and ancient religious texts).  That does not in any way alter factual, unbowdlerized history.

India’s failure is the failure of intelligentsia, called out V S Naipaul. From the way, Nupur Sharma has been knee-hauled over shark infested waters, the conclusion is ineluctable that guaranteed outrage and congenital violence in response to unverified provocations will set the media at a distance and sideline the core issues in a desperate bid to restore normalcy. Even that is understandable, but what is not is the intelligentsia and (otherwise quite vocal) conscience keepers steering clear of scabrous issues when it concerns Islam. That does not speak well of our moral courage.

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T S Dhakshinamurthy
T S Dhakshinamurthyhttp://teeyesdee.blogspot.com
Retired banker.  As a youngster published poems in Youth Times, Mirror, Indian Express, Poetry Chronicle, Poesis etc. Translated modern Tamil poems into English for Sahithya Akademy's special edition on Tamil Poetry. Translated Ionesco's Rhinoceros from French to Tamil, published by CreA, Chennai. Served as a Volunteer with Sneha, Chennai Chapter of Samaritans International (non religious organisation for prevention of suicide and helping the lonely, depressed etc. Interests include art films, religion, politics, economics, rock music, cricket etc.
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