I’ve never heard of the Majlis Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (MIM), a political party working out of Hyderabad, but I can see they’re obviously a genius bunch. After all, it takes mucho grey cells to realize that nothing attracts more sympathy to your cause than throwing odd bits of furniture and anything else you can get your hands on at a lone woman in front of TV cameras.
Apparently the fun and games began when Taslima Nasreen, Bangladeshi author who wrote the infamous Lajja (banned in her country as well as mine for fear of precisely the kind of crackpots that attacked her in Hyderabad), arrived in the city to release the Telugu version of her new novel, Shodh.
Ever heard of it? I certainly hadn’t. But I know all about it now and guess what? I’ll probably buy a copy to see what the fuss is all about.
Anyhoo, so there she was, at the Hyderabad Press Club, sitting on the dias with television cameras trained on her, when 30 “middle aged men” began to raise slogans against her. Shortly thereafter, things turned violent and they began throwing everything they could get their hands on, threatening her not only with bodily harm but death as well.
Hmm, so let’s tot up all that the MIM, specifically three of its MLAs (yes, yes, that’s Member of the Legislative Assembly) along with a couple of dozen fellow “activists”, has achieved:
- Given loads of publicity to Nasreen’s new book
- Painted her as a victim and hence a figure for sympathy
- Played up to the worst ever stereotype of Muslims with MLA Akhtar Khan (one of the men who took part in the incident) saying things like: “She has written books against our government, Islam…I am a Muslim first and then an MLA. My party is with me in this mission.“
Well done, MIM, well done! What a credit you are to your cause, your religion, your political office! I must try this novel method of winning hearts and minds the next time I’m campaigning for something. Personally speaking, I wouldn’t have thought of throwing flower pots at someone but what do I know? I‘m not in public service. I didn’t swear any oaths or something to uphold the tenets of my office or anything. Especially not in the name of God. No sir!
All sarcasm aside, Nasreen, of course, is not the first writer to be faced with this kind of persecution; she’s merely the latest in a long line. Nor is this kind of behavior the sole prerogative of Indians or even Muslim Indians: Nasreen was forced to leave Bangladesh seeking political asylum because of her book and the MIM’s Kumbh ke mele mein bichde hue bhai (long lost brothers), the very intelligent Sambhaji Brigade, has done Hindu and Maratha pride wonders, for example.
What bothers me in this connection, though, is this decision of the Supreme Court, carried out in May:
“It is true that forfeiture of a newspaper or book or a document is a serious encroachment on the right of a citizen, but if forfeiture is called for in the public interest it must without a doubt have pre-eminence over any individual interest,” a Bench of Justices B P Singh and H S Bedi observed while upholding the Karnataka government’s decision to ban a vernacular novel.
Although I’ve always defended the right to free speech, I understand that there are some limits that are desirable: hate speech, inciting violence, slander… But what the above decision (pertaining to a Kannada book I have not read called Dharmakaarana by PV Narayana) does, as far as I can make out, is pander to extremists. [If anyone has read the book and supports the decision, I’d be glad to hear from them.]
I must admit there is a personal angle to this issue: as a writer I’m nowhere near as controversial as Nasreen, but as a woman writer I’ve been on the receiving end of targeted attacks that had little or nothing to do with my writing and a lot more to do with my gender and the “message” read into my words by a group of readers. I’ve also been attacked as a “Tamil”, “Malayali”, “NRI”, “Urbanite” i.e. someone who doesn’t belong to the “real India”, “Muslim”, “blot on Hinduism”, “Commie”, “neo-liberal”, “neo-con”, and a bunch of other things besides depending upon the subject matter of a given post.
I guess I must have MPD and not even know it.
But see, what that SC ruling says, as I see it, is that tomorrow any one of the above crackpots can band together and have my opinions censored irrespective of actual intent or truth by threatening violence. All they have to do is convince the government that they mean business. So my rights as a citizen can be held hostage by any
Neanderthal criminal with an effigy.
Who wants to place bets that Shodh is going to go the way of Lajja? Buy your copies now, folks.
Update: Alternate version at Desicritics