August 12, 2007

More curses

So now it's Taslima Nasreen. Gang of 40 from something called the Majlis-Ittehadul Muslimeen attack her at a book release function in Hyderabad, calling her anti-Islam. (Yes, 40. Apparently their calculation was that they would need that many men to tackle one woman). Then the leader of the MIM, a MLA called Akbaruddin Owaisi, actually "warned that Taslima will be killed if she steps into Hyderabad again" (Sunday Times of India, August 12). That's right, a death threat from an elected man. He claims that meaningless chestnut: Taslima has "hurt the sentiments of the Muslim community."

(In parentheses: this kind of attack hurts the sentiments of my community which, including me, consists of one person. Why don't you give a damn, Akbaruddin Owaisi, or anyone else out there? This is a serious question.)

(In more parentheses: There must be people left in this country whose religious or other sentiments have not been hurt by something or the other at some time or the other. Would the three of you each send me a note please?)

Nor does the story end there. You're outraged by this attack on the freedom of speech, right? Well, you'll be glad to know that the police have registered a case under Section 153 (A), which addresses attempts to promote enmity between religions. The case is against ... Taslima Nasreen.

Question: In all this, how many echoes can you hear of episodes from our past, for example one at an exhibition in Baroda a few months ago?

To help you with your hearing, here's one more detail: the Sunday Times carries a commentary about Nasreen titled "The best that can happen to a bad writer". From it, we learn that she is "not a creative writer", "essentially a mediocre writer" and that her novel Lajja is "an impoverished book".

Listen to that echo, won't you? The stuff on display in Baroda wasn't really art, the painter was no artist, all that. Remember?

What is it with us Indians? Are we really becoming more bigoted and intolerant by the day, maybe by the hour? Are we really that unable and unwilling to see thuggery for what it is? Are our sentiments really that gossamer-like? Is our faith in our various faiths really as shallow as these incidents demonstrate?

Taslima's plight, incidentally, reminds me of Asghar Ali Engineer. In February 2000, this mild-mannered but forthright sixty-something year old scholar took a flight from Bhopal to Bombay. The Alliance Air plane stopped at Indore, and stayed there for an inordinately long time. Turned out the Syedna -- Dr Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, spiritual head of the Dawoodi Bohras, was taking the same flight and the airline officials decided to hold the plane until he decided to board.

Asghar Ali Engineer, as you may know, is a Bohra himself. He is also a long-time and tireless campaigner for reform within the community, and thus -- as those who call for reform always are -- unpopular within the community.

With other passengers, Engineer protested the long delay. In response, he told Outlook, two of the Syedna's followers said to him: "You shaitan (devil), get down and see what happens to you." Sure enough, when the flight reached Bombay, three of the Syedna's followers beat up Engineer until he fell bleeding to the floor. More of his followers went to Engineer's home and office and vandalized both places.

That story doesn't end there either. Letters from the Syedna's followers began appearing in the newspapers over the next several days. The real culprit, said these correspondents, was Engineer. For he had first "prevented" the Syedna from entering the aircraft, then "abused" him in "foul language" and "physically assault[ed]" him. Engineer, one letter claimed, doesn't know "how to behave with a person of [the Syedna's] dignity and class. Engineer is a curse on society. May [the Syedna's] enemies burn in the fires of hell."

Asghar Ali Engineer recovered, as he always does. (That was the fifth time he had been assaulted by the Syedna's followers). He remains active and forthright. I've always thought, if this man is a "curse on society", may we be so cursed many times over.


Postscript: Michael Deibert's post on the Taslima incident is worth reading.


Anonymous said...


Never really believed that "I am not a leftist" line at the top of your blog; still don't believe it, but you do stand for (some approximation of) liberty. Not many do; probably about three indian bloggers.


Amardeep Singh said...

Nice post, Dilip. I had never heard that story about Asghar Ali Engineer before -- and I'm glad to know it now.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the simple straightforward condemnation Dilip. As Sujai has pointed out, there is a pyramiding effect, and its very possible that these people's reps were repping the desire of at least a few thousand ppl (to avenge perceived insult).

Back at the Baroda incident, I remember thinking that I wouldnt be too sorry if MFHusain tripped and got himself a bloody nose- while I condemned the violence of the BD etc.

sidetrack (OT) on Dilip and non-leftism:

I had initially thought (apparently like many others) that this was a playful tease but defences mounted over the years lead me to believe Dilip takes his no-leftism tag sincerely and seriously.

Not much into tagging, and recognize that this leftism is individually relative (I am to the left of and to right of other people's opinions) but I do recognize some kind of center of gravity that I can position myself w.r.t and know when I am swinging left of it.

Dilip's non-leftism has ONLY ONE effect that I am concerned with:

- he will see opposing opinion as 'rightier' than it actually is.

This is only a minor quibble.

- Quibble because only Dilip can correct this.
- minor quibble because this only affects his view of us, not necessarily ours of him.

Would be a moderate worry, if he held some position of significant power over us.


Anonymous said...

Good post. This adds to the missing(inadequate) consistency in your freedom-of-speech defense. IMO, your earlier opinion pieces w.r.t incidences involving muslims were delayed or muffled. Not this one and I hope to see more.

Oth, do you happen to know the causes for Taslima's citizenship application getting stalled?

-anon from HV post

Anonymous said...

Its really ashame for all the people who attacked the Taslima Nasreen. It is not fair to attack the woman by gang just for the sake of contrary opinion. It is appreciable that all the three MIM MLA's were arrest by the police after the incident...

Jai_Choorakkot said...

Follow up comment on MSM coverage:

Please do not dismiss too lightly the perception of bias or selectivity in the English MSM. Alerted by a Muslim friend, I've been looking for this.

The attack and follow-up inaction by Hyd police received wide coverage there, as also the reporting on some Urdu papers ridiculing the MIM for not really endangering Taslima(?!!) and the jockeying between various M. political orgs on this issue.

All worthy and deserving of coverage. But not much mention of the condemnation from within the community of the attack or these follow-ups.

OTOH a Telugu paper AndhraJyoti had a full page of criticism /condemnation from M. writers / poets on this incident.

This is surprising, I still trust my English paper but dont have an explanation.


Anonymous said...


We are not and never have been a classic liberal democracy but not completely intolerant either. We have banned and continue to ban a lot of books - some really innocuous - for fear that they would offend sensibilities. I think if you want to perform any play, you still have to get the script approved by a censor. (I remember one play being banned for being "sympathetic" to the viewpoint of Nathuram Godse, Gandhi's assassin. I think the Marathi play was based on the final speech of Godse which itself was banned for quite sometime after the assassination.) And of course, bashing up people with whom you disagree has always been a part of our lexicon which has gained strength over the years because of past failures to prosecute those resorting to such methods. Just out of curiosity, how many of the Syedna's followers were charged and convicted for beating up Asghar Ali Engineer?

There is a lesson here: if you do not challenge the use of illegal and violent methods to express dissent, then people will come to see that as being legitimate and it will make the task of eradicating such methods more difficult. We are, in a sense, paying the price for past failures.

I would like to remind readers that such intolerance runs across the political spectrum. Check the following instance of intolerance associated with the avowedly "atheist" and certainly, anti-Hindu members of the Dravidar Kazhagam protesting against an alleged desecration of a statue of Periyar E. V. Ramaswami Naicker:

Makes one wonder how "atheist" these blokes really are --- their behavior has all the hallmarks usually associated with religious intolerance.