(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.