India’s fetish: Protecting the sensitivities of the offended dumb

Written by  //  January 25, 2012  //  National Politics  //  4 Comments

Once upon a long drive from Nariman Point to Mahim, I asked the cab driver what movies he likes to watch, and what music he likes to listen to. The man who was brought up in Bombay had never set his eyes on a screen, even a television screen, never listened to music. He explained that it was haraam, the cinema and music. Very early in his life, his father had forbidden this kind of entertainment, and he had followed through and brought up his children in the same manner. I asked him how he could know his father was right, if he never ventured to form his own thoughts on the matter. He said it makes sense to outsource thought to the Darul Uloom at Deoband whose sole occupation is to bring the word of Allah to the rest, and it is not his mandate to exercise his mind on these matters.

Soon we reach Mahim where I live near the dargah of Makhdoom Ali Mahimi, a sufi saint of the 14th century. It was during the Mahim fair, and processions sprung from the dargah onto the streets, green lights flashing and speakers screaming, the intoxication of song in the air and white robed men dancing in wild enchantment, moving through the lanes where women and children indulged in succulent kababs.

While I got off, the cab driver looked around in disgust. Then turns to me and says, this naach gaana this disfiguring of Islam, this is wrong! This should never happen. These people will go to hell.  I pay him and say, the Makhdoomi precedes Deoband, maybe you should let us be.



The media has been up in arms, and the liberal heart broken at India’s capitulation to the crackpots who didn’t want Salman Rushdie at the Jaipur Literary Festival. Further investigations reveal that Salman Rushdie has in the past come and gone unhindered, and suddenly now we have crackpots all over the place who want to kill him if he sets foot. The more tolerant of the lot have promised to stage a passionate and hopefully, violent protest. Everyone is confused, the organizers cautious, 3 governments are exchanging notes and 2 of them advising the highest caution. Some say even the governments are intimidating the writer ostensibly, to keep the peace lest the country fall apart. This is not jihad, this is internal resurrection.  This is not cross border terrorism, this is religious sensitivity.

What beats me is why we are aghast at the so-called religious fundamentalists, the Darul-Ulooms and the SIMIs. Why we think that this has something to do with religion, or religious fundamentalism. Why the beards and trisuls fool us so easily, that we train our liberal bazookas diligently at these religion crazed idiots. Organized religion is certainly a problem, but surely only some of the religious are indulging in being offended? What is it about them that makes them offended? Or as some like to put it, why should we respect their right to be offended?

Those of us who measure progress with GDP figures, investor friendliness, social harmony, and the Human Development Index often overlook the difference between progress economic and of civilization. In our obsession with building on the numbers and respecting everyone’s ‘sensitivities’ we have forgotten some of the basic ideas that history has taught us. What matters most and what we often fail to realize in our theoretical rigmarole is that civilization is measured by its ideas, and well-being be it economic or social is premised on the constant advancement of thought. In the past, whole civilizations have met their end once they stopped nurturing free movement and evolution of ideas. What leads societies to stifle ideas, to withdraw their support for their nurture, and clamp down on their growth?

It is not religious fundamentalism. Religious fundamentalism is only a symptom of a certain kind of insecurity, an intellectual laziness. The same kind of insecurity suffered by every person, every cult which fears ideas, thought and free discourse. Offence is caused because the offended feel the waves of thought will capsize their boat. More unfortunate is the fact that very often, the waves don’t mean to capsize the boat and never will, and hence I refer to it as ‘insecurity’ and not fear. Why are they insecure? Is it because new ideas will displace the old? Why should we indulge this insecurity? The question is irrelevant and self defeating. As a society, if we don’t allow free discourse, competition between ideas, entrenched and fledgling, how would we be in a position to judge their relative merit? We would be like my cab driver who constantly runs in disgust from cinema, music and ideas in the fear that it will shake his boat. The boat his father locked him up in, and which he feels his children should suffer. A pathetic man who cannot think for himself, and who has outsourced his mind, who waxes eloquent on Deoband which has given him the word of God, giving him an excuse to otherwise miss the plot.

In Jaipur, all we have done is indulge the most insecure among us in the name of keeping the peace, and democracy. If this is what the most number of us want, and this is what democracy dictates, we should also consider what the point is of having a democracy in the first place, if it does not allow its constituents to think for themselves. Instead of raising an army to protect those among us who think, who write, who express and who question, we are shaming ourselves by helplessly throwing up our hands in the air for accommodating those of us who wish to convert the rest to the creed of the intellectually bankrupt.

4 Comments on "India’s fetish: Protecting the sensitivities of the offended dumb"

  1. Mukul January 25, 2012 at 7:27 am ·

    I think the issue here can be delineated from that of censorship. Whether a book, any book can be banned is a separate question. The point here is whether certain people can be allowed to openly threaten the life of a person who can legally come into this country.

    There is no question of ‘accommodating’ here. The government is at the minimum expected to uphold law and order and not act like a bullied school kid. All that the government had to do here was to state in no uncertain terms that should Mr. Rushdie choose to come, he would be afforded all required security keeping into consideration the reality of threats. Instead it hid behind phrases like “protest from the locals”. This is shameful and a reflection of the lack of spine in the politicians of this country specially around election time.

  2. Harsh January 26, 2012 at 6:25 am ·

    This is disgraceful and an acknowledgement of the fact that we are truly spineless. Then there is Mr. Bhagat who feels that “Images of stalls being broken in Jaipur cud have been flashed across the world. Tourism drops, locals lose jobs. Liberals go home. Want that?”, completely oblivious to the fact that westerners know that we can never guarantee any safe, secure environment for anybody, especially when we cant provide it for one of our own.
    Nice piece Suhas, that cabbie was some Travis Bickle indeed !

  3. Arunabh February 2, 2012 at 12:53 am ·

    good article Suhas. In my opinion the fact is that nutbag fear mongers are absolutely correct in their apprehension that their ideas will be overturned in the tide. Deep down they know that their ideas are fundamentally unsustainable whether you apply reason or intuition. It’s not an irrational fear.
    Further, seeing as they have to authority of god behind them in the face of the simultaneously pious and ignorant, they can use it as a tool for power/publicity when it seems fit. Had they actually had the conviction that Rushdie was a blasphemer, they would’ve stopped him every single time from coming for the Jaipur literary fest.

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