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Sunday, 20 September 2015

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India's latest bandwagon is the 'ban' wagon

Almost every group in India, whether social, political, ethnic or religious, is itching to jump on to a new bandwagon, the 'ban' wagon to use a term invented by The Times of India. For one reason or the other, groups, through the length and breadth of India, want this or that banned. It could be meat in one place, beef in another, a book here, or a film or a painting there.

Music maestro A.R.Rahman Pic: Courtesy ibnlive.in

Bans were imposed during British rule too, but it has touched epidemic levels in independent India, especially now, with the spread of political consciousness, growth of identity politics, increasing political competitiveness and the exponential growth of the media, its reach and influence. Seeking a ban on some issue has become a way to get noticed, stir the communal and political pot, and fish in the troubled waters.

In June, Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Sadhvi Prachi demanded that Muslims who oppose yoga should be sent to Pakistan after the All India Muslim Personal Law Board opposed the Narendra Modi government's decision to observe one day in a year as 'Yoga Day'.

Ban on meat and beef

Yoga, the board said, has Hindu rituals like 'Surya Namaskar' or sun worship which are un-Islamic. The Sadhvi also asked people to boycott the films of the Khans of Bollywood, because they 'promote violence' in their action thrillers.

This month, several Indian states ruled by Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had banned the sale of meat during the Jain festival of 'Paryushan' ostensibly to respect the sentiments of the vegetarian Jains. Seeing this as BJP's way of winning over the Gujarati-speaking Jains to its side, its rival in Maharashtra, the Maharashtra Nirman Samiti (MNS) organized a meat-eating session in areas populated by Jains. It maintained that Maharashtrians are meat eaters and cannot be forced to abjure it. In Jammu and Kashmir, a Muslim-majority state, the Jammu bench of the state High Court, comprising two Hindu judges, ordered the police to strictly impose the ban on cow slaughter and beef eating under the Ranbir Penal Code enacted in 1932, in pre-independence days by the Hindu Maharajah of Kashmir. As this caused tension in the Kashmir Valley, dominated by the Muslims, a Muslim filed a petition in the Srinagar bench of the High Court seeking the annulment of the Ranbir Penal Code on the grounds that the ban on cow slaughter and consumption of beef is an attack on Islam. The court, comprising a Hindu and a Muslim judge, sent notice to the government to submit its response, and also said that the state legislature could draft a new code to replace the Ranbir Code. At one stage the controversy threatened the existence of the BJP-Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP) coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir.

Maharashtra Nirman Samiti Chief, Raj Thackeray with the Khans, Aamir and Salman
Pic: NDTV

Meanwhile, in Chennai, music maestro A.R.Rahman learnt that the Mufti of Mumbai had issued a 'fatwa' (ban) on his composing music for the Iranian film 'Muhammad: Messenger of God' directed by the renowned Majid Majidi. The Mufti said that no film on the Prophet could be made, leave alone composing music for it. When there was a danger that Muslim radicals will hold demonstrations all over India against the film and against Rahman personally, the music composer replied to the 'fatwa' in his Facebook page.

He said that the intention of the film is to unite humanity, clear misconceptions, and spread the message that life is kindness, about uplifting the poor and living in the service of humanity and not mercilessly killing innocents in the name of the Prophet. "My spiritual experiences of working in the film are very personal and I would prefer not to share these," Rahman added in a mild act of defiance.

It is doubtful if the Indian state would have come to Rahman's rescue if he was hounded by Jihadists, but the Islamic Republic of Iran came to his rescue which silenced the Mumbai Mufti. The Iranian Embassy in New Delhi issued a statement saying: "The film of Majid Majidi is an artistic work and any opinion about it should be expressed only after seeing it. Launching hot discussions before seeing the film may be wrong, illogical and incorrect. No insult has been committed to Islamic values in the film." It is pointed out that the film does not show the face of the child actor who plays the Prophet in the film.

Earlier too, there had been a demand from Muslims to ban the Rahman-Mani Ratnam film 'Bombay' on the Bombay riots simply because a Muslim girl falls in love with a Hindu boy in the script! World-renowned painter M.F.Hussein had to flee India and settle down in Dubai after he painted a picture of Goddess Saraswathi in the nude. He died in exile.

The making of a British documentary 'India's Daughter' on the infamous rape of a girl in a public bus in Delhi, was banned in India because it might show India as a dangerous place for women. Last year, the Gounder caste in Tamil Nadu forced the Tamil Nadu government to ban Perumal Murugan's historical novel, 'Madhorubagan' (Half Woman) because it spoke about a past temple ritual in the Thiruchengode area in which, during the festival night, a woman could have sex with any man of her choice and the child born of this union, was deemed a Gift of God. The Goundars considered this to be untrue and a calculated insult to their community and forced the withdrawal of the book and physically threatened the author. Murugan's plea that the material was based on intensive historical research fell on deaf ears. So much so that even the police asked him to flee for his own safety. Protests by fellow writers were feeble, because they knew that the State's law and order machinery would not back them. In desperation Perumal Murugan put out a statement saying that he would not write anymore.

Bans have a hoary past

Banning of books has been on for a long time in India, tracings its roots to the British era. But the pre-independence era saw only a few books being banned compared to the vast number of proscriptions in independent India.

Among the books banned during British rule are: Hindu Heaven by Max Wylie (1934); The Face of Mother India by Katherine Mayo (1936); Old Soldier Sahib by Private Frank Richard (1936); The Land of Lingam by Arthur Miles (1937); and Scented Garden: Anthropology of Sex Life in the Levant by Bernard Stein (1945). These books are still proscribed!

Among the books banned after independence are: Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses; Taslima Nasreen's Lajja; Polyester Empire by Hamish McDonald (on the Ambanis, a powerful industrial group); Jinnah: India, Partition and Independence by Jaswant Singh (for praising Pakistan's founder M.A.Jinnah and portraying Gandhi and Nehru as weaklings); Who Killed Gandhi by Lourenco de Sadvendor; The Price of Power by Seymour Hersh, in which former Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai was described as a 'star performer of the CIA'; The Area of Darkness by V.S.Naipaul for showing India in poor light; The Heart of India by Alexander Campbell for lampooning Indian bureaucrats; Nine Hours to Rama by Stanley Wolpert for saying Gandhi was killed because of a security lapse; The Ramayana by Aubrey Menon; Shivaji: The Hindu King in Islamic India by James Laine for going too deep into Shivaj's family; Smash and Grab: The Annexation of Sikkim by Sunanda K.Dutta-Ray; Nehru: Political Biography by Michael Edwards; The Hindus: An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger.

Explaining the spate of bans, sociologist Shiv Viswanathan said that politics in India is based on identities, religious, caste and ethnic identities. Political parties mobilize people for elections on the basis of castes and communities. Communal strife helps them demarcate communities and cultivate them intensely. Pandering to communal sentiments is a tried and tested political tool. The growth of democracy has also contributed by bringing out identities which were previously not there or were dormant due to the absence of self consciousness.

Explaining the ban on foods, sociologist Dipankar Gupta says that food has always been a divider and a marker of caste, social and religious differences in India. Therefore, when exploiting these differences, food becomes an issue automatically.

Then there is the law, which is discriminatory despite the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of thought and expression. Wendy Doniger said the following about Penguin India which withdrew her much acclaimed book on Hindus: "They were finally defeated by the true villain of this piece - the Indian law that makes it a criminal rather than a civil offence to publish a book that offends any Hindu, a law that jeopardizes the physical safety of any publisher, no matter how ludicrous the accusation brought against a book."

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