For me, Hinduism was Inclusive and Welcoming

Vir Sanghvi, the editor of Sunday, condemns the witchhunt against M.F. Husain, not only as a liberal who recognises the difference between nudity and obscenity, and a democrat who defends the right to freedom of artistic expression, but also as a Hindu. I, too, register my strong protest not only because I, too, subscribe to liberal and democratic values, but also because I am a Muslim.
Sanghvi has been forced to fall back on his Hindu identity not because he considers himself a “Hindu, first…”. I, too, am forced to fall back on my Muslim identity not because I consider myself a “Muslim, first”.
Sanghvi is outraged because he believes Hinduism is demeaned by the fanaticism of the Shiv Sena and other “khaki-knickered buffoons". I feel outraged, and threatened, because Hindutva's tirade is not limited to Husain: His painting has become yet another excuse for the saffron brigade to demonise Islam and to target “the enemy” (the entire community of Indian Muslims).
In a signed article in Bal Thackeray's and the Shiv Sena's foul-mouthpiece, Dopahar ka Saamna, the Hindi Eveninger's executive editor, Sanjay Nirupam, has issued the “fatwa” that “Husain's fingers would have to be cut off” the moment he returns to punyabhoomi.
But he does not stop at Husain and his “unforgivable” crime. Nirupam's “Hindu wrath” engulfs the entire community of Indian Muslims.
'It is evident that even in the minds of the ordinary Muslim there is some devious intent. On the surface, of course, they say Husain is wrong. But it is possible that deep inside they find a gleeful satisfaction in observing the whole charade. Muslim society will have to declare its intent and remove our suspicion that they are enjoying a gleeful satisfaction. They will have to join Hindus in their relentless campaign against Husain” (See page 10 for excerpts from the sainik vitriol).
Whatever happens, the Indian Muslim is always suspect.
Last year, Bal Thackeray gave a call to his boys that if any one dared to touch even a hair on his body, the entire community (Muslim) to which the person belonged should be wiped out from India. Somewhat taken aback at the national condemnation of his outburst, Thackeray came out with the lame excuse that he was talking about Bangladeshis only.
While deposing before the Srikrishna Commission in September, Madhukar Sarpotdar, leader of the Shiv Sena group in Parliament, stated without mincing words that his party subscribes to a philosophy of retaliatory justice whereby an entire community is held accountable for the wrongdoing of a few individuals who happen to belong to it.
In any civilized society, no law, no court holds a mother, wife or lover guilty of a crime, however grave, committed by a son, husband or spouse. But the saffron brigade, with claims to speak in the name of a rich and ancient civilization, holds an entire community responsible for the act of a single individual.
This is neither civilized nor democratic. It is fascism pure and simple. I oppose it not only because it is ideologically repugnant to me, but also because, as a Muslim, I am the target because of what a Maqbool Fida Husain, or a Dawood Ibrahim, chooses to do.
I protest also because the nature of the tirade against Husain is proof of Hindutva's hypocrisy. A primary charge against Indian Muslims is that they suffer from the chronic “Muslims first” syndrome and refuse to identity with “mainstream”, Indian culture.
I am no fan or follower of Husain or his art of recent years. The little that I know of the man and his work, hardly fits the “Muslim first” stereotype. If Husain does not qualify to be counted as part of the Indian mainstream, I wonder which other Indian Muslim does.
No Hindutvavaadi denounced him, on the ground of his being a Muslim, when in his attempt to deify Indira Gandhi at her authoritarian worst during the Emergency, he ended up demonising Goddess Durga. Why, then, has the fact of his being a Muslim become so central to the controversy today? Who defined the nature and the limit to which an Indian Muslim must/can identify and relate with “mainstream” culture?
It is ironic that I am today forced to defend Husain, a man for whom I have little respect because at a critical moment in Indian history, he proved to have more in common with Bal Thackeray than me: both publicly supported Mrs. Gandhi during the Emergency. I protest against the witch-hunt against the man not only because I am a Muslim but, in the first place, because democracy and basic freedoms are crucial to me. Like others, I too have multiple identities, the primary of which for me is neither the fact of being Indian or Muslim. Before and above every other identity, I am a human being and that is how I would like to see others too.
But since I recognise that for many people, their Muslim or their Hindu identity is very important, I respect their sentiment while subscribing to a two-point “social contract” for peaceful co-existence:
One: no law against blasphemy. Alleged sins or crimes against God/Gods/Goddesses should be left to be judged by He/She/Them alone. No state, society or any group of “aggrieved believers” should have any right to punish on His/Her/Their behalf.

I feel very sad that my Hinduism which opened the world for me is sought to be imprisoned by narrow minds and taken in the very direction I was fortunate to leave behind.

Two, any person who does anything with the intention of inflaming sentiments, creating ill-will and hatred or instigating violence between different individuals or communities should be held guilty of a crime against society and punished under due process of law. None should be permitted to take the law into their own hands.
If the charge against Husain is blasphemy, let the Heavens decide. If the charge is that of a crime against society, let the courts, not the Shiv Sena and the Bajrang Dal, judge. But why has a case been registered against Husain, but none against Thackeray, the editor of Saamna and Dopahar ka Saamna, for its writings instigating hatred and violence.
Lastly, this may sound sacrilegious to votaries of Hindutva, but as an Indian Muslim, I protest in the name of Hinduism too. I, unfortunately, do not know much about Hindu philosophy and religion, but the little that I got to learn from some Hindu friends and teachers in the early 70s proved crucial to my moksha from the rigid Islam that I was brought up with.
This is purely a biographical statement with no intent to compare the relative merits of two major world religions. Today, I feel very sad that my Hinduism which opened the world for me is sought to be imprisoned by narrow minds and taken in the very direction I was fortunate to leave behind. 

(This is archived from Communalism Combat, November 1996)




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