Its only been a month since I wrote the article on the Vadodara art attack case. Wounds inflicted by the not-so-stray instance upon the liberal and secular sentiments of our society have still not healed completely. What has turned out to be the cynosure of all interested eyes now, is the attack on noted littérateur Taslima Nasrin. Ms. Nasrin was attending a meeting organized by the Press Club of Hyderabad to release the Telugu translation of her latest book, Shodh, when she was ‘roughed up’ by certain members present in the audience. The contents of her speech were allegedly inflammatory to Islamic sentiments, which in turn provoked an attack from three MLAs belonging to the fundamentalist Majlis-e-Ittehadul Musalmeen (MIM) party. After taking the law into their own hands, quite ironically, MIM later decided to file a case against Taslima under S.153(a) of the IPC for hurting religious sentiments of the Muslim community.
This incident inevitably brings us to the issue of rapidly eroding liberal values in the Indian society today. The question of tolerance has always been ensconced in the larger, more volatile cover of “religious” or “moral” sentiments. What we have been witnessing over the past few years is the utter lack of concern or regard for human rights vis-a-vis such moral policing. The Constitution of India provides for certain fundamental rights, sacrosanct in nature; rights which cannot be compromised in a liberal democracy. Yet, once society is faced with communalist notions of such religious and moral sentiments, it is always the expression of sectarian will that prevails. Its high time that we realize the importance of rights in the public realm; what is inflammatory cannot be contingent on the opinion of a select few, who invariably turn out to be disposed towards extremist ideologies. One cannot, in any circumstance, ignore the rule of law in a democratic polity.
The moment we are cowed down with the ‘all-important’ question as to whether Taslima Nasrin did actually hurt the sentiments of a certain community, we’re fighting a lost battle. It is important to understand that the debate as to who’s right or wrong is only secondary; rather, we should oppose all expression of fundamentalist views and action that that encourages intolerance and violence in society. To reiterate, moral policing disrupts the functioning of an already established constitutional machinery, completely ignoring the rule of law; thereby throwing human rights to the winds.Whether casualties surface in the form of Chandramohans or Taslima Nasrins is quite irrelevant; the larger picture cannot be ignored. Humanist tendencies are unfortunately on the wane; it takes sensitized and informed public opinion to fight divisive and fundamentalist forces.
I’d like to conclude, quoting Taslima’s very own lines from her declaration during the UNESCO General Conference in 1999,
“Fundamentalism is an ideology that diverts people from the path of natural development of consciousness and undermines their personal rights. Fundamentalists do not believe in liberty of personal choice or plurality of thought.They cannot be countered without a relentless and uncompromising fight. The struggle should be both theoretical and tactical. Democracy and secularism should be applied in practice and not remain a mere play of words.”