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Free speech or wild world

Saturday January 28, 2012 09:21:46 PM, M. Burhanuddin Qasmi

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Undoubtedly India is the world’s largest democracy and our democratic system is uninterruptedly functioning for last 6 decades. Two days back Indians have celebrated the 63rd Republic Day with fanfare and glittering colours. Though we have gone through tough challenges at several occasions in the past, we have innumerable issues yet to cope with at present and, I am sure, we would face new democratic tests in future too, yet we can boldly showcase our Indainness at any world stage as citizens of a democratic secular and republican country – India.

The six fundamental rights in Indian constitution acts as a guarantee that all Indian citizens can and will live their lives in peace and freedom, with mutual respect and communal harmony. They include individual rights, common to most liberal democracies of the world, such as equality before the law, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly, freedom of religion, and the right to constitutional remedies for the protection of civil rights and ‘soul of constitution’ itself.

Make no mistake, our freedom is not wild nor it is beyond expurgation – the constitution has wisely walled our system and balanced it with individual rights and responsibilities. In a sane world no freedom is absolute, and logically it is not viable too; every right comes with same degree of responsibility. It is the duty of an individual to enjoy his rights without breaking into to others’ wall.

The recent fiasco over infamous Salman Rushdie’s attendance at the Jaipur Literary Festival (JLF) and later his failed video conference link issue, to me, is a classical nexus between certain media houses, especially 24X7 news channels and the Jaipur Fest organizers in the run to TV TRP and popularity gain. The DSC Limited sponsored Literary Fest at Jaipur has been on place for last five years but very few people even in Jaipur knew about it or attended it in the past, let alone its popularity in India or worldwide.

Just a few years ago Rushdie has made his presence in the same JLF and more so he visited India several times in the recent past including his latest participation in the India Today Conclave last year. But then nobody noticed about Rushdie nor there was such a massive nationwide hue and cry, simply because nobody was informed about his presence earlier or there was no pre-campaign on his arrival in the press. This time around, it is clearly visible; that the JLF organizers have well-architected plans to cash in the Rushdie hates in their favour and take their ‘stage’ beyond Jaipur. They actually sold Rushdie to the television botchery where the world of news bonanza is selling him again and again.

Salman Rushdie, for his blasphemous Satanic Verses, is a sacrilegious, unanimously hated person in the length and breadth of the Muslim world since 1988. The playboy style, soft pornographic novelist was awarded the knighthood by Queen Elizabeth of Britain in 2008 which was as if the UK was in a teasing mod with Muslims – it amounted nothing less than adding fuel to the fire.

Interestingly, the same UK, the upholder of so-called free speech has banned a mainstream news channel as recently as on this January. “The Zionist Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre (Bicom) has collaborated with the state-controlled British Office of Communications (Ofcom) to ban the alternative English-language channel Press TV in the UK”, a political analyst says. The ban on Iranian Press TV was also partly because of that the channel has not exercised the same amount of ‘freedom’ that Western channels like BBC or CNN exercised while airing the Royal Wedding of Birmingham palace last year.

It was awful to observe nasty behaviour of TV journalist Barkha Dutt and Bollywood lyricist Javed Akhtar at a session on ‘freedom of speech’ on 24th January at Jaipur Fest and later that day during Barkha’s ‘exclusive’ televised interview with Salman Rushdie.

Akhtar himself on that very stage says ‘I am an atheist and I do not hide it’ which obviously means that he is not among Muslim and he cannot understand what is dearer to Muslim and what is not. All his arguments in favour of a person who abused the Prophet of Islam Mohammad (saws) and the mother of all Muslims – Aisha (ra) are not less than madness of an atheist – he is no way a spokesperson of the Muslim community in India. Akhtar is naïve about Islam without discrediting his works in certain narrow corners.

Even before it was quite clear that Salman Rushdie won’t be able to thorough his video link from London, Barkha twitted about her ‘exclusive’ interview with Rushdie to ‘be aired at 8 pm tonight’. It sounded like things were fixed. What we know is a journalist is a messenger but Barkha that day willfully became a party against 174 million Muslim Indians. The TV anchor shot shockers “a militant minority of the Muslim minority is against Rushdie’s visit to India”.

In the TV newsology visuals are main ingredients thus, as long as an agitation does not become violent, it is not agitation – thus not a news, for, they want ‘bites’ to show – how ugly it may be. Muslims – cutting across ideological differences – be it the most prestigious seat of learning Darul Uloom Deoband or organizations like Jamiat Ulama-e Hind, All India Muslim Personal Law Board, Jamat-e Islami Hind, All India Milli Council or Reza Academy of Mumbai – all most all are fairly unanimous that Rushdie has committed a suicidal blunder and at no point of time he is welcomed in India. They have democratically put it before the concerned authorities in the Centre as well as in the State.

According to Barkha Dutt, all those who were against Rushdie’s visit are ‘militant’. As her mentor Salma Rushdie delivered a new ‘fatwa’ Darul Uloom Deoband and those against him are ‘extremist fundamentalist’ and are ‘enemy of Islam’. As if Rushdie, Barkha and Javed Akhtar are servants of Islam!

The Rajasthan police and the protesters against Rushdie at Jaipur – people from Milli Council and Jamat-e Islami have demonstrated maturity. They saved our country from uncalled for confrontation else who knows it could be an untoward incidence like that of 1988 when 10 people including two police men were killed in Mumbai alone during protest against Satanic Verses.

India is the land of religions where out of ten world’s popular religions four – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism are born. The other six are Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Shintoism, Taoism and Bahaism – which are also originated in Asia only. It means no major, popular or unpopular world religion is originated in the land of Europe America or Australia; this precisely can be among the reasons of their being at cross with religions and religious practices.

Indian freedom of expression does not allow portraying of Hindu gods and goddess on panties to showcase by half nude models in the fashion shows. It neither encourages painting of deities in bad colour. Our free speech does not rationalize Golden Temple to be degraded as an entertaining holyday spot. It is as simple as you cannot abuse my mother in the name of free speech.

Religious practices, respect for religious people and places are enshrined within Indian souls. Abuse of religion in the name of ‘free speech’ is completely intolerable both in Indian society and constitution. Our secular definition embraces religions as crucial component of a morally sound and spiritually healthy society. Our strength is unity in diversity and we simply believe in ‘live and let live’ theory.


The author M. Burhanuddin Qasmi is editor of Eastern Crescent magazine, an alumnus of Darul Uloom Deoabnd and director of Mumbai based Markazul Ma’arif Education & Research Centre. He can be contacted at




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