At war with peace


July 13, 2016

Indian Muslims protest against the recent attacks in Bangladesh during a rally in Kolkata on Monday (AFP)

India is moving to curb the activities of televangelist Zakir Naik, whose preaching is allegedly inspiring gullible youth to take up arms. At least one of the attackers of the Dhaka cafe was said to have been his ardent follower, raising the hackles of governments in the sub-continent.

It is curious that the Indian government is seriously looking into the law books and examining evidence to curb the activities of a televangelist after the Bangladesh terror attack. The close scrutiny of the evidence has arisen because one of the well-to-do young men involved in the ruthless attack in the Dhaka café was allegedly inspired by televangelist Zakir Naik. The fact that his name is coming up after such an attack is indicative of the impact his speeches, aired through his television channel, make on disenchanted youth to indulge in everything that Islam does not teach.

There is no doubt that Naik’s preaching has had an impact on a large number of people. From the circulation of multiple VCR cassettes, a couple of decades ago, to the launching of a channel, the preacher has come a long way in propagating what he thinks is the way the religion is to be followed. It could be due to the question-answer format over issues that the traditional moulvi involved in the early teaching of the Holy Q’uran has not been able to do the same. Or, it could simply be due to the passion with which Naik delivers messages about what will lead one to hell or heaven, that makes the difference.

But, what is clear is that opinion about him is as divided as the manner in which he presents his divisive style of preaching. There are many who believe that his style of preaching mocks at other religious beliefs which is found humiliating by even those who do not belong to that religion. Still worse is that he is equally derisive about the beliefs of other schools of thought in Islam. Clearly, no religion grants anyone the right to put down other belief systems. The law, too, does not permit causing disaffection between two communities or sections within a community. Neither does any religion permit quoting out of context to establish a supremacist ideology. This is one of the primary reasons why large sections among the Muslims in India have been critical of his preaching on some issue or other at any given point of time.

Some of those who are appealing for a cautious approach in proceeding against him also look at his contradictory statements on the most critical issue of our times, terrorism. At one level, his fans would consider it as his commitment towards peace. At another level, his comments give the impression that he is supportive of terrorism or its global leaders. Such an approach would, naturally, leave the young people who want straight forward answers to their questions in a confused state.

In effect, it is an extremely clever way of communicating something and leaving it to the imagination of the receiver of that communication to decide.

So, while dealing with such communicators, the question that arises is why no government kept a watch on his speeches. More so when it was fairly clear that his speeches were undesirable. It is obvious that there was more than just proscribing that the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government should have done to dilute or counter the impact of his preaching. Neither did the BJP-led government during the last couple of years of its existence nor in its previous avatar do anything to look at the clever ways in which he was allegedly causing communal disharmony or misleading disenchanted youth. After all, it was well known that the videos were soon followed by the television channel.

A proper legalistic view of his preaching, perhaps, with unbiased religious inputs would have helped in curbing the spread of his divisive interpretation of the religion that is eminently avoidable in this era. It is the impact of such

interpretation on the gullible youth - who prefer to get a yes and a no on a platter to every silly question like whether it is alright to trim a beard or not - that has brought the spotlight on such preachers. Fundamentally, it calls for a different approach from the government to deal with the so-called enlightened who deliver a wrong impression about a religion.

For the people...

Two significant court verdicts have, again, reiterated that justice will be done. Both cases, very interestingly, focussed on human rights of the people in different circumstances. In one case, it was the question of civilians in a disturbed area facing the brunt of the bullets from the armed forces. And, in another case, it was the question of the freedom of expression for a writer. In effect, the courts have told the government, whether at the state or at the federal level, how it should respect the rights of the people. Both the verdicts are landmarks in the continuous evolution of freedom in the world’s largest democracy.

A bench of the Supreme Court has, in no uncertain terms, told the armed forces that they cannot kill people with impunity just because they have been posted in a so-called disturbed area. The court was delivering its verdict on the plea of thousands of families in the northeastern state of Manipur who were demanding an inquiry into the death of 1,528 persons during counter-insurgency operations. It meant that there was no carte blanche to kill armed or unarmed civilians. The anger of the people in such areas where the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act or AFSPA has existed for decades that there is growing opinion for the repeal of the legislation for quite some time.

The apex court has ordered an inquiry into all the deaths in question. But, the most significant point made by the court has been that ‘there is no concept of absolute immunity from trial by a criminal court if an army man committed an offence’. It would certainly make the armed forces think of following their own norms in dealing with people in the disturbed areas which most of the time is caused by social or political reasons. The latest example of the high-handedness of the armed forces in Jammu and Kashmir is evident in the manner in which a young man who became a folk hero of sorts was killed in an alleged encounter. That he was a separatist and had accepted the violent path simply got washed away because instead of catching him alive, the security forces killed him in a questionable encounter.

It is obvious that all this was done without assessing the consequences of the action. Even the normally peaceful parts of the state have been facing violence. Worse still is that, for the first time in more than a decade, the lives of the minorities in a Muslim-majority state have been endangered. This at a point in time when the federal government wants to resettle all those Pandits who had left the state because of the separatist violence. This is not very different from the guidelines that the Madras High Court issued on how government officials in the southern state of Tamil Nadu should deal with mobs when it concerns a writer.

The high court dealt with the freedom of a writer to express what he or she wants and simply told the critics that if they did not like the book, they could just shut it and throw it away. The book in question is that of Perumal Murugan, the writer who announced 18 months ago that the ‘writer Perumal Murugan is dead’. His decision had come in the wake of protests by a section of a community against the book titled, One Part Woman. Significantly, when the original work in Tamil was released there was no reaction. The protesters went about their job in such a manner that Murugan was forced by an official to write an unconditional apology to appease a mob. The court went about demolishing every single point made by the protesters to deny a ban on the book. Instead, the court went a step further to say how the two-judge bench enjoyed the book and that the writer should return to writing. Murugan, on his part, was so overwhelmed by the court’s verdict that he promptly agreed to return to writing.

Clearly, the systemic checks and balances in a democracy make a difference to the lives of people.

Tailpiece

Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent a significant message to his party that he was still the boss. He dropped a few ministers and inducted a few others to reshuffle his ministry. In the bargain, he also made sure that those who were flying high were cut to size and those who did a good job got promoted. So, Smriti Irani was shunted out of the critical Human Resources Development Ministry (basically education ministries) and replaced by Prakash Javadekar who was promoted to the Cabinet rank. The message was very clear: Anyone who makes a negative political impact will not be tolerated.

Irani was singularly responsible for alienating the underprivileged sections of society like the Dalits from the party by the manner in which she dealt with the students of the University of Hyderabad or, for that matter, with the students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University. Worse still was the manner in which she had insulted a top class gentleman-scientist. An indication of her performance can be gauged from the fact that, at least, a score of top officials wanted to shift out of her ministry.

Smriti Irani’s shift to the Textiles Ministry made one newspaper headline her exit as ‘Spinderella’!

[The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Muscat Daily or Apex Press & Publishing]