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India: So what if a Muslim man and a Hindu girl willingly lock lips?

Wednesday 9 December 2020, by siawi3


So what if a Muslim man and a Hindu girl willingly lock lips?

Ruchir Joshi

November 27, 2020 13:35 IST
Updated: November 29, 2020 12:25 IST

Getty Images :An adult woman and man consensually kiss in the precincts of a temple in ’A Suitable Boy’

Following the registering of a case against the Netflix series, A Suitable Boy, the Home Minister of Madhya Pradesh has said: “The examination prima facie found that these scenes are hurting the sentiments of a particular religion.” The sequence in question is of a pair of young lovers kissing in what looks like a Hindu temple; the young woman is Hindu, the young man is Muslim. The brouhaha has also linked up with the ‘love jihad’ laws being brought in by Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

Prima facie, we can ascertain the following: 1. A BJP student leader watched an English-language TV serial on Netflix. He found some scenes to be so offensive that he put aside all his important student-leader work and filed a memorandum to the police demanding an apology from Netflix and removal of the scenes. 2. The SP of Rewa found time from his other duties — of solving cases of rape, robbery and murder, of which Rewa and MP have a fair share — to prioritise this complaint, ‘investigate’ it, and then make statements. 3. Narottam Mishra, the Home Minister of one of the largest States in the country, in the middle of a massive pandemic and agricultural crisis, also found time and energy to get involved in this critical matter and pronounce on it.

Who is hurt?

The matter occupying these worthies has two parts: A. An adult woman and man consensually kiss in the precincts of a temple, B. The woman is Hindu, the man is Muslim. This fleeting scene (it’s not a long kiss, this is India in the 1950s) is deemed to be ‘hurting the sentiments of a particular religion’. So, not people or a person, but an entire religion is personified. This religion supposedly possesses sentiments, just like a person does. Presumably this religion is Hinduism, since no non-Hindu has taken offence. So, we are to accept that a few seconds of two actors kissing each other on TV have ‘hurt’ one of the most ancient, diverse and widespread belief systems on the planet. Nay, those 30 seconds or whatever of lightest lip-lock ‘are hurting’, in the present continuous tense, as in still continuing to land blows upon this beleaguered religion.

As with Salman Rushdie’s English novel The Satanic Verses, M.F. Husain’s drawings of goddesses, Taslima Nasrin’s Bangla novel Lajja (Shame in English) and Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus, one has to ask: how many people would have actually read the books, seen the drawings or watched the TV series labelled as offensive? When political or religio-political leaders claim religious offence on behalf of a large mass of people, this is the first proof of their dangerous dishonesty: without the proclamation of outrage how many Muslims would have come to know of Rushdie’s or Nasrin’s novels and how many Hindus would have gone to see modern art in a small gallery in Ahmedabad or read a scholarly tome of thick history? Likewise, how many viewers in Rewa would have watched an English series like A Suitable Boy?

Next, out of the not merely literate but literature-reading and art-exhibition going public, how many would have been offended to the point of breaking the law and engaging in violence? In a country like Iran, where Khomeini first declares his fatwa against Rushdie, very few people read English; in a country like India very few people read at all and a far more minuscule number go to art galleries. So why magnify the supposed offence and broadcast it around the world? The obvious answer is: for political gain. You do it to create mass outrage in people who would never have opened a book or seen a modern painting and you do it by shouting ‘such and such a book/painting/film/play exists and it attacks your most precious beliefs!’ Once the politician, malignant mullah or pseudo-sadhu riles people up, he then piggy-backs on that outrage to greater power. This leader, who has a choice of ignoring a book, painting or a film, chooses instead to pull that article out of its small niche and use it as a political football.

So what?

The main question, though, puts aside all calculations of people numbers. Simply put, the question is: so what? So what if somebody insults your prophet or your religion? So what if someone draws a cartoon, or a nude drawing of one your holy figures, and that too in a culture where eroticism has long been celebrated in sacred art, poetry and literature? So what if someone publishes a history of your civilisation that you think is false? Equally, so what if a Muslim man and a Hindu girl willingly kiss each other?

For the hundreds of thousands of us who refuse to accept that a knife or a gun, or a bomb or riots can ever be a justifiable response to a book or an image, our work is cut out and it is to remind others of why this intolerance is so poisonous, of why it’s not ever merely about culture or hurt sentiments, of why it’s simply a sneaky back way for reactionary obscurantists to gain and retain power.

Ruchir Joshi is a filmmaker and columnist.

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