When Sonu Nigam made a statement that he was disturbed by Azaan on loudspeakers, not only did the whole cowshed reverberate, but many so-called liberals applauded his bravery in calling out how religion is over-stepping its role in public spaces. Articles were written telling liberals to calm down and not outrage at Sonu Nigam’s perfectly sensible statement.
Personally I feel all religions must evolve, based on the sensibilities of the current age. At the same time, I strongly feel that reform must come from within the religion and not be imposed by a state. The state is a facilitator of abolishing evil practices but it must only intervene in cases where reformers have called out an evil custom and there is enough data to evince that that the custom is causing grievous harm. Reform, however cannot happen in a climate where religions are feeling vulnerable – in fact the exact opposite happens, safety mechanisms involuntarily get triggered, they shut their doors and become more introverted & rigid. But I am not writing about religion or religious reform here.
I am writing about #NewIndia. A Sonu Nigam would not have hazarded this statement a few years ago because in those not so long ago days our sensibilities did not accept affront to any religion. Indians by and large believed and practiced what our constitution enshrines, everyone has the right to peacefully profess and propagate their religion or religious beliefs. It is exemplary how a country of over a billion people lived and promoted the ganga-jamuna tehzeeb and took pride in manifestations of unity like #MileSurMeraTumhara.
It is equally bewildering how fast the cookie crumbled. They would have us believe our secularism was only a veneer, easily torn. However, our secularism goes back thousands of years. This country is the home of Hinduism in its manifold avatars, has given birth Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, adopted Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, even the Bahá'í Faith, and has let pagan religions thrive. There is no better example anywhere in the world of such a laudable multi-religion, multi-race, multi-language culture which we practiced effortlessly for thousands of years, without anyone telling us to do so. Secularism and tolerance are intrinsic to our nature.
Sonu Nigam has not demonstrably been a bigot or a communal person. Then why this statement, why now? Bollywood has a sacred tradition of kowtowing to those in power. A small manifestation is how the whole industry is present and also performs at all police functions in Mumbai. Unlike Hollywood which is leading the fight on issues ranging from liberty to environment protection, our celebrities crawl when asked to bend. The current dispensation has made it unequivocally clear that those who echo its agenda get rewarded by plum posts and national awards, which was also true to a large extent of the former government. However, this government has gone several steps ahead and made it clear that there will be retribution for those who do not fall in line. And our celebrities, with godowns full of vulnerable skeletons, are the first to prostrate before such threats.
A BBC reporter
— Aliya Nazki (@AliyaNazki) April 19, 2017
and a celebrity neighbor
— AAZAD (@selfishtiwari) April 19, 2017
have both shown that Sonu Nigam’s claim that he hears the Azaan is pure lies. So it was not as if he woke up disturbed one morning and ranted. He crafted a false statement clearly as a part of larger design. It was followed by a convenient fatwa asking for his head to be shorn, and he complied by adopting the trendy buzz cut and passing it off as shorn head. Well played. Well scripted.
The Sangh Pariwar has been going about making the unacceptable, the acceptable through such cleverly crafted scripts. One of the techniques is that hard core motor-mouths make shocking remarks against the usual targets – minorities, dalits, women; the establishment doesn’t publicly defend these statements; but they don’t reprimand them either; then a social media campaign to justify the statement with concocted data is launched across Whatsapp; and eventually people are brainwashed into accepting what they said as the new normal. The second is to use celebrities ranging from Anupam Kher to Virendra Sehwag, and now Sonu Nigam to set their agenda. Indians are easily impressed with celebrities, making this a faster-to-spread channel.
And it is not just the masses that are awe-struck with celebrities, even media, intellectuals and politicians are gullible. Now a popular young male actor Arjun Kapoor has reaffirmed UP CM Adityanth’s misogynistic belief that women always need to be protected by men. In so doing he has given legitimacy to the Sangh’s agenda to subvert women and going by the pattern we can be sure he has been asked to make this statement just as Sonu Nigam was, perhaps with a promise of rewards. The sad part was eminent people rushed to defend him, including to my utter surprise, a notable Congresswoman.
So this is #NewIndia. Where agendas of hate or potential persecution are being set by leaders, celebrities, amplified by the media and echoed by a brainwashed nation. Where sane voices are not just threatened with rape, violence and murder but they are actually eliminated.
Most people tell me there is very little we can do. They choose to mutely watch the country being plummeted down towards a bigoted, twisted, fascism. I have seen in Whatsapp groups of eminent citizens where Sanghis post outrageous hate and lies, and most members choose to stay silent. The few lone voices who oppose them are briskly shouted down. It’s happening in groups of family, friends, school alumni, where people who had no ideology so far, are quickly jumping to the Sangh bandwagon just likes losers rally behind a bully. This #NewIndia has entered our homes and it remains to be seen whether we can fight this ruination of our ethos or whether we will drown in the celebrated noise of hate.
( Preeti Sharma Menon is the National Executive Member and National Spokesperson of the Aam Aadmi Party & The above views are personal )