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Mainstream, Vol XLV No 49

To Defend Secularism

Wednesday 28 November 2007, by Subrata Banerjee


Badri Raina’s essay on on the cowardly attack on Dr Taslima Nasreen at the Press Club in Hyderabad recently (Mainstream, September 15, 2007) needs to be supplemented on several points.

First, what really happened on the fateful day? A book release programme was organised at the Press Club, Hyderabad on August 9, 2007 at 11 am. Two books, translated into Telugu from English and Bengali by Mrs Venigalla Komala, were released. One of the books, Wild Swan, has exposed the atrocities on women in China by the Communist (read Gulagist) rulers. The author, Jung Chang, is now living in exile in the UK and her book is banned in China, though millions of copies have sold in the West. A special message from Jung Chung was read out in the book release function. Mrs Komala has dedicated the book to her daughter, Dr Naveena Hemanth, a child psychriatist practising in the US, who attended the function. Dr Taslima Nasreen, the author of the other book Shodh, released the two books simultaneously. The private function ran smoothly and peacefully and was about to end, when three MLAs belonging to the All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen, accompanied by their gunmen and some followers, invaded the venue, threw bouquets, books, furnitures and whatever was available at Dr Nasreen all the while shouting abuses at her. Journalists present on the occasion and Dr Inniah Narisetti, a well-known Radical Humanist leader and the husband of Mrs Komala, hastily formed a protective ring around Dr Nasreen. The above facts are gathered from the September 2007 issue of the journal, The Radical Humanist. The atrocity was, of course, covered by several TV channels.

Second, a look at the antecedents of the AIMIM is called for. Indeed it is strange that the large volume of write-ups on the Hyderabad incident completely overlooks it. As agreement was reached between the British, the Congress and the Muslim League about partition and independence of India, a new political outfit was launched in Hyderabad with the support of the Nizam and his Muslim jaigirdars, Majlis Ittehadul Muslimin. The object of the outfit was to ensure the independent existence of Hyderabad as a Muslim theocracy under the absolutist rule of the Nizam.

Hyderabad was a landlocked state entity. A proposal was made to the British Government for return of the so-called ceded districts, areas that the Nizam had been forced to cede to the British under duress. A claim for merger of the state of Bastar with Hyderabad under dubious pretexts was also made. This outlandish proposal had the support of many British officials of the Political Department, which looked after relations between the Government of India and the native states.

The Majlis, led by one Kashim Rizvi, raised an armed force, Razakars, for the purpose of cowing down the Hindus, who formed the preponderant majority of the State’s population. Arms were bought in Europe and brought to Goa, then ruled by the Portugese, by ship and then airlifted to Hyderabad. Arms purchase and other activities of the Majlis were financed by armed robbery perpetrated on rich Hindus.

AFTER the ‘police action’ in Hyderabad, Rizvi and some associates were prosecuted for dacoity and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. After release on the completion of his sentence, Kashim Rizvi migrated to Pakistan. The outfit was later revived with a slight twist to the name, All India MIM. Electoral politics, based exclusively on the Muslim vote-bank of Hyderabad, would have no chance of success without harking back to the Majlis legacy. Recently there has been a split in the Majlis and a tough competition between the main body and the dissident group, Majlis Bachao Terique, on claims to the heritage of Rizvi has ensued. Needless to add, the same, inter alia, maybe said about the revival of the All India Muslim League of M.A. Jinnah as the Indian Union Muslim League, particularly in Mallapuram.

Raina is “deeply heartened by the spontaneity and volume of outrage that the Hyderabad incident has evoked from not only just ‘liberal’ Mulsims but, more to the point, Muslim clerics and maulavis”. The writer fails to share the optimism. From published statements and write-ups it appears that after cursory condemnation of the assault on Dr Nasreen, the worthy gentlemen hurried to condemn her as a ‘bad writer’ and even demanded action against her, under the law, for hurting religious sentiments. This is indeed ominous.
Firm faith in the legitimacy of persecution of ‘bad writers’ is a part of the Gulagist legacy. The names of Vaclav Havel, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Boris Pasternak, Anna Akhmatova and many others readily come to mind.

The business of hurt to religious sentiments has a history. In the twenties or early thirties an Urdu publication, Rangila Rasool, appeared in Lahore. The anonymous book dealt with the polygamous marriages of the Prophet. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, in his autobiography, has called it a scurrilous book. The colonial government which was following a policy of encouraging Muslim communalism as a counterweight to the demand for freedom, found that though there are laws to deal with seditious literature there are no provisions in law to deal with publications of this type.

Hurried changes were made in the statutes but could not be applied retrospectively. The publisher of the book was, however, assassinated by a zealot. During the tenure of the BJP regime at the Centre, an obscure Sangh Parivar outfit posthumously honoured the slain publisher with an award for defence of freedom of the press with some publicity, at Delhi. These post-Rangila Rasool enactments, that are being used for persecuting not only Dr Nasreen but others like M.F. Hussain, are black enactments and should be rescinded forthwith. Those who are guilty of inciting violence against Dr Nasreen should be prosecuted in fast-track courts. Proscriptions and fatwas on religious pretexts should be made cognisable offence.

Genuine secularists must unite behind these demands. Much more revelations about outfits like the AIMIM are needed. The writer would invite other contributors, particularly those based in Hyderabad and Delhi, to join the discussion.


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