Politics in contemporary times wear the clothes of religion, much too often. Be it the global politics of imperialist countries to control the oil wealth, or the politics to re-impose values of birth based inequality in South Asian countries, religion is the cover. In Pakistan and many West Asian countries, it is in the name of Islam that feudalism-authoritarianism persists and is being strengthened; in Myanmar-Sri Lanka, Buddhism is the cover; while in India, it is the label of Hinduism which is being abused to stifle the values of equality and liberalism. Too often, such acts of sectarian politics affect the creative people; their gazal concerts are disrupted, their films are banned-attacked by the storm troopers. Many times, warnings are given and apologies sought for the ‘hurt’ feelings of religion or nationalism.
Priyanka Chopra, the Bollywood star who plays the protagonist in a US television serial Quantico, has been in the news for similar reasons this June. In one episode of the series, the character played by her thwarts an attack by some Hindu-Indian terrorist in the nick of time when an Indo-Pakistan summit is to take place. The ‘hurt sentiment brigade’ announced, “Hindu Sena appeals to public in general to boycott any work, ads or movies of Priyanka Chopra and appeals to Indian government to strip her of Indian citizenship and deny her entry in India.” In an over bending attitude the actor tweeted, “I’m extremely saddened and sorry that some sentiments have been hurt by a recent episode of Quantico. That was not and would never be my intention. I sincerely apologize. I’m a proud Indian and that will never change.” One actor from film industry, Pooja Bhat, firmly stood with Chopra and defended her right of freedom as an actor.
What is in continuation with this pattern is that while in current times the films, serials, acts of fiction abound with Muslim characters as terrorists-extremists, this episode of Quantico showing a Hindu character in the evil role brought forth the usual threats and demanded the cancellation of citizenship of the actor! One must say that labelling any act of violence in the name of religion is a trend which has picked up in the wake of 9/11 twin tower tragedy. While the terrorist groups were groomed, indoctrinated by the superpower US to join the military fight against Soviet Russia’s occupation of Afghanistan, the whole exercise of indoctrination was done using a version of Islam prevalent in Saudi Arabia. The master of the planning was sitting in Washington. The whole act of insane terrorism was done in the name of Islam. The US media came to coin the phrase ‘Islamic terrorism’ and religion and terrorism got associated for the first time, despite the fact the people from many religions have been involved in the acts of terror most of the time. It was in continuation with this trend that when India witnessed the involvement of number of Hindu nationalists in the acts of terror, the words Hindu terror, saffron terror or Hindutva terror started floating in the air. Apologies were demanded for use of this term in the wake of granting bail to the likes of Pragya Thakur or Aseemanand.
In the aftermath of Malegaon blast of 2008, the meticulous investigation of Hemant Karkare, the Maharashtra ATS chief, brought forth the fact that the motor cycle used for the blast was owned by Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, an associate of different Hidnutva organizations. With his investigation hordes of Hindu names cropped up. This led the trail to Lt. Col. Prasad Purohit, Major Upadhaya, Swami Dayanand and Swami Aseemanand among many others who were part of Hindu nationalist organizations, some owing allegiance to RSS directly. The investigation did lead to arrest of many of them; two of them, RSS ex-Pracharaks have been convicted for life term in case of Ajmer blast.
The likes of Sadhvi Pragya, Purohit and Assemanand have been let off on bail. Swami had confessed and given the details of planning of terror acts in presence of a Magistrate and lot of material was recovered from the laptop of Swami Dayanand Pande. One Sunil Joshi, who was also alleged to be part of the team, was murdered and it was presumed that he was murdered for making sexual advances to Sadhvi Pragya. Despite these investigations, later due to change of government at centre (2014), the likes of Sadhvi and Swami got bail! Whether the truth will ever be upheld and honoured is the question. What also remains unanswered is that Rohini Salian, who was the public prosecutor in the cases involving Sadhvi etc., was asked to go soft on the cases with the change of Government at the centre. It does raise many questions related to crime and punishment. In Mumbai blast (1993) cases, Rubina Memon was given life imprisonment as the car used for blast cases was registered in her name. In Malegaon blast, Sadhvi owned the motorcycle used for blasts but was given the bail!
Much worse incidents are reported during last few years – the number of Hindus involved in lynching in the name of cow has gone up immensely; funds are collected for the family of Shambhulal Regar, the brutal killer of Afrazul, in the name of love Jihad! The associations of killers of Prof Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh to Hindutva organizations are coming forth. While the actors of the stature of Chopra can wriggle out of adverse situations with an apology and save their careers and films, the need to look at the construction of perceptions is needed more than before, as religion is being dragged in to the murky world of politics.(Published on 09th July 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 28)