A year after Dadri, its lessons remain unlearnt

Muslims have served India in many different fields with distinction and honour. But the real tragedy is that this even needs to be said


Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint

The story of Maricha is very popular because of the pivotal role the character plays in the Ramayan. Maricha helps Ravana lay a trap to kidnap Sita. It is in the story of Maricha that the idea of the Lakshman rekha is created. The story of Maricha as well as the importance of the Lakshman rekha returned last week in a different guise.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui, one of the best actors in contemporary Hindi cinema, was forced to pull out of the customary Ramlila play in his native village Budhana. Siddiqui was preparing to play the role of Maricha. His “childhood dream” of performing in Ramlila will now have to wait as a group of Shiv Sena workers objected to a Muslim man taking part. Siddiqui withdrew in the interest of maintaining peace. But he is upbeat about his chances next year.

What is indeed disturbing is that a group of self-appointed custodians of Hindu traditions can now decide the eligibility of Ramlila performers based on religious affiliation. While Shiv Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray has distanced the party from the threats by his party workers in Uttar Pradesh, this is a bit convenient coming days after Siddiqui withdrew. The only leverage the workers of political parties have is their ability to engage in violence. It is especially chilling that this can happen with a top-rated, nationally recognized artiste like Siddiqui.

While it is the state’s law and order apparatus that has to stay firm in these matters and maintain a complete monopoly on violence, political parties like the Shiv Sena too need to draw a Lakshman rekha for their workers. In the past, Narendra Modi has done well to speak against such hoodlums. But it appears that he too needs to redraw the Lakshman rekha, not just for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers but also for ministers in the Union government.

The Union minister for culture and tourism, Mahesh Sharma, recently visited and consoled the family of Ravin Sisodia, the man from Bisara village who died in police custody. Reports indicate that Sisodia died of chikungunya but the family alleges foul play. Sisodia was one of the 18 accused in the murder of Mohammad Akhlaq, who was killed by a mob after a rumour about consuming and storing beef, last year.

Sharma and Sangeet Som, a BJP legislator, helped broker an agreement between those protesting on behalf of Sisodia and the district administration. According to the agreement, as reported by The Indian Express, Sisodia’s family will receive a compensation of Rs25 lakh—Rs5 lakh of which will be borne by Sharma and Som—and the police investigation into charges of cow slaughter against Akhlaq’s family will be monitored by an 11-member committee of residents and legislators from the area. More shockingly, Sisodia’s body was kept in a coffin draped with the Indian tricolour while the terms of the agreement were being worked out.

Sisodia’s death should indeed be investigated. And if any foul play emerges, the culprits should be booked. But a Union minister taking sides in Akhlaq’s murder case, which shook the conscience of the entire nation, is unacceptable. Any argument that Sharma as a local member of Parliament was merely intervening in a situation which could have spiralled out of control simply does not wash. There is a pattern to Sharma’s conduct. Last year, he had termed Akhlaq’s murder an “accident”. In another abominable statement, Sharma had said that the former president, the late A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, was a great nationalist and humanist despite being a Muslim (emphasis added). His prejudices are apparent for everyone to see. If there is a Lakshman rekha for the conduct of public servants, Sharma clearly stands on the wrong side of it. Modi should recognize this and show Sharma the exit.

Muslims have served India in many different fields with distinction and honour. But the real tragedy is that this even needs to be said. At a time when Siddiqui is denied a role in the Ramlila, one would do well to remember the late Rahi Masoom Raza, the great Urdu poet. Raza would become famous for writing the powerful script and dialogues for B.R. Chopra’s superhit television series Mahabharat on the Indian epic.

He too faced threats from another set of self-appointed custodians of Hindu religion for daring to write the script for Mahabharat. But Raza did not budge. He believed that the Mahabharat does not belong to Hindus alone, but to all Indians. Raza’s poem Ganga Aur Mahadev would be a fitting note to end on. The translation goes as follows (the Hindustani version in Devanagari script can be found at goo.gl/uiN1v7):

My name resembles that of a Muslim
Murder me and set my house ablaze

Plunder my room where my words are still awake

And where after whispering to Tulsi’s Ramayana

I say to Kālidāsa’s Meghadūta:

I too have a message.

My name resembles that of a Muslim
Murder me and set my house ablaze

But the holy Ganga is flowing in my veins

Take a fistful of my blood and throw it on Shiva

And tell the hermit: Hey Shiva!

Take the Ganga back

Because it is flowing warm and thick

In the bodies of disreputable Turks.

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