Politics in contemporary times is wearing the clothes of religion; much too often. It may be 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 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 to them and apologies sought for the hurt feelings of religion or nationalism.
Priyanka Chopra, the star from bollywood who has been doing a serial in US television, Quantico, has been in the news for similar reasons (June 2018). In one episode of this series; the character played by her thwarts the nuclear attack by some Hindu-Indian terrorist, in the nick of time when 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 did firmly stand with Chopra, defending 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 labeling 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 by 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 word, 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 hoards 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 lap top 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 the Government at Center (2014); the likes of Sadhvi and Swami have got bail! Whether the truth will ever be upheld and honored 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 center. It does raise many question related to crime and punishment. In Mumbai blast (1993) cases one 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!
In present times things are much worse as 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 to save their careers and films with an apology, the need to look at the construction of perceptions is needed more than before, as religion has been dragged in the murky World of politics all round.
Writer is a IIT Prof. and Involved with human rights and activities, communal harmony and initiatives to rising tide of fundamentalism in India.