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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2702

How Bigots Get Their Feed

By Allabaksh - Syndicate Features

It must have taken two young Muslim women, both famous in their own rights, by complete surprise on finding that their decisions on private and personal matters had provided plenty of fodder to the growing tribe of bigots in India.

A more disturbing aspect of this developments is that it shows the so-called liberals’ inability or unwillingness to stand up to their views. ‘Liberals’ including politicians who call themselves ‘liberal’ have spoken in a language that betrays either fear of confronting the bigoted elements or display of hypocrisy.

A newly elected Trinmool Congress Member of Parliament, Muslim by faith who is also a Bengali film star, set off a war on social media because at the time she was being sworn in as a Member of the Lok Sabha her photograph showed her wearing a sindoor, a traditional mark of married Hindu women.

That was enough for hardline Muslims to condemn her; no strong voice was heard in her support from the ‘liberals’ except the expected counter attack on the ‘narrow ‘views of her critics. Arrayed against her Muslim critics was the Hindutva brigade, extolling her for embracing a symbol of Hinduism. This is in line with the Hindutva philosophy of assaulting and lynching those who do not shout Jai Shri Ram when they move out of their homes.

Then, there was a young film star from Kashmir who had made a name for herself when she was still a teenager, announcing her decision to give up her glamorous profession for ‘religious’ reasons. The Hindutva forces got more ammunition to denounce Islam. Many of her co-religionists supported her decision. And so, did many ‘liberals’ who took shelter under the pretext of showing respect to her ‘private’ and ‘personal’ decision.

Perhaps as many people supported the two ‘stars’ as the number of their detractors. But it snowballed into a ‘national’ issue when politicians and public figures jumped into the fray and, wittingly or otherwise, gave it a communal color with one side missing no opportunity to taunt and berate the other. What was missing in this warfare of words was that some ‘liberal’ views appeared closer to those of the orthodox and obscurantists.

Nusrat Jehan, the TMC M.P., probably did not think that her ‘Sindoor’ photograph reproduced in the media when she was taking the oath in Parliament would create such a big stir in certain political circles as well as the media. Only days earlier a photograph of hers showing her in bridal dress with her Jain husband taken in Turkey had appeared extensively in the media. In fact, she had delayed her oath-taking in Parliament because she was getting married in Turkey.

Some members of the Muslim community did not commend her inter-faith marriage. That was to be expected; a similar reaction follows when a Hindu woman marries a Muslim. By now, most people in the country should be familiar with the fact of inter-faith and inter-caste marriages. The orthodox in different communities may resent it but using it to raise communal temperature is deplorable. ‘Love Jihad’ has not stopped inter-faith marriages but contributed a lot to religious divide in the country.

In the entertainment industry to which Nusrat Jehan belongs it is probably more common than in other fields for men and women belonging to different faiths marrying each other. In many, if not most, cases the men and women do not convert and remain within the folds of their original faith even while participating in many festivals and rituals of the other faith. This is to say, Hindu women who marry Muslim men celebrate festivals like the Eid without disowning the religion into which she was born. Similarly, Muslim wives heartily participate in Hindu festivals like Diwali and Holi. How it harms any religions is beyond comprehension.

One of the reasons why so many people react rather violently to inter-faith marriages is the misleading belief that it is all part of a sinister programme to expand one religion at the cost of the other. Both Hindus and Muslims continue to harp on ‘dangers’ to their religion from the ‘others’. This is a narrative that, unfortunately, is espoused vigorously by the present ruling dispensation. Surely, it will be hard to believe that Nusrat Jehan’s spouse married her for any other reason than love for her; or she chose her partner for any different reason.

The case of the young Kashmiri actress, Zaira Wasim, is different. She has sought refuge in religion after a stint in the world of glamour which made her a household name at a very young age. There is a strong reason to suspect that she took the decision due to circumstances in her native Kashmir where increasing number of youth seem to be moving towards radicalization. It may be because of the wrong policies of the government but it is becoming evident day by day that a section of young Muslims in the Kashmir valley have come under the influence of elements who maintain close ties with Pakistan.

Zaira Wasim’s family will probably not feel safe living in Kashmir if their daughter continues in a profession that is disapproved by their religious leaders. But it is troublesome that they and their (ex-) film star daughter have discovered that their religions do not approve of a career in films.

Today the Indian film industry is the largest in the world. But it is a fact that Muslims have contributed a great deal to taking the industry to its enviable height. It is not Muslim men who have dominated the industry; Muslim women too have been among the pillars of the Indian film industry which is a century old.

If a religion had frowned upon a career in the film industry it would have been impossible to find so many members of that religion in the industry—and at top position and immensely popular. Many of the Muslims in the film industry take their religion seriously; for them their profession has not been a hindrance to practicing their faith.

Zaira Wasim is young and impressionable. It looks plausible that the reason she advanced for quitting films did not germinate first in her mind. But the support that ‘liberals’ extended to her means that extraneous considerations will continue to persuade young and impressionable minds to please the religious orthodoxy.

- Asian Tribune -

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