Nelson Mandela said, “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Despite attempts by fringe elements at regular intervals to drive a wedge between communities by stoking up communal passions, by and large India is a peace-loving country. Within India’s warp and weft is woven the texture of its secular fabric that should make us all proud. There are times when politicians crank up communal rhetoric to influence voters of a particular community and win votes. But this doesn’t always work. After all, voters in a democracy are mature enough to see through such political skullduggery.
However, the problem today is not always politicians, but increasingly we the people. We are gradually morphing into a nation which is quick to take offence at anything and almost everything. There is no dearth of umbrage-seekers, dripping with testy sanctimony, who spread their hate-mongering vitriol when they find someone saying or doing something that doesn’t conform to their cultural or religious norms. Be it an advertisement, a debate on TV, a newspaper article or even an innocuous statement, people seem to be throwing a wobbly at the drop of a hat. This visceral dislike seems to have subsumed their analytical prowess. It is only the minuscule silent minority who choose to remain calm and composed in the face of such penny-ante provocations.
Recently, a controversy broke out over the forthcoming movie Adipurush. A petition was filed seeking a permanent and mandatory injunction against the filmmakers on the grounds that they manipulated the basics of the epic Ramayana. The film, featuring Saif Ali Khan, Prabhas and Kriti Sanon, provoked outrage because its trailer showed Lord Ram and Hanuman in leather shoes, and Ravan riding a mythical creature which has been compared to a bat.
A few days ago, a bank found itself in a tight spot after its latest ad hurt people’s religious sentiments. The ad, starring actors Aamir Khan and Kiara Advani, shows Aamir, in a departure from tradition, joining Kiara in her home post-marriage. One fails to understand what is offensive about an ad which is rather progressive in its depiction of modern marriage.
A few years ago, there was an unnecessary outcry over the movie Padmaavat (originally called Padmavati, the name being changed to mollify the outraged). The movie, which is based on a fictional queen, was alleged to feature a dream sequence that raised the hackles of a Rajput caste organisation. Protests broke out across the country and the sets of the movie were vandalised. Four states even banned the movie and it was released following the intervention of the Supreme Court.
The country witnessed another instance of bigotry in the recent past when there was a call for boycotting of a popular clothing brand simply because it named its festive collection ‘Jashn-e-Riwaz’, which translates to a celebration of tradition. Furious and outraged people who claimed to have a dog in this fight whipped up sentiments against a particular community, objecting to the use of Urdu words in the context of a Hindu religious festival. If that was not enough, a popular jewellery brand was forced to withdraw an advertisement featuring an inter-faith marriage. These instances of intolerance and rigidity undoubtedly have dealt a severe blow to our much-vaunted multicultural ethos. Finally, it is the sinned-against party which has to eat humble pie. This doesn’t augur well for freedom of speech and democracy.
Truth be told, our country can ill-afford such tamasha, given that we face problems like galloping food inflation and rampant unemployment. Isn’t it ironic that our public discourse remains fixated solely on petty issues like religious and cultural differences between communities? Communal disharmony can dent our global image terribly in these uncertain times.
The problem of terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir remains serious because of tacit encouragement from our neighbours, but our government meanwhile must ensure that these frequent incidents of attack and counter-attack on religious beliefs are stopped. Television channels must be directed not to air any debate or programme peddling polarising and divisive content. TV anchors, for their part, need to practice journalistic moderation and stick to norms of decency instead of engaging in and fomenting on-screen brawls.
The writer is a Delhi-based journalist