The new year, religious “offense” and the price of free speech

It’s the new year…according to the Gregorian calendar, which is accepted as the standard almost everywhere in the world. Different calendars have different “New Year days”. That’s one reason why I always find it difficult to take the phatic platitude of “Happy New Year” too seriously. The other is that new years are unlikely to be too “happy”. There is too much going against that possibility. For India, the new year began in a way similar to the way it did for France last year , as it did for Afghanistan and Iraq. It began with the threat of sadomasochistic suicide – murdering, commonly known these days as Islamist terrorism. It’s never in short supply when you are lucky enough to have a neighbour who suckles and nurtures terrorists or -luckier still- have them at home.

So the year last began with a ghastly spectacle motivated by religious offense – taking place in an arrondissement in Paris. It was a perfect attention – seeking stunt by murderous, ghetto – dwelling hicks who wouldn’t be given any attention otherwise. Nor would the object of their ire grab international attention. How, then, could 2016 not begin with another bout of offense taking? The Indian cricketer MS Dhoni in a new avatar:

dhoni
I couldn’t take offense with this even if I tried.

The cover of a business magazine trying to be a bit creative, perhaps. I mean, it’s really a “meh, whatever” kind of picture. Some people with a sense of humour might even find it a bit quaint and funny. Not what some people seem to think, though. Late last year, he was summoned by a court in Anantpur, Andhra Pradesh after a VHP leader filed a case against him for allegedly hurting Hindu sentiments.

In May 2013, Jayakumar Hiremath, a RTI activist filed a case in Bangalore under Section 295 of the Indian Penal Code – intent to insult the religion of any class – for “hurting the sentiments of the Hindu community”.

In May 2014, Rajinder Singh Raja, national general secretary of the Shivesena Hindustan filed a case in Delhi saying Dhoni had insulted the Hindu religion and Lord Vishnu because he had “been portrayed as God Vishnu and instead of showing religious things, the magazine is showing products of various companies including a shoe in his hand.”

“Neither did he pose for the picture, nor were we aware of such a picture being published,”says Dhoni’s manager. Dhoni’s lawyer says he never got the summons. Whatever happened, the court couldn’t get MS Dhoni to appear before it. The result? A non – bailable warrant . Really.

By the way, the multidextrous “god”(one of the countless in Hinduism) in the picture is that of Vishnu, who is supposedly the “preserver” or “operator” of the universe. Conservative Hindus worship him after securing material accomplishments in their lives. New cars, new laptops, new iPads, you name it. For all the pretense of being a source of spiritual solace, the whole religion is grossly materialistic. Anyway, the cover is probably a mildly satirical representation of that habit of Hindus. Or maybe even an attempt at making a fashion statement using religion. Even though offense has apparently been taken because of the figure holding a shoe in his hand, make no mistake, if the shoe is expensive and fashionable enough, a devout Hindu will probably worship it as well. So what is so offensive about it? Also, who is this leader who assumes he can speak for the entire Hindu community? Is there any single authority that does? Of course not. Why is he understood to be a spokesman for the religion then?

We have an answer -sort of- for the latter part. VHP, or Vishwa Hindu Parishad, is a right-wing extremist group, affiliated with the party ruling the central government, which was involved in the demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992. It believes that India is a land of Hindus, and hence should return to being a Hindu state. It’s the godfather organization to all kinds of Hindu extremism and terrorism in India. It’s an organization chock full of deluded hicks and hacks which is bent on religious bullying. This is the same organization which effectively forced MF Husain, the late Indian neo-Cubist painter to exile himself for having committed the offence of painting nude goddesses.

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MF Husain and the picture that led to his exile

Never mind the fact that ancient and modern Hindu art and sculpture is conveniently full of nudity. Here are a few samples:

hindu-temple-art1
Khajuraho temple 1: Leaves nothing to imagination
3
Khajuraho 2: Offensive or great work of art?
2275223546_3ffee6f8ee
“Goddess” Kali in the buff is readily accepted as a worshipable figure by Hindus

Just to digress a bit, you would have thought that one would have to be either effectively brain-dead or a sadistic psychopath to worship the figure above, you know, the Islamic State kind of people, whose acolytes are perfectly capable of executing their mothers should they dare to oppose their holy mass – murder and rape. Yet the demented, mass – decapitating, barbaric ghoul who in today’s age would probably be labeled -at the very least-  a mass – murdering criminal hag if she were real, is considered holy and a purveyor of divine justice by Hindu traditionalists.

The VHP is basically a revivalist movement of a polytheistic cult which should have no place in a secular democracy. Unfortunately, such cliques and cabals of religious bigots are legion in India. An organization which could carry out such despicable acts as the supervised demolition of, apart from being a holy place for Muslims, an example in medieval Mughal architecture, claims to speak for Hinduism because it can threaten violence and has political backing. Hence all the posturing and bravado. And the snotty “offense” taking. Why should such an organization be given any importance at all? For claiming that India is meant for Hindus? Well, ask the lower caste and Dalit people whether they agree with that. Ask the women who are bullied by their repulsive, bucolic, patriarchal family members that. Ask the women who fear that marriage under Hindu law (not my definition of a secular state, by the way) will rob them of their right to justice in case their husbands make drunken (or otherwise) insistence that they are fit only for sexual degradation because the law of the land considers protecting “family values” peddled by a sadomasochistic cult, and the cow (of course) as more important than the dignity and life of a married female individual. I am pretty sure that the great majority of them, if given the choice, would say, “No, thank you very much.” Apart from the possibility that it provides the party ruling at the Centre with goons -which by the way, is a proud feature of the Indian excuse for “democracy”, hiring goons to “secure” votes- and pumping out rabid hate speech, the VHP serves no productive purpose. Why should we feel any sympathy for these despicable thugs? Why give two hoots about what they find offensive? It’s a matter of national shame that MF Husain could never return to the country where he was born, bred and blossomed because of some crazy polytheistic fascists. It’s a matter of national shame that Salman Rushdie doesn’t feel welcome in a country the travails of whose Muslims he has written about in his literature, despite being a erudite critic of Islam, the perfect case of when fanatical idiots care more about a homicidal fatwa from the kingdom of heaven (purportedly) than about the people who they assume to represent. It’s a national disgrace that Sanal Edamaruku, the fearless fighter of frauds and charlatans and robbers of the poor and emotionally vulnerable, has to live in Finland out of fear of being killed by “offended” Christian Grim Reapers, despite being the born citizen of a country which constitutionally espouses “scientific temper”. It’s a matter of shame that India, despite being a supposedly secular and democratic country, cannot protect free expression from lynch mobs and handfuls of illiterate, idiotic bullies. That -and this does not even scratch the surface- I find, is a lot more offensive and repugnant to the very idea that India is a secular, democratic country and not an ecumenical theocratic milieu. If we can’t have our version of the First Amendment to the American Constitution yet, let us at least strive to protect the Constitutional right to freedom of expression and not make a sad joke of ourselves. So, MS Dhoni, who as a cricketer has bigger fish to fry, and fans, not fanatics to represent on a cricket field, should at the very least be spared the atrocity of having to submit to the puerile demands of the hurt sentiments of a worthless, indulgent, politically fringe, religious bullying gang.

Speaking of free expression and bigger fish to fry, here is a screenshot of what I am making a tiny effort at promoting:

Screenshot from 2016-01-09 13:14:38

Yes, this is the same fanatical, uncivilized theocratic dictatorship that celebrated its New Year by exercising its ritual divine right to dissect the jugular (and beyond) 47 times with a sword. In the civilized world, that would be state authorized mass murder. Ashraf Fayadh was just extremely unlucky to be an enlightened individual amidst benighted, arrogant extremists who don’t allow you to make your own decisions. All they care about is keeping a literal head count and their bloody apocalyptic fantasies. I am not sure if PEN’s effort will do much to save Ashraf, nor will I be able to attend the gathering, but I wanted to share this for all those who can and who might care. If there is anything that we can do to save him from the whimsical punishment intended for him by fanatical barbarians, we must do it. We should also try and identify those free spirits in the Arab and Muslim worlds who wish to be heard and pester our governments to make it easier for them to be granted asylum. Language, sadly, might become a major obstacle as far as I am concerned. It’s atrocious to have to be continuing to sit and watch this lurid spectacle.

What is atrocious as well is the fact that you can make believable death threats against free thinking private individuals with impunity in a supposed secular democracy. Take Bangladesh and India, for example. Last year, 5 secular bloggers, authors and publishers were chopped to death in the former by axe – wielding Islamist trogs of the kind I just mentioned. The Bangladeshi society is still experiencing the aftershocks of its traumatic 1971 separation from the theocratic, genocidal tyranny of Pakistan. They seceded, but left their Neanderthal ideological descendants behind. Of course, it can be argued that the terrorist threats to intellectuals had much to do with political motivations, but aren’t they always? These murderous fanatics only care about oppression and veto power, as is obvious in the gross violation of human rights in most of the Middle Eastern countries. And that is, of course, political. Islam, after all, decrees that fear reign supreme in the hearts of unbelievers. Taslima Nasreen, a physician by training, like MF Husain, wonders if she can ever return to her country of birth after having dared to speak out against oppression of women in Islam in her writings. Her mordant wit and sharp criticism were too much to take for the Koran – retarded spiritual leaders, both in Bangladesh and in India, where she sought refuge. So out came the death warrants, or fatwa, which appear to come a dime a dozen in Islam, at least the fundamentalist version of it. Some covert ones claimed the lives of Dr Avijit Roy, Oyasiqur Rahman, Ananta Bijoy Das, Niloy Neel and Faisal Dipan (unflinching publisher for Dr Avijit Roy’s secular humanist ideas). There is an element of cloying sentimentality to this whole grotesque business of issuing divine death ordinances. The Bangladeshi New Year began with “justice” for the bloggers and writers who had been killed since 2013. It’s well nigh impossible for me to feel much sympathy for bullies and murderers, but issuing the death penalty is a sign of judicial ineptitude in my view. For one thing, it’s a sinister practical example of the tu quoque fallacy. The other is that it hardly acts as a deterrent to any crime, and especially not for suicidal – homicidal Islamist zombies. Earlier this week, a Marathi author by the name of Dr Shripal Sabnis got death threats from another religious fringe (read, terrorist) organization in India (which also, as I already mentioned, come a dime a dozen) after he publicly criticized their patron -who bears the misleading honorific of “Prime Minister”- Narendra Modi, attacking him as

a person forever “smeared with the taint of the 2002 Gujarat riots” and a Prime Minister that he would not endorse.

A fair and, I must say, quite polite criticism (if that makes sense) of a person who, as a Chief Minister, was at least criminally neglectful of the mass slaughtering and mass raping romp -leading to the death of even a Muslim lawmaker- that hit the beautiful state of Gujarat in early 2002, presumably because it was directed against Muslims, and was deemed by many as a just reprisal for the Godhra train atrocity. Any sitting Chief Minister who can say that he has no guilty feeling after he allowed the riots to simply happen has definitely a shady side to him, if not criminal. Especially seeing as how he drowns any voice over a contentious and pressing issue with the loud, obnoxious rhetoric of “development“, you might argue that his leadership style borders on fascist demagogy. Since the mafia gangs masquerading as political parties in India hire homicidal thugs to “expedite” certain political processes, it’s not at all surprising that Dr Sabnis has received a death threat for merely taking a political stand. And this for criticizing the Prime Minister of a supposedly democratic, secular nation. This bears the classic stamp of a totalitarian system, just like religious fascists do. The stamp is indelible, just like Gujarat’s on Modi.

The Hindu terrorist organization which threatened Dr Sabnis with death, named Sanatan Sanstha, has been especially zealous in silencing voices that speak out against Hinduism and attendant superstition. Late last year, their hired thugs shot dead MM Kalburgi, an academician and noted critic of Hinduism and blind faith, in his own house. It also seems very likely that early last year, they gunned down Govind Pansare, a Communist politician and another critic of religion and superstition. They have also been accused of having carried out the early morning attack that took out noted rationalist and debunker Narendra Dabholkar in 2013. Whoever it was, there is no doubt that they were felled by religious obscurantists who want to prey on poor, unsuspecting rural victims. Apparently, they found the occasion to take “offence”. The Sanatan Sanstha website would hint as much:

There is no spiritual terrorism of any kind existing in India. If at all there is spiritual terrorism, it is there in gulf or Islamic countries. Those, who are crushing patriotism; demoralizing youth in the name of superstitions; creating dispute over Sage-like Shiva-shahir Babasaheb Purandare’s mission; attacking seats of worship of Hindu Dharma in the name of reforms and all this in the name of progressiveness, are enemies of this country….Here attempts are made to declare Dabholkar and Pansare as saints; when Dr. Dabholkar had also demanded ban on Sanatan when he was alive.

So we know what the reason for the murder probably was. The group is basically a fascist movement teaching Hindus how to live, just like all totalitarian cults do (e.g- Islam, Judaism etc), and are ready to punish anyone who doesn’t live by their retarded rules. The Hindu equivalent of halaal or kosher, by the way, is sattvik, for whatever that is worth. They had likely issued a death threat against Pansare as well, which is probably sattvik, if you are to believe in “goddess” Kali.

People must learn to take offense at what really is offensive. Killing and threatening to kill human beings is offensive and despicable, to put it mildly. It’s offensive that countries must continue to propitiate the disgusting Saudis for their oil, while making no serious efforts to put their administration under pressure for violating human rights with gay abandon. Threatening the Ashraf Fayadhs with death while holding them captive for no crime of theirs is deeply offensive to civilized humans. It’s a terrible sign for a democracy whose elected leader doesn’t even have the guts to denounce such depraved depredations on human rights and liberty in unequivocal terms. It’s offensive to an entire democratic system when that happens. Rather than the terrorists who go around suicide bombing because they are ever ready to take offense and churn out martyrs and which are likely funded by Saudi patrons, we find it offensive that the real martyrs, the ones who were needlessly slaughtered and who bravely fought regressive forces are insulted in the most thuggish possible terms by dastardly religious vermins even after they are dead, and threaten others who are alive in the same breath, for good measure:

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It’s also offensive, for example, to have to digest the fact that atavistic lynch mobs have the power to burn a police station and grievously injure a police officer in a Muslim ghetto in a secular democracy, because some Hindu nutcase stupidly surmised in some distant, obscure part of the country that Muhammad might have been the world’s first homosexual. This is so ignorant as to be contemptibly laughable, but not offensive. If the claim is true, then the only reason some already intolerant Muslims find it offensive is because they hate homosexuals. In that case, they really need to question their assumption of Muhammad being their prophet. If it is false, then it is either a mischievous or an ignorant comment made by a loon, and surely Muhammad’s holiness is securer than being vulnerable to offense from that? For those who must take offense, though , it might be instructive to remember that it’s much more offensive that the representatives of arsonist gangs and lawbreakers should have the gall to suggest that the “offender” be given the death sentence for calling a 7th century illiterate Arabian mass murderer, pedophile and misogynist by his wrong name. They should probably also learn to take offense at their co-devouts practising their suicide-murder fetish near a polio vaccination centre in Pakistan, which concerns the lives of innocent children. Muhammad’s claim to be a prophet should be taken as seriously as Kali’s claim (or the claims of those who believe in Her Holiness) to be a goddess. This dreadful incident reminds one of the ghastly Danish cartoons episode in 2006 that resulted in worldwide violation of Scandinavian human rights by Muslims. This kind of veto by the religious mafia must stop. By allowing MS Dhoni to be summoned to court for something trivial, the judiciary is offending everyone who isn’t at all offended, even those Hindus whose hurt sentiments the terrorist demagogues claim to represent. Religion has provided a license for enough nonsense already. We must be able to criticize religion and the government and not feel persecuted, just like we can criticize any other form of stupidity .

And, let’s not have ourselves misrepresented. There is no “Father of the Nation”. For a nation that possesses so much diversity, it’s an insult to every Indian to think that a skimpily clad cheerleader for cow protection and religious superstition, and a demagogue can be any kind of progenitor. I, for my part, choose to make my own form of “offensive” statement:

Gandhi
To the Great Soul who believed that god’s wrath caused earthquakes.

Ironically, that’s the front design for one of my T shirts, something the “Father of the Nation” wouldn’t wear -in order to show his love for the nation.

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