Fatwa, request and free speech

Last week two of the legends of Tamil cinema, A. R. Rahman, Oscar award winning music composer and Rajni Kant, the undisputed super star, have been in the news for wrong reasons. A Muslim group has issued a ‘fatwa’ against Rahman for working in a movie named after Prophet Mohammad, produced in Iran. A Hindu group has requested Rajni Kant not to act in a movie planned on Tipu Sultan. Both these acts are unacceptable in a civil democratic society.

The Muslim group’s objection seems to be that some one might criticize the movie using its name and it might sound like an insult to Prophet Mohammad. They want to protect the Prophet. This is common among all those religious persons who think they have to protect the God. Though, it might sound strange, they believe that God has chosen them to protect Him and His honour. As with all things related to faith, you cannot ask them to prove it. In any case no one should be allowed to issue a Fatwa on any body else in this fashion in a civil democratic nation which has a constitution. I am pleased to note that another muslim organization based in Tamil Nadu has refused to revolt against Rahman.

The movie is made mostly by Muslims in Iran and Rahman is composing the music. The Muslim group has quoted this in their defence saying that the makers of the movie should obey their order. They are not biased and ordering a non-muslim group. Also, their main concern is a potential insult to the Prophet’s name. They have not lied or distorted the facts. However, today’s nation/state should remain secular and such a Fatwa by a religious leader should not be possible.

The Hindu group’s concern, as expressed in the newspapers is baffling. It claims ‘Tipu Sultan may be portrayed as a freedom fighter’. Of course he was. Do they want to hide this fact? Tipu Sultan fought against the British and died. Mysore King, a Hindu aligned with the British and survived. They have not issued a fatwa and they have only requested Rajni Kant not to act! How civilized! Apparently, Tipu Sultan was anti-Tamil! The same group other wise looks at things ‘nationally’ and disapproves ‘regional’ feelings.

One has to be careful in characterizing people from the past with such terms. Tipu Sultan had Srirangapatnam as the Capitol in his kingdom. The mysore kingdom was all of 18 km away! Tamil Nadu had at least four kingdoms earlier to these two. They may even say Rajendra Cholan was against Tamil as he defeated Pandiyan kingdom in Madurai, where the three oldest Tamil sangams were held. One never knows! Rajendra Cholan can be enemy of India as well, as he defeated many of the kings all the way to Ganges and Himalaya! Of course, this group is not interested in facts. They are keen on writing the history as they would like it to be. I can’t believe they would explicitly express a fear that Tipu Sultan may be shown as a freedom fighter! Is it arrogance, stupidity or fear?

Somewhat coincidentally, last week Saudi Arabia embassy officials in New Delhi have been accused of slaving two Nepalese women! I remember reading a news story that mentions the following: Saudi Arabia does have strict controls and women are not exposed! Single men are not allowed to come into some areas. Embassy officials are accused of acting in barbaric ways! Though, one cannot generalize from individual cases, it should be obvious to discerning readers that excessive control will not work. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely! I only hope incidents like this force all the nations to rethink the immunity given to Embassy officials.

If you were in India in recent times, it would have been impossible not to hear about the gruesome murder of a daughter by a mother.  Good, bad and ugly humans have been in existence since humanity came into existence.

Indian Constitution left enough room for everyone to follow their faith without state interference. It seems to me that every group is misusing this privilege. Rajiv Gandhi lost a golden opportunity by interfering with the Supreme Court in Shao Banu case. I read a news about a bold Muslim woman approaching the court against bigamy among Muslims. For Hindus, bigamy is not allowed, but only if one of the two wives complain! In Tamil Nadu every one knows about influential bigamous leaders. Strangely, in the USA, leaders are expected to follow lofty ideals and an ordinary person is not constrained. In India, an ordinary person has to live a life with lofty ideals and they don’t apply to leaders!

Religion should remain a private affair between an individual and a God of that person’s choice. It is important that a modern nation does not let religion dominate political decision. India was founded with this ideal. I hope it will continue to be so.


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