Whose Sentiments are Hurt?
This poser is slowly being raised – may be – in rather muted terms in this part of the world.
Right from Karachi to Patiala or Uttarakhand to B’desh concerned citizens or victims of this bogey, one finds there is an increasing audience to this query.
You could easily listen to it among the Ahmadiya Jamaat from neighbouring Pakistan when a senior and a very respected lawyer from the community from Karachi was recently charged with blasphemy and faces certain death or long incarceration. The case relates to a complaint filed by a fellow lawyer against him for using Syed with his name in an affidavit while arguing a case which supposedly ‘hurt his religious sentiments’ (https://www.dawn.com/news/1753643) It is now history how this religious minority founded by Mirza Qadiani is facing tremendous persecution since 70 s when it was declared non-Muslim by the then Bhutto regime.
There were similar voices when a fourty five year old woman sitting in a Gurudwara premises in Patiala was killed by a visitor unknown to her because her alleged drinking liquor within the premises ‘hurt his religious sentiments’. What one learnt further that the religious establishment did not show any sympathy towards the deceased woman, had no answer for easy availability of weapon inside the Gurudwara but did not shy away from claiming that this act of hers is part of an organised attempt for sacrilege in the region and deserved severe punishment. Its representatives even went to the murderer’s house and honoured his parents by presenting a saropa to them, as if the killing was a glorious act.
Few months back a dalit youth from Uttarakhand had temple desecration case filed against him by the police on the complaint of few upper-caste people. These were the same people who did not allow his entry into the temple earlier, as he was a dalit and had brutally assaulted him for the attempt and were themselves facing cases under SC-ST act for their inhuman act. (https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/sacrilege-case-on-assaulted-dalit-in-uttarakhand/cid/1911953) Close relatives of the victim posed this query before the reporters how is that offence under untouchability could be so easily diluted by concocting a case against victim himself, making their real humiliation appear less real as compared to the false narrative of the dominant ones.
A leading journalist from B’Desh, had in her scathing article a year ago, in fact posed this question rather directly when minority Hindus in a neighbourhood in Narail, B’Desh came under mob attack over a FB post allegedly by a Hindu student which had similarly ‘hurt their sentiments’
What was shocking that the pattern was similar which is witnessed across the subcontinent?
People were assaulted brutally, women dishonoured, shops and houses looted, burnt and destroyed by marauders from nearby areas – many of them known faces to the victims- and police turning into mere onlookers (https://www.thedailystar.net/opinion/views/no-strings-attached/news/whose-religious-sentiments-are-more-important-3074271)
It was puzzling for the writer to realise that such targets of crimes committed in the name of religion, terrorising of communities which leaves one insecure and disillusioned cannot even claim that they have been hurt, badly badly hurt.
Her question was simple but direct: Who is entitled to ‘hurt religious sentiments?
Without beating around the bush the writer had talked about the conundrum which no one wants to solve.
How the incredible alacrity shown by the law enforcers over a FB post by arresting individual(s) just peters out when the question of arresting perpetrators of violence against minorities comes up ? The law enforcers are either absent or remain inactive till most of the damage is done.
A close look at these stray, rather unrelated examples makes few things absolutely clear that there is no dearth of issues which can be used with elan by majoritarians to stigmatise, criminalise, and silence the ‘others’.
A stand-up comedian like Munawwar Faruqi could be jailed even for the joke he has not even shared with the public or a Mahendra Singh Dhoni, could be similarly brought before the court for ‘hurting religious sentiments for being depicted as Lord Vishnu in a calendar. Thanks to the quick intervention of the highest courts, three judge bench of the courts rejected the petition underlining that such insults to religion offered unwittingly or without any malicious intention to outrage the religious feelings of that class should not be construed as hurting religious sentiments. It is an attitude which the high courts have also shown in later judgements. (https://thewire.in/law/insults-to-religion-without-deliberate-intention-not-offence-under-section-295a-ipc-tripura-hc)
As an aside one can look at the long history of ‘hurt sentiments’ in this part of the world and its deeper roots in our societal mind-set.
Neeta Nair in her book titled ‘Hurt Sentiments – Secularism and Belonging in South Asia’ ( Harvard University Press, 2023) where she looks into the state ideologies of India, Pakistan and later Bangladesh in the divisive politics that marked their creation and also looks at the invocation of hurt sentiments deployed by a wide range of political actors, such as Nathuram Godse in his justification of Gandhi’s assassination, as well as the states of India and Pakistan in their attempts to regulate the expression of hate speech in the aftermath of violent partition (P 4)
Perhaps it has its roots much beyond our recognition. She also quotes Macaulay, how he perceived things in early 19 th century. ( Page 4)
The idea that Indians were especially predisposed to having their sentiments “hurt” or wounded was first elaborated upon by the Law Member in the East India Company, Thomas Babington Macaulay, in his draft note on the Indian Penal Code in 1837, almost two centuries ago. Macaulay held that there was “no country in which the Government has so much to apprehend from religious excitement among the people.
This realisation that promotion of sentiments or “feelings of enmity or hatred’ could spur unrest between different communities then became basis of enactment of section 153 (A) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), then itself, which criminalised controversial speech or writing, or enactment of Section 295 A of the IPC, a new law in early 20 th century which criminalised insulting of religious belief with “deliberate and malicious intention.’
The silver lining in the rather dark scenario is the fact that there are voices within who are raising questions about such blatant duplicity in feeling of hurt in a multipath country and are ready to question the silence of the majority over such attacks on minorities.
Underlining how such silence normalises sectarian violence in the society a author / writer from B’Desh further unpacks the silence as being a ‘result of tribalism’ – the behaviour and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one’s own tribe or social group. (https://www.thedailystar.net/shout/news/the-silent-majority-needs-speak-about-narail-3072596) Writer, columnist from India Apoorvanand similarly emphasises why Hindus are morally obliged to oppose the anti-Minority Politics of Hindutva (https://thewire.in/communalism/hindutva-politics-violence-minorities) and put forward an argument before the public how difficult is it for all of us to say that Indian society should not be allowed to become one that tolerates and inflicts violence on Muslims?
Subhash Gatade is a left activist associated with New Socialist Initiative