So, what’s your opinion of Sania Mirza’s forthcoming marriage? I only ask because the media have spent the last few days acting as though this is a matter of global importance about which all of us are obliged to have an opinion.
Unless you’re spending the long weekend on Mars or Uranus, you have probably been subjected to the media blitz. While Sania and her parents have maintained a dignified silence after an initial press conference, nearly everybody else has been granted his or her 15 minutes of television fame.
There are broadly four positions that you can take on the subject. The first is my position and, I would imagine, the opinion of most readers of this column. Sania and Shoaib appear to be young and in love.
We wish them luck. We hope the marriage will be a success. And even if it isn’t, it really is none of our business.
<b1>The second position is more gossip-oriented. You can argue, perhaps legitimately, that all celebrity weddings are, almost by definition, in the public domain. And this one is a celebrity wedding with a difference because the groom may well be concealing the details of his first marriage.
Personally, I have no interest in celebrity weddings and could not care less whether Shoaib Malik has a bevy of previous wives stashed away in cricket pavilions all over the world. But, no matter how tacky I find the media obsession with his past, I am prepared to concede that there is some public interest in his private life.
My real concern is with two other positions that have been on display in the last few days. The sub-text to much of the coverage of Shoaib’s first ‘wife’ is that Pakistanis are lying sods who should not be trusted in any circumstances. There is a certain glee with which the details of Shoaib’s alleged deceitful behaviour are now being retailed.
It does not help that the only person willing to speak up on his behalf is his semi-articulate brother-in-law. Each time this man opens his mouth, it strengthens the cynical view that Pakistanis will lie and cheat to get what they want.
Interestingly, this is not a Hindu-Muslim issue. On Friday night, friends and family of Ayesha Siddiqui appeared on television to urge Indian girls to stay away from Pakistanis and to look for grooms within our own borders. In this version, Ayesha was not just a girl in a broken marriage. She was a symbol of Indian gullibility when faced with the evil machinations of the Pakistani manipulator.
I would be wary of treating the Shoaib-Ayesha marriage (or non-marriage, depending on which side you believe) as an example of the vagaries of international relations but at least this interpretation, no matter how silly, is better than the way in which Hindu communalists are responding to the prospect of Sania’s marriage to a Pakistani.
No sooner was it announced that Sania would be marrying Shoaib Malik than the internet was filled with vicious and spiteful comments. Though many were considerably more abusive, what they said in effect was this: Sania has rejected Indian men in favour of a Pakistani. This means that she has rejected India. So, she is a traitor.
Then, the political lunatics got in on the act. The Ram Sene in Bangalore issued a stirring condemnation of the match and declared that it would not allow Sania to play for India any longer.
Assorted weirdos on the fringes of the Sangh Parivar weighed in. The Bajrang Dal protested in Hyderabad. Somebody called Vinod Bansal, described as media in-charge of the VHP, appeared on television to announce that Sania had hurt the sentiments of her countrymen. All of these people are nutcases with limited clout.
But then, the Shiv Sena — nutcases with considerably more clout — also weighed in. First, the usual chhota-mota jokers went on TV to declare that Sania was now a Pakistani and had no business representing India. Then, the Senapati decided to enter the fray himself.
You would think that by now Bal Thackeray had got beyond the stage where he needed to threaten 23-year-old girls. But no, the old boy was not going to let this opportunity pass. Writing in Saamna, he displayed his usual breathtaking contempt for the facts. Sania was now going to live in Pakistan. (In fact, she is shifting to Dubai.) She was now going to be a Pakistani citizen. (In fact, she says she will remain an Indian citizen.) How could such a person, with a Pakistani passport and a Pakistani residence, ever be allowed to play for India! There was no place for Sania in our country, etc., etc. Why is the lunatic Hindu fringe so obsessed with Sania’s wedding? The answer is not a very pleasant one.
The real target of the Hindu right is not Pakistan. It is the Indian Muslim. The importance of Pakistan is that it can be used to suggest an extra-national loyalty for all Indian Muslims who can then be portrayed as traitors who enjoy the facilities offered by India but remain Pakistanis at heart.
So, whenever there is an opportunity to link prominent Indian Muslims with Pakistan, the loonies realise that this is too good to pass up. When Shah Rukh Khan makes an innocuous remark about letting Pakistani cricketers play in the IPL, the Shiv Sena responds with an agitation and threatens to disrupt the release of his movie.
When Dilip Kumar accepts an award in Pakistan, he is portrayed as a traitor to India who is now being rewarded by Pakistan for his loyalty. So it is with Sania. Forget about all the times she has played for India and made our country proud. As far as the Hindutva loonies are concerned, she, like all Indian Muslims, is a closet Pakistani who is now revealing her true colours. We must punish her by refusing to let her represent India and must drive her out of our country.
I find the media obsession with Shoaib Malik’s lies about his previous marriage slightly tacky but not particularly offensive. The claim made by the Siddiquis and their friends that Indian girls are at the mercy of deceitful Pakistanis is silly and laughable. But it is not possible to laugh at the venomous campaign being conducted by the Hindutva extreme right.
The agenda is to subliminally link every Indian Muslim to Pakistan and to question the patriotism of an entire community. It is time to ask: do these nutcases really deserve the kind of television time they are being given? Or are TV channels only inviting them because they will say controversial and outrageous things and that this will make for ‘good television’?
A young girl is getting married. That should be an occasion for joy. Instead we are turning it into an excuse to spew hatred.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)