When the law is sentenced

None | ByKhushwant Singh
Sep 01, 2007 12:37 AM IST

There is not a single derogatory word used for the prophet, or against Islam as a religion in Taslima's novel Lajja, writes Khushwant Singh.

A few months ago, a venerable looking old man with a long, silken white beard announced at a public meeting that he would give one lakh rupees to anyone who killed the head of Dera Sacha Sauda. He got what he wanted: his photo in the next morning’s papers. What he had said amounted to incitement to murder that is a criminal offence. He should have been arrested and put on trial. No action was taken against him. Who gives a damn for the law!

HT Image
HT Image

More recently the head of Kolkata’s chief mosque pronounced a fatwa against the Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen. He declared that if Taslima was not expelled from India within a month and her novel Lajja banned, he would give any amount of money to anyone who killed her. He too achieved his life’s ambition: his photo too was in all papers. It is evident that the fellow has not read Lajja (Shame).

There is not a single derogatory word used for the prophet, or against Islam as a religion; it is about the shabby way in which the Bangladeshi Hindus have been treated by the Bangladeshi Muslims and the administration over the years.

The novel won a prestigious award from a leading Bengali literary magazine.

The mullah had nothing to say about the novel at that time. Indian writers by the dozen write against injustices done to the Muslim minority in their own country. We are proud of them and defend them against verbal attacks made by fascist Hindu organisations. What the mullah of Kolkata said in his fatwa amounted to incitement to murder that is a criminal offence. I hope he is arrested and put on trial. I am glad that the chief minister of West Bengal has extended Taslima’s visa and I hope he will see she is granted full protection and an Indian citizenship.

Bal Thackeray has always considered himself above the law. His Shiv Sainiks revel in damaging Muslims’ lives and properties, setting fire to archives with ancient manuscripts, destroying MF Hussain’s paintings, and more recently, wrecking offices of The Outlook in Mumbai.

Thackeray’s son and successor has boasted how he will deal with those opposed to them: “Injection laga doonga” — which means I’ll teach them a lesson; in simpler words, have them beaten up by hoodlums at his beck and then command. They have never given a damn for the law. They are in the news all the time. The more outrageous their acts, the more publicity they get.

What place do these elements have in civilised society we are aiming to build in India?

Jai Ganga Maatey!

The Ganga is fifteen hundred and sixteen miles long from its source at Gangotri to the Bay of Bengal. Many world’s rivers are larger and broader like The Nile, Amazon, Yangtze and Mississippi that are more than twice as long. And many are even larger than the Ganga as well and have steamers plying on them. A few are historic examples:

The Indus from which India derives its name. All are loved by people who live along their banks. To the English their biggest river is Father Thames, The Mississippi was immortalised by Paul Robeson singing “Ole man river”. But no river in the world has commanded so much worship as the Ganga.

She comes from the Milky Way through the tresses of Lord Shiva down to the earth. Most Indians revere it as their mother. Even a Muslim like the poet Mohammed Iqbal referred to as the base of Aryan settlement in India:

Ai aab-e-rood-e-Ganga
Voh din hai yaad tujh ko
Utra teyrey kinarey ttha kaarwaan hamaara
(O ye limped waters of the Ganga
Remember you the day
When our caravan reached your banks
And settled down to stay.)

Even a non-believer like me used to make it a point to go to Hardwar once a year to watch the aarti at sunset at Har ki Pauri and join the throng in shouting “Jai Ganga Maatey — (Victory to thee Mother Ganga!”)

There is no logic behind worshiping the Ganga, nor any basis for believing that its waters have healing properties. Nevertheless, from times immemorial our rulers, including Muslims, got their drinking water from Hardwar. The same water channelised in canals or taps is not sacred; only that brought from Rishikesh in Hardwar passes the test of sanctity.

It is from that that Kanwarias in their thousands fill their water pots and trudge to distant towns and villages to sell it. People anxious to go to heaven come to die or at least be cremated by its banks. Around Varanasi there is a taxi and rickshaw service to bring corpses from adjacent towns and villages to the Ganga: it is known as the Swarg Mail. Though we worship the Ganga, we rob it by diverting its waters into canals, block its flow by erecting dams, and foul its stream by human excreta and factory effluents. At places you can’t bear the stench it emits. We are that kind of people.

You can read all about it in Ganga by Julvana Grandall Hollick (Random House). He is columnist and TV film producer. He and his wife did the entire length of the river Alpha to Omega. It makes a delightfully informative reading.

Yankee Humour

A huge sign board was put on the entrance of a store in Philadelphia. It read: “We would rather do business with 1000 al Qaida terrorists than with one single American.” The news spread like wild fire in the city and a huge mob of angry patriotic Americans gathered determined to wreck the store. When the signboard was brought down, it revealed the “store” was in fact an undertakers funeral parlour.

(Contributed by Vipin Bucksey, New Delhi)

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