On August 9, 2007, the Centre for Enquiry, Hyderabad, held a meeting at the local press club, to celebrate the publication of two Telugu books, both translations, one from the Bengali of Taslima Nasrin, and the other from the Chinese (via English) of Jung Chang. Since the two authors are victims of persecution in their home countries, the meeting was also a celebration of the fundamental human right of free expression and political dissent. The guest of honour was the Bangladeshi writer herself, who had flown in from Kolkota where she presently lives in a perilous and uncertain exile.
As the meeting was coming to a close, it was disrupted by a small mob. This is how The Hindu, under the heading 'Taslima Roughed Up in Hyderabad,’ reported the main events the following day:
‘Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin was roughed up by legislators of the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) and a mob led by them in the Press Club of Hyderabad on Thursday…. She had just completed her engagement when about 20 MIM activists, led by MLAs Syed Ahmed Pasha Qadri, Afsar Khan and Moazzam Khan, barged into the conference hall.
She looked in disbelief as they hurled abuses against her. Demanding to know "who had mustered the guts to invite her to Hyderabad, they wanted Ms. Nasrin to be handed over to them.
Without further warning, they began throwing books, bouquets, chairs, and whatever they could lay their hands on at her. Some persons in the mob almost got hold of her but Narisetti Innaiah, rationalist and chairman of the Center for Inquiry, who was her host, shielded her. He was injured in his face. A couple of journalists who went to their rescue also sustained injuries in the scuffle.
Ms. Nasrin escaped unhurt though she was badly shaken by the sudden attack that came minutes after she made a categorical statement that she would continue to fight against evil "till my death".’
I then looked up the same news on the websites of Hyderabad’s two most widely read Urdu newspapers, Siasat and Munsif, and also the English language website of the former. What I found on August 10 did not come as a surprise at all. In fact, it was as I had expected on the basis of my experience of Urdu newspapers in Lucknow and Delhi. But what I read on August 11 on the English language website indeed surprised me. It made me aware that things have changed more radically than I had thought.
What I read on August 10 were two fiery, rabble-rousing statements in Urdu, but a more professional news report in English, no different from what I quoted above from
The Hindu. Below I give in translation portions of the two Urdu reports. (But first an explanation of a phrase used below.
Gustakh-e-Rasul, lit. one who insults the prophet. I abbreviate it as GR.):
In Siasat, dated August 10, under two headings:
- ‘GR Authoress Taslima Nasrin Attacked with Bouquets of Flowers’
- ‘An Observance of What the Shari’at Commands or Merely a Political Ruse?’
‘. . . GR Taslima Nasrin succeeded in safely going back from Hyderabad, despite the fact that three MLAs, with some fifty supporters, threw flowers at her in the name of a protest. The shameless GR authoress, who stands next to Salman Rushdie, was taking part in a function organized by the Center for Enquiry at the Press Club, Somaji Goda, when three members of the Legislative Assembly, Muqtada Khan Afsar, Ahmad Pasha Qadiri, and Muazzam Khan, together with more than 50 of their supporters, arrived and, while using abusive language, did no more than cause a ruckus and some vandalism. All of them were unable to harm in the slightest a GR, not even a woman GR.
A person despised in the Muslim world, against whom fatwas to kill have been issued, on such a person they threw [merely] bouquets that had been placed near the stage, when [in fact] there were not too many people present there to protect her….
'Neither the police nor the Intelligence Service knew about the presence of Taslima Nasrin. That is why the MLAs had a fine opportunity to disrupt her program. However, a most opportune moment to enforce the law of Shari’a on that GR was wasted, what they did was only for political opportunism. The political ambitions of the protesters was also made evident by the fact that they dared not throw shoes or chappal at the GR who was only three or four feet away from them, but instead kept throwing bouquets. The Muslim Millat can tolerate every tyranny, injustice, and humiliation but it can never tolerate any disrespect to the Last of the Prophets (pbuh). Whenever anyone has shown such disrespect, Muslims have in turn shown no fear in bringing that person to his deserved end. It is a fact of history that the Faithful have never worried about consequences when it comes to punishing a person who defames the Prophet (pbuh).’
2. In Munsif, dated August 10, under three headings::
- ‘An Attempt to Attack the GR and "Notorious in Time" Taslima Nasrin’
- ‘The Bangladeshi Authoress Didn’t Get Even a Scratch.’
- ‘People say: ‘The confused author should have been taught a severe lesson.’
‘Three members of the legislative assembly, with some fifteen supporters, disrupted the meeting. They raised slogans and threw a bouquet of flowers and a ladies’ handbag toward Taslima Nasrin. Taslima Nasrin hid in a panic behind her hosts and was not at all hurt. She was trembling in fear even though no protesters came near her or lay a hand on her….
‘Eyewitnesses say that the way this protest was conducted made it look like a welcoming ceremony with flowers instead. The MLAs and other protesters threw only flowers at Nasrin. They took flowers out of the bouquets set up in the hall, and threw them at her. Not one of the protesters had the courage to take off his shoes or chappals and hit Taslima with them, throw them at her, or at least point the same at her. It was perfectly legitimate [ja’iz] to attack Taslima Nasrin, to humiliate her, or to insult and mock her in any fashion. However, the MLAs and workers of a political party threw flowers, which had people’s minds ringing with the old song, ‘Baharo phul barsao, mera mahbub aayaa hai.’
‘What should have been done instead? Taslima Nasrin should have been dishonoured in such a manner that henceforth she’d never dare to return to Hyderabad. But that was not done. There was no police officer present there. Only two persons were trying to protect Taslima. The protesting MLAs made a lot of noise but showed no willingness to charge forward. Those who saw the whole thing call it a "drama." The leaders of this political party had thrown a pot of filth upon the editor of an Urdu newspaper in Mahdi Patnam, but now they showered only flowers on a GR. Today all was possible to teach a GR and a disparager of Islam what her end could be, but a political party of the city wasted the opportunity by seeking only cheap publicity. The leaders of this party drew revolvers in their tussle over one hundred yards of Waqf land, but cast only flowers at Taslima today….’
Long accustomed to reading such blatantly rabble-rousing statements in the Urdu press of North India, I was not surprised to find the same in the Hyderabadi Urdu press. And the more professional report published on the English language website of Siasat, reflective of a kind of hypocrisy also found in North Indian Muslim circles, came not as a surprise either. One is always on one’s best behaviour in English in India. Or so was the case, I thought. But the August 11 web-edition of the English language Siasat carried an unsigned statement concerning the incident that tells me that things have indeed changed radically. The statement is headlined, ‘Barking dogs never bite!’, and read as follows:
‘It is said that 30 minutes are enough either to make or break anybody’s career, reputation or life. In the wake of the incident of attack on Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreeen [sic] at press club on Thursday, it is indeed unbelievable that MIM MLAs got more than 30 minutes and instead of using this time to its maximum damage, they simply wasted it in chanting useless slogans and hurling flower bouquets knowing fully that they would get badly needed political mileage.
‘They could not lift even a chair lying near by to attack her with strong impact though only a few persons were present there. It is nothing but a political gimmick played on her.
‘The suicide bombers in Iraq are the best example to eliminate not only their targets but also themselves. And they are doing so with an eye blinker. Imagine, what could they have done if they had 30 minutes. Religious sentiments are totally different from the political ambitions.
‘If you are religiously hurt, no might on this earth be able to prevent you to eliminate a person or organization that is involved in blasphemy of prophet Muhammad (PBUH). It clearly indicates that whatever MIM people have on their tongue, it is missing from their hearts as the proverb goes that barking dogs never bite.
‘Now, according to Times of India and The Hindu, they are trying to add one more ‘feather’ to their cap by showing an intention to organize a campaign against Taslima to oust her from the country.
‘When they could not utilize those thirty minutes to oust her from this world itself, what is the use to organize a campaign now? It is just like an embarrassed cat is scratching the pole. Religion is second to none to Mr. Asad.’
To my knowledge, the Munsif does not have an English language edition. Its issue on August 11, however, carried an editorial, which deserves some notice. Titled, ‘The Accursed Gustakh-e-Rasul Taslima Nasrin,’ it begins by raising a question: ‘What would a true Muslim do if he came face to face with a GR woman and there is no "security" to protect her?’ While it explicitly recommends ‘beating with shoes’ and ‘blackening the face,’ it also uses innuendo and ‘historical’ references to suggest more severe actions. For Munsif, any ‘protest’ must be ‘punitive.’ It further points out that if the protesters were hesitant to attack a woman, they could have brought some of their own women with them--the MIM has its own ‘women force’ and women ‘corporators’--and the latter could have made Taslima a target of their wrath.
Munsif, incidentally, is owned and edited by someone who long lived in Chicago, made his money here, and might still be an American citizen. That may explain why Munsif has no English website--it could get its owner in trouble with the American security hotheads. Siasat, on the other hand, seems to have some ambitions to reach out to both Urdu and non-Urdu readers on the web. As one reads the reports and editorials in the two newspapers one understands the true significance of the incident and its deep links to local political rivalries. One also sees how violently radical the so-called Muslim-Urdu opinion-makers have now become, and how blatantly they go about radicalizing the public discourse in the worst way. As Barkha Dutt, in a passionate and hard-hitting analysis in the Hindustan Times (August 10), points out, the incident at Hyderabad must be taken most seriously by every Indian.
The MIM MLAs are indeed as reprehensible as any Pravin Togadia or Bal Thackeray. They should indeed be condemned equally forcefully and widely. In addition to public condemnations of the incident at Hyderabad and its perpetrators, it is most urgent for the state and press authorities themselves to examine the reports and editorials mentioned above and determine if any violation of India’s secular laws has also occurred. Similarly, Urdu intellectuals in Hyderabad and elsewhere should undertake a more active role in exposing and challenging the violent and extremist views that are seemingly becoming more acceptable in Urdu journals and newspapers with every passing day. The first attack on Taslima Nasrin ended when the police arrived at the Press Club and rescued her, but the other attack continues and its target, howsoever unwittingly, is not her alone but the always fragile democracy in India. Any diminution of it will hurt India’s minorities more than its majority community.
C. M. Naim is Professor. Emeritus, South Asian Languages & Civilizations, University of Chicago