On 31st October Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted Asia Bibi of the charges of blasphemy. She was on the death row from last eight years on this charge. The bench found that the charges cannot be sustained in law. The penalty for blasphemy in Pakistan is death. Bibi; A Christian is a farm laborer and her family had been under great stress, running from pillar to post to save her life. The judgment has come as a good respite. One recalls that in the same case. Salman Taseer, the then Governor of Punjab, had met Bibi, had opposed the blasphemy laws, had pleaded for clemency for her and talked of protection of minorities in Pakistan. Taseer, for voicing these sentiments, was done to death. His murderer, Malki Mumtaz Hussain Kadri, was made a hero and the maulanas refused to perform the last prayers for Taseer.

Now in the aftermath of the judgment, Pakistan is on the boil. Fundamentalist elements have indulged in violence at places. Disturbed by the insane reaction, Prime Minster of Pakistan, Imran Khan appealed to the nation to honor the verdict of Court. At the same time he signed an agreement with Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, the party behind the protests and violence, in which Khan conceded their demands of not letting Asia Bibi leave Pakistan. Imran Khan appealed that judges who acquitted Bibi should not be targeted. Bibi’s lawyer Saif-ul-Mulook has already left Pakistan out of fear of violence against him. 

On 28th September 2018 Supreme Court of India gave the verdict that not permitting women of all age groups into Sabrimala Temple is discriminatory against women and that they should be permitted to enter the shrine. While most parties and particularly RSS initially welcomed the judgment, immediately they made an about turn. With Hindu right wing organizations, VHP in the lead, came forward to ‘Save Sabrimala’ and stopped the women of menstruating age group from entering the shrine. The matters got heated up. Barring the ruling CPM led left front other parties, including Congress, buckled under the emotive storm and supported the protests against temple entry by women of particular age group. Interestingly many of these formations had supported the entry of women in the holy temple of Shani Shingnapur in Maharashtra. The RSS affiliates were particularly jubilant when women were permitted to enter the sanctum sanctorum of Haji Ali Dargah for Muslim women.

As such many scholarly articles have come on the Sabrimala shrine. These tell us that women of all age groups were permitted in the shrine till 1991. When after another court verdict’s warped implementation created the situation of not letting the menstrual age group women to enter the temple. This judgment was based on the assumption that women of menstruating age group will not be able to follow the austerity of 41 days which is required for temple visit. Incidentally that Court order also notes that earlier women of all age group were permitted in the temple. There are studies showing that the shrine has tribal and Buddhist antecedents, the tribes for who menstruation was not a taboo, and they used to throng the shrine till 1960s. There is also evidence of women of all age groups entering temple till 1980s. The rigidification of these norms begins after 1991 judgment. Now the communal forces are seeing this as an opportunity to make electoral base in the state as they did in Karnataka in the name of Baba Budan Giri Dargah or in MP in the name of Kamal Maula Masjid. Vacillation of is very disturbing.

So two neighboring countries are showing similar response to the judgments of the apex court. Courts in both cases have gone by the respective books and tried to give equality to all religions (in case of Pakistan) and genders (in India). In India most political parties backed out after seeing the response to fanatic religious groups. In Pakistan, Imran Khan despite showing the brave face in the beginning to support the acquittal of Bibi, has come down to compromise with the fundamentalist group, by not letting Bibi leave the country. At one point of time, when asked about what is the great challenge he faces as the Prime Minster of the country, Jawaharlal Nehru told Andre Maraloux that creating secular state in a religious country is the primary one (1958).

The journey which Nehru envisaged was mired by many hiccups, ups and downs. Since 1980s, after Shah Bano case, the pretext of Muslim appeasement been used to jack up the Ram Temple movement in a frightening manner. The religiosity is being used by communal organizations to polarize the society, while weak secular organizations are capitulating for electoral calculations.

The journey in Pakistan has been much worse. Jinnah’s 11th August 1947 Speech in Pakistan upheld secular society, but it was not to last for long. The communal feudal elements came to command soon enough to trample on the secular values. With Islamization of Pakistan during Zai Ul Haq regime, the country has seen a further downward turn towards fanaticism. So today despite Imran Khan not supporting the fanatics ideologically is forced to compromise with them to prevent the sheer unleashing of violence Both neighbors have many things common now. Till few decades earlier India was much ahead on the path for liberal democratic ethos with secular values, since the decades of 1990s India is trying to emulate Pakistan, in the orthodoxy and intensity of politics in the name of religion.

In Pakistan the religious minorities Hindus and Muslims were relegated to margins much early, now even Shias, Ahmadis are on the target. So the laws are in place as in the case of Asia Bibi and Sabarimala shrine, but the section of society is trying to resist the march towards secularism. Had Nehru been alive, he would have revised his formulation to say the laws are secular but section of society is resisting them to remain in the cocoon of retrograde values! 

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED

Indian anti colonial struggle has been the major phenomenon which built modern India into a secular democracy. Many of the political streams were part of this movement which struggled in their own way to drive away the British. There were some, the ones’ who held on to nationalism in the name of religion, who were not part of this and now in order to gain electoral legitimacy, either they make false claims about their being a part of it or try to distort the events to denigrate the leaders of freedom movement, particularly Jawaharlal Nehru. This came to surface yet again when Mr. Modi was hoisting Indian flag on the occasion of 75th Anniversary of proclamation of Azad Hind Government. At the event he said that the contributions of Bose, Patel and Ambedkar have been ignored by the ruling Nehru-Gandhi family.

Nothing can be farther from truth than this statement of his. One knows that Ambedkar was made the minister in the first Cabinet of India; he was also given the task of being the Chairman of drafting committee of Indian constitution and was asked to draft the Hindu code bill. Sardar Patel was the Deputy Prime Minster, looking after the Home ministry. The compilation of Sardar Patel’s letters has been edited by Durga Das, ‘Sardar Patel Correspondence’. As per this book it becomes clear that Nehru and Patel were very close and till Patel was alive most of the decisions which taken were with his consent or due to his initiative. Patel regarded Nehru as his younger brother and his leader; both. Earlier Modi tried to propagate that Nehru ignored Sardar Patel and did not attend his funeral in Bombay. Moraji Desai’s biography describes that Nehru did attend the funeral; this was also reported in the news papers that time.

As far as Netaji Bose is concerned, Nehru and Bose were close ideological colleagues. Both were socialists and part of the left wing of the Congress. Unlike the followers of Hindutva politics, Bose was very secular. Hindu nationalist leaders attacked Subhas Bose incessantly as he dared to reserve jobs for Muslims when he was elected to lead the Calcutta Corporation. Bose was aware of the tremendous injustice that Muslims faced in recruitment. It was Bose who opposed the Muslim and Hindu communalists both. In Tripura Convention of INC, Bose was elected the Chief, but Gandhi was opposed to him mainly on the ground of Non violence. Bose tended to support violent means. Due to opposition within INC; Bose left Congress to form Forward Block, a left party, which has been part of left coalition in West Bengal for a long time. Bose and Nehru were on the same page as far as future of industrialization and public sector was concerned. Bose’s biographer Leonard A Gordan writesabout his ideology, As per Bose “Each [person] should privately follow his religious path, but not link it to political and other public issues. Throughout his career, he reached out to Muslim leaders, first of all in his home province of Bengal, to make common cause in the name of India. His ideal, as indeed the ideal of the Indian National Congress, was that all Indians, regardless of region, religious affiliation, or caste join together to make common cause against foreign rulers.”

The major difference from Gandhi-Nehru on one side and Bose on the other was the role of Congress during Second World War. Congress in due course came to take anti British stance and Gandhi launched the Quit Indian movement in 1942. Bose operated on the ground that an alliance with Germany-Japan may give freedom to India. It was really doubtful whether alliance with fascist forces was the right way. In case of their victory India might have come under the control of Japan-Germany axis which would have pushed India back by many steps. While Congress opposed British through mass movement, Bose launched ‘Azad Hind Fauz’ (AHF). His respect for the Hindu Muslim syncretism was also exhibited when he offered a Chadar on the Mazar (tomb) of Bahadur Shah Zafar in Rangoon, Burma, the leader of 1857 uprising as a symbol of Hindu Muslim unity and pledged to bring his mortal remains to Delhi, to bury in Red Fort. Hindu Mahasabha actively supported British war efforts by urging Indians to join the British army. Savarakar urged upon his followers to be part of War committees to support British Empire. British accommodated leaders of Hindu Mahasabha on war committees.

Savarkar also said ‘No support to armed resistance against British’. It is interesting that while Netaji was fighting the British from across the border, Savrkar and Hindutva Nationalists helped the British army which was fighting AHF of Subhash Bose! The claims that Modi and Co. is following the footsteps of Netaji are a claim which has no substance. The matter of fact is that the efforts of Savarkar were acting against the interests of army raised by Netaji. In contrast, while Congress did not agree with Netaji’s line of action, it was Congress which raised the legal support to fight the cases of the personnel of AHF in the aftermath of the war. Bhulabhai Deasi, Kailashnath Katju and Nehru himself came forward to battle in the court rooms on behalf of AHF. 

Today when we are witnessing the name change of all Muslim sounding names by the rulers of BJP, in AHF, the Hindustani and Muslim sounding names were as common. The provisional Government which was formed by him was, was titled ‘Aarzi-Hukumat-Azad Hind’ (Provisional Government of free India) in Singapore. The very nomenclature Azad Hind Fauz is on the same lines. In the provisional Government Hindus and Muslims both were there like in the Provisional Government set up by him e.g. SA Ayer, Karim Ghani, were two among many others who were part of the Government. What we need today most is to revive the spirit of amity, which Netaji stood for and was being practiced in AHF.

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED