Attacks on Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Tarek Fatah: What the tale of two intolerances tells us

This is a tale of two 'intolerances'. The first incident took place on 27 January. A Bollywood filmmaker who was working on a period biopic was roughed up by the activists of a fringe group for "distorting history".

Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Getty Images/File photo

Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Getty Images/File photo

Protestors stormed the Jaigarh Fort in Jaipur where Padmavati, the movie, was under production. They vandalised the sets, clashed with crew members, fought with private security guards and manhandled director Sanjay Leela Bhansali. They reportedly slapped him and pulled him by his hair. Police arrived in due course. Though Bhansali did not press any charges, five protesters were taken into custody.

Times of India quoted a key functionary of Rajput Karni Sena, the fringe group, as saying: "The movie depicts love scenes between Rani Padmini of Chittor and invader Alauddin Khilji. This is an outrageous distortion of Rajasthan's history as Rani Ji self-immolated herself along with other women of the fort when they heard that Khilji is marching ahead to take over the fort."

Actor Deepika Padukone, who plays the title role in Padmavati, contested this. She posted on Twitter:

The second incident took place on Sunday. Author and pro-Balochistan activist Tarek Fatah was roughed up by a mob at a literary event in Delhi. The Pakistan-born Canadian, a reformist who has been repeatedly targeted in the past for his stance against Islamism and radicalisation of religion, was attending Jashn-e-Rekhta, an Urdu poetry festival at the Indira Gandhi National Centre of Arts.

File image of Tarek Fatah. Firstpost

File image of Tarek Fatah. Firstpost

Fatah, who needs a pair of crutches to walk, was heckled, abused and manhandled. According to news agency IANS, the 67-year-old had gone to the venue as a visitor where he was reportedly gheraoed by a 100-strong crowd who started sloganeering and asked him to leave. At his refusal, things turned nasty.

In Fatah's own words to Times Now, "a few people at the Urdu festival came to me for autographs and pictures. This upset some people there. Very soon, (an) orchestrated group of around 100 people surrounded me. They were kicking me and beating me up from all sides. I was all alone in this. The organisers instead of intervening stayed away. And, the police instead of stopping those who were attacking me, tried to throw me out of the festival."

Hindustan Times, quoted Parvez Alam, one of the protestors against Fatah, as saying: "Tarek Fatah, a Pakistani, who keeps spewing venom against Indian Muslims, is a threat to the social fabric and communal harmony of our country. He is an outsider. Why should his anti-India and anti-Muslim views be given so much footage?". According to the report, Alam, a resident of Zakir Nagar, was briefly detained by the police. The event organizers have washed their hands off the entire matter. They said Fatah wasn't even an invitee.

Now let us take a look at the reactions to these two incidents. There is no doubt that the attack on Bhansali, a noted filmmaker, was wrong. Whether or not he was staying true to history wasn't the point here. As an artist, he is allowed creative freedom. As an individual, he is entitled to freedom of expression. Bhansali was well within rights to narrate an event — factual or fictional — in a manner of his choosing. The protesters, who are equally entitled to their freedom of expression, could have restricted themselves to peaceful dissent. There are many legal ways of doing so. By assaulting Bhansali the protesters crossed the line.

The attack rightfully triggered a tsunami of outrage. From lead actors Deepika and Ranveer Singh to members of the fraternity, everyone were united in their condemnation for the attackers and support for Bhansali. Aamir Khan said it was "very unfortunate". Fellow filmmaker Karan Johar said he was feeling "helpless and angry".

Anurag Kashyap, another noted filmmaker, said this was an example of "Hindu terrorism".

It quickly made front page news across India and news channels kept it on a 24x7 loop with unending studio debates. Digital media followed suit with petabytes of data. Zillions of op-eds condemned the incident and feared for the tearing up of our social fabric and destruction of 'idea of India'. There appeared to be no dearth of voices in criticising an illiberal and violent act. The volume of coverage was overwhelming. Directors, authors, artists, civil rights activists, academia and media drove home the message that this "policy of silence" should end. We must raise our voice.

Now let's come to the reaction triggered by the attack on Fatah. The incident took place on Sunday. Till now, the media seems to have adopted a strange "policy of silence". The manhandling of a noted author, columnist and activist didn't make front page news. In fact, many newspapers did not carry it at all. Except one or two news channels, most did not telecast the incident, perhaps not considering it newsworthy. Though a few websites did carry the details, the volume is not even 0.1 percent of what we saw during the assault on Bhansali.

Fatah is a fierce critic of Pakistan. He is at the forefront of Baloch nationalist movement and has raised his voice in different forums across the world against the state-sponsored atrocities in Balochistan province. The Canadian is also a friend of India. He has severally and vociferously came out in support of our stand in Kashmir — that it is an integral part of India and Pakistan must withdraw all its claims over the Valley.

Why did an attack on such a figure cause not even a ripple of outrage? The answer isn't hard to find. Fatah is an outlier. He attacks liberals and exposes their double standards when it comes to upholding values that define liberalism. He is also one of the very rare reformist voices in Islam. For his pains, Fatah has been at the receiving end of a fatwa. An Indian Muslim organization — All India Faizan-e-Madina Council — has announced a bounty of Rs 10,786 on the head of the Islamic scholar for being "anti-Muslim".

Recently, a talk show event on Kashmir was cancelled at the prestigious Calcutta Club because the organizers gave in to police pressure. The cops in Kolkata, according to a report in India Today, forced the organizers to drop the event when it became known that Fatah is one of the speakers. The reason? The cops were apparently apprehensive that his "anti-Pakistan rhetoric" may led to law and order issue in Kolkata.

Predictably, these incidents raised not even a ripple, leave alone a tsunami of outrage. And yet by any metric, these are patently illiberal acts where a prominent voice was being gagged from expressing his opinion. No liberals, authors, directors, members of civil society, academia or media came out in support of Fatah. What does this signify?

It points to the differing set of standards that defines the liberal movement in India. It also signifies a tribal mindset. When someone whom the movement considers its own, is attacked, it retaliates with all the might it can command. But when someone who does not subscribe to its group-think is equally targeted, it reacts with a conspiracy of silence. Liberal vision cannot be blinkered. It must go where the principle takes it. Alas, the differing standards of judgement to the same acts of intolerance shows it suffers from a hypocrisy and moral Bolshevism.


Published Date: Feb 21, 2017 03:42 pm | Updated Date: Feb 21, 2017 03:53 pm


Also See