Hall of Free Speech at Centre of Portrait Row

by May 8, 2018 0 comments

Centre of Portrait RowThe Jinnah portrait at Aligarh Muslim University need abstemious discussion on the disorder over namaz in public spaces.

It serves no purpose to elide the issues emerging out of the collision between so-called group rights including those of religious communities, an Indic civilizational narrative and a modern, post -1947 Constitutionalism that are playing out in contemporary India. Equally, the need of the hour is for sober debate and carefully thought out positions on these issues rather than rabble-rousing and/or playing to electoral galleries. It is with this caveat — and the assertion that a non-supremacist, non-exclusivist, non-proselytising discourse regardless of which cultural/religious tradition it emanates from must be respected and individual members of the aforementioned groups have full recourse to their rights by virtue of being equal citizens of the Republic of India albeit as individuals qua individuals — that the troubles over namaz being offered in public in Haryana and the fracas over the portrait of MA Jinnah in a hall of the students union office on the Aligarh Muslim University campus need careful dissection. Without fear or favour.

On AMU, it is clear that deciding to hang on to Jinnah’s portrait quite literally for seven or eight decades ostensibly on the grounds that the founder of Pakistan was given life membership of the students’ union eons ago was a highly questionable and in some measure provocative judgment by the powers-that-be which decide such things. Pakistan is an enemy state and the students’ union should be aware that passions would naturally run high. Indeed, it may be pertinent to ask whether the students’ union would come out in the streets to support a demand for, say, former Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani’s portrait to be given pride of place at his alma mater, St Patrick’s School, Karachi? Naturally, the ruckus created by the protestors, alleged to be affiliated to the Yogi Adityanath linked Hindu Yuva Vahini, who apparently barged into the university campus against the decision of a section of students to hang on to Jinnah as a talisman, should not have taken place and action must be taken against them.

At the same time, AMU students and their non-student supporters who were equally confrontationist in their counter-protests should also be booked if there is evidence of their indulging in violence of any kind as is being alleged. It needs to be said clearly that university campuses whether JNU or AMU, BHU or Hyderabad University, are not islands of self-rule where the rule of law that applies to the rest of India ceases. Protests are a democratic right as long as they are peaceful, in line with local police/administration permissions and do not incite hatred among communities on the basis of gender, class, caste or culture/religion. And it’s only the local administration which is empowered to decide on that. Those who disagree from either side are free to move the courts.

As for the Haryana Chief Minister’s suggestion that namaz, the mode of worship of Indians who happen to profess Islam, be carried out at mosques, Idgahs or at home to prevent the kind of communally surcharged situation that developed in Gurugram recently where non-Muslim residents objected to the faithful congregating in and taking over open public spaces for prayer, it needs to be considered by leaders of the Muslim community seriously. Not because Muslims have any less right than their co-citizens from Indic cultural traditions to practice, profess and propagate their faith but to help aid the project of the construction of a civic nationalism in India which all communities can sign up to. There’s no room for whataboutery here; if a similar situation arises regarding the daily rituals of any other Abrahamic faith and/or Indic civilizational tradition, our argument will stand in that situation too.

Writer: Pioneer

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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