Sudhanva Shetty Shetty
Writer, coffee-addict, likes folk music & long walks in the rain. Firmly believes that there's nothing more important in a democracy than a well-informed electorate.
Image Courtesy: indiatvnews
On Monday, 4 January, Kazi Masum Akhtar, the headmaster of a madrasa, was beaten up for teaching his students the national anthem.
The clerics who beat him up have issued a fatwa against him, banning him from the Kolkata-based madrasa until he wears “traditional Muslim attire” and grows a beard (the length of which would be determined by the clerics). The clerics branded the national anthem as a Hindutva rant and it – along with the Tricolour – as “anti-Islamic”.
Everything about the above two paragraphs can be summed up in two words – “appalling” and “ludicrous”.
Forget, for a while, the irony of this incident happening in the home land of the man who authored the anthem in the first place. Forget, for a while the irony that the headmaster was teaching the students the national anthem to prepare them for Republic Day celebrations before he was beaten up for it.
Let us strive to concentrate on basic facts and simple logic.
Fact: The Supreme Court made it perfectly clear in 2014 that fatwas have no legal standing whatsoever.
Fact: Mr Akhtar has been brutally assaulted before. In fact, in April 2015 there was a petition to remove him due to an “atmosphere of tension” – which included playing music in campus and allowing women to play sports in the madrasa. The petition was criticized by progressive organizations as fundamentalist and unreasonable in nature.
Fact: What happened to Mr Akhtar was both a misuse of religious freedom and an insult to Constitutional values.
Fact: If a headmaster and a teacher in an educational institution – religious or otherwise – is unsafe, it is, in every way, a vital issue which needs to be addressed and discussed by each and every one of us.
It will be overtly obvious for anyone exposed to an ounce of civilization that the clerics who attacked and threatened Mr Akhtar seem to have no notion of law or logic whatsoever. They are, of course, fully within their rights to loathe and abhor the national anthem – the beauty of democracy lies in the free expression of dissent. But this dissent should be expressed within the legal framework of the Constitution. That is, you have the right to protest and the right to dislike a symbol. What you don’t have is the right to assault, attack and injure an individual just because they don’t subscribe to your ideology. The clerics had every right to not appreciate the national anthem – but that is not the debate here. The issues here are mob mentality and vandalism, both of which seem embedded in the narrow intelligence of the goons who beat up the headmaster.
And the clerics issued a bizarre fatwa against him, banning him from his madrasa until – and this is not made up – he grew his beard to a length they were comfortable with.
Apparently, the measure of a good teacher is an excess of facial hair. (If that’s their logic, I wonder why they don’t like Tagore.)
Probably the biggest irony of the incident was that Mr Akhtar was teaching his students the national anthem in light of the Republic Day celebrations. And the episode is all the more tragic when you add the fact that Mr Akhtar was nominated for the State Government’s Shiksha Ratna Award for Best Teacher.
“Reputed Headmaster Teaches Students National Anthem For 26 January – The Day India Became A Constitutional Republic Espousing Democracy And Fraternity; Mob Of Orthodox Vandals Beat Him Up & Issue A Legally Meaningless Religious Decree Against Him.”
Oh, the ironies of the tragedy.
Another facet of the story which is almost as outrageous as the actual incident is the nearly-total lack of coverage of the same by the media. Of course, at this point of time, the tragedy at Pathankot is the biggest issue. And ISIS and climate change are also matters the media needs to concentrate on.
But if media outlets can find the time to wish Deepika Padukone a happy birthday or discuss whether Chris Gayle was within his limits when he flirted with a reporter on live television, they can surely find the time to inform us that a fellow-Indian was physically assaulted and banned from his own workplace because he had the audacity to teach children the national anthem.
Fact: What happened to Kazi Akhtar was an insult to every Indian citizen.
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