Karnad’s political diatribe against Vadia is totally unacceptable

Karnad’s political diatribe against Vadia is totally unacceptable

Pseudo-secularists are out of touch with Indian realities


$img_titleShyam Khosla

Asked to speak on his life and work in theatre at the recent Mumbai Literary Festival, playwright Girish Karnad caused great indignation and resentment by launching a vicious and uncalled for attack on Nobel Laureate Sir V S Naipaul. He accused the latter of ignoring “significant Muslim contribution” to India and its culture, particularly in music and architecture”. He went on and on launching crude and unsubstantiated attacks on the celebrated author calling him “tone deaf to music and blind to architecture”. Sir Naipaul didn’t write a cultural treatise to sing paeans of the so-called Muslim contribution. As for the Nobel Laureate’s silence on music, he is not a theatre artist like Girish for whom music is more important than emblematic structures like temples, libraries and monuments.

He wrote about atrocities committed during centuries of Muslim rule in India as he was genuinely pained by destruction and desecration of countless shrines, burning of libraries and demolition of monuments—symbols of Indian culture and heritage by Muslim invaders and rulers over centuries. He described in detail atrocities, injustices and humiliation inflicted by Muslim rulers on their Hindu subjects as also forcible conversions and total denial of human rights to Hindus. Naipaul also wrote at some length about the pristine Hindu culture that was corrupted by Muslim invaders who ravaged India for centuries and reduced the Hindu society into a mind-wrenching poverty. Girtish is uncomfortable with this narration for obvious reasons. He couldn’t produce any fact or argument to refute Naipaul’s historical narrative. To be sure, the celebrated author was appreciative of the Hindu resurgence during the Ayodhya movement and described it revolutionary. He had no remorse on the destruction of the disputed structure and felt it was destined to go down as it was a symbol of Hindu slavery. This doesn’t make him less secular than his critics who hold that demolition of the disputed structure was the biggest catastrophe in recent history – bigger than the vivisection of our motherland. Unlike pseudo-secularists and communal-minded Muslims, most Hindus took in their stride Sir Vadia’s criticism, at times bitter, of centuries of intellectual stagnation and cultural slavery during the long Muslim rule.

As if this was not enough indiscretion, Girish also questioned the rationality of conferring Life Time Achievement Award on Naipaul on the false premise that the latter was a foreigner and that the organizers had committed a grave error of judgment by giving the award to a person with “anti-Muslim” mindset.  The self-appointed Chairman of the jury reeled out names of Indian and foreign authors who were entitled to be given the award instead of the “tone-deaf” author. He is wrong on both the counts. Vadia may not be an Indian citizen but is a person of Indian origin and can’t be dubbed “anti-Muslim” simply because Karnad is uncomfortable with Naipal’s courage of conviction to state facts that in this age are perceived to be politically incorrect. He is quite popular in India and did deserve the honour bestowed upon him. There is shock and dismay among large sections of people that the playwright should have vented his spleen on the celebrated author in the latter’s absence. He was not supposed to talk about Sir Vadia’s achievements or failures of which there are many. It was a disgraceful act on Girish’s part that undermined his status as a noted playwright and actor.   

Karnad chose to speak at length about the Vijaynagar Empire in his bid to discredit Sir Vadia’s contention that the 17th century kingdom was defeated and diminished by the coalition of its neighbouring Muslim sultanates.  Vadia’s narrative of history of the time was factual and based on recorded history. It was not “biased, twisted and un-Indian” as the playwright would like us to believe. The “secular” reading of the history was contrived during freedom struggle by the leaders of the freedom movement in the fond hope of Hindu-Muslim unity to drive out the British. Freedom fighters refrained from mentioning agony Hindus suffered because of the cruelty, negligence, and humiliations that they suffered during centuries of slavery. We were told to forget the past in the interest of Hindu-Muslim unity. Vadia’s narrative of grave distortions in our narration of history inserted by foreign rulers and accepted by our leaders as a strategy for elusive Hindu-Muslim unity was not because of his “anti-Muslim” mindset but the result of his objective reading of the situation.. 

Anil Dharker, Director of Mumbai LitFest lambasted Karnad for his unwarranted attack on Sir Vadia. “I am for free speech, but free speech pre-supposes dialogue and not diatribe”, he observed taking exception to playwright’s abuse of the opportunity offered to him to talk about theater. He also strongly resented Girish questioning the decision to give the award to the Nobel Laureate. He dismissed the allegation that Vaia was “anti-Muslims” by asserting that the latter’s narration of Muslim invaders’ savagery was based on historical facts. The arguments he offered to defend his own secular credentials, Dharker exposed himself as an adherent of pseudo-secularism. As a proof that he was not “anti-Muslim”, he mentioned that he was a member of Teesta Setelvad’s Citizens for Justice” (COJ) – a foreign funded NGO notorious for spreading canards about Gujarat and Narendra Modi. His argument to defend Vadia’s “secularism” is equally hilarious. Lady Vadia and her children, he says are Muslims, and Vadia loves them. We have a new definition of secularism. One has to be either a member of an anti-Hindu propaganda machine or must marry a Muslim lady with Muslim children.

Failure of our judicial system to deliver justice expeditiously has resulted in a large number of under trials languishing in jails for years – even longer than the maximum period they would have spent in fail if they were convicted. This is a grave systemic failure and an important issue of human rights violation. It needs to be addressed in an effective manner. Jurists and Human right activists have raised this issue time and again. Some “secular” parties recently gave a queer twist to this non-controversial issue by urging the Government of India to take immediate steps to ensure that Muslims languishing in jail for long years are released. Why only Muslims? Why not all under trials irrespective of their religion should be given relief?
Distorted secularism is wreaking havoc on our social and political system. There is an urgent need for a sustained effort to inform and educate public opinion about the contrast between pseudo-secularism and genuine secularism namely sarva panth sambhav – as enshrined in the Hindi version of the Constitution.

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