Home > 2018 > Voice of Dissent: When Art becomes Anti-National

Mainstream, VOL LVI No 50 New Delhi December 1, 2018

Voice of Dissent: When Art becomes Anti-National

Sunday 2 December 2018

by Ram Puniyani

Banning of books, opposing cricket teams and singers from Pakistan are not very new in India. We had seen the banning of the Satanic Verses, digging of the cricket pitch in Wankhede Stadium of Mumbai to oppose the Indo-Pak match, disruption of the ghazal programme of Ghulam Ali in Mumbai amongst many others. The intensity of this intolerance has grown by leaps and bounds in recent times. The music programme which has been targeted this time is that of T.M. Krishna, the renowned Carnatic musician. His programme was organised jointly by the Airports Authority of India and SPIC MACAY. The organisers got threatening messages as to how come they are organising a programme of an anti-Indian person, an Urban Naxal, and a bigot who sang about Jesus and Allah!

As it was postponed by the AAI, Krishna showed his availability for the programme on that date, which Delhi’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party picked up to host. The programme was well attended not only by music lovers but also by those who are opposed to the politics which is trampling the liberal democratic ethos of the country. The attack on the Krishna concert, in a way, is the continuation of the politics which we have seen in the recent past. These attacks were responded to in the form of ‘Award Wapsi’ (returning awards) which was the first major resistance to the intolerant acts that had led to the murders of Dr Dabholkar, Com. Govind Pansare, M.M. Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh. Around this time beef-lynching took its first victim in the form of Mohammad Akhlaq and that’s when Uday Prakash and then Nayantara Sahgal returned their well-earned honours to be followed by nearly fifty other literary figures, film personalities and scientists.

During this period we also saw the attack on Dalit aspirations leading to the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula. On a parallel level the attack on the JNU was orchestrated. At the JNU the masked men who shouted the slogans have not been caught while Kanhaiya Kumar and company were targeted. The word anti- national was thrown up. The aim was very clear, it was to create an enemy image of those who are critical of this government. In the same way all those disagreeing with the ruling dispen-sation are being called anti-national and the BJP’s well-oiled troll army is the new form of aggressive footsoldiers adding on to the Bajrang Dal types.

Krishna is an outstanding musician who has not only been contributing to the Carnatic music but has also voiced his opinion against the politics of sectarian nationalism and growing intolerance. In the true tradition of music he sings Gandhi’s favourite bhajan (Vaishnav Jana to), sings about Jesus and Mohammad. As such music is essentially based on the prevalent cultures, which are not bound by any narrow boundaries. It is only from the last few decades that creative artists are being questioned and targeted on the ground of religion. The whole of Indian culture has been an intermixing of traditions coming from different religions. The peak point of this has been seen in our medieval times in particular, when Hindus and Muslims both contributed. While the peak of this syncretism is expressed in Bhakti and Sufi traditions, our food habits, literature, art and architecture have all evolved through these interactions.

Jawaharlal Nehru’s Discovery of India under-lines this aspect of our culture. As per him, there are layers of culture intermixing and influencing each other. When cultures meet, they interact and evolve into better forms. They have their own distinct signature even while changing themselves and that’s what is called ‘salad bowl’. Some do believe in the ‘melting pot’ model where the original distinctions get merged into a uniform whole. India is fairly unique in having these different components of ‘salad bowl’ contributing to the richness of the land. While Bhakti saints have an appeal cutting across religious boundaries, those visiting Sufi saints’ shrines are not just Muslims. In the field of literature the devotional songs of Rahim and Raskhan dedicated to Lord Shrikrishna are amazing. The Hindi film and television world is a living testimony to this interactive culture.

One cannot forget the brilliant bhajans (devotional songs) sung by Mohammad Rafi, Man Tarpat Hari Darshna ko aaj (Baiju Bawara) or ‘Insaf ka mandir hai ye (Amar). There is a long list of these inter-religious cultural expressions. The contributions of Ustad Bismillah Khan, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan match those of Ravi Shanker and Shiv Kumar Sharma. To give just one example in current times music maestro A.R. Rahman is on one side composing ‘Piya Haji Ali’ and on the other composing ‘Shantakaram Bhujanagshayanam’.

If Krishna is singing about Jesus and Mohammad, that is just so much natural and inspiring. This precisely is the core essence of creative artists. The bigots cannot see beyond their narrow prisms and cannot tolerate the natural interaction in the positive light. This is what the Taliban do, and this is what the Christian fundamentalists assert.

Taking a cue from the trolls succeeding in postponing the AAI SPICMAY concert, other trolls are also showing their aggressive teeth. After the cancellation disguised as postponement, other organisers planning to host the pro-gramme in Mysuru Kuvempunagar have pulled out on similar grounds as they got a warning that hosting Krishna will be like denigrating the Hindu Dharma! One admires Krishna who, in the face of these aggressive reactions, is holding his ground and believes that music does not know borders of nation, region, religion or language. As per him, music should soar across the world and captivate all humanity. Says he, “The troll army has the underlying patronage of people in power. I have been trolled for a long time for my social position, my perspectives on politics, and my disagreements with the BJP regime. I believe in every art form. Allah, Jesus and Ram make no difference. It is a multilingual and multi-religious country.”

Salute to the brave soul, brave Indian!

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.

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