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People hold up pens during a gathering in front of the city hall of Rennes, western France, on January 7, 2015, following an attack by unknown gunmen on the offices of the satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo. France's Muslim leadership sharply condemned the shooting at the Paris satirical weekly that left at least 12 people dead as a "barbaric" attack and an assault on press freedom and democracy. AFP PHOTO / DAMIEN MEYER (Photo credit should read DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images)
Shashi Kiran
When Have They Tolerated Criticism?

We Indians should not be so shocked by the terrorist attacks in Paris. We have lived with it for decades.

The Charlie Hebdo massacre in France that Surajit Dasgupta along with Sandipan Deb condemned in the article, “A Clash of Civilisation and Bestiality,” was certainly neither the first nor will it be the last of the type — unfortunately.

In Islamic states there does not exist such a thing as free speech. The cost of apostasy is death — either by beheading or by stone pelting. In countries where there is a sizeable Muslim population, fatwas are issued and many times executed successfully.

The uninitiated can start by knowing the fates of Salman Rushdie of the Satanic Verses fame or Taslima Nasreen, author of Lajja. The first has led years of life in fear, then numbness and resignation and finally courage in a modern England, constantly under threat of followers of a distant, theocratic Iran whose late Ayatollah Khomeini demanded his head. The second was banished from her country Bangladesh and declared unwelcome in India that seeks pride in being a secular state.

The community has never understood the idea of free speech except, of course, when it serves as a good tool to ridicule or criticise other communities and belief systems. There is a deep insecurity of being exposed. As far  as the community is concerned, they seek always to keep secrecy about their religion, its paraphernalia and numero uno prophet. The means may be any, be it blasphemy laws, executions or assassinations. With a book in hand, they can justify everything under the sun.

Bharatavarsha is not a stranger to religion-inspired murders such as those perpetrated on Charlie Hebdo except that the general awareness regarding the same is next to zilch. For Indians, ignorance has become a much cherished trait. The real work of ‘eminent’ historians of the country has paid great dividends to the usual suspects.

The following are some of the voilent Muslim reactions witnessed in the Indian subcontinent to caricatures, critique and so forth.

In 1923, Rajpal Publishing House owned by Mahashay Rajpal bought out a book named Rangeela Rasool, supposedly a satirical take on Prophet Mohammed. When Muslims protested, the then British Government arrested Rajpal; he was acquitted in 1929.  The same year after his release, he was murdered by a Muslim named Ilm ud Din. Ilm ud Din was also hanged the same year by the then establishment after being proven guilty.

The assassin’s funeral was attended by tens of thousands of Muslims. He was hailed as a ghazi (warrior) and shaheed (martyr), terms that are used to refer to him even today.

In the year 1927, the British Government brought in Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the legacy of which continues to this day. It is something we must do away with.

Section 295A, IPC:

Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs — Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.

The communal riots of 1956 were among the most intense conflagrations that happened after Partition, leaving several Hindus, Muslims and policemen dead and many injured. The trigger for the riots came from Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, when editor of newspaper Siyasat, Ishaq Almi chanced upon a reprint of a book by American authors H Thomas and Dana Lee Thomas, Living Biographies of Religious Leaders.

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Almi was not impressed by the description of Mohammed in the tome. Then Governor KM Munshi of Uttar Pradesh, who was also the director of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan that published the book, had written a foreword in it.

Through his paper, Almi aroused Muslim sentiments. Muslims of Kanpur took to the streets demanding a ban on the booka and an apology from Munshi. Students of the Aligarh Muslim University raised pro-Pakistan and anti-India slogans, a normal practice that again continues till date, with the latest such instance happening in Belgavi, Karnataka.

Munshi tendered an apology and ordered the book to be withdrawn from sales. Almi was arrested, too. But neither measure could stop deaths due to Hindu-Muslim riots and police firing in certain parts of the country.

In neighbouring Pakistan, first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s photograph was garlanded with shoes by student supporters of the Muslim League. Pakistan demanded the US and Indian governments to ban the book.

The Satanic Verses, authored by Salman Rushdie, released in the year 1988. There were several protests by Muslims in response to the book. Import of the book was banned by the Rajiv Gandhi government, making India the first country to do so — even Saudi Arabia had not taken notice of the book before the ban — and thereby setting a precedent of appeasement. Death threats to the author followed, and a fatwa was issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the supreme leader of Iran in 1989.

Lajja authored by Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen spoke about the persecution faced by a Hindu family in her country. Not surprisingly, the author had to then brave several physical attacks, death threats, fatwa authorising her murder and offer of booty to whomsoever executes the ‘honourable’ act successfully.

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Noteworthy of mention is an attack on her in Hyderabad by legislators of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), a Muslim political party headed by Asaduddin Owaisi. But this Owaisi Senior is invited to debates in the Indian media to present his views on secularism and free speech!

Finally, one may go through the 2004 compilation of communal riots by B Rajeshwari, a research scholar at the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. In her tabular presentation, one may refer to the third column, “Communities/Organisations involved/Reasons.” Almost all the incidents were triggered by Muslim expression of intolerance; Hindu backlash has mostly been a reaction to that.

As observed mainstream and social media, some intellectuals, apologists and pseudo-secular commentators are at their usual best defending their favourite community whispering comforting lies to ‘kafirs’.

One hopes that several more articles are written on several more such gruesome acts to raise awareness amongst Muslims and non-Muslims alike, as governments across the world kneel to the mob phenomenon. It will be up to the common folks to defend themselves by organising themselves and by whatever means possible. Long live Free Speech!