Vande Matram the Controversy – my thoughts

There was a huge controversy in India over Vande Matram – the National Song of India. The issue was that it praised a Goddess and that was against Islam because of its monotheism and there were also discussion on the intent of Bankim Chandra’s novel as one that perpetrated hatred against Muslims. I kind of clued on to this issue a little late.

This is what Mohib says in his blog (which btw, is an excellent blog site).

For me the issue is that of an individual’s right to practise his religion and be a patriotic citizen at the same time. Suppose I don’t sing Vande Mataram because it clashes with my religious beliefs.

and then he says this:

Muslims have had genuine issues with the text of the song and the context in which it was originally written and consquently used in Anand Math.

I think there were three issues that are presented here.

  1. Individual Liberty and Democracy
  2. Religious Freedom
  3. Secular credentials of the song, novel and/or the poet.

I think the #2, is no different from #1. I feel individual liberty is individual liberty – until your liberty does not physically or emotionally hurt someone else, it can be termed "liberty".

The last #3 is what is very touchy and I think the core of the negative argument (and debilitating one at that) from the Muslims. More on that later. In any case, Girish gives some useful context to the entire Anand Math novel controversy.. so I will bring his comments here as they are very informative:

1. While the song was included in the book “Anand Math”, it was written long before the book was written and was only subsequently included in it. Thus, terming the song as “anti-Muslim” is just about as justified as claiming that Tarana-e-Hindi” (Saare Jahaan Se) is communal just because Iqbal’s later writings display his communal traits. Guilt by association is not a particularly acceptable form of proving guilt.

2. The book and its contents should not be taken out of context. If one can point to hateful sections of Anand Math, one can equally point to hateful content in holy books of each of the major religions. However, the specific verses in these books have a context, and if you understand that, it would be clear why the verses are not necessarily hateful. Similiarly, the contents of the book have to be read in the context in which they were written, the situation of society at the time etc.

3. While other stanzas of the song do indeed involve prayers to a Hindu goddess, the first two stanzas do not. Why do future stanzas of the song make the first two stanzas objectionable is difficult for me to understand. So what if the committee adopted only the first two stanzas of the song. Do we know that the national anthem (Jana Gana) has 4 other stanzas too, that were not adopted due to their content? Do we know the context in which Jana Gana Mana was first written?

4. The major secular leaders of the freedom movement were all opposed to its imposition, yet accepted it as a symbol of composite secular nationalism. It was not because of its association with Anandamath, but because of its adoption as a revolutionary slogan by young Indians across religions. The self-declared atheist, Bhagat Singh, used it. So did the Muslim Ashfaqullah Khan. That is why, the Congress committee that decided on it, which incidentally included Maulana Azad, recommended its adoption despite reservations. They came up with a good compromise, recognizing its importance as a symbol of the freedom struggle, while simultaneously recognizing the legitimate issues some citizens had with it.

5. The claim in the post above that the “song (was) meant to arouse the sentiments of Bengali Hindus against the ruling Muslims by using religious imagery” is simply not true. There is nothing in the song that can be shown to make this point. There is certainly content elsewhere in the book that may be construed to do this (though once again, it is a historical fictional account, so it is a matter of interpretation about what the intentions of hte author was), but nothing in the song that can be construed so. As I have indicated earlier, the song was written more than 6 years before the book itself. Once again, if one were to accept guilt by association, the world would be a very different place altogether.

While everyone was taking the argument that nothing should be imposed on anyone.. Vichara – another commenter came in and turned the argument on its head – Individual liberty should ALSO entail letting someone sing and enjoy the song that he/she likes and wants to sing to and NOT take it away because it does not agree with someone else’s religion! I think it wasn’t understood properly.

So, I wrote my comment where I want to deal with the argument #3 above in a little more detail – the complete harm of which, I thought the author did not completely appreciate.

Where Vichara and Mohib/Girish paradigm differ is:

Mohib: It does NOT agree with my religion – so why force it on me?

Vichara: I LOVE this song and it COMPLETELY agrees with my religion so why take it away from me?

BOTH the views are valid. Just like you cannot impose something on someone.. you cannot take it away from someone.. just because YOUR religion does not make it "kosher".

And that is where the arguments of Mohib run wrong – It does not agree with Islam is clear and BECAUSE of that Mohib should NOT be forced to sing – 100% agree with it!

BUT, what I find downright hypocritical is that when Mohib and others start insinuating the intention of the poet and start ascribing wilful conduct of a perpetrator of religious intolerance!

If that be so, then I am pretty sure most of what Guru Gobind Singh did and said in those days was equally reprehensible! Should we start discussing the "saffronite fascist" (in today’s lingo of popular media) Guru now?

It is a FACT of history that the Mughal and Muslim rulers and the Zamindars/Nawabs of pre-independence era were either barbarians or simply inhuman in their treatment of others. Except for Akbar, there were very few who can claim to be ANYWHERE near anything called Secularism as we discuss it today!

So, it is pretty clear that in that time, ONE of the ways to fight the Muslim Rulers and autocracy of the day – fanatic and of low secular content as it was – was to appeal to the religious differences and motivate people (if indeed that was the "sin" of Anand Math – which Girish denies).

This sin, by the way, would be NO DIFFERENT from the actions of Guru Gobind Singh either!

In fact, in EVERY war against Pakistan (even in the Kargil War) – the Sikh regiments have been motivated using the example of Guru Gobind Singh and the call to kill the "Muslims" – the killers of Gurus sons and father,Guru Tegh Bahadur – is made!

So, should we ban our Army?

Where is it that we draw the line?

Mohib: Therefore the road you have taken is a VERY VERY slippery one! If I were you, i would raise it as an issue of INDIVIDUAL LIBERTY and DEMOCRACY… and NOT one of RELIGIOUS Freedom. That, in my view, is where you (and most Muslims) go wrong!

What do you think?

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