Friday, February 9, 2007

Pataudi's Plight : The game of Religious stereo typing

Nawab Mansur Ali Khan of Pataudi, the former Indian cricket captain, and husband of Actress, Sharmila Tagore is in trouble. Some Muslim clerics have got together and decided that he is no longer a Muslim as he consumes liquor and also has acted in films. Having decided thus, they issued a statement to that effect. The matter was grave enough to ensure that Pataudi had to approach another senior cleric, the Shahar Qazi of Bhopal to nullify the edict and issue another one to the effect that Pataudi indeed is a Muslim in good standing. The bane of contention behind all this is a raft of religious properties worth hundreds of crores in and around Bhopal and a couple of properties located in Saudi Arabia. Pataudi is the chairman of the Bhopal based trust that manages these properties and if it could be convincingly proved that he was no longer a Muslim, it would be easy quickly remove him and replace him.

While looking into the complaint against Pataudi made by a little known organization, the All-India Muslim Tyohar Committee, the Shahar Qazi of Bhopal ruled though a fatwa that the committee has no religious standing and no authority to ‘excommunicate’ any Muslim. In doing so, the Qazi has touched up on a core issue – can a bunch of people get together and after some deliberation decides that so and so is not a Muslim or a Hindu or a Christian or what ever? Is that possible or desirable? What criteria should they use? If Pataudi were to grow a beard and appear for photographs wearing a skull cap at the doorstep of a mosque, would he have become a better Muslim?

Fundamentalists of all shades find it expedient to track the externals to determine whether a man or woman is religious. Very few bother to measure character or true godliness because that is too nebulous. So if you participate in Surya Namaskar or recite Vande Mataram you are a good Hindu, if you are circumcised and eat halal meat, you are a true Muslim, if you wear a turban and an iron bangle, you are a Sikh. Of course if you wear a crucifix around your neck, you are a Christian! How simple! In communal riots, a man’s best friend or his worst enemy can be his penis, depending on whether he is circumcised or not and depending on the composition of the mob who is pulling his pants off at the time!

This emphasis on external posturing has led to a situation where even the common man has become more concerned about the symbolism of religion than its substance. So it is more expedient to wear “symbols of faith” on your sleeve than actually profess any faith. So British Airways gets into a soup because check-in clerk Nadia Eweida came wearing a crucifix at work and in Europe, Muslims allege a witch hunt because the head scarf is banned in several public offices. Across the Atlantic, the Sikhs are upset because the Canadian authorities in rural Quebec are not sympathetic to their children coming to school wearing a Kirpan. It is a sad occassion indeed when we have so lost the ability to discern inner holiness that we resort to labelling and libeling men and women through external characterisics that they do or do not possess!

No comments: