25 March 2006

Are we held captive?

My previous post is worth a read. Not because it’s great writing, but because it describes a grim reality. It recounts an instance from our lives – an instance which is becoming increasingly common in our country and even around the world.

The instance I’m referring to is the story of a US-published book on world history which was distributed and sold in India. The book happened to contain a cartoon of Prophet Mohammed in one of its pages. The cartoon was deemed disparaging – ‘blasphemous’ was the word used, I believe – by the Muslim community in India and the book had to be withdrawn from the shelves of the bookshops and from the libraries.

This had me thinking. Was the book withdrawn because it hurt the sensitivities and the sensibilities of the Muslim people in India? Or, was it withdrawn because everyone feared that the incident would upset the Muslim people so much that it would lead to secular violence in the country? Of course, nobody wants secular violence. But suppose the answers to these questions are a resounding ‘yes’, then what meaning does this hold for the citizens of India?

Does it mean that the Muslims in our country – a minority group – are actually holding us captive? Are we living in fear in our own motherland? If so, what does this mean for us – the free citizens of the largest democracy in the world? What social or cultural behaviour, what code of conduct, are we advocating for each other? What moral values are we passing on to our children? What democracy are we talking about if one small cartoon in an imported book on world history – with limited distribution – has the majority of the population in the country running for cover?

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