Over 150 eminent citizens from all walks of life have condemned the “hounding” of poet-lyricist Javed Akhtar and actor Naseeruddin Shah. Both Akhtar and Shah have drawn flak from different quarters for their recent comments regarding the Taliban.
On Tuesday, the group of citizens released their statement lending ununivocal support to Akhtar, who had recently drawn the ire of right-wing Hindu groups after he said in an interview to NDTV that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was not entirely different from the Taliban.
“We strongly condemn attempts to intimidate him and affirm his right to speak his views. We strongly disagree with those in the Sangh parivar, led by a BJP MLA and other elements from the same wider parivar who have objected to the understanding of right wing supremacists, be it of the Muslim or Hindu kind,” the statement said.
Condemning the Taliban after the group’s take over of Afghanistan, Akhtar said in the interview, “Those who support organisations like RSS and Bajrang Dal need to do some introspection. How are they any different from them (Taliban)?”
Following this, the Leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (the de factor political arm of the RSS) and Shiv Sena hit out at Akhtar. While the latter accused him of disrespecting Hindus, BJP leader Ram Kadam went a step ahead and warned Akhtar that his films would not be allowed to screen till the lyricist apologised to the RSS for his statement.
Supporting Akhtar’s statement, the group of signatories said, “We agree with his statement that irrespective of the religion in whose name they claim to speak, right-wingers -- be they Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christians -- share a common majoritarian world-view. This is particularly evident when it comes to their views on the status of women in the family and in society. The Taliban are but an extreme and violent version of the same common fundamentalist mind-set. It is not for nothing that many in recent years have referred to violent elements from the Sangh parivar as the ‘Hindu Taliban’.”
The statement was signed by 152 people, including noted academics like Prabhat Patnaik and Zoya Hassan, Activists such as Teesta Setalvad and Shabnam Hashmi, and several artists, lawyers, journalists, progressive organisations and intellectuals, among others.
They also condemned the reaction of a section of the Indian Muslim community to a video released by actor Naseeruddin Shah.
“It is not insignificant that around the same time as the venal reactions to the interview by Javed Akhtar, sections of the Muslim community who have raised similar objections to recent comments by actor Naseeruddin Shah. In his video clip which went viral,” the statement of the citizens’ group said.
In the video released on social media, the veteran actor criticised the sections of Indian Muslims “celebrating” the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan, calling it “dangerous.”
“While the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan is a cause for concern worldwide, celebrations of these barbarians by some sections of Indian Muslims is also dangerous,” Shah said in a video shared on social media.
His video was criticised by some Indian Muslims not content with such a stance. On the other hand, some, including journalist Saba Naqvi, questioned whether Shah was falling into the trap that specifically puts the onus of disowning the Taliban on Indian Muslims even though they have no direct stake in it.
Backing the actor, the citizen’s group said, “Shah is specifically addressing the Indian Muslim community where he is warning Muslim compatriots against rigid forms of Islam, advising an espousal of modernity.” It added, “Shah is only re-iterating the long, vibrant and tolerant tradition of Indian Islam that has been in recent decades afflicted by the Saudi-exported Wahhabi Islam, a trend that large sections of Indian Muslims recognise and also deplore.”
Earlier, as part of the Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy (IMSD), Shah and Akhtar, along with more than a hundred other individuals, had signed a statement slamming the Taliban and asking Indian Muslims to reject the “Islamic Emirate” in Afghanistan.