On April 18, Bollywood singer Sonu Nigam stirred up a hornet's nest by speaking against use of loudspeakers atop mosques, temples and gurudwaras for religious purposes. In a series of tweets, Sonu Nigam also said though he is not a Muslim, he has to be woken up by the morning Azaan and asked when would this "forced religiousness" end in India?
Though Sonu Nigam spoke about loudspeakers atop temples and gurudwaras too, his outburst was construed as being against 'azaan' and Islam. He was also slammed on the social media for venting out against azaans.
However, Sonu Nigam also got solid support from a large number of people. They justified the Bollywood singer's concerns. They empathised with him and shared similar sentiments.
There was yet another group of people who responded by demanding that loudspeakers atop all religious places be removed and ban should be imposed on blaring azaans, satsangs, nightlong jaagratas, jaagrans and the likes.
However, the moot point is that even if loudspeakers are done away with, "forced religiousness" will stay. With religion and politics intricately intertwined, it is almost impossible to separate religion from politics.
Even if loudspeakers are removed from atop the religious places, there would be other spheres of life where one would have to bear forced religiousness which is imposed by both the State and fringe elements.
What one eats, what one reads or even what one sees is decided by the State or non-State actors.
BAN ON WHAT ONE EATS
Soon after coming to power in Maharashtra in 2014, the BJP-Shiv Sena government imposed a ban on sale and consumption of beef in the state. Other BJP states such as Haryana followed suit.
The order of the state governments was forced religiousness indeed. As eating beef is considered to be sacrilegious in Hinduism, the followers of other faiths were also forced not to eat beef. Not just the minorities but some Hindus too consume beef. But the ban on beef has forced them not to eat it in some states.
Though there is no written rule, sale of pork is also banned in Kashmir, where Muslims are in majority. There the Hindus, Christians or followers of other faiths, even if they want to, cannot eat pork.
Beef ban has acquired an emotional overtone. Its violation has been met with violent reactions. A Muslim man was lynched and his son was brutally assaulted in 2015 on the suspicion of consuming and storing beef in their house in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh.
Similarly, fringe elements in the name of "gau raksha" (cow vigilantism) assaulted four Dalit men in Una in Gujarat in 2016 for skinning a dead cow. This led to a massive Dalit protest not just in Gujarat but also in other parts of the country.
BAN ON WHAT ONE WISHES TO READ
One has to experience forced religiousness in not just what he or she wishes to eat but also in what one wants to read. Several books have been banned in the recent past because they hurt the sentiments of one religion or the other.
For instance Salman Rushdie's 'The Satanic Verses', 'Understanding Islam through Hadis' by Ram Swarup and 'Lajja' by Taslima Nasreen were banned in India because they were insulting to the Prophet or hurt the sentiments of the Muslims.
Similarly, several books such as 'The Hindus: An Alternative History' by Wendy Doniger and 'The Ramayana' as told by Aubrey Menen were banned for mocking Hindu gods and goddesses and, in the process, being hurtful for the Hindus.
BAN ON WHAT ONE SEES
Besides what one eats and reads, what one watches is also decided by the government or the fringe groups. 'Sins', a 2005 movie on an erotic journey of a Kerala priest who falls for the charms of a woman and gets sexually involved with her, was banned because it hurt the sentiments of the Catholics.
Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) led by Pahlaj Nihalani refused to clear 'Lipstick Under My Burkha' saying it was a crackdown on "pornography in feature films" and part of an "anti-corruption drive". However, the name of the movie itself raised the heckles of the Censor Board.
Aamir Khan-starrer superhot movie 'PK' was objected to because of some of the scenes which mocked Hindus and Hinduism. It enraged the fringe groups for showcasing some of the customs as superstitions.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh's 'MSG' faced protests even before it was released. Various groups of the Sikh community demanded a ban against this movie because it 'hurt' their sentiments.
Hence, a ban or even regulation on loudspeakers for religious purposes may lessen some of the unwanted noise pollution but 'forced religiousness' is here to stay.