It was brought about as a national cry for freedom from the British rule during India’s freedom movement. In the-then Calcutta, huge rallies would get charged into a patriotic fervor by shouting the slogan Vande Mataram. Rabindranath Tagore sang Vande Mataram in 1896 at the Calcutta Congress Session held at Beadon Square. Dakhina Charan Sen sang it five years later in 1901 at another session of the Congress at Calcutta. Poet Sarala Devi Chaudurani sang the song in the Benares Congress Session in 1905. Lala Lajpat Rai started a journal called Vande Mataram from Lahore. Hiralal Sen made India’s first political film in 1905 which ended with the chant. Matangini Hazra’s last words as she was shot to death by the Crown police were Vande Mataram.
Now, sixty years later, Indians divided by caste, community and religion find yet another reason to squabble, like most siblings, over the singing of Vande Mataram, itself. Not that the issue of strife over Vande Mataram is new either. It’s as old as the very slogan itself. Right at the onset, Rabindranath Tagore had, in a letter to Subhash Chandra Bose expressed:
“The core of Vande Mataram is a hymn to goddess Durga: this is so plain that there can be no debate about it. Of course Bankimchandra does show Durga to be inseparably united with Bengal in the end, but no Mussulman [Muslim] can be expected patriotically to worship the ten-handed deity as ‘Swadesh’ [the nation]. This year many of the special [Durga] Puja numbers of our magazines have quoted verses from Vande Mataram — proof that the editors take the song to be a hymn to Durga. The novel Anandamath is a work of literature, and so the song is appropriate in it. But Parliament is a place of union for all religious groups, and there the song cannot be appropriate. When Bengali Mussulmans show signs of stubborn fanaticism, we regard these as intolerable. When we too copy them and make unreasonable demands, it will be self-defeating.”
FATWA ON VANDE MATARAM
And then, in time, several Muslim organisation in India have declared fatwas against singing Vande Mataram which they consider to be shirk – an act of polytheism. However, Arif Mohammed Khan, a former Union Minister in the Rajiv Gandhi government, even wrote an Urdu translation of the song which starts as Tasleemat, Maan Tasleemat. In 2006, the All India Sunni Ulema Board issued a fatwa that the Muslims can sing the first two verses of the song. The Board president Moulana Mufti Syed Shah Badruddin Qadri Aljeelani said “If you bow at the feet of your mother with respect, it is not shirk but only respect.”
And then now, seven years later, Bahujan Samaj Party’s 82-year-old MP Shafiqur Rahman Barq walked out of the Lok Sabha as Vande Mataram was playing provoking a sharp rebuke from Speaker Meira Kumar, comparisons to the Taliban and more reprise from the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Barq maintains, “We Muslims bow and pray only to Allah. We do not bow down or pray or respect or revere any other God or any other being whatever you may call it…have you heard Vande Mataram? It talks about bowing, revering, praying to the Motherland. I am not going to do that. It goes against the very grain of Islam.”
“Do you know how many ulema have come out in support of me today? I have been receiving calls all morning assuring me of their support. Secularists have called and said they are with me. This is a secular country,” he says in an interview.
And adds, “This is not the first time I have refused to stand for this particular song and this will not be the last time…I have no problems with Jana Gana Mana.”
What summed up the raison d’etre for his ire was probably revealed by the parting quip he made to the interviewer where the MP added, “And please write my full name, Shafiqur Rahman Barq. Don’t leave out the Barq.” Like most partisan parties and entities, who could attribute their very existence to the ire generated by the controversies they milk dry, Barq too knows well that in the present ruckus, apart from the law, he will be amply supported by ‘his’ lot and…ensured return to the Lok Sabha for the fifth time…age permitting, that is!
DELHI SIKH GURUDWARA COMMITTEE
For the record, the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee (DSGMC) had called singing of Vande Mataram against Sikh tenets as the Sikhs sought ‘sarbat da bhala’ (universal welfare) and did not believe in ‘devi and devta’. According to its head H. S. Sarna, the song had been rejected long before by freedom fighter Sikhs like Baba Kharak Singh and Master Tara Singh.
Why, even Christian institutions such as Our Lady of Fatima Convent School in Patiala did not sing the song on its 100th anniversary as mandated by the state. Christians make a distinction between ‘veneration’ and ‘worship,’ and even though the song falls into neither of these categories, some Christians may have declined to sing the national song because of their understanding of its intention and content. It’s easier to take umbrage at something which won’t quite fight back but will assure you some mileage in the process, right?
India, known for her so-very-non-committal Right To Religion where the State simply refuses to interfere in personal choice of religion or religious activities as assured by Article 25 of the Constitution of India. Until and unless, an act or the absence of it infringes upon someone’s fundamental rights, the State is unlikely to intervene.
PROOF OF PATRIOTISM
However, making a hue and cry over issues like ‘refusal to sing Vande Mataram’ and interpreting it as “unpatriotic” is sheer oversimplification of the dynamics of nationalism. Considering Barq, in particular, or Muslims, in general, unpatriotic merely because of their abstinence from oral ceremonies as these is as preposterous as believing the mere utterance of ‘Vande Mataram’ or ‘Jana Gana Mana’ as proof of patriotism.
Don’t fall for the xenophobic rantings associated with Vande Matarams and Jana Gana Manas. Or for those who wish to derive political mileage out of associated controversies. They’re sheer opportunists! The true patriot is the honest tax-payer who helps support the fiscal spine of the nation at all times even in the face of widespread scam and corrupt governance.
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