In today's crazy environment, Mohammed Rafi, Naushad, Shakeel Badayuni and Dilip Kumar (Yusuf Khan) would have been proscribed by fundamentalist clerics for having crossed Islam's 'red lines'
The ongoing controversy over 'Bharat Mata ki jai' is still going strong. It will fade away in due course of time when politicians, media and intelligentsia find another cause to engage one another on prime-time television and in print. But the issue is too important to be forgotten because it raises a core concern: Are we, or at any rate many in the liberal-secular space, becoming apologetic about displaying nationalist sentiment, in the fear that we will be branded as 'ultra- patriots'? Or do we really believe that the way to secularism lies in the repudiation of slogans that energised millions of Indians during the freedom-struggle and continue to be morale-boosters to this day for thousands of our jawans engaged in preserving and protecting the nation's security and sovereignty?
We were not always like this. Religion was kept at more than an arm's length in matters of nationalism, even when the latter seemed to find metaphors in certain religious leanings. Mahatma Gandhi did not lose followers from other faiths just because he was a staunch Hindu and loved to hear the chant of 'Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram' or when he spoke of Ram Rajya. Nor did BR Ambedkar fritter away Hindu support in the political sphere after he embraced Buddhism. There are many similar instances, but the most interesting of cross-religious support for nationalist slogans and renditions are to be found in Hindi films. Many of those songs would have generated huge outcries today, what with an Owaisi or an Azam Khan or an over-zealous Muslim cleric on the prowl.
A film, Jagriti, was released in 1954. It had many popular songs, and one of them, written and sung by the eminent poet, Pradeep, was: 'Aao bachchon tumhe dikhayein jhanki Hindustan ki/ Is mitti se tilak karo, ye dharti hai balidan ki...' So far so good, but the next line would have ruffled the clerics today: 'Vande Mataram! Vande Mataram!' The song was filmed on a bunch of Indian children travelling with their teacher by train, and the teacher was communicating to his wards about India's great heroes and its imposing history and geography. It cannot be said that the director had taken care to keep out Muslim children from the scene. But there was no cry of protest from the Muslim clergy, claiming that the song offended its community's religious sensibilities. To this date, on occasions like Independence Day or Republic Day, one gets to hear the song played in public places.
In a more recent case, noted music director AR Rahman composed the enormously popular, 'Ma tujhe salaam... Vande Mataram'. It cannot be argued that he compromised on Islamic beliefs which he holds dear to his heart, or that he is less of a Muslim than the acerbic Asaduddin Owaisi who refuses to chant 'Bharat Mata ki jai' because it supposedly offends his Islamic sensibilities.
We must consider it lucky that the likes of Owaisi and fundamentalist Muslim clerics did not exist, or at least did not have a voice, during the early years and decades of independence, or else they would have made the life of someone like the legendary playback singer -- and a devout Muslim -- Mohammed Rafi, miserable. Would this gem have been able to live in peace as a 'true Muslim' after singing songs such as 'Mann tadpat Hari darshan ko aaj'; 'O duniya ke rakhwale' (given the film's situation); 'Insaaf ka mandir hai ye, bhagwan ka ghar hai'; 'Madhuban mein Radhika nache re'? In fact, not just the singer but also the lyricist and the music director in these instances were Muslims. Additionally, the last two songs mentioned had a Muslim hero on screen. And yet, neither they nor the listeners or film-goers were cued in to religious affiliation or felt offended. What mattered to them was professional commitment and the belief that films and music cut across religious boundaries and united people
In today's environment,fatwas would have been issued against Rafi, Naushad, Shakeel Badayuni (who was educated at Aligarh Muslim University) and Dilip Kumar (Yusuf Khan) -- all of whom collaborated in the songs mentioned earlier -- for having crossed the 'red lines' of Islam (determined by the fatwa-delivering clerics of various hues having little support within their own community). There would have been calls for boycott of these personalities, effigies would have been burnt and the screening of films concerned would have been disrupted. Some would have probably filed cases against them for 'hurting religious sentiments'.
It's not a coincidence that, while many songs in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, and even in early 1970s, related to nationalism, the list got shorter thereafter. Those were days when children were shown to be imbued in patriotic hue, walking spiritedly to the tune of, say, 'Chal, chal re naujawan'. On occasions, there was the sagacious gentleman who crooned to a child, 'Tu Hindu banega naa Musalmaan banega'. Such songs projected the shaping of a child's mind in nationalistic ways. As this sentiment lost film space (with film-maker and actor Manoj Kumar braving the trend almost single-handedly), it became clear that the immediate generation, wedded to the Internet and brainwashed by liberal-seculars, found it acutely embarrassing to express its nationalistic feelings.
This does not mean that today's youth are less nationalist; it's just that they are being asked to believe that open support to patriotic lines such as 'Bharat Mata ki jai' is somehow parochial and even ante- diluvian. The encouraging part is that, with Owaisi and group upping the ante, many people, generally silent, have come out in support of raising nationalist slogans without being made to feel guilty. Connectedly, it was wonderful to hear Muslim women gathered at an event in Saudi Arabia which Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently attended, raise the 'Bharat Mata ki jai' slogan.
(Photo Caption: A scene from the 1954 film, Jagriti, whose songs were laden with nationalist feelings)
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