News channels of late have been creating frenzy over half-baked information and carefully misreported incidents. Last month when the local Assamese news channels ‘broke’ the news that a group of 46 Muslim clerics representing 46 different Muslim organisations in Assam have issued a fatwa against Nahid Afrin, people started coming out in her support and condemning the alleged fatwa which was seen as an attack on the syncretic culture of Assam and creative freedom. By the next day, the national media had also picked up the news. Heated panel discussions such as ‘Indian Idol versus Indian Taliban’ and headlines like ‘You will be killed if you sing’ kept the newsroom tempo running high. In some panel discussions, Nahid was asked to sing Arabic Nasheeds and Assamese borgeet as a symbolic protest against the alleged ban.
But, in all this frenzy, the very basis of this hullabaloo – a thin yellow leaflet escaped everyone’s notice. It seems people did not bother to take two minutes to read this short leaflet. Written in Assamese, this alleged fatwa was actually a ‘Gohari’ or an appeal. While the appeal does not mention Nahid Afrin’s name anywhere or forbids her to sing, it makes a very general observation on how Muslim youths are led astray and are indulging in ‘anti sharia’activities. It points out that a magic show was held in the vicinity last year and despite repeated requests, it was not cancelled. The appeal ends on a suggestion: Muslims should refrain from participating in programmes like musical nights and functions should not be held in areas with mosques, markets etc nearby.
It seems the media which still obsesses on the archaic ways of Muslim clerics and uses it to conveniently represent the whole community found the news too ‘convenient’ to be checked against authenticity. Nahid got to know about the fatwa (which never was issued) from a news channel reporter. Already a singing sensation, she was genuinely disturbed. But instead of clearing the issue – news channels were hell bent on making it a ‘Nahid v/s the Muslim clerics’ issue.
Deliberate Attempt at Misrepresentation?
While a few news channels like NDTV issued an apology for misreporting the news, the local channels stuck to their version. Interestingly, a large number of educated Muslims pointed out the nefarious role of media in presenting distorted news. Many rightly pointed out that Nahid has been successfully performing for quite some time; the timing of the news which overhyped an alleged threat to Nahid might be aimed at diverting the focus from the Silapathar violence.
Many have also rightly pointed out that even if this was not a fatwa, an appeal made by citing religion should be condemned in a secular country. One should agree to this and condemn the appeal. However, assuming that the Muslim clerics do not have the right to complain against a late night musical programme is also not the feature of a healthy democracy. It should give space to ideological positions that one may not agree with. This incident was also used to make far-flung claims – that Nahid was being targeted because she sang in a programme against the IS. This hints that the Muslim clerics are sympathetic towards IS. What is dangerous is that this issue is being allegedly considered by the Security establishment.
In the Land of Shankar-Azaan
In the land of Shankar-Azaan where jikir-zari is a part and parcel of life, and kobi gaan and Goalpariya lokageet has a large number of Muslim singers, threats against singing does not seem plausible. The misreporting of the incident needs to be condemned because news channels repeatedly made statements like ‘Muslims of Assam must reject the regressive attitude of the clerics’. This is nothing less than assuming that Muslims support such conservatism and every time a cleric utters something like this – the entire community should be held accountable till they condemn it.
Conservatism in different religious groups is however a reality one cannot wish away. There is a need to counter this. The clerics could have been told to approach relevant authority to change the venue of the programme while citing valid reasons. But equating them with the Taliban for having an opinion is equally problematic.
Written By: Parvin Sultana
Note: This is an exclusive article and it first appeared in April 2017 issue of Eclectic Northeast