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Maa Tujhe Salaam: Vande Matram Controversy to the fore again
By Ram Puniyani

Jamiat-Ulema-eHind on 2nd Nov 2009 passed a resolution asking Muslims not to recite Vande Mataram on the ground that some verses of the national song are against the tenets of Islam. Similar fatwa was also passed by Darul Ulum Deoband three years ago, when the controversy had begun afresh. Incidentally the same organizations have also passed the fatwa that violence, terrorism is against the concept of Islam.


Hell broke loose, with the fatwa on Vande Matram., The self appointed custodians of nationalism and section of media asserted that this fatwa is anti National. Some went onto assert that ‘Vande Matram Kahna Hoga’ (One will have to say Vande Matram). Earlier Shiv Sena in particular, had dictated that ‘Is Desh Mein Rahna hai to Vande Matram Kahna Hoga’ (If one has to live in this country they must say-sing Vande Matram. So on one extreme, Don’t Sing Vande Matram, on the other you will have to sing Vande Matram.


There is a vast middle ground. Most of the Muslim participants in the television talk shows and many other Muslim leaders, including the minister for minority affairs, Salman Khursheed and many Muslim intellectuals said that this fatwa is unacceptable and not worth giving any importance as Indian Constitution has settled the matter. The first two stanzas of the song, which are free from the Hindu imageries, are to be sung. Many a commentators also pointed out that the singing of any song cannot be imposed as that violates the freedom of religion as guaranteed by the constitution.


So we have three major streams of opinion on the Song issue. On one extreme, Muslim orthodox-conservatives like from Jamiat-Ulema-eHind are opposing it. Middle ground from amongst Muslims and Hindus not making a big issue of someone’s singing or not singing it. As a matter of fact majority of Muslims are stating that they have no problem in singing the song and that they will sing it. On the other extreme is the RSS fatwa, intimidating and assertive, that the song must be sung.


This song as such has a complex history. It was written by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and, later was made a part of his novel Anand Math. This novel has strong anti Muslim rhetoric. This song was very popular with a section of society, but Muslim League strongly objected to the song, as the song compares India with Goddess Durga. Islam being monotheistic religion does not recognize any other God-Goddess than Allah. Many others belonging to monotheistic religions also had problem with this song. In 1937, the Song committee of the Indian National Congress with Nehru and Maulana Abul Kalam amongst others as members selected Jana Gana Mana as the national anthem and picked up first two stanzas of Vande Matram as national song.


Supreme Court had also to deal with this issue. School-children from the ‘Jehovah's Witnesses faith’ had refused to sing the national anthem because their religion forbade them to sing it, due to which the school expelled the students. The matter went to Supreme Court, which observed that a secular court cannot enquire into the correctness or otherwise of religious beliefs and that not singing this song due to religious beliefs is not against Indian Constitution. The ground on which court gave its verdict was the assessment whether the belief is genuinely and conscientiously held by a sizable section of the community, and that the belief is not opposed to public order and morality. The Supreme Court struck down the students' expulsion as violative of their freedom of religion guaranteed by Article 25 of the Constitution and students were taken back.


Soli Sorabjee one of our celebrated legal luminary takes the cue from Justice Chinnappa Reddy to explain the rationale of the judgment, "Our tradition teaches tolerance; our philosophy preaches tolerance; our constitution practices tolerance; let us not dilute it". The controversy has been raging, more so since 2006 when the UPA Government called for singing of the song in schools. 


Interestingly even the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee had asked Sikhs not to sing Vande Matram, but most of the Sikhs defied that and continued singing the song. One of the most touching rendition of Vande Matram, Maa Tujhe Salaam, has come from none other than A.R.Rahman, the celebrated Indian music maestro.


To use general labels like anti national for such fatwas is very misplaced. Same Jamat-I-Islami Hind is the one which stood solidly with the concept of composite Indian nationalism, opposing India’s partition, rejecting the two nation theory of communalists. And there are shades and shades of opinions amongst Muslims. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madni and many other Muslim clerics went along with the idea of singing first two stanzas of the song. Legally while Constitution recognizes Vande Matram as a National Song, it also gives us the freedom of religion, and the Supreme Court judgments have struck down the extreme position that Anthem-Song must be sung.


Father of the nation, the heart and soul of Indian Nationalism, who united all the people cutting across religion, caste and gender, Mahatma Gandhi, also came to the conclusion that Jana Gana Mana and not Vande Matram, should be the National Anthem. But this conclusion of Gandhi was not acceptable to Nathuram Godse who made this as one of the points of anger against the father of the nation leading to Godse’s assassinating the father of the nation. (


So how does one reconcile to differences in a democratic society? Dr. Ambedkar pointed out that in a democracy the minority should gradually try to overcome its separate ‘minority identity’, and the majority should create a situation where minority does not feel insecure and has to retreat inside the shell of its minority identity. One feels the more we create a situation where minorities can live with security, dignity and equity, such fatwa’s will be automatically ignored by most of the minority community. We have seen that in the case with Sikh community, the mandate of SPGC, was totally ignored. And even now amongst Muslims most of them are against this fatwa, so it is time that the other extremists stop sticking anti national label to these conservative groups and more so to the community involved.


Minorities can either be brow beaten to submit to the wish of those claiming to be representing the majority or the situations should be created where minorities feel equally safe and confident in this country to voluntarily and comprehensively overcome such types of dictates, fatwas from one or other section of conservative groups.