The Violent Face of Religious Intolerance

From VAT Newsletter

The news of Shiv Sena attack on Sahmat this morning jolted me into acknowledging that i had failed to mention something yesterday.

In the post ‘Loose Character’ Reason Enough to Take Women’s Lives!, in the narrow tunnel of my grief for Sufia (40) and Fauzia (22) of the Utmanzai village in Charsadda District of the NWFP in Pakistan who were ‘executed’ by Jaish-e-Islami for not following their brand of morality, i forgot to say that it is not just Pakistan, and its not just one religion. The violence of religious bullying is as rapid and ugly in other places and in other religions.

I have great respect for Sahmat members in New Delhi for doing more than to condemn the local authorities and the organizers of India Art Summit for letting the extremists write the agenda of the art summit by excluding the work of MF Husain; their courage is challenging us all to acknowledge that the violent face of religious intolerance is peering through the door, and we need to offer firm resistance.

In 2006-2007 in Pakistan, i saw the end of one important event, and the beginning of another; the culmination of Lal Masjid student activities with General Musharaf’s bloody attack on the mosque, and the beginning of the Lawyers Movement in Islamabad with the arrest of Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

Prior to that, the Burqa-Clad Baton-Weilding women zealots of Lal Masjid were actively harassing people by abducting Muslim and Non-Muslim women, and burning tapes, cds, videos and films to force people into accepting their point of view. I had the chance to visit the street in Islamabad where Lal Masjid is located. I was accompanied by Dr. Farooq Mehdi, the Chief Editor of VAT Newsletter of Voice Against Torture, a human rights organization; on the condition that i will not come out of the car. He himself did go out of it sauntering over to the Madressa taking photos that were later published in an issue of the VAT Newsletter.

During the fifteen to twenty minutes we spent on that street, only once i saw women pass through. A group of five-six young women; heads covered and bowed, eyes on the footpath a yard ahead, shoulders stooped, tense and ready to bolt. The religious bullies of Lal Masjid and the likes had filled the hearts of our young women with fears of abduction, torture and retribution.

It was hard for me to just sit there. I came out of the car, crossed the double road and went to the Madressa with an uncovered and unstooped head. Within seconds, a group of male students spotted me; the first three gave open-mouthed blank looks, the second two were angry, and one of the last four threatened me.
“Cover your head!” He issued an order in Urdu, passing by and expecting to be obeyed.
“You cover YOUR head!” I heard myself say in Urdu.
At that moment, i was ready to take the hit from seven or eight self-righteous members of a religious extremist organization.

I was ready to take the hit but was I ready to defend myself?
NO! I had no skills or weapons to defend myself. In the case of a hit, that did not come because Dr. Mehdi took the same risk and was right there to whisk me away, my only chance would have been an intervention from the people present on that street. In my mind, the police for some reason, did not factor in as defense.

Today, the Sahmat members who put up MF Husain’s work in New Delhi to subvert religious intolerance, were sure ready to take the hit that did also come.
I wonder if they were ready to defend themselves.
And with what?
Do they also just have the same chance i had: the people present on the street?

I hope to be one of the people present on those streets, today and every day, to support all the courageous people who are now taking a stand to protect human rights by resisting the threats and facing the violence of organized religious tyrants.

Join the protest: SAHMAT exhibition on MF Hussain attacked! 11 am
25th August at SAHMAT office:
8, Vithalbhai Patel House, Rafi Marg
New Delhi-110001
Telephone-23711276/ 23351424

Fauzia Rafique

Contact Uddari


One comment on “The Violent Face of Religious Intolerance

  1. […] not observing purdah by the non-burqa-wearing male students of Lal Masjid. Some of it is here in The violent face of religious intolerance . Though it was impossible for me to agree with their religious fascism, violent strategies and […]


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