By Ram Madhav
July 6, 2018
Whether External Affairs Minister Sushma
Swaraj was responsible for the transfer of a junior-level officer in the
passport office at Lucknow, whether she did so out of a sense of pseudo-secular
enthusiasm or whether the officer in question had become a victim of a secular
clique — these are important questions, but they are of secondary importance.
This is not because they are not serious questions, but because they need proper
scrutiny before we arrive at a conclusion.
What is of primary importance is whether
the language of obscenity, hate and worse, violence that we employ in our
social media conversations is acceptable. The golden rule for social media
activists should be, “Don’t do unto others that you don’t want done to you”.
Each word should be weighed properly, with a calm mind, before it is used. If
you are angry, don’t come anywhere near Twitter or Facebook. Because a word
that is written on these platforms, like an arrow released from the bow, cannot
be taken back before it hits somebody.
Panini, the great grammarian of ancient
India wrote, “Ekah Shabdah Samyakgnatah Samprayuktah Loke Swarge Cha
Kamadhuk Bhavati” (One word understood properly and applied appropriately,
can secure good in this world as well as in the heavens). We have to choose our
words carefully. Because each drop of ink that takes the shape of a letter
ignites millions of minds.
Now, about the genuine questions raised by
some social media activists. Certain facts need to be understood first before
anger and intolerance takes us over. The case pertaining to Tanvi Seth, the
woman in question in the passport row, should actually have been used against
the regressive clerics who insist upon changing the name of a Hindu woman to
that of a Muslim in the Nikahnama. In most cases, it is done against the wishes
of the women.
In Tanvi Seth’s case, while the Nikahnama
gives out her name as Shadia, all other documents, including the most basic
identity card of every Indian citizen, the Aadhaar card, besides her bank
accounts, mention her name as Tanvi Seth. The benefit of doubt, thus, goes in
Tanvi Seth’s favour as one who decided to retain her Hindu name even after
marrying a Muslim man — mind you, some 15 years ago. Such instances of
individuals retaining their religious identity, even after inter-religious
marriages, are numerous. There are many such prominent people in public life,
including in the BJP. It is a glorious testimony to the omnitheistic nature of
Indian society and culture.
The social media activists should have
taken on the clerics who insist on writing a different name in the Nikahnama,
or the officers, who take cognisance of that false document and overrule all
other valid documents. Unfortunately in this case, a woman who stood up and
said I wish to continue as a Hindu has become the villain and the regressive
cleric who changed her name to a Muslim became the hero.
All other matters are technical. The new
passport rules only ask for the criminal records of applicants to be supplied
by the police through its verification reports in two specified columns. In
this case, the state police had submitted their report that stated “nil” in the
two columns. The police did add two points in handwriting, apart from the
proforma columns, in which they stated that the applicant doesn’t live at the
address provided in the application. Upon verification, it was found that the
address mentioned was the applicant’s permanent address. The passport rules
permit that. In fact, most people probably don’t reside at the address they
mention in their passports largely for reasons of employment.
The administrative decision to transfer the
officer was taken at a much lower level. It is improper to blame the Union
minister for that decision. It appears that many well-meaning people have also
jumped the gun in this matter. Every issue that involves two different
religionists need not be seen from a religious prism alone. There can be
secular issues involving people of different religions. They should be seen
from a purely administrative or governance prism.
But then Sushma Swaraj would have openly
invited criticism of the existing passport rules or verification systems or
even the system of transferring the officials. A difference of opinion in these
matters is plausible and valid as well. What is not valid is the hounding, the
abuse, the death-wishes, the obscenities like calling her Begum Sushma or worse
commenting on her health and kidney — or a retired professor asking her husband
to beat her up. All this to a leader who championed the cause of nationalism
for over four decades in the rough and tumble of our politics, by those who
claim allegiance to the very same ideology. The leader has responded with
dignity; so has her husband. Readers may read their responses.
“Social trust”, argues Francis Fukuyama,
“is the unspoken, unwritten bond between fellow citizens that facilitates
transactions, empowers individual creativity, and justifies collective action.”
Trust is the basic Indian virtue that we all should imbibe. Trust our own
leaders; they have attained leadership positions because of that.
No to Bullying: Tanvi Seth Stood Up To
Moral Policing and Triumphed But the Episode Is A Warning Sign
The inter-faith couple who tweeted up a
storm over discriminatory treatment meted out to them by a Lucknow passport
officer have reportedly been proven right in an internal probe by the
government. The confirmation that the officer asked irrelevant questions
regarding their religion defangs the doubts raised about the couple’s conduct
and the abuse and criticism trained on Union external affairs minister Sushma
Swaraj to whom they addressed their complaint. The transfer of the officer to
Gorakhpur was taken up by right-wing trolls who relentlessly attacked Swaraj on
Twitter for ‘minority appeasement’.
The couple was not spared either, with frivolous
doubts being raised about declaring their address at Lucknow – for which they
had valid documentation – despite residing in Noida for a year. Swaraj and her
ministry clarified that the requirement of marriage certificate, over which the
officer had objections, and address verification by police were dispensed with
because of the harassment this entailed. These are pragmatic changes that
recognise new realities of constant labour movement and women having
The episode is a cautionary lesson to
public servants who like to play moral police. One’s personal prejudices have
no place in the discharge of government duties. Intruding into the personal
lives of others is a strict no-no for individuals and the state. Online trolls
are abusing these very freedoms that empower Tanvi Seth, her husband Mohammed
Anas Siddiqui, Swaraj and the rest of us to function as thinking and decent
individuals rather than automatons. The ability to tweet to a minister helped
expose this incident and disrupt the power relations of India’s Babu-citizen
interface. While the positive ending is cause for relief, the rising social
polarisation that emboldened a prejudiced officer is cause for concern.