Heckling of Tarek Fatah at Delhi's Jashn-e-Rekhta was shameful. More shameful was the silence of the liberals

The feeble response of the organisers was a reflection of the sad state of affairs. It is symptomatic of the same syndrome that defeats the purpose of free speech

A couple of months back, Pakistani author (now settled in Canada), Tarekh Fateh appeared on popular news show, Aap Ki Adalat. Here’s how he was introduced by the show’s anchor Rajat Sharma:

“Before I start bombarding Tarek Fatah with accusations, let’s take a look at his journalistic and political career. Author and thinker Tarek Fatah describes himself as an Indian born in Pakistan. He is a Punjabi, who was born in Islam. He is an immigrant in Canada, who works to awaken the Muslim society (Whatever that means). Tarek Fatah says he is a Muslim whose ancestors were Hindu. Tarek Fatah is a critic of Pakistan. Pakistan has banned his speeches. He was jailed by Pakistani authorities in 1960s and 1970s. In 1977 he was charged with sedition. He lived in Saudi Arabia for 10 years and then he settled in Canada. In Canada he writes books, hosts a show and remains in news because of his controversial statements. He is very popular in India because he is a critic of Pakistan.”

You can watch the interview here:

Throughout the interview, he only goes on to say the most outrageous of things against Pakistan. In fact, he denied the very existence of Pakistan. “What does Pak…istan mean. Afghanistan belongs to Afghans, Bangladesh belongs to Bengalis. Who lives in Pakistan? All ‘na-pak.’ He says he is all for independence of Balochistan and that Kashmir belongs to India and Pakistan is illegaly occupying a part of it. He is not only anti-Pakistan to the core but he also never fails to praise Narendra Modi while throwing jibes at Manmohan Singh. His show ‘Fatah Ka Fatwa’ where he takes up controversial issues like status of women in Islam, triple talaq, Uniform Civil Code and Muslim votebank, often borders on hate speech and insensitive to religious sentiments of Muslims.

So, here are a few things that’s clear about what Fatah’s worldview stands for-

1. Pakistan is a terror sponsoring state, it has no existence and it is a constant cause of nuisance for India.

2. Modi is a brilliant leader.

3. Islam needs to reform itself.

He also believes that Muslim rulers looted India’s riches and raped women, unleashed violence on Indian people.

All in all, he stands for a lot what the current dispensation and its peripheral organisations believe in.

Now, watch these clips:

This happened at an event in the national capital, Jashn-e-Rekhta meant to celebrate the language of Urdu.

He was confronted and almost assaulted by protesters at the venue of the event, Indira Gandhi Centre for Arts. The protesters called him, “Pakistani bhagoda (fugitive from Pakistan)”. In one of his interviews he said he was called: “Modi ka kutta (Modi’s dog)”

Now, many people might have problems with Fatah’s stand on Islam. You will get a glimpse of Fatah’s unpopularity among some orthodox Muslims in this video:

However, the way he was hounded and bullied and not allowed to attend an event meant to celebrate the secular nature of Urdu and revive the language which unfortunately sometimes ends up being associated with one community, is utterly shameful. It was as shameful as the incident of Sanjay Leela Bhansali being slapped by a fringe Rajput group that was miffed with the filmmaker for allegedly distorting the history of Rani Padmavati.

Read more: Sanjay Leela Bhansali, time to stop making films in India. We are too sensitive
Even more shameful is the lack of liberal voices condemning such attacks.

Now, even if what Fatah says really pisses some people off, such heckling has no place in a democracy. The feeble response of the organisers was a reflection of the sad state of affairs. It is symptomatic of the same syndrome that defeats the purpose of free speech – the unwillingness to stand up to bullies. Even in the Padmavati fiasco, a peace-deal was struck and the bullies went without punishment. Similarly, Rekhta organisers simply issued a statement on Twitter saying that Fatah wasn’t invited to the event, he came on his own.

Simply implying that your freedom of speech is your business, we will not defend it.

Social media was quick to call out this hypocrisy of the liberals:

Today, it was Tarek Fatah who was at the receiving end. Such mobs regularly rise up against dissenting and controversial voices, who are often left to fend for themselves. These were the same people who didn’t allow Bangladeshi author in exile, Taslima Nasreen’s book to be launched at a book fair in Kolkata. These were the same people who didn’t even allow exiled author Salman Rushdie to speak through a video link in Jaipur literature festival, these were the same people who drove painter MF Hussain out of the country. It seems, irrespective of their religious and ideological affiliations, we have just made peace with bullies.