Pheroze L. Vincent
New Delhi, Nov. 7: Singer Abhijeet Bhattacharya did not complete the sentence: " Main naachna chahta hoon, main taali bajana chahta hoon, aur koi mere desh ke khilaaf bole toh uski m...."
Out of a group of 10-15 youths huddled around him, a few did, threatening rape as punishment for "the mothers of those who speak against India".
Abhijeet, who wants to dance, clap and more, was one of the 500-odd people who walked in the march led by actor Anupam Kher to "tell the world that India is tolerant". It is not clear why they felt the need to do so because no one has yet accused the country of being intolerant.
Writers, scientists, historians, artistes and filmmakers have voiced their concern at the instances of intolerance in the country and the failure of the government to act against it or even condemn it, after the murders of several rationalists and the lynching of a man in Dadri on suspicion of eating beef. None of them has spoken against India.
Kher, who insists he is not with the government or the BJP, had grandly labelled the rally from the National Museum to the Boat Club a "March for India". A few Bollywood names, lesser-known writers, members of Kashmiri migrant organisations and youths made up its numbers.
Slogans calling for throwing shoes at the "traitors" and "Down with the Media!" were raised at the rally and journalists heckled. The marchers, who had gathered around 9am, accused the journalists of supporting those who have returned awards in protest against the rise in intolerance under the Narendra Modi government.
When Kher finally arrived around 10.30am, he appealed to the marchers not to harass journalists, but the aggression continued.
NDTV's Bhairavi Singh was accosted thrice. The worst was when she was gheraoed while recording a news report near the Boat Club at 3pm, she told The Telegraph.
"I was saying on camera that two voices - for and against returning awards - have emerged in the recent past. The crowd surrounded me and started shouting ' NDTV Hai Hai'. A woman came up to me and accused me of shouting at an old woman earlier. I denied it but the sloganeering continued," she said.
The protesters followed Singh and her colleague Sanjay Kaushik to the police barricade 250 metres away at Vijay Chowk, shouting slogans. She was finally helped across the barricade by another journalist.
Earlier in the day, Singh's reports were interrupted by people who called her a "prostitute" and a "presstitute"- a word coined by Union minister V.K. Singh. She was also asked to "get out and wear a Congress cap".
Later, she was trolled on Twitter and had received 300 hate tweets when this report was filed in the evening.
"This rally is a message to those who talk of intolerance. India is a very tolerant country. No one can call us intolerant. We do not believe in pseudo-secularism, selective outrage or selective patriotism," Kher said.
Abhijeet, who made his name singing for Shah Rukh Khan in the 1990s, said: "We can come on the streets but we won't let these traitors stay in the country. Shah Rukh went from zero to hero, he should be proud of Hindustan. If anyone wants to go to Pakistan, I can go to drop them but don't ask me to bring them back."
The singer, who has not had a Bollywood song in years barring one in 2013 and was recently in the news after a woman filed a sexual assault case against him, said this in reply to a question about BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya's statement that the actor lived in India but "his soul was in Pakistan".
Vijayvargiya had made the statement after Shah Rukh spoke out against intolerance, calling it "stupid" and the "worst kind of crime" you can commit as a "patriot".
Filmmakers Ashoke Pandit, Priyadarshan and Madhur Bhandarkar, actor Manoj Joshi, singer Malini Awasthi, flautist Ronu Mazumdar, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) president Lokesh Chandra, Vedic scholar David Frawley, former politician Jaya Jaitly and journalist Madhu Kishwar were some of the other marchers.
Kishwar said: "The frequent use of the word fascist is more abusive to me than ma-behan ki gaali."
She was not within earshot when the youths completed Abhijeet's sentence with the threat to "rape mothers".
Kher and the others presented a memorandum to President Pranab Mukherjee that condemned "a planned conspiracy to defame the country at the international level" by people returning awards. It also called for an investigation of a "conspiracy by the print media since May 2015" to launch a campaign in collaboration with writers returning awards.
In the evening, Kher and 50 others met Prime Minister Narendra Modi. "I am not passing a judgement by calling anyone unpatriotic.... They (who returned awards) could have met the PM too," the actor said.
The Prime Minister's office said Modi had stated that "Indian culture goes beyond tolerance, and talks of acceptance".
The above is from the Telegraph