Defying the diktat of few Islamic clerics, an Assamese Muslim teen singer recently performed in a cultural function. Of Indian Idol fame, Nahid Afrin not only sang in the cultural night on March 25, but also enthralled thousands in the audience with her on stage performance that lasted until midnight.
Prior to this, news broke on March 14 that some people distributed a two-page leaflet (termed gohari or appeal) in the Muslim-dominated Hojai and Nagaon localities of central Assam in northeast India, arguing that the proposed cultural show at the Udali Sonai Bibi College ground at the Lanka town of Hojai district should be discouraged.
Endorsed by 46 Muslim representatives from a number of state-based Islamic organizations, the leaflet asserted that no cultural function should be held at the venue as it was surrounded by mosques, madrassas, eidgahs and graveyards, otherwise the future generation would lose its sanity and sanctity, which would result in inviting the wrath of Allah.
As the venue was supposed to witness the performance of Nahid Afrin show, the young
Assamese singer who was the first runner-up of the Indian Idol Junior 2015 (a popular Indian television reality show) came in touch with the diktat from the clerics for flouting Sharia.
Assam, known for its unique social harmony, religious tolerance and pluralism since time immemorial, witnessed such a diktat for the first time. The land of great Vaishnavite saint Srimanta Sankardev, who spread the message of love, cohesion and brotherhood among all communities, castes and creeds centuries ago thus suddenly faces Muslim influences.
Even though the leaflet, written in unprocessed Assamese language, had no mention about Nahid, the clerics clearly meant to address her performance. And eventually intellectuals, writers, journalists, politicians, cultural personalities and even separatist armed militants of Assam unanimously raised their voices against the diktat by the clerics. They also objected to the statement of those clerics that the music, theatre, magic etc are anti-Islamic.
Assam police sources also suspected that Nahid might have been targeted as she performed in some anti-terror musical pieces. Moreover, she participated in few songs dedicated to Hindu mythology. Assam police chief Mukesh Sahay revealed that the matter was under serious investigation and he assured that the democratic rights of every citizen would be
Meanwhile, the State government chief Sarbananda Sonowal came down heavily against the threat. Personally calling Nahid on the telephone, Sonowal assured all possible help for her. Stating that Nahid is the pride of Assam, the young chief minister declared that she can perform anywhere in the State without any fear from anybody.
“Such a ruling against practicing art and culture is unacceptable and is tantamount to infringement of one’s freedom of cultural rights,” said Sonowal, who also holds the home portfolio, adding that the government would not tolerate any move to bind any artist of the
He also observed that a section of vicious force is hell bound to disturb the age old bonhomie of Assam, but the chief minister reiterated that the amity and integrity of the State would be
upheld at any cost so that people belonging to Barak & Brahmaputra (valleys), hills and plains can live peacefully depicting the ethos of unity in diversities.
As the news spreads across the globe, various Union ministers along with many politicians, Mumbai film personalities and social activists supported Nahid for her devotion to music. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights also took the matter seriously and
directed the administration to ensure her security and help Nahid to perform accordingly.
Even the Bangladeshi exiled author Taslima Nasreen, who is a victim of religious fanatics in her own country, took to Twitter to show appreciation for Nahid and her brave statement to go against the Mullahs. She went ahead demanding stringent punishments to those clerics arguing that “they don’t believe in human rights, women’s rights’.
The Mumbai-based Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy (IMSD) came out with a statement applauding the achievements of Nahid (including Suhana Sayed from Karnataka), who have wowed music lovers cutting across religions with their outstanding talents.
Bollywood scriptwriter Salim Khan and singer Vishal Dadlani were the first callers to Nahid
supporting her at the time of crisis.
The State police quickly took actions and deployed two armed personal security guards for Nahid. Earlier Union minister Maneka Gandhi wrote to Sonowal urging him to ensure adequate protection to Nahid so that she could pursue her talent, which the saffron chief minister responded promptly.
Meanwhile, various media outlets came out with stronger articles condemning the attitude of the clerics targeting an upcoming singer. The column writers deplored the religious leaders for taking up the boycott call against Nahid by citing the Sharia laws. Moreover they
emphasized that the secular ethos and composite culture of Assam have nothing to do with egregious diktats on any artist.
Taking the advantage of the situation, Assam’s separatist militant leader Paresh Barua also joined in the chorus. The self-styled head of banned United Liberation Front of Assam (Independent), Barua strongly condemned the unwanted Fatwa against Nahid. Speaking to the city based media persons from an undisclosed location he stated that there is no place for religious fanaticism in Assam.
Facing the heat, Assam State Jamiat Ulama tried to clarify that that it was not a Fatwa against Nahid. The leaders of Jamiat Ulama rather blamed the media for spreading misinformation. The national level Islamic leader Umer Ilyasi commented that any Fatwa may only crate controversy. But he insisted that the Assam clerics should have talked to Nahid advising her not to go against the Sharia laws.
Digging at the clerics’ appeal, the Patriotic People’s Front Assam (PPFA) pointed out that they may not target Nahid, but definitely they opposed the cultural show at the venue. The forum claimed that by this notice, the clerics indirectly wanted to keep away any cultural (read anti-Islam) programs in that field. The PPFA denounced that kind of mentality to create an absolute Islamic zone in any locality of Assam.
Amidst all the hue and cry against the Muslim diktat, Nahid at her residence in Biswanath Chariali locality of eastern Assam reacted firmly that she would continue singing. The class tenth standard student, who made her Bollywood singing debut for glamorous Sonakshi
Sinha star ‘Akira’ recently, pointed out that her voice is a fabulous the gift of Allah and she would definitely utilize it with the overwhelming support from the people of Assam (India).