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In Defense of Sonu Nigam

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I just read on a news website that two people were grievously injured in a clash over Sonu Nigam’s tweet and the fatwa issued by a cleric who claims to be the 35th descendant of Prophet Mohammed.

Two young men from Ujjain first fought virtually (on Facebook) and then physically at a birthday party of another person who had nothing to do with Sonu Nigam or the fatwa or what his friend, the man who was stabbed, was up to.

My Facebook notifications that almost always behaves like a gossipy neighbourhood aunt informed me yesterday that the singer had shaved his head and there was a lot of fuss about it. He also demanded ₹10 lakh from the cleric who had issued a ‘fatwa’ that whoever shaved Nigam’s head would be rewarded with the amount. The Fatwa was issued after Sonu Nigam tweeted about how he didn’t like being woken up by azaan played over loudspeakers from a mosque near his flat in Mumbai.

Several media reports initially claimed that the cleric was from Kolkata and it took me instantly to the past when I used to work for The Statesman. The office building was just across Tipu Sultan Masjid, also called the “fatwa-special” mosque, by my colleagues. Let me remind you, the fatwa against Taslima Nasreen was issued from this very mosque. But then, my colleague from Hindustan Times clarified that the cleric, Syed Sha Atef Ali Al Quaderi, “is no imam or maulana, and has zero religious authority” and has been dismissed as silly by the “real and genuine fatwa issuers” of Kolkata.

Now, I don’t know whether to laugh or to be angry. When I Googled about the issue, the news articles that popped up were – ‘Sonu Nigam row: Bengal Muslim leader who announced Rs 10 lakh bounty is no imam, has no religious authority’ (Hindustan Times), ‘Divyanka Tripathi has this to say about Sonu Nigam’s tweet on azaan’ (India Today), ‘Don’t give Sonu Nigam’s comments a ‘religious tinge’: Sunil Grover’ (Financial Express) and ‘Sonu Nigam Tweets Lead to a Real-Life Fight in MP’s Ujjain, 2 Injured’ (News18).

Sonu Nigam appears before the press after having his head shaved. (Photo by Satish Bate/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

The last article forced me to open my laptop and start writing even though I didn’t want to. Because, you know, it’s terribly hot in New Delhi and I had a tiring day at work and just wanted to cuddle my dog and relax. I also read ‘BBC Got It Wrong, the Azaan Does Play Out Near Sonu Nigam’s Flat’ (Quint). Seriously? BBC actually sent a reporter to see whether Azaan is played out near Nigam’s flat? Well, thank you, Quint, for clarifying.

Anyway, what I really, really wished to read was about noise pollution. I so hoped to read about how a cleric was ready to squander away ₹10 lakh over a tweet (35th descendant of prophet Mohammed has a twitter account!) over somebody’s social media comment but not on toilets in madrassas or slums, or scholarships for children who cannot afford education. Afterall, ₹10 lakh is a lot of money.

Before religious fanatics pounce upon me, let me clarify that I believe that temples and shrines should open up their coffers and spend on real concrete development and poverty alleviation projects, not just on one or two hospitals and feed the Brahmins in the name of charity.

But, let me concentrate on ₹10 lakh for now because Sonu Nigam has clearly won the bet.

What Sonu Nigam Probably Meant – Noise Pollution And Forced Religiousness

Oh god, I couldn’t agree more. Come on, admit it. Do you like waking up to loud Jagrata or bhajan or azaan or movie song, or noise from the kitchen mixer or even your mum’s high decibel voice so damn early in the morning? No!

I remember having a fight with an elderly co-passenger on a train once. He was speaking about his blood sugar levels and vegetables to cure constipation to another passenger at the top of his voice at 6 am! And when I told him to speak a bit softly, he said: “This is the problem with youngsters! It’s 6 am. Why don’t you wake up?” He had absolutely no idea that I was awake till 3 am writing a story on my mobile phone. I just had 8 hours in 24 hours to write my story, eat, sleep, shit, talk to my parents (you know call from mums can never be short), and this man was sermonising me at 5 am. That is how being ‘forced’ feels!

When an individual is ‘forced’ or ‘pressurised’ to follow religious discourse or music or way of life, it called ‘forced religiousness’. So, there is absolutely nothing wrong with what Sonu Nigam said. I don’t know whether it had anything to do with Hinduism or Islam but forcing people to listen to bhajans and azaan is definitely forced religiousness.

A labourer carries loudspeakers as part of preparations for oath taking ceremony of Vasundhara Raje Scindia as Rajasthan Chief Minister in a public ceremony on December 12, 2013 in Jaipur. (Photo by Himanshu Vyas/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Now, the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 caps noise limit for the residential area at 55 dBA during the day and 45 dBA during the night.

If you see anybody violating the rules, you may dial 100 to call the police. But whether police, which often fails to lodge complaints in very serious matters, will file a report or not, is a different matter. They may have refused ‘mango’ people, but would perhaps have had obliged Sonu Nigam just because he’s Sonu Nigam. But just like most of us, Sonu Nigam did the mistake of ranting on social media.

Anyway, since most of you reading this article have smart phones, you may install any decibel measuring app to see how much noise 55 dBA means. Most of these religious sermons, bhajans, music, marriage procession and political rallies violate the norm.

Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 also happens to be one of the most ignored norms in the country simply because Indians are a bit too many and we are noisy people.

According to a research paper – Auditory And Non-Auditory Effects Of Noise On Health – published by seven scientists from reputed universities of US and UK, noise exposure leads to annoyance, disturbs sleep and causes daytime sleepiness, increases the occurrence of hypertension and cardiovascular disease, and impairs cognitive performance in schoolchildren. Please reread – impairs cognitive performance in schoolchildren. According to World Health Organization, cardiovascular and psychophysiological effects, reduce performance and provoke annoyance responses and changes in social behaviour.

But, no. We won’t fight for our health. We won’t fight for our children. Indians will definitely fight over temples and mosques, Hinduism and Islam. Bravo!

Let’s Look At Various Ways How ₹10 lakh Can Be Spent

It can help in building 20 toilets

Twenty community toilets would bring an enormous improvement in health and hygiene standards of the urban poor. Approximately, 200 people will be able to save themselves from infection and health hazards, girls won’t have to drop out of school, women may be able to save themselves from being raped, and these 200 people will be able to live with dignity.

Women in a slum in New Delhi are still waiting for toilets. (Photo by Pradeep Gaur/Mint via Getty Images)

According to an article by Public Radio International (PRI), about 70% of households in India don’t have access to toilets, whether in rural areas or urban slums. Roughly 60% of the country’s 1.2 billion people still defecate in the open. “The consequences for women are huge. These range from polluted water leading to women and children dying from childbirth-related infections to the risk and reality of being attacked and raped, most infamously the gang rape of two teenage girls in rural northern India two years ago,” the article states. There are several reports by both government and non-government agencies to corroborate what the PRI article’s claims.

4000 children will get a primary education

According to National Sample Survey Organization 1998, the average expenditure per student pursuing a primary education in rural India in a government school is ₹219.

But ₹219 is often too expensive for people who do not have the reliable means to earn their daily bread. The Public Report on Basic Education in India (PROBE 1999) finds that in three northern states India, such costs are substantial: “In fact, ‘schooling is too expensive’ came first (just ahead of the need for child labour) among the reasons cited by PROBE respondents to explain why a child had never been to school.”

These two are just to name a few wonderful things that can be achieved with ₹10 lakh reward that the cleric announced but unfortunately backed out of because Sonu Nigam did not wear a garland of ‘third-grade shoes’ and did not go to every household in India.

At least 35 million children aged 6-14 years do not attend school. (Photo by Burhaan Kinu/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

So, dear Sonu, please wear the garland as a symbolic gesture just as our political leaders pick up the broom in the name of sanitation drive once in a while. If your online comment is enough to get a fatwa issued, I am sure your online visit to our mobile phones would count too as meeting the third criteria. Let the cleric pay up ₹10 lakh. Let 200 people have a respectful life and 4,000 kids have a primary education; and, you will be our dearest, most beloved hero! Go on!

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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