Is Sonu Nigam’s Voice Muted In The Cacophony Of Social Media?
India is a country where if you don’t make noise, none notices your existence. Call it a crying baby syndrome or by any other name, we are raucous. In recent years, we have got more power to make noise without indulging physically. That sounds weird, but true.
In the last few days, the social media has been abuzz singing in support of Sonu Nigam, one of our most versatile stage and playback singers, and rapping him for his frank opinion about blaring loudspeakers early in the morning. His tweets about azaan triggered a chain reaction whose fallout, far and wide, is not totally unexpected. But what’s not foreseen in the din of assent and dissent is the religious overtones and change of tune.
What’s all the hullaballoo about? Sonu’s tweets on Monday were about how the call for Muslim prayer was disturbing his sleep. On the face of it, there was nothing wrong in expressing his opinion. But one man, Kolkata-based cleric Syed Sha Atef Ali Al Quaderi, has struck a discordant note and issued a fatwa offering Rs 10 lakhs to anyone who shaved off Sonu’s head.
The singer took the challenge, head-on, literally, and got himself tonsured by a renowned Mumbai hairstylist and taunted the cleric to give the hairdresser Rs 1 million reward. But Quaderi, vice president of West Bengal Minority United Council, set a different tune stressing that he would not pay the amount until the singer fulfils two other conditions which include wearing two garlands of old torn shoes and go around the country. For what, the cleric has not explained. Nor does he think for a moment that shaming the singer would help espouse the cause in which he believes.
Amidst the raging controversy, Sonu Nigam called a Press conference at his home and clarified his tweets were only against the use of loudspeakers in morning prayers and not aimed at any particular religion.
“I only spoke against the use of loudspeakers. Everybody has a right to his opinion. I have the right to have an opinion and it should not be misconstrued. Loudspeakers are not a necessity; they are not a part of any religion,” Sonu Nigam said, adding, “My intention is not to hurt anybody’s sentiments. If I have done anything wrong, please forgive me. My intention is just to talk on a social topic and not a religious topic.”
The sad part of the episode is the role of social media in drumming up the issue to cacophonic levels by picking only one controversial tweet and ignoring others that talked about other places of worship. Sonu said, “People took one tweet of mine where I mentioned ‘gundagardi’ and ignored other tweets where I also talked about temples and gurudwaras.”
Ironically, the sound pollution generated by places of worship, marriage and festival celebrations has found an echo in verbal form in the social media and Sonu Nigam should be thanked for raking up an issue which most celebrities in all walks of life shun for fear of being hounded by right and left wingers and self-proclaimed guardians of religion and culture.
We curse when revelers play the latest film hits at midnight; blast ‘bombs’ on Diwali night beyond the police deadline; force the neighbourhoods to listen to loud bhajans, etc. People suffer silently, remain mute witnesses without resisting and without raising their voice.
The basic issue is people’s right to sound sleep and some people’s audacity to rob neighbours of a few hours of precious night rest through loudspeakers and noisy celebrations.
In February 2012, in a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court had pronounced the right to sleep as fundamental. Through this unanimous verdict, the apex court had broadened the scope of right to life to include a citizen’s right to sound sleep. By doing so, the highest court of the land had made sleep one of the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution. While delving at length into the reasons why sleep is important for human life, the court observed: “Sleep is essential for a human being to maintain the delicate balance of health necessary for its very existence and survival … Sleep is basic requirement without which the existence of life itself would be in peril.”
The Supreme Court’s judgment was full of sane words and unambiguous to the core about the citizens’ right to sleep, particularly in the night. But will the authorities enforce it in letter and spirit and people follow it? This is the only country in the world where people love to make noise because that’s the easiest, and surest way to make others listen, whether they like it or not.
There are, of course, civic laws prohibiting playing music loudly beyond 10 pm at public places. But these are observed more in breach than in practice and people take them in their own stride because they don’t want to be seen as spoilsports on a joyous occasion. But the silent sufferers are those who lose their precious sleep, cursing those who are robbing them of their night rest and grumbling about lack of civic sense among some people.