One person’s holy message is another person’s godawful noise, Samrat reminds us. The name is a pseudonym, and though he or she is a nationally known columnist and satirist in India, Samrat’s bio page is empty and lacks an author picture. It’s safer that way, because when you criticize or mock the faithful, they can be quick to take (sometimes murderous) offense.
Samrat’s latest article is about the religious messages that Indian Muslims often blast from loudspeakers.
Not a Muslim? Too bad. They’ll wake you up anyway, sometimes in the middle of the night.
Ever since I moved to Kolkata, I hear the call to prayer five times a day, blasted out of loudspeakers. I don’t mind it now … but the early morning one, at the crack of dawn, took a bit of getting used to.
During Ramadan, however, the racket becomes almost intolerable.
A few nights ago, around 2:30 am, I was startled out of my slumber by the sound of a man’s voice on a loudspeaker. He seemed to be telling people who had not yet eaten [during Ramadan] to eat. This was followed, some time later, by an announcement that only so many minutes — I think it was 50 — were still left. The announcements and countdown continued for the better part of the next hour, nixing all my efforts to go back to sleep. The next day, and the next, the same thing happened. It was announcements for sehri meal timings [sehri is the pre-dawn Muslim fasting meal] from the local mosque. …
I have no issues with anyone of any faith offering prayers, but I do not enjoy having my sleep disturbed at odd hours on a daily basis. Any midnight loudspeaker announcement, Hindu or Muslim, religious or secular, is an infringement on my right to a peaceful night’s sleep.
Because India is formally a secular country, the judiciary doesn’t exactly disagree. In a 2015 case, one court rousingly cited Indians’ constitutional right to life and personal liberty:
“[The] right to life enshrined in Article 21 is not of mere survival or existence… Anyone who wishes to live in peace, comfort and quiet within his house has a right to prevent the noise as pollutant reaching him. None can claim a right to create noise even in his own premises which would travel beyond his precincts and cause nuisance to neighbors or others.”
That’s the theory, anyway. But authorities’ willingness to do anything about violators is practically nil, says Samrat:
[The rules] are observed almost entirely in the breach, by groups religious as well as secular. However, to complain about mosques blasting out azaans or sehri timings over loudspeakers, even at the oddest hours, is to invite charges of Islamophobia, and the opprobrium of both religious Muslims and secular Hindus. To complain about the similar, albeit less frequent — since they are annual, not multiple times daily — use of loudspeakers by Hindus for festivals … draws the ire of the Hindu Right. Anything said about the blaring of repurposed Bollywood tunes for Ambedkar Jayanti [annual festival commemorating Dalit advocate B.R. Ambedkar] is, of course, likely to be construed as casteist.
Every community in India treats as an affront any suggestion that it should follow the laws on noise pollution. … Kolkata is especially awful in this regard; they have here a custom of rigging up long lines of loudspeakers on poles running for kilometres from which speeches and songs are blasted out.
It would drive me mad, but Samrat manages to remain sardonic about the whole thing, though not quite conciliatory:
There are certain iron laws of loudspeakers that I have observed. The First Law of Loudspeakers is that “the most boring speaker speaks the longest”. The Second Law is that “the worst singer will not stop singing until the mic is wrestled out of their hands.” Before the coronavirus lockdown, you could observe these laws in operation around you in every public gathering and at every karaoke bar and open mic, where tuneless singers would belt out unending renditions of evergreen hits such as I Will Survive, leaving listeners wondering if they would be equally fortunate.
The coronavirus has now put a temporary end to those sufferings. However, religion always claims special status, and is given it by the religious and secular alike.
Not to sink to their level, but maybe that message could be blared from time to time, just to shake things up.
(Image via Shutterstock)