21 Apr 2017 15:48 IST

Silence please, but not the Sonu Nigam way

The singer inadvertently raises an issue that is increasingly relevant

One really can’t miss the hypocrisy in Sonu Nigam’s complaint about being woken up by the morning azaan from a mosque near his house. It would seem that the singer doesn’t mind doing an all-night jagrata, where typically, loud speakers are used. And, as someone else pointed out, he also performs late night shows, complete with blaring speakers, during Hindu festivals. Guess he doesn’t mind keeping others awake.

Sonu clarified the next day that he was not targeting a particular religion and tonsured his head, live on TV, after a Muslim cleric announced a reward to anyone who could shave off the singer’s hair. But there is no mistaking that he finds soul in some music, and noise in others.

A significant issue

At the same time, the singer did inadvertently raise a significant issue, that has created problems and might manifest into a bigger crisis in the coming days. Blaring prayers, spiritual songs and rituals on loudspeakers are akin to forcing one’s beliefs on to others. And it’s not just about mosques — even churches and temples blatantly flaunt their spirituality.

Most of us have felt discomfort and inconvenience at being woken up by the church bells (which in some places are now broadcast through speakers), or at being kept awake because the nearby temple is playing music on loop. We wince and cringe, but out of politeness and fear of offending sensibilities, we don’t dare to cover our ears while crossing a speaker put on full volume.

By the way, it is not just the religious kinds who are vocal about their spirituality. We somehow think that the best way to pay homage to a late leader, star or a statesman, is to play songs associated with him or her. We believe that turning up the volume proves our devotion.

Glaringly, the popular perception is that exercising this right, or letting others do this without complaining, is a sign of a ‘tolerant society’. In truth, it is nothing but appeasement; appeasement of minorities and appeasing the need to exhibit our religion.

Courts speak out

The courts have been quite vocal about noise pollution. While the Supreme Court in 2005 banned playing music on loudspeakers after 10 pm, the courts have also clearly laid down the limits on decibel levels coming from religious meetings and prayers.

Judge Bhagabati Prosad Banerjee, presiding over a noise pollution case in the Kolkata High Court in 1996, observed:

“Freedom of Speech and Expression includes, by necessary implication, freedom not to listen and/or to remain silent. One cannot exercise his right at the cost of, and in total deprivation of, others’ rights. A right cannot be conferred by the authorities concerned upon a person or a religious organisation to exercise their rights suspending and/or taking away the rights of others.”

Sadly, implementation of ‘noise laws’ has been lax. It is not surprising because the policemen hesitate to take action, fearing further law and order problems.

Global scene

At the same time, the world over, societies are waking up to the need for keeping expression of one’s religion more private and silent. Many West Asian countries have a put a sound limit on their mosques. In others countries, including in Australia and the UK, church bells have been regulated, and some have found ways to soften the rings.

In India, an outright ban on loudspeakers from festivals might get drowned in public protest. And execution of present regulations will remain a challenge as none of the administrators wants to risk a public backlash. But a start could be made by finding ways to spread awareness about the ills of noise pollution and initiating public discussions on tempering religious sermons and songs on speakers.