Was Sonu Nigam merely stating what many in India already feel?

Published: April 21, 2017

Sonu Nigam’s recent outburst on Twitter is a reflection of the growing frustration and perhaps now is a good time to revisit this aspect of life in India.

In a country of over a billion people, personal space in public places is hard to come by. The streets are packed with hawkers, walkers, vehicles and animals of all stripes. A cacophony of sights, sounds and smells compete for your attention. Nobody gives a second thought to jostling or getting jostled, and the concept of the three-foot circle of inviolable personal space, so sacred in the West, is a virtual non-starter in ‘anything goes’ India.

There are high levels of tolerance in this country and somehow everything gets accommodated. People adapt and adjust to the constantly shifting landscape and the new additions in their immediate environment. In a train compartment already packed to capacity, new entrants aren’t greeted with groans. Instead, the incumbents simply make space for the newcomers by shifting and pressing in just a little bit more.

Nowhere is this accommodative tendency more visible than in the realm of religion. Most Indian towns have temples, mosques, gurudwaras and churches in close proximity to one another and people of all religions go about their business of faith relatively unhindered. This in a way makes India special. However, when this openness of faith is combined with the tendency to disregard the personal space of others, it can have some side-effects as well. Unfortunately, the pursuit of faith is anything but private in India. In fact, it can be a rather noisy affair.

Of all the technological innovations over the years, Indians have embraced the loudspeaker with greatest vigour and deploy it to great effect, especially to proclaim their religious affiliation.

The sounds of prayer, originating from an assortment of houses of worship, reverberate all around the Indian landscape early in the morning. Unfortunately, not all of those sounds are melodious or soothing and a lot of it can be outright noise at very high decibels. Just like other aspects of India’s secular democracy, the entire spectrum of religions, sects, and sub-sects present in the country is represented in these loud and intrusive proclamations of faith.

So while a peaceful night’s sleep might be disrupted by the sounds of a “jagraata” (a Hindu ritual that includes a vigil, songs and dance that lasts all night) in the neighbourhood, the early morning Azaan will jolt you out of the sweet stupor of the early morning, truly secularism at its best!

Despite critics’ accusations of intolerance and majoritarianism, Muslims in India make their presence felt in every way. Broadcasts of prayer are not restricted to the Hindu majority, and mosques compete with great vigour to make themselves heard. It’s a daily affair, and not restricted to festivals or special occasions.

The reality of most Indian cities with a sizeable Muslim population is that all the local mosques use loudspeakers, not just for the Azaan but also for their sermons, five times a day. These loudspeakers are usually pretty powerful and their output is virtually impossible to ignore. This problem becomes particularly acute in large and crowded cities like Mumbai or Kolkata where these sounds pierce through the densely packed homes.

It is natural for people to feel resentful towards this intrusion into their daily lives. There are many faith-inspired folk as opposed to non-religious folk who are offended by the loud factor. Even in Pakistan, there are thousands of cases lodged against clerics and mosque imams for the volume of the loudspeakers, and more under the National Action Plan (NAP).

Sonu Nigam’s recent outburst on Twitter is a reflection of the growing frustration and perhaps now is a good time to revisit this aspect of life in India.

It’s unfortunate that Nigam is facing so much criticism for stating what so many people feel. It is extremely unpleasant to be jolted awake when all you want after a hard day’s work is to sleep peacefully for just a little bit longer. It’s ironic that he would not have to deal with this in a Muslim country like the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The mosques in Dubai also have calls to prayer, but they make sure to not overwhelm their surroundings. This is purely a manifestation of discipline and consideration, both of which India sorely lacks.

In the face of all the criticism, Nigam has gone ahead and clarified that his position is not against the religion or prayers, but rather the usage of loudspeakers. He also referred to ‘Arti’, or Hindu prayers, on loudspeakers to balance out the perceived prejudice. In a surprising move, he went one step ahead and shaved his hair in response to a fatwa issued by a cleric in Bengal and asked that the one million bounty be paid to his (Muslim) barber. This upping of the ante is a clear indication that he intends to stick to his stance, comfortable in the knowledge that he enjoys a good amount of public support in this matter. One thing is for sure, Nigam has taken the centre stage once more, this time again for acoustic reasons.

There are way too many liberties that are granted in the name of religion. Religious processions can block traffic for hours. The presence of temples or mosques can hold up the construction of roads. One of the enduring memories of my own childhood is the creeping panic of being stuck in a Muharram procession on the way to catch a flight from the Kolkata airport. We nearly missed our flight because a public thoroughfare was blocked for one group’s faith. A little less accommodation is what India needs now.

Religion is a private affair and it should not spill over into the public domain. It may still be acceptable if it happens once in a while, but the mark of a civilised society is the care to not infringe on others’ rights while pursuing our own. India needs to take this a little more seriously.

Places of worship are meant to offer refuge from the strife of daily life and not add to it. The devout may derive pleasure from these sounds, but they may not be everyone’s cup of tea. If doing away with loudspeakers entirely is difficult, it may be wise to impose caps on their volume. After all, faith lives on in one’s heart and does not need to be proclaimed at top volume for everyone to hear and see. It’s time to take the next step in evolution.

Amit Nangia

Amit Nangia

The author is a learning and development professional with a background in finance and human resources that informs his commentaries on geopolitical and socioeconomic trends. He tweets as @amitnangia06 (twitter.com/amitnangia06)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Parvez

    For over 35 years I lived next to a church …… in the end the noise level got so disturbing that I shifted and made sure that I was not close to any religious house.
    There are certain things one just can not fight…..one has to improvise and accommodate. Recommend

  • sac_nair

    Not a word on the permissible decibel levels. Sonu has made it clear it is not about a religion. What is the average dB in any city in India– the answer is it is close to 90dB almost double the permissible WHO limits. During festivals of any religion it goes up to 125dB.
    India has highest number of deaf !
    India has highest number of festivals !
    India has highest number of mosques !
    India has highest sound pollution in the world !
    Nowadays whenever I make or recieve a call the other person asks me to be louder. I changed two mobiles yet the problem persists. I also speak in a way that I can be hear say 5-10 ft away easily. This much is enough for speaking on the phone too.

    Loudspeakers be banned. Next should be on light pollution!Recommend

  • Sane

    This singer is a hate monger like other fanatic Hindus.Recommend

  • http://www.indianess.com creativeIndian

    why you need to force people for religious compulsion, who else forces to pray?Recommend

  • Fahim

    I never woke up from sound of Azaan, only intention to pray in Fajar can wake me up. Loudspeakers, church bells should be banned completelyRecommend

  • hp kumar

    First of all its foolish to think that his statement has nothing to do with religion .muslims cannot have smoothe ride forever. somewhere muslims have to find middle ground.we have lakhs of youngster working in bpo industry .they need a sound sleep after a tiresome night shift.muslims need to understand that economic activity can’t be stopped coz of azan.we have pakistan in neighbourhood a muslim majority country whose citizen can’t even clean their cities by their own coz most of them spend time on offering five times prayer.muslim in india posses similar trait.but actually hindus who r responsible for growth of our country.if muslims of india doesnot not comply with our demand,we will not let them integrate with our society.already they r facing housing problem in indian cities.

  • hp kumar

    Yeah he did not mince a word Recommend

  • wb

    Loud speaker is one of the aspects of dominating and oppressing aspect just like eating cow is.

    Non Muslims don’t have the courage to speak about this. Muslims don’t have the honesty to speak about this.Recommend

  • ab1990

    fanatic muslims can move to pakistan then if they dont respect hindusRecommend

  • Kulbhushan Yadav

    Just because he mentioned Azaan otherwise if he had mentioned just HIndu prayers, you would have been supporting him.Recommend

  • Pure Ind

    There is nothing wrong in what Sonu said he made a very clear statement that religious places shouldn’t use loudpeakers as a disturbance be it of any religion.
    Whats wrong I guess unfortunately its very common for muslims to take every thing to heart, be it any reforms Muslims always have reservations, be it improving Madrassas or triple talaq, I guess the ability to laugh at ones faults lies with a few no wonder films like PK & OMG can only become hits in a reasonable country like India had it been any so called Green republic surely Fatwas would have been issued.Recommend

  • UJ

    If it was about loudspeakers for every religious festival/procession, then it’s totally fine. If it was about non-compliance with State law, then that’s fine too. However, if Nigam was projecting his hatred for people of a certain religion and many Indians feel that way, then the problem lies with Nigam and his likes. Many people express their prejudice against a minority group initially and then backtrack with more rational discussions to hide the underlying bigotry. I hope this wasn’t the case with Nigam. The most likely explanation is cheap publicity by issuing controversial statements.Recommend

  • Parvez

    That was an honest comment….but lets also be fair disciplining 1.2 BILLION people is not easy.Recommend

  • http://booknsharemedia.com AudioBooks Lover

    Yesterday a BBC reporter stayed outside his (Sonu Nigam’s) house. Guess what, he didnt hear any AZAN!! Sonu Nigam made it up completely!!Recommend

  • Rahul

    Loudspeakers are against the law without government permission. All the religions in India consider themselves above the law because they think they are doing gods work. This is not the only problem. Religious buildings regularly encroach public land. Indian Muslims also expect their divorced women to live on public funds or go destitute instead of their getting a fair share of marital property and alimony as well as child support.Recommend

  • Nitin Jadhav

    What is “light pollution”?Recommend

  • Sudhanshu Swami

    God has amazing listening abilities. He can listen prayers even of ant. It us useless and worthless to use mechanical, electrical and un natural things to make calls. Anything which is not related to nature should be removed from religious places.Recommend

  • sac_nair

    Fanatics are there all around us. Sometimes our own friends and relatives. Pls. keep the fanaticism point aside and think for a moment if sound pollution exists or not. May be if you are younger than 25 it may not affect you at all. But for those with ailments, depression, aged sound is a killer. Sound can be in any form. If he would have said too much sound all around him this would never be in news. just because he mentioned religion it spread like wild fire but the good aspect is that it carried the message of sound pollution along with him.
    But some people are so deaf and blind they cannot hear anything beyond religion and see anything beyond religion!Recommend

  • Rajiv

    Sonu Nigam is not alone. There are millions in India who think like him.
    It’s good that Sonu Nigam has given a voice to those people.
    The time is not faraway when loudspeakers will be completely banned on mosqes.Recommend

  • Usman


    “There are high levels of tolerance in this country and somehow everything gets accommodated”Recommend

  • Patwari

    Never heard of this Sanu Nigga am . He is a singer? Huh? Where?
    Must be a Gujrati singer. following in the the footsteps of his yogi who
    is known as poor Jashodeben Chimenlal’s husband, NoVisa Modi,
    Butcher of Gujrat. Killer of Kashmiri Children, Women and Old Men.
    [KOKCWAOM]. One Man Hatemonger and an Asian Hitler wannabe.Recommend

  • Sane

    What about noise made in Hindu festivals and those which are coming from Mandirs. Why the sound of AZAAN has become a problem? Just because a Hindu extremist singer wants to have more number from ruling Hindu Extremist government. Hindu Talbanization is India is rampant. This is another catalyst to divide India further after 1947.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Wow! So now it’s a matter of ‘disciplining’ a nation of 2 billion people?
    Is the population of Hindustan compared to, say, unruly children?
    That need to be disciplined/controlled like bad mannered school kids?
    Apparently so. Very true. You shed light on a growing
    nation. Which elected a chai wallah from Gujrat as their Prime Minister.
    Your comment’s veracity is proven daily just by reading the stuff dispensed by hindus here on ET.Recommend

  • Sane

    Not at all, if he would have mention Hindu prayers, my observations would have been same. Anyways, there are lot of noises everywhere in India including those from mandirs and worship places of other religions. Why these are not issue?Recommend

  • Sane

    What do you mean by respect of Hindus. You mean that Muslims must submit to Hindu fanaticism? No way. Muslims ruled India for 800 years and that time Muslim population ratio was much less than now.Recommend

  • ab1990

    muslims ruled only for 800 year. So what? U and ur country men live in the past . We don’t. Now it is time for hindus to rule by hook or crook.Recommend

  • Patwari

    There, you made your Rs. 14:50Recommend

  • Parvez

    …….. you’re funny. I thought I was a prolific commenter but you beat me hands down.Recommend

  • Patwari

    You are more prolific. And polite. And gentlemanly.
    Yours truly’s comments are hard hitting. To the core.
    Only, about two hours a week can be spared to write these.
    Someone need to stand up to this tsunami of hate comments
    from Hinduland…..[and these responses to the toxic hate are done very regretfully, not with relish]
    Could do better things in those two hours.
    And believe it or not, Gp65 is the one who triggered all this,
    With her, one, unbelievable, arcane comment that she wrote.
    This was some time back.Recommend

  • Sane

    You have a long way to prove. You live in a shell (India).Recommend

  • Parvez

    …. a true crusader….. and to be honest you have a very valid point but be careful with your facts. As for the Indian lobby, they get passionate and aggressive very fast but many of them are very intelligent and if confronted correctly they do listen and even that can be considered an achievement.
    Thank you for the nice compliments.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Yours truly is not a citizen of the Land of the Pure.
    Nor it is the domicile.
    But have an inherent connection through parents
    who are from Hunza. So very familiar with Gilgit,
    Chitral, Baltistan, Kafiristan [!], Kalashas.
    And yours truly can pass for a Khassadar on any
    given day. Which is great!
    Have visited Pakland as recently as last year.
    Will always support and back the underdog, in this case….Pakland.Recommend

  • J. Muzaffar.

    Dear commentators…….. .in all this cacophony about noisy azan loudspeakers in
    India, we seem to have forgotten this TWICE over in good old PAKISTAN!
    Ear-splitting noise made from maybe 5 mosques in the vicinity at the same time. No one can say anything…….you will be done in by some
    . UAE and Qatar are also good Muslims, but they keep it toned down, they respect the rights of the expats.Recommend

  • Tariq Rafique

    The use of a loudspeakeAr has nothing to do with any religious injunction. A call to prayer has to be given by voice. So banning speakers is ok. Also it would follow that banning of bells and other paraphernalia except on rare festivals is also ok. Noise is a serious harmful activity and as bad any polluter. No one in their senses can complain that this is bigotry unless he is himself a bigot. The only religion of any value is Humanism that values All life. Cheers.Recommend