It may have started with a complaint about loudspeakers blaring at the crack of dawn but sadly, turned into a debate on minority rights.

On April 17, singer Sonu Nigam posted some explosive tweets at a little past 5 am, in which he protested against being woken up by the morning azaan despite being a non-Muslim.

Further, to clarify that his complaint was against “forced religiousness” and not a particular religion itself, the singer said he was against “any temple or gurudwara using electricity to wake up people who don’t follow the religion”.

His statements seem to raise two objections: first, a ritual of a particular faith disturbing his daily routine and second, the unnecessary and illegal use of loudspeakers for the ritual.

Both, ideally, are legitimate civilian complaints that must be looked into. While they may be explosive in nature, they aren’t unfair. Isn’t faith supposed to be personal and non-intrusive? And isn’t being spared noise pollution from illegal loudspeakers a civil right?

What followed however, was a flood of whataboutery (and abuses) that eventually changed the drift of the debate from invasive religiosity and enforcement of existing laws to an attack on minority Muslim rights in India.

Mumbai has the dubious distinction of being the noisiest city in India and as per a finding, the daily train commute is as noisy as an alarm clock ringing constantly. And we all know how unbearable that is.

Of course, the azaan isn’t the root cause for Mumbai being this noisy. Surveys have found noises near all kinds of religious places like Hindu temples and Muslim mosques regularly reaching alarmingly high levels. 

Decibel levels at two religious places – Mahalaxmi Temple at 8 30 pm and Perry Cross Road mosque at 6 30 pm – are known to cross 97 dB frequently, which is as loud as a drill machine. Festivals like Ganeshotsav, Eid-e-Milad and Mahim Fair are as noisy as live rock music, which is 16 times the average human pain threshold. And predictably, more Hindu religious structures and festivals contribute to this noise than others.

Sonu Nigam is well within his rights to object to noise from a specific source – in his case, a mosque near his apartment in Andheri’s Millat Nagar area – as is any Christian living near Mahalaxmi temple or any Muslim near the site of Mahim Fair. Each of these complaints would need to be considered as civic and social issues, not religious ones. 

If anything, we must back Sonu for his guts to call a spade a spade and speaking up on behalf of other residents who may be facing the same problem but not speaking out for fear of hurting religious sentiments. 

Not only that, Sonu’s handling of a cleric’s open offer of Rs 10 lakh cash prize for shaving off the singer’s head for his “offending” remarks deserves applause too. 

Sonu’s symbolic and camera-friendly act of getting tonsured in public and openly challenging the cleric to keep his word may appear pointless, but it managed to make a mockery of the cleric’s threat by calling his bluff. Perhaps it showed that these random self-appointed custodians of religion who gate-crash into controversies for some moments of fame, are no more than jokes and are best silenced. Perhaps it showed that as a nation, we are not as fanatic as we fear ourselves to be. 

And now that the cleric and the “fatwa” are out of the way, can we please finally shift the focus back on the menace of illegal loudspeakers and invasive religiosity? 

We may create a counter-outrage against an ear-splitting aarti or a Ganeshotsav procession, and that would be as welcome, that too would be public service.