The index of health of democratic society is gauzed by the feeling of security experienced by the minorities. Similarly one can say that the degree of democracy in a society is reflected by the degree of ‘freedom of expression’ in the society. In India we see that both these indices have been slipping down during last few years. There are observations that the religious minorities are being relegated to the second class citizenship. Muslims on one side and Christians on the other have been feeling more insecure during last few years, to be particular. Even before this it’s not that the things were too good for them. The feeling of ‘security of religious minorities’ and ‘freedom of expression’ have been constantly being undermined for decades, the acme of this is being witnessed since BJP led NDA has come to power in the center. As such both these, security of minorities and freedom of expression run parallel to each most of the times.

This fact came to surface yet again when Naseeruddin Shah, one of the legends of Indian cinema, poured his heart out in the backdrop of the murder of Sobodh Sing in the violence related to Cow in Bulanshahr, UP. Shah was talking to Karvan-E-Mohabbat. This group, led by the indefatigable activist Harsh Mander, has been a humane response to the rising Hate crimes. The group has taken upon itself to visit and show solidarity with the families of the victims of Hate crimes, to try to put soothing balm on their wounds of having lost their dear one. This remarkable gesture is steeped in compassion and love for the members of our diverse society.

Shah told them that “In many areas we are witnessing that the death of a cow has more significance than that of a police officer. I feel anxious thinking about my children. Because they don’t have a religion... tomorrow if a mob surrounds them and asks ‘are you a Hindu or a Muslim?’ they will have no answer. It worries me because I don’t see the situation improving anytime soon. These matters don’t scare me, they make me angry,” He also said that the hate prevalent in the society is like a djinn which has been released from the bottle and now it may be difficult to put it back. He observed that the people have became emboldened to take arms and do violence as they know that they can get away with it.

In any society where love and amity are the norm this statement from a citizen would have made the society introspect. Some of our progressive organizations like from Progressive Writers Association in a statement did come forward to show solidarity with him. Some others like Ashutosh Rana stood with him in this anguish of his, but a bigger section came down pouncing on him. His co star of many films Anupam Kher ridiculed him saying that there has been freedom to throw stones on the army and freedom to bad mouth the top military officers, so how much freedom Shah wants? Uma Bharati, the Cabinet Minister in Modi Government said that people like Shah are part of the conspiracy of the divisive politics. Baba Ramdev, the Baba cum business tycoon, called him anti-national and some others went on say that he can go and stay where he feels secure! While the UP state BJP Chief called Shah a Pakistani agent. To cap it all Shah was booed in the Ajmer Literary Festival and was prevented from speaking.

It is not the first time a Muslim actor has been treated so shabbily. We recall that when Shah Rukh Khan in 2015 commented on growing intolerance in society, he was compared to Hafiz Sayeed of Pakistan. In the year next in the face of growing intolerance due to which large number of prominent people were returning their national awards, Aamir Khan shared his wife Kiran Rao fears about their child. He was also dubbed in the similar vein.

What has been happening during last few years? It’s true that there has not been any violence of the scale of post Godhra Gujarat or Kandhmal 2008 or Muzzafrnagar 2013. What has been happening is that chronic violence is becoming endemic and some ghastly individual incidents of horrific nature are coming to the fore. These frighten the Muslim community. Attacks and disruptions on prayer meetings of Christians are making them more insecure than before. The issue of Cow related violence starting from Mohammd Akhlaq to Juned and Rakbar Khan has given the signals that food habits will be dictated by the foot soldiers of communal politics To cap it all those accused have been given recognition by those in power like central ministers Mahesh Sharma draping the body of accused in Akhlaq case with tricolor and Jayant Sinha honoring the accused in lynching case.

Love Jihad related violence of Afrazul in Rajasthan by Shambhulal Regar showed the extremes to which the humanity can degenerate. Regar not only killed Afrazul in horrific manner but went on to get the video of the ghastly crime made by his nephew. To cap it all a committee to honor Regar was formed. What is divisive politics of which Shah is being accused by the worthies like Uma Bharati? What is divisive: raising the communal issues like Ram Temple, Holy Cow or stating one’s fears in the light of these massive violations of human rights? What must have irked Shah most was that in the wake of murder of police office primacy was given to the killing of Cow. The mobs which have got emboldened over a period of time are imbued with Hate ideology, hatred for the religious minorities. Shah’s anger should be a wakeup call for the democratic spirit of our society to try put back the djinn of hatred back in the bottle, the bottle which needs to be discarded for good.    

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED

With freedom of the country and later coming in to being of Indian Constitution, India became a secular democratic republic. At the same time the breakaway Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah, in a speech in Pakistan Constituent Assembly also declared that Pakistan would be a secular state. Soon enough after the death of Jinnah the logic of partition took over and Pakistan in due course was declared the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Same Pakistan, which came to be formed in the name of Islam, broke into Bangla Desh and Pakistan on the ground of language and geography among other reasons. India progressed to be a secular state; has been trying to uphold the values of secularism. Despite many hiccups, its attempt to keep alignment with secular values has been there until couple of decades ago, when the issue of Ram Temple raked up along with an assertion that India is a Hindu Rashtra. Sectarian nationalists have been asserting that, the secular values and Indian Constitution are not as per the ethos of this country and so the Constitution be changed to pave the path for Hindu Rashtra (Nation).

The lopsided partition of India, formation of Pakistan in the name of Islam on one side and secular India on the other was the accepted historical fact at that time.  With the assertion of Hindu nationalism, many of those who should know better are also not able to fathom the historical events in the correct light and its complexity. This came to surface yet again, when the judge of Meghalaya, Justice Sen, in a judgement related to a petition related to domicile certificate made comments that, as India was partitioned on the ground of religion and Pakistan was formed for Muslims, India should have been declared as a Hindu Rashtra. When faced with criticism he did say that he does believe in secularism and that India should not be further divided based on religion or caste.

How do we see such utterances from such learned judges and their likes? The history of India’s freedom movement and partition has been misrepresented times and over again. It shows that popular perceptions of the causes of partition tragedy do not present the real dynamics of the phenomenon and the massive tragedy of mass migration, which followed that partition process. The subcontinent continues to suffer from the after effects of partition in various forms. While in India, it is presumed that it was the separatism of Muslims, which led to partition, In Pakistan it is presumed that Muslims have been a nation since the time Mohammad bin Kasim ruled in Sind in eighth century, and that formation of Pakistan was needed to overcome the domination of Hindus.

Both these are mirror image views, which are very superficial and present the viewpoints of communal sections of society. Majority of Muslims and Hindus did stand for composite Indian nationalism, as represented by Indian National Congress (INC) led by Gandhi.  These were the views of those who, which led the, anti-colonial movement, the movement for India’s independence. With the rise of freedom movement which represented the longings of the newly emerging social classes of industrialists, businesspersons, workers, and educated classes who aspired for a democratic society. They veered around, INC, Gandhi. The freedom movement had two aspects. One was to oppose the British rule and the other was to build modern India founded on the values of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

At the same time, the feudal elements, declining classes, started opposing the process of making of modern India and opposing the anti-colonial movement. These declining classes were steeped in the values of birth-based inequality, hierarchy of caste and gender. They in due course; separated in the name of religion. British policy of ‘Divide and rule’ played major role in separation of elements of feudal origin in the name of religion. First, Muslims elite was encouraged and they formed Muslim League and the remaining Hindu elite grouped themselves into Punjab Hindu Sabha and later Hindu Mahasabha. Interestingly only kings and land-lords were part of these organizations in the beginning. It is later that some upper caste, educated elite also joined these organizations. Muslim League in due course talked of Muslim Nation. Hindu Mahsabha asserted that we have Hindu and Muslim nation in this country and that Hindu nation is primary. Around this ideology, RSS came up with the goal of Hindu nation. These organizations resorted to identity politics and spread hatred against the ‘other’ religious community. This laid the foundation of violence.

It was British who aimed at having a client state in South Asia, and hastened the formation of Pakistan for Muslims and remaining India for both the communities. It is ironical that despite Muslim majority, area demarcated as Pakistan; a larger number of Muslims were part of India. At one level the confusion of likes of Justice Sen, has grounding in the very lopsided policy, which led to creation of Pakistan, in the Muslim majority areas.

That India should be a secular democracy was not just the part of fanciful dream of leaders of freedom movement; it was the echo of the aspirations of the vast sections of Indian society. It was this vision of average Indians, which our leaders, founding fathers articulated, and this is what was enshrined in Indian Constitution.

Last three decades have seen the trampling of these values, which vast masses of Indian society dreamt and dream. As Muslim League in later parts of pre- Independence India could mobilise more Muslims due to its games of identity politics, in India today due to rise of identity politics some sections of society have been deluded into believing that this is a Hindu nation. These illusions built around identity issues should be made to melt fast to remind us of our tasks of building a nation of equals, irrespective of our religion, caste and gender.       

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED