Bridging the communal divides

Ram Puniyani

Ankit Saxena, a twenty three year old young man, was killed by the family of his fiancée, whom he intended to marry. The only son of his parents Ankit was looking at different religious communities with equal respect. His death was a shattering blow to his parents. We watched in great admiration that Yashpal Saxena, the heartbroken father, refused to communalize the issue while rightly asking for the guilty to be punished, and the blame of this sectarian insanity of the girls’ family should not be put upon the whole community. His father has now taken upon himself to commemorate the memory of his son by setting up a Trust, which will basically strive to work for ‘Aman’ [peace and harmony]. Its special focus will be to help those who want to marry out of their religion or caste.

In another touching case a grieving father refused to blame the whole community for the death of his son. Maulana Imdadul Rashidi, whose 16 year old son was killed in the violence triggered by Ram Navami processions across the state (WB), Maulana is Imam of a mosque in Asansol. While presiding over the meeting he appealed for peace and warned the assembly that he would leave the mosque and the town if there was any retaliation for his son’s death.

These are two glorious examples of the humane spirit of India. While on one side communal violence has been going on an upward spiral, the sensitive, concerned activists and citizens are at loss to plan for the future in a way which can strengthen the spirit of amity and harmony. While India’s medieval period saw the interaction for Hindus and Muslims at all the levels, from among the King’s Courts and their armies, the social interaction was marked by what we remember today as Ganga Jumni Tehjeeb, a synonym for Hindu Muslim interaction. This phrase is particularly applied for the North India, Ganges belt, where Bhakti and Sufi traditions peaked, where interaction in the arena of music, literature, architecture and food habits showed the bonding of the two communities. In the din of today’s “hate other’’ sentiments, we need to remember Gandhi, who in his book Hind Swaraj tells us about the social and political interaction between Hindus and Muslims, “The Hindus flourished under Moslem sovereigns and Moslems under the Hindu. Each party recognized that mutual fighting was suicidal, and that neither party would abandon its religion by force of arms. Both parties, therefore, decided to live in peace. With the English advent quarrels recommenced… Should we not remember that many Hindus and Mohammedans own the same ancestors and the same blood runs through their veins? Do people become enemies because they change their religion? Is the God of the Mohammedan different from the God of the Hindu? Religions are different roads converging to the same point. What does it matter that we take different roads so long as we reach the same goal? Wherein is the cause of quarreling?”

On similar lines Nehru in his “Discovery of India” outlines the thick Hindu Muslim interaction during medieval period. Incidentally, Shyam Benegal's classic serial based on this book is a brilliant depiction of Indian culture. It is true that during freedom struggle three types of nationalisms emerged, the one led by Gandhi-Nehru-Patel, Indian Nationalism Indian National Congress, INC), another led by Mohammad Ali Jinnah (Muslim Nationalism and its opposite and parallel with Savarkar and RSS in the lead, Hindu nationalism. While INC stood for people of all religions being part of the nation in the making Muslim Nationalism talked of the glories of Muslim kings and Muslims being a separate nation, Hindu Mahsabha-RSS talked that this nation is essentially a Hindu nation. This communal nationalism’s constructed their histories and laid the foundation for ‘Hate other’. It is this misconception-Hate other which became the foundation of communal violence, then polarization then rise of communal parties on electoral arena. It is due to this polarization that Muslim League started getting larger following among Muslims in the decade of 1940s. While Hindu communalism, particularly in the form of RSS, made structures, Shakhas, to spread their version of history and perceptions against minorities.

What we witnessing today is the crescendo of ‘Hate other’ ideology, ghastly violence as witnessed in Mumbai (1992-93), Gujarat (2002) Kandhmal-Orissa 2008, Muzzafarnagar 2013 in particular. Currently it seems the polarization is being achieved through low intensity violence orchestrated on emotive issues, Ram Temple, Love Jihad, Holy Cow, ‘Bharat mata ki jai’ among others. While on one side the polarization and electoral rise of communal party is going up, people like Yashpal Saxena and Maulana Rashidi stand out as the beacon lights for the nation. In Gujarat we had earlier seen Vasant Rao Hegiste and Rajab Ali as the duo that stood against the violence. In Mumbai violence in the 1992-93 there were many from localities who tried to do their bit to build the bridges of peace. One recalls the duo Waqar khan-Bhau Korde, in Dharavi area of Mumbai who through awareness programs, films tried to ensure peace in the aftermath of Mumbai violence.

It is time that society devices programs which carry forward the works of these Peaceniks, the work which reaches the ground and touches the cord between all the communities to bring back the spirit of amity and peace, to bring back the harmony which marked Indian society. We need to recall the efforts of like of Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and their role in anti colonial struggles. These are just few of the names, there are many such examples which we need to pay tribute to for a better spirit in our society.

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED

Currently there is propaganda from BJP combine that Congress is anti Hindu party. On every conceivable occasion it states that Congress is insulting Hinduism. In the wake of the verdict of Mecca Masjid blast cases; as the accused got released; BJP spokespersons went hammer and tongs saying that Rahul Gandhi-Congress have defamed Hindu religion, they should apologize for that. In the ongoing campaign for Karnataka elections (2018) BJP has taken out a Yatra against so called ‘anti Hindu policies’ of Congress. The propaganda has gone to such an extent that even Sonia Gandhi, the ex-Congress President had to say that Congress is perceived as a party for Muslims!

How should we understand the policies of a party for any religious community? BJP is propagating that it is a party which is taking care of Hindu interests. Is it true? It has taken up issue like Ram Temple, Holy cow, article 370, love jihad etc. Have Hindus at large benefitted from it? We see that economic slide in the conditions of farmers, workers, dalits and increasing atrocities against Hindu women. The claim that these emotive issues are for the benefit of Hindus is a pure make believe propaganda which has led to polarization, increased hate and increase in the acts of violence. The major victim of these policies is not only the Muslims but Hindus in large numbers.

What about Congress being Anti Hindu, against Hinduism? Let’s take the case of Mecca masjid blast. The major part of investigation was initially done by Hemant Karkare, who was killed in the 26/11 act of terror on Mumbai. Swami Aseemanand, the accused, himself had confessed of his crime in front of a magistrate, which was not under duress, and his confession was legally valid. Most of the investigations pointed fingers to Aseemanand, Sadhvi Pragya, Lt. Col Purohit et al. During last four years of BJP rule the case has been so presented by agencies as to exonerate them all and put the blame of wrong investigation on the part of Maharashtra ATS. While Karkare was proceeding with the investigations, Modi and Thackeray had called him anti-Hindu. Karkare felt so much pressured by these intimidations that he sought the advice of his distinguished elder, Julio Reibero, who advised him to carry on with his honest work, ignoring the pressures.

While anti Hindu image of Congress has been constructed around such issues, its pro Muslim image has been constructed in last few decades more so after the reversal of Shah Bano issue by Congress government, which apparently was a flawed decision. Still it was just yielding to retrograde elements within Muslim community. Muslim community as a whole did not benefit from it. Dr. Manmohan Singh’s statement ‘Muslims have a first claim on national resources’, is yet another statement flouted to assert that Congress is pro Muslim. What this hidden from the public view is that this statement came in the wake of the Sachar Committee Report. This report had debunked the claim that Muslims have been appeased, it concluded that the economic condition of Muslims has got a big slide back while they are also the victims of communal violence, and that the only place they are over represented is the jails!

As such attempt to walk on the path of secularism in our country, which has suffered the impact of ‘divide and rule’ policy of British is not easy. With the rising Indian consciousness, Indian Nationalism, Indian National Congress came up with the people from all religions. Badruddin Tybaji presided over the Congress session in 1887. It also had Presidents who were Parsi, Christian, and Hindu notwithstanding. This time around Congress faced criticism from Muslim communalists (Sir Syed for example), as being a Hindu Party, while Hindu communalists (like Lala Lalchand) dubbed that Congress is appeasing Muslims at the cost of Hindu interests. All through Congress had to face criticism from these elements, as it had the primary focus on Indian Nationalism; it was practicing secularism with some slips here and there.

The criticism of Muslim communalists, Muslim League culminated in the formation of Pakistan. Hindu communalist, Hindu Mahasabha RSS criticism was that Gandhi is appeasing Muslims, it is due to Gandhi that Muslims have raised their head, due to which Pakistan was formed. The sharpest articulation of this came in the actions of Nathuram Godse, who was a trained RSS Pracharak and also became the Secretary of Pune Branch of Hindu Mahasabha in 1936. In his statement in the Court (‘May it please your honor’), he says that Gandhi is responsible for formation of Pakistan, he has compromised the Hindu interests and been pro-Muslim!

The present criticism of Congress, it being called a Muslim party, it being against Hindu interests seems to be a continuation of the arguments, which began with Hindu communalists in 1880s, via the articulations of Hindu Mahasabha-RSS-Godse, which have become intensified during last couple of decades. Surely the condition of Muslims has worsened during last several decades and during last four years, its status is having a ‘free fall’, while those in power, making these accusations, anti Congress propaganda are having a field day with emotive issues in which Hindus are as much of the losers as the other sections of society are.

Walking the secular talk is becoming more difficult by the day. Gandhi was killed for this and his disciple Nehru is being the subject of vilification and calumny for the same. The Muslim communalists rejoiced formation of Pakistan, where development and amity is missing. With Congress-Gandhi Nehru we could make a small journey towards fraternity and progress. The criticism of Congress as being Muslim party, as being against Hindus, reflects more about the sectarian agenda of those propagating it rather that the nature of Congress, which despite all the flaws has been trying to protect secular values, despite massive limitations!

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED