Since the issue I am writing about happens to be a sensitive one for us Indians, a disclaimer would be in order and so here it is – I have no affiliation with any political or religious groups or for that matter, any type of organisation. I’m also quiet OK with contrarian views and uphold freedom of expression when exercised responsibly. What I can’t stand are unproven insinuations of the instigative kind and attempts to ‘defend the indefensible’, because it’s my firm belief that more often than not, these are intentionally disseminated with the insidious intent of arousing communal passions and precipitating unrest for a variety of petty gains.
I’m confident that overwhelming majority of Indians too have a similar outlook and my belief stems from the fact despite incessant attempts to polarise society on communal and sectarian lines, we have still cohabited peacefully. Of course, there have been times when we fell prey to bigoted thoughts that made us feel insecure and suspicious of the other community.
There are times when members of both communities are afflicted by pangs of mutual suspicion and affable members of the ‘other’ community with whom we had coexisted for so long, overnight turned into existential threats.
Mercifully, such ugly thoughts and misplaced apprehensions are both, short-lived and rare.
Unfortunately, we are currently passing through another phase of communal disharmony that has spilled onto the streets of New Delhi, but thankfully the situation was stabilised before things spiraled out of control.
However, the atmosphere remains vitiated and this situation, to say the least, is extremely scary and depressing. I don’t want sound like a prophet of doom, but the type of communal acrimony that we are currently witnessing is worrisome because with a section of the intelligentsia, social activists and some community leaders having aligned themselves with both sides, the resultant communal cacophony has the potential of leaving permanent scars on our psyche.
With both the rabble-rousing Hindu and Muslim camps hardening their respective positions and complaining of being targeted by each other, no one seems to care for saner voices of upright and well-meaning people from both communities. The centerstage has unfortunately been usurped by a motley group of zealots, many known for their proclivity to promote communal animosity and their communally charged utterances are only aggravating the situation.
While it may not be fair to apportion complete blame the ignorant masses for being swayed by inflammatory utterances, sections of the clergy and well-educated people exhibiting duplicity on this issue cannot be pardoned because they are playing a very dangerous. Rather than unambiguously condemn provocative statements made by irresponsible members of the community that they support – such people conveniently grant quasi-legitimacy to the same by terming these as “personal opinions.” But at the same the univocally declare any equally reckless utterance from the other side as the unanimous and irrevocable view of that community- a typical case of ‘heads I win, tails you lose’.
This free-for-all ‘freedom of expression’ binging, which is our constitutional right attracts publicity seekers, mischief mongers and lumpen elements aspiring to become community leaders and they outdo each other in spewing vitriol against the other community and this sets into motion an unending cycle of allegations and counter accusations with open threats of ‘retaliation’ from both sides. The result is that we have a typical ‘tinder box’ situation and with frayed tempers, a plethora reasons like fake news or baseless rumours regarding desecration of places of worship, sacrilegious acts, murderous assault on community members and destruction of their properties can act as the proverbial ‘lighted match’ to start a communal inferno.
With certain political parties fueling communal animosity in an attempt to exploit the situation for their parochial interests, the situation is only exacerbating as everything that’s happening today is being viewed through the prism of communalism. The moment it becomes known that a person killed and his attacker belong to two different communities, this incident acquires a communal hue even if its due to personal enmity and at times, such absurdity even extends traffic accidents. Due to this, what we have is an uneasy calm that’s held hostage by whims and fancies of wily politicians.
But how are the two communities responding?
Ask Hindus and they will tell you that violence and hatred has no place in their religion; you’ll also get the same answer from Muslims. But if this is really true, why are incidents of clashes and arson commonplace whenever there’s a communal face-off? The reality is that rather than invoking religious edicts to help build bridges and end communal animosity, certain preachers, politicians, community leaders and even some well-educated individuals from both communities either instigate violence by making provocative statements, or tacitly approve of them through their calculated silence. With no one to calm frayed nerves, both communities run amok and end up with each other’s blood on their hands.
The paradox is that while instigators wax eloquent on how their respective religions attach utmost importance to morality and compassion towards fellow humans, they simultaneously defend acts of iniquitous behaviour like mob lynching and arson by their community members with equal aplomb.
Their contorted reasoning is that while their flock remains fully committed to peace as mandated by the tenets of their religion, resorting to violence against the other community for ‘self defence’ or to avenge their wronged community members is also justified. So, many of those who otherwise take the moral high ground on religion and ethics, actually end up endorsing the depraved medieval ‘eye for an eye’ philosophy.
But is it just a coincidence that, it’s mainly the common people who get killed, maimed, injured and lose their belongings during communal clashes? Isn’t it shameful that those who instigate violence not only remain unaffected, but even manage to improve their own internal popularity ratings and become heroes of sorts within their respective communities?
And isn’t it also appalling that while the self-anointed caretakers of both communities accuse the other side of vilifying their religion by contorting or mocking its teachings, they themselves have no qualms in misinterpreting holy edicts of their own religion just to promote hatred and intolerance towards the other community?
Let’s not blame the British for sowing seeds of communal animosity, because religion has been used by the unscrupulous for furthering their own vested interests since time immemorial. This strategy provides three major benefits-one, it works in every conceivable situation, two, once an issue gets religious connotation, there’s no need for taking trouble to furnish logical and convincing reasoning for mobilising community support.
Lastly, once the religious angle comes into play, it’s very easy to make people kill each other without any remorse due to the grotesque belief that their barbaric acts have religious sanctity and being an obligatory religious responsibility, will be both appreciated and rewarded by the Almighty!
Even renowned 18th century Sufi saint Syed Abdullah Shah Qadri (Popularly known as ‘Bulleh Shah’), in a ‘Kafi’ (a verse form popular in Punjabi poetry), highlighted this despicable practice of communal exploitation. Using two fictional characters (Ramdas and Fateh Mohammad), Bulleh Shah has left the following pragmatic message for us:
“Kitheh Ramdas, kitheh Fateh Muhammad,
Eh do qadimi shor,
Mit gia duha da jhagrha,
Nikal pia kuch hor”
(Ramdas [Hindu] and Fateh Muhammad [ Muslim] had nothing in common,
But there was age-old (communal) cacophony between the two.
However, when their long-drawn squabble finally ended,
What emerged ultimately was something absolutely new!)
So, whether you are Ramdas or Fateh Mohammad, the next time someone tells you that you are being ‘persecuted’ or ‘victimized’ on religious grounds, or that the need of hour is to rise and use force in order to ‘defend’ your religion and fight for your rights, just remember that just like Bulleh Shah has said, the motivation behind the communal cacophony could well be something completely unrelated.