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Why Hindus And Muslims Must Unite – OpEd

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I liked the Salman Khan starrer Hindi movie Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015). I can’t say that it is a particularly intelligent movie. But then, what definition of intelligence do we apply when it comes to Bollywood movies! To its credit the movie tries to show that there are human beings on both sides of the Indo-Pak border, irrespective of religious and political differences. 

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The sad part is that we need to go and watch a movie in order to learn that people are human beings whether they happen to be Hindus or Muslims or whether they live in Pakistan or in India. I don’t understand what is so complicated about it. Perhaps I am exaggerating and most Indians, whether Hindus or Muslims, are in fact aware of the humanity of the other person. What sense does it make when people willingly submit to the wiles of the lowest class of human beings called politicians who are determined to destroy whatever semblance of unity exists among the common masses! The polarization along communal lines that is happening across India is also because people are allowing themselves to be polarized.

A happy marriage of the police and the state with religion and media in the role of bridesmaids is gradually becoming evident even to those who choose to be blind as to how the government machinery is being used to persecute individuals without following the due process of law. Personally I am against the destruction of public property that usually happens during protests. But it does not mean that a bunch of bureaucrats decide who is guilty and who is not and administer the law in such a manner that it leaves people more determined than ever to fight back.

It is time that the masses begin to think of unconventional means to seek change rather than fall back on organized religion which, like caste, is the second-last refuge of a scoundrel, right behind politics. In the latest news Kuwait is deporting expats who participated in protests against the comments made by a spokesperson of India’s party in power. This is how earnestly believers among the Arab Muslim ruling classes take religion. Whether right or wrong, the followers who took the comments seriously enough to go on a protest are victims who must lose their jobs, return to their home countries and probably face punishment too. For the most part, wealthy people are not in the habit of giving up their personal or political interests for the sake of religion. Organized religion remains the arena of the poor and the lower middle classes. 

What is the point in all of this! Very simple. You have to get your priorities right. Do not enter into what looks like a losing battle. Powerlessness is a terrible thing and powerless people tend to look for issues that give them visibility instead of coldly and rationally planning events that could benefit them in the long run. Visibility is irrelevant more so because the media and industry are in the hands of a small group of people. Not only do they control the state machinery but they are also able to manipulate the justice system to suit their interests. Simply appearing on television or having a news item is not going to solve the problem. Those who are at the helm of affairs do not care what others think of them. 

As a matter of fact, religion and the religious are two different things altogether. Religion is the ideal and the religious are the real. The former is a set of ideas on how to live in relation to the supernatural and the latter are people with desires and interests. In his article “Religion in Politics,” Eqbal Ahmad points out: 

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“no religio-political movement or party has to my knowledge incorporated in a comprehensive fashion the values or traditions of Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism in their programmes and activities, nor have they set examples of lives lived, individually or collectively, in accordance with the cherished values of the belief system they invoke. What they do is to pick out whatever suits their political purposes, cast these in sacred terms, and invest them with religious legitimacy. This is a deforming though easy thing to do.”

“Religious legitimacy” is often given to the worst kind of behavior that you can imagine in a human being. Therefore, it is imperative to overcome inhibitions and attempt to reach out to others. In other words, you build as many bridges as possible with individual persons and communities outside your own. Nothing threatens a powerful state like the unity of common masses. The state encourages the use of religion for political ends. That’s why I think Hindu-Muslim unity is important. It is the only way by which the masses can confront colonial attempts made by political parties, both ruling and opposition, to divide based on religion and keep the system of inequality going on. Religion in the deepest sense of the term has nothing or should have nothing to do with politics. It should be about ethics and human feelings for the unknown. Unfortunately, it is not like that and what we see is fundamentalism masquerading as religion. Eqbal Ahmad couldn’t have put it better when he says:

“All variants of contemporary ‘fundamentalism’ reduce complex religious systems and civilizations to one or another version of modern fascism. They are concerned with power not with the soul, with the mobilization of people for political purposes rather than with sharing or alleviating their sufferings and aspirations. Theirs is a very limited and time bound political agenda.”

In the context of how this can be changed we need to consider the role of education in the broadest sense possible. One cannot afford to have a condescending attitude towards the weak and the downtrodden. Christ calls them “salt of the earth” and Frantz Fanon, “The wretched of the earth.” Both of them felt the lived reality of the masses. An elitist tendency to be self-appointed spokespersons of the voiceless is the essence of what passes for the academic left in countries like India; a good reason why no one takes them seriously. Either they are living in a fool’s paradise or they are part of this system in devious ways supporting it while publicly claiming to oppose it. 

Self-interest and real activism do not go together. Intellectuals explain a problem and create the space for the poor to articulate their condition. They cannot play the role of victims. Clearly they’re not. If you are in the position of an intellectual, it means you already have some kind of social power. This is the reason I am careful when supporting a movement or a method of fighting injustice that I myself would be reluctant to put into practice. 

Given the kind of extraordinary power that the modern state enjoys it is meaningless to embark on any method that involves active resistance without first raising the consciousness of the masses. Ill-organized and lacking in discipline, the peasants were butchered by the aristocrats and landlords in a major popular revolt that happened in Germany (1524–25). Active resistance does not work in all contexts. I cannot however think of a context where passive resistance does not make the powerful nervous and confused. Think of the struggles of women across the world, especially Asian women fighting patriarchy for thousands of years, while still clinging to the idea of family and honor! 

In the films of the Japanese director Kenji Mizoguchi (1898 – 1956), you can catch a glimpse of how Asian women used suffering and love as weapons to counter the violence of patriarchy in its most gruesome forms. In fact, to this day poor and lower middle class women continue to passively resist the worst kinds of evils inflicted on them in countries like India where they are treated as less than human beings simply because most men are incapable of getting rid of misogynistic attitudes they have acquired through custom and bad education. 

Passive resistance legitimizes the meanings of struggles in a deeper sense than active resistance. The only thing with passive resistance is that it is both time-consuming and requires enormous amounts of patience. But, the ones who really intend to see change in their lifetime should possess those qualities. “Men are created equal. Everyone is entitled to their happiness,” says the noble father to his doting children before being sent on exile for his selfless dedication to the poor in Mizoguchi’s Sansho the Bailiff (1954). The children take their father’s words to heart and while the daughter dies trying to liberate her brother from bondage, the son is alone with his physically and mentally shattered mother who barely recognizes him.

Mizoguchi shows that despite the harsh and oppressive medieval world there were people who fought back without losing hope. Without such idealism that resisted the violence of the powerful there would never have been change in any part of the world. Since what we are witnessing now is nothing short of the Dark Ages in terms of how consumerism and authoritarianism are becoming the norm, working towards Hindu-Muslim unity with diligence and faith is a step in the right direction for India as a nation.

Prakash Kona

Prakash Kona is a writer, teacher and researcher who lives in Hyderabad, India. He is Professor at the Department of English Literature, The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad.

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