Bridging The Communal Divide In India – OpEd


Just like it’s patently apocalyptic to perceive COVID-19 pandemic as the beginning of the end of the world, similarly, to say that the “situation in India is approaching genocidal” due to “crisis of hatred against Muslims” too is a very extreme prognosis. At the same time, to maintain that ‘all’s well’ as far as communal amity between India’s two largest religious communities is concerned, is a completely misleading assessment of the prevailing situation, because by the most liberal standards, the fact of the matter is that, all’s not well.

Related to this is the talk about a deep-rooted conspiracy aimed at inciting communal passions, and I admit being been quite skeptical as far as conspiracy theories are concerned. But after seeing the systematic manner in which political parties, NGOs, activists and religious groups are stoking communal hatred, I’m inclined to believe that there is indeed some sort of conspiracy behind the prevailing communal tensions. But more about this later.

This is not the first time that communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims has flared up in India, but I do see some ‘firsts’ in the current situation. Whereas I (as a lay person) am basing my opinion on what I am seeing, I admit that I could be totally off the mark as far as my assessment of the prevailing situation is concerned, and would be more than happy to be further enlightened on this issue. To me it appears that this is the first time after partition that the issue of Hindu-Muslim animosity has not only reached our homes, but even entered into our bedrooms. Probably, this is also the first time that even educated and level-headed people have not only openly aligned themselves with either of the two communities, but have even gone as far as defending the provocative rantings and unpardonable indiscretions of the community they support.

Some opine that there’s nothing unusual about the above mentioned ‘firsts’ as these are the natural consequences of another ‘first’ by a government in post-independence history of India- that of institutionalising the discrimination of Muslims. In support of their contention, they invoke BJP’s stated ‘Hindutva’ agenda as the raison d’être for marginalising Muslims and continue to accuse Narendra Modi for the 2002 Hindu-Muslim communal riots in Gujrat, even though the courts have exonerated him in this case.

Whether these allegations are right or wrong is immaterial because all it requires is to somehow convince community members that the ‘conspiracy’ against them is real, and once this is done, the battle is half-won.

It goes to the credit of the proponents of this conspiracy theory that they did their homework well and were able to create a fear psychosis of mammoth proportions within the community by convincing people that their flock was facing the live threat of extermination! But the saying that it takes two to tango also holds good as far as success of conspiracy theories is concerned, and here one can’t deny the humungous ‘contribution’ of self-styled leaders of the other community who through their irresponsible, provocative and intimidatory utterances, added more strength to the religious persecution ‘conspiracy’.

Self-professed leaders of those who believed that they were being persecuted hit back in equal measure and using threatening language, swore to protect their community and defend their faith at all costs provoked the masses to say and do things that unnecessarily antagonised the other side. Resultantly, we reached a stage where undercurrents of being under threat gained equal currency within both communities and seeing this as an opportune moment for playing divisive politics, certain political parties chose to play to the gallery. So, rather than diffuse tensions, they started supporting either of the two communities and ended up creating a battle-front based on communal lines.

All this didn’t happen overnight and one could actually see how we were slowly (but surely) sliding into the inextricable morass of communal animosity. What we required to salvage the fast deteriorating situation were sane minds, but instead of rising up to the occasion and knocking some sense into those fomenting animosity, our exclusive brand of intellectuals and activists instead jumped into the fray and by defending one faction while castigating the other, ended up taking sides.

What made this abhorrent is that when it is patently evident that none of the sides is either absolutely right nor completely wrong and that both communities are complicit in aggravating the situation, some very well-known and learned personalities reacted like juveniles and thereby heightening tensions rather than calming agitated minds. Some even went as far as defending the misdemeanours of one community by saying that since its unwarranted reaction was merely a response to a provocative slur or intimidatory act from the other side, it was both deserved and justified!
To sum up, the role played by our intelligentsia in the current crisis has been, to say the least, downright pathetic.

Let’s return to the conspiracy theory, which I’ll explain without any intention of demonising any community or taking any sides. While I’m convinced that there’s surely a conspiracy, but I’m convinced that its seeds aren’t indigenous. During September last year, while addressing a public rally in Muzaffarabad (Pakistan occupied Kashmir or PoK), Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said “We all should know that Modi has been a member of the RSS since he was a child. It is a Hindu extremist group and they hate Muslims, Christians and all minorities.” On the face of it, Khan mentioning Modi’s political background and his purported communal ideology to a crowd in PoK just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

So, was this just a faux pas, or was it intentional and directed at Indian Muslims with the intention of sowing the seeds of communal animosity in their minds? Anyway, let’s give Khan the benefit of doubt. But in the same month, while speaking at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), where was the need for him to say “Don’t you think that 180 Million (Indian) Muslims will be radicalised in India as they see 8 million Kashmiris locked up?” Islamabad defends this by saying that being an Islamic Republic, Pakistan’s concern for the umma (Muslim fraternity) worldwide is axiomatic. Let’s give Khan the second benefit of doubt. But if this is indeed true, then what explains his stoic silence on Beijing’s institutionalised religious persecution of Uyghur Muslims of Xinjiang or the massacre of Kurds by Turkey? Sorry Mr Khan, no more benefits of doubts- your chances are up.

You would have noticed that not a week passes without Pakistan Prime Minister issuing some sort of a communally provocative statement based on uncorroborated facts and at times, even fake news. Readers would recall that in January, Khan shared a video his Twitter handle of policemen brutalising a person and had given it the provocative caption- “Indian police’s pogrom against Muslims in UP.” However, he was forced to delete it after it was revealed that the video was that of Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), and there was no scope of any mistaken identity since the acronym RAB was clearly visible on the padded vests the policemen were wearing. But since poisoning minds is a long-drawn process, if appropriate material is not available for dissemination to the target audience, then one has no other option but to fabricate news.

Just last week, PM Khan again tweeted “The deliberate & violent targeting of Muslims in India by Modi Govt to divert the backlash over its COVID19 policy, which has left thousands stranded & hungry, is akin to what Nazis did to Jews in Germany. Yet more proof of the racist Hindutva Supremacist ideology of Modi Govt.” One may blame the government for not making appropriate arrangements for daily wagers and other people from economically backward sections of society who are both stranded and without work due to lockdown. But, ask any Indian, irrespective of his (or her) caste or creed and you will be told that while there’s a lot the government has to answer for in its handling of the lockdown, but to accuse it of discrimination on communal lines in times of COVID-19 is just a figment of wild imagination.

It doesn’t require rocket science to discern that the undue ‘concern’ on the plight of Indian Muslims being shown by our Western neighbour has a malevolent dimension and this calls for a united response from al communities. We may have our internal differences but history bears testimony to the fact that we also have the innate ability to reconcile.

Furthermore, since it’s beyond human capability to ‘wipe out’ any religion and so, rather than waste our time and energies in a bid to fight an imaginary ‘enemy’ threatening our respective religions and tilting windmills like Don Quixote did, let’s instead focus on finding God by shedding our egos. For those wondering what’s the connection between and ego, the answer is contained in the following rendition of famous Sufi saint Bulleh Shah (1680-1757):

Roman Punjabi:
“Rab Rab karde budhey ho gaye mullah pandit saarey
Rab da khoj khurra na labba, sajdey kar kar harey
Rab ta terey andar wasda, wich Koran Isharey
Bulleh Shah, rab onho milsi jhehra apney Nafs nu marey”

English Transliteration:
“In their search for God, both the Mullah and Pundit grew old and finally gave up in despair
Because despite continuous prostrations they couldn’t find even a clue of him anywhere
The Koran (Holy Book) gives clear indications that within us does God reside- and so
Bulleh Shah says, God can be found only by those ready to sacrifice their ego.”

Nilesh Kunwar

Nilesh Kunwar is a retired Indian Army Officer who has served in Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. He is a ‘Kashmir-Watcher,’ and now after retirement is pursuing his favorite hobby of writing for newspapers, journals and think tanks.

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