Bridging the Communal Divides

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Dr. Ram Puniyani

 “My son is gone… But If you love me, then keep calm. Don’t cause trouble for anyone,” Maulana Imdadul Rashidi, the Imam of Asansol told the funeral congregation for his son who was killed in the violence triggered by Ram Navami processions across West Bengal. — File photo


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 nationalisms 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 are 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.

Dr. Ram Punyani is a scholar on religious pluralism