Giving his daughter a lesson in optimism, Ahsan Jafri, the former Member of Parliament who was killed during the last Gujarat violence, had often said: "There is animosity in the world, but there is also brotherhood and love; there is pain and misery in the world, but there is also happiness and progress; there is fighting and brutality in the world, but there is also peace and tranquility. It only depends upon where and how you look at the world".
Jafri was an optimist. However, a little pessimism is often good for a society. It helps us take a little deeper look at our analyses, protocols, evaluations, understanding and theses.
Gujarat violence has provided several valuable insights about the communal polarization that has been so shrewdly and successfully advanced and achieved in the state. Jafri was right in one sense that it only depends upon how you look at your world. Well, let us take a look at our world, a little pessimistically this time.
The champions of the communal divide would have us believe that the Gujarat violence was a result of Hindu-Muslim animosity, which is historic, deep-rooted and, given the tenets of Islam, unavoidable. But in reality, nothing could be farther from the truth. It was not the religion -- Hinduism or Islam -- that was responsible for the Gujarat violence. The only religion that was actually responsible for the violence was Extremism.
Extremism, which has remarkably flourished globally in the 20th century, is a religion in itself. Converts to Extremism come from Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and many other faiths. But the violence seen in Gujarat occurred because the elements of this extremist faith entered the government, or the government was controlled by the extremists.
True religions have been a part of our creation and are not at all bad -- regardless of Semitic origin or Pagan. No religion teaches us to be evil, unkind, intolerant, or violent. It is exactly the opposite of these natural instincts in the human beings that the religions came to address, suppress and eliminate. In present times, it is mostly the interpretation -- an interpretation that has more to do with politics than spirituality.
The question is, what leads us to miss this obvious deduction?
Speaking at one of the fundraisers for Gujarat victims, Imam Siraj Wahhaj, who accepted Islam recently, recounted his experience with a dentist. He had gone to a dentist for the extraction of his troubled tooth. After seating him on the chair, the dentist took a pliar in his hand, rested his foot against Imam Siraj Wahhaj’s chair and started yanking on his tooth. The procedure was brutal and Imam Siraj said a lot of blood came out before the tooth was extracted. But he said that he did not feel the pain. No pain, because he was under the effect of anesthesia.
One could see several reflections in that experience.
What took place in Gujarat, also called "A Great Gujarat Experiment" by extremists like Togadias and Singhals, was brutal. Abundant blood, burning, rape and mutilation of innocent people -- men, women and children -- occurred. But judging from the reaction of our government, our communities and the world at large, it is not difficult to see that many did not feel the pain. Many of us -- the good Samaritans, educated, intellectual people -- even condoned it in the backdrop of Godhra and Amarnath killings. These are the people who are under the effect of a very heavy dose of anesthesia -- Social Anesthesia- administered to them by the crafty and opportunistic political doctors.
There are several brands of this Social Anesthesia. The most commonly used in India are Kashmir, Ayodhya, Muslim Personal Law and the excesses committed by Pakistan and Bangladesh on their local Hindus. A pessimistic question is "Is any of these issues truly Hindu-Muslim problem, or have they only been cleverly dressed to look like Hindu-Muslim problems?" Let us see.
We have repeatedly been told that Muslims, who are the majority in Kashmir, have been committing Hindu genocide and ethnically cleansing the region of Hindus. However, the reality is that for every Hindu killed in Kashmir, nearly 5 innocent Muslims have lost their lives. The total number of Muslims killed in the valley over the last 15 years is well over 35,000. How can this be called a Hindu genocide? Hindus have fled from Kashmir, but the Muslims are dying right there. Every day. It is neither a Hindu genocide, nor ethnic cleansing by Muslims. It is simply a tragedy that is borne out of our failure as a country to deal with extremists and terrorists, compounded by the constant communal rhetoric of the opportunists.
No one should belittle the pain and miseries the Kashmiri Pandits have suffered. But no one should ignore the pain and miseries of the innocent Muslims in Kashmir as well, who also have suffered equally, if not more, and continue to suffer. Kashmir is not a Hindu-Muslim problem. It is a political problem, which is being exploited by the extremists on either side of the communal divide. Life of Kashmiris is disrupted and destroyed on either side -- India as well as Pakistan. There is no security, or peace for them in Kashmir. Description of the state of Muslims in POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) by Khalid Hasan in "Kashmir: Time for honesty" clearly shows that Kashmir is not at all a Hindu-Muslim problem.
This problem can be solved only if our leadership stops exploiting Kashmir issue for petty benefits and electoral gains or, as Arundhati Roy points out, to hide their domestic failures behind it. The solution lies in accepting Kashmir as a political problem and therefore in finding a political solution. Integrating the Kashmiris with the rest of India by making them partners in our progress will help.
For nearly 600 years since Babar built Babri Masjid, the issue did not polarize Hindu-Muslim communities as much as the communal spin put on this issue and its subsequent advertisement in the past decade, starting with Advani’s Rath Yatra, has made possible.
Muslims in general have shown a total complacency in the apathy of their leadership in tackling the issue. Over my fifteen years of working on this problem, I am yet to come across a Muslim who actually believes that Babri Masjid should not be given to the Hindus with respect and dignity that it deserves. That view is held by a wide spectrum of Muslims -- rich and poor, educated and illiterate, young and old. But the Muslim leadership is not listening to their silent majority who want to build the bridge of co-operation and understanding with their fellow Indians, just as the Hindu leadership is not listening to their silent majority who do not want to politicize their religious issue.
It would seem that the Muslim and Hindu leadership is working hand-in-glove in a self-serving manner using this issue, just like the Kashmir issue, in their own power struggles. It is, again, extremism at work on both sides, and helped with our silence, poor judgment and a lack of understanding, or clear thinking, has even been successful in producing communal divisions that we have not seen for the last 600 years.
Muslim Personal Law (MPL)
In the aftermath of fatwa against Salman Rashdie and banning of his book, Satanic Verses in India, I had asked literally hundreds of Muslims how they felt about the issue. Every Muslim condemned the book and a large majority justified banning its publication as well as the fatwa against Rashdie. But, strangely enough, none of them had read the book or even seen it. Pessimistically seen, this is not very uncommon in India. That is essentially because we are a community that jumps to conclusions before knowing, or many a times without knowing, the facts. It is precisely this characteristic, or the weakness, which has been smartly exploited by the extremists to their advantage on the issue of MPL.
Extremists say that Indian Muslims are against Uniform Civil Code (UCC) because they don't want to lose the provision of multiple marriages allowed under the Muslim Personal Law which helps them increase their population through excessive procreation. One of Modi’s derogatory remarks on Muslims during his Gujarat Gaurav Yatra was "ham paanch, hamaare pachchees" (we five and our twenty five).
However, the fact is that the demography of India has not changed to any significant extent over the last 50 years despite ballooning of our population. I don’t know of any Muslim who has, or wants to have four wives and dozens of children. The percentage of population with large families (more than six) also does not show any significant religion bias. So what accounts for the success of this derogatory rhetoric? The same old: Satanic-Verse-syndrome
If the Muslim leadership was clever, it would have challenged the proponents of UCC to do just that -- bring in a Uniform Civil Code in India. It is not just Muslims who have special provisions through MPL under the existing laws. There are special provisions, some of them even for multiple marriages, provided to various castes and Hindu tribes under our existing laws and it is not easy to properly integrate these laws in order to arrive at a Uniform Civil Code without upsetting many communities. But the blame has been squarely pinned on the Muslims and the Muslim leadership has no clue or the courage to call the bluff.
Hindu Genocides in Pakistan and Bangladesh
Ill treatment of Minorities in countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, most of Middle East, Malaysia, Burma, Laos and many other such countries including much of South America has been a reality. But, again, it would be wrong to make this a Hindu-Muslim issue.
We all know that in Pakistan not just Hindus, but many Muslim tribes, for example Shia’s, Ahmadis, Ismaeelis, AghaKhanis and Bohras have also suffered much worse atrocities. Bahais have suffered in Jordon and Iran; Shia’s continue to suffer in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia; Buddhists, Christians and Muslims in Burma and Laos; Kurds in Iraq.
These are mainly majority-minority issues, which should not be communalized in terms of Hindu-Muslim rivalry. During Aurangzeb’s reign, several Bohra leaders had been slain, notable amongst whom were Maulana Kutbuddin and Maulana FeerKhan Shuja’uddin. They were all Muslims. Besides, it is a common sense that if the neighbor is beating his wife, my wife does not destroy her own house treating the neighbor's affair as one of man-woman issue and call every man unjust, or a woman-basher.
Muslims in India in general do not have ill feelings towards their Hindu compatriots, just as Hindus in general do not have ill feelings towards Indian Muslims. We just need to get out of this Pakistan-Bangladesh, Hindu-Muslim anesthesia and stop the extremists who invoke religion to divide us thereby weakening our union, which has been so unique for so long.
Working at the grassroots for decades with a campaign of misinformation, misinterpretation and plain lies, Indian extremists have successfully raised an entire generation based on the ideology of hate and intolerance of others’ faiths and religious beliefs. This generation has been totally anesthetized with the Hindu-Muslim rhetoric and made immune to see the human sufferings.
While the leaders who preach hate and violence have never lost any of their family members to the communal violence they propagate in the country, common citizens have suffered and continue to suffer great losses in terms of their lives and livelihoods.
The country as a whole also pays a big price in getting weak and impoverished. Just the Gujarat violence has cost us more than 10,000 crore rupees in damages and several thousand crore more in lost opportunities, investments, time, goodwill and security.
It's time for the silent majority to come out of hibernation, rise, speak-up and make that difference which will stop the campaign of hate and terror and put the hate-mongers out of business, preferably behind bars. Muslims need to reject a lot of their present leadership just as Hindus need to do away with their own.
When Shahabuddins, Bukharis, Singhals, Modis, Advanis and several of their cohorts are driven out and replaced by the true sons and daughters of India, who are full of pride for their country and love for humanity, there can be optimism. There can be hope for unity, integrity, humanity and peaceful co-existence, which will bring unprecedented progress to our country and push India to become one of the most developed and powerful nations in the world.
Working together, I have no doubt we can realize that dream.
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