Another day, another conflict. We seem to be living in a world where you get appreciated for spreading hate, and sneered at or worse for showing love. A world where one can publicly express contempt and insult religious practices and beliefs, citing the so-called freedom of speech. But I would happily swap freedom of speech with freedom to practice within a harmonious culture. I wonder if this putrid mindset is evolving due to the failure of state policies, or whether is it due to the lack of inspiring examples set by us. Whether we are celebrities, leaders or plain parents, most of us seem to be promoting violence instead of peace, hate instead of love, anger instead of compassion. Whether it is India or Pakistan, all we see is an increasingly intolerant society. I suspect technology –in the form of social media-- plays a huge role in sucking the heart and soul out of us, throwing us back into the age of brutality. The ruthless murder of a student the other day in Khyber Pakhtunkhawa province, renowned as the “Land of Hospitality” before partition, shows how fanatics have completely sabotaged the beautiful Pashtun identity. The hideous part was that the bloodthirsty murderers were not some illiterates from a madrasa, but educated university students, seen as the ‘future of the country.’ The investigation says these students were “provoked” against each other by the university faculty. Well as they say in Pashtu, ‘Che mashar ghal we kashar ghal we (when the elder is a thief the young is bound to be a thief too.)'
Recently in India, while several Muslims slept through the morning call for prayers, we had one very annoyed non-Muslim who had his sleep disturbed by the very same call. Perhaps it was a sleep disorder, or just a bad hair day, but the famous singer expressed his annoyance through a tweet, seeking a ban on loudspeakers as they disturb his peace. However, after a day's trolling the singer stated that he wanted restrictions over the use of loudspeaker all over the country by both Muslims and Non-Muslims. But the question is why? There seems to be a phenomenal supply of intolerance among different individuals, especially youngsters who seem to be fueling their own narrow perspectives. When this is not identified, recognized, treated and addressed, they resort to violence, aggression, discrimination and even murder. On the other hand there is a pop star Justin Bieber who stopped his concert twice to respect azaan recently, and saw nothing wrong with it.
India insists it is a democratic, secular state. Article 25 of Indian Constitution very clearly gives all persons freedom of conscience and right to profess, practice and propagate religion. Yet millions of Hindus from every corner of the social media agreed with the singer’s suggestion, paying no heed to the constitution. No society has ever been at peace or has prospered if a quarter of its population has felt neglected, deprived and unwanted. Islam is the second largest religion in India, with 14.2% of the country's population or roughly 172 million people identifying themselves as adherents of the faith. If India and #TeamSonuNigam want to prosper, they would have to live in a secular state without considering themselves as victims of the 120 seconds of azaan. Oh, but that is five times a day so to be precise, victims of 10 minutes of azaan each day. If India is really a secular state, Team Sonu Nigam would have to protect the rights of the minorities, as laid out by constitution. But perhaps he could just tweet and ask for the country to amend the constitution, as he can’t get a sound sleep, and because buying some medicines for his weak nerves sounds so stereotypical!
Having said that, where is this wave of hate coming from? Wasn’t diversity the strength of a country? On one side of the world we have nations like Canada, proudly declaring that “Diversity is Canada's Strength.” On the other we have celebrities and role models for our youngsters spreading revulsion and intolerance. Is this hate even genuine or just an attempt to seek attention? Whichever it is, it will only serve to help divide us, and breed further suspicion and distrust.
Maybe we as parents, leaders and mentors have failed to preach the importance and significance of peace and harmony, and that is the reason for this aggravated benighted hate. Let’s teach our kids that that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength. It’s important to sensitize youth about the adverse effects of substance abuse. Parents, teachers and schools should become effective tools in teaching tolerance. The differences between Muslims and Hindus won’t end, but at least we can use social media to promote diversity and tolerance, instead of hate and violence. Let’s reject the belief that there is only one right way to live. Be it azaan, pandals on the roads during Durga Pujo or Ganesh utsav or even a loud concert, the need is to practice acceptance. Let’s teach our children to understand and respect different religions by setting an example. I’m a Muslim, but I enjoy the festival of Holi, and I would love to play with colours one day with my children and friends. I’ve always admired the designs drawn on the floor in colours, a Hindu tradition and art that no other woman in the world knows. Playing Holi or listening to the Hindu religious calls is not a cacophony for me. I grew up listening to Sonu’s songs, and even danced to them at parties. That does not make me a lesser Muslim. Let’s all celebrate, encourage and promote diversity, and make this world a better place for our children.
(The author is a Pashtun researcher, writer and single mother. She tweets @eerahashir)