A tiny item in a national daily should set us thinking about how a deadly conflagration was avoided in the sacred city of Ayodhya, the birthplace of Sri Rama. Torn pages of a holy book and objectionable items were found scattered outside a place of worship—this is euphemism for the old template of inciting a riot by the desecration of the Koran and the strewing of pig carcasses or body parts outside a mosque.
Luckily, in this case, the local Muslim community was neither deceived nor incited. They reported the matter to the police, who apprehended the miscreants. The provocations removed, the ground cleansed, a riot was averted and peace restored. But it could easily have gone the other way, as the current cycle of Hindu-Muslim unrest and violence on Ram Navami last month shows.
Once again, questions are being asked as to what might be the best way to secure good inter-communal relations. Almost everyone, except the most brutally calculating, cynical, and sinister, will agree that social and religious harmony are essential to a peaceful and prosperous India. But we must not dismiss the latter band of small but possibly determined detractors. For they can hold the rest of the republic to ransom. It is to them that this column is mainly addressed.
Let us, as they say, give these “devils” their due. A constant and simmering hatred between communities, some coldly scheming detractors believe, is actually good for the Hindus. Why? Because they will be able to put the Muslims in their place. How? Keep the tension, distrust and hatred bubbling below the surface. Raise the heat, when needed, to boiling or exploding point. To settle scores, regain turf, remove anti-socials and teach the other side a lesson. The supremacy of the majority thus reasserted may be harnessed for votes whenever required.
Not surprisingly, the enemies of the nation from the other, so-called minority side, collude with the advocates of the brutal or brutish majority thesis. It serves their cause well to foment ill-will between Hindus and Muslims. According to them, Hindus are neither peaceful nor accommodating—this is proved over and over again by the riots. The result? The further alienation of Indian Muslims.
If there is anything that Muslims cannot stand, as per this argument, it is injustice, zulm. As victims of Hindu zulm, they will reunite and fight back. The disgruntled and unemployed youth among the urban Muslim underclass will be a fertile breeding ground for hired hooligans, stone pelters and rioters. Violence will be met by violence. Eenth ka javab pathar se diya jayega—the response to a brick hurled at us will be with a stone struck back even harder.
The nefarious plan is to engineer a hundred intifadas in India, a hundred battlegrounds with Valley-style stone pelters. India will be marked as anti-Islamic in the Muslim world and criticised for human rights violations in the West. We will weaken India from inside, while our partners from across the borders will attack it, whenever possible or necessary, from the outside. In the end, we will achieve what we want, “Bharat tere tukde honge, Inshallah, Inshallah”—India will be broken into pieces, God willing, God willing.
Let us say instead, God forbid, God forbid! This should be the united response of all right-thinking citizens, whether Hindu or Muslim. We must, on both sides, shun extreme mistrust and hatred. We should eschew calls to action based on notions such as “All Muslims are fanatical and anti-Hindu; their religion teaches them to hate kafirs or non-believers. There can be no peace with them.” Really, you might counter, what, then, of the nearly 200 million Muslims in India? Send them to Pakistan, these Hindu intolerants retort, although they know full well that this is an impossibility.
What they possibly mean is that Muslims should subsist as second-class citizens in India, constantly having to show their loyalty and obedience to the majority, rather than to the nation. This is not only demoralising and humiliating, but unlikely to lead to national unity. Instead, an alienated minority, encouraged by enemies of the nation, will be incentivised to harbour or support all kinds of anti-India elements and causes. Encroaching on public land or cattle-running would be relatively minor problems compared to bigger threat to the nation. The electoral dividend in terms of the consolidation of Hindu votes cannot offset or compensate for the resultant fracture in the body politic.
At the same time, it should be clear to Indian Muslims that the burden of harmony and peace cannot be solely on Hindus. Instead of marking out no-go zones in Muslim “ghettos” where a Sharia-compliant minority is ruled by the dictates of fanatics, why shouldn’t Mullas and minority politicians initiate peace and trust-building measures? In addition to Hindus hosting and participating in Iftar parties, why shouldn’t Muslims host Ram Navami or Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations?
Where Hindu processions are “banned”, why shouldn’t they be welcomed instead? Why shouldn’t Hindu leaders give advance notice to their Muslim counterparts about intended Shobha yatras or processions? Why shouldn’t the former welcome the latter with rose petals and firni or sevayan, rice pudding and kheer, especially on Eid? This may sound idealistic, but it was done in the past. Just as there are SOPs to engineer riots, there are also tried and tested measures to prevent them.
If appeasement weakened the Hindu cause, then antagonism will not automatically strengthen it. The antidote to appeasement is not aggression. Aggression rarely has the intended outcome. Instead, it usually spirals out of control, backfiring or turning monstrous—as history has shown us again and again. Neither appeasement nor aggression, but the equal treatment of all citizens, regardless of their religion, caste, community, language or region, is the way forward. Enshrined in our Constitution, it is this ideal that is the best safeguard of our democracy. It is our duty to restore it.
Makarand R Paranjape
Professor of English at JNU