So one spent a large part of Sunday reading an array of newspapers. The themes for my weekend reading and TV viewing was set by ‘The Big Fight’, a current affairs debate on NDTV, hosted by the dashing Vikram Chandra, on Saturday night. The discussion this time was on the findings of Justice G T Nanavati on the Godhra and post-Godhra riots in Gujarat and role of Chief Minister Mr. Narendra Modi & his ministers in the same. While the overall debate was along expected partisan lines with both Congress and the BJP well represented at the program by their respective spokesmen, one felt that the BJP guys were clearly lacking in conviction and it soon became apparent that lung power would take over since their brief was to defend the indefensible.
In this debate, when confronted with startling facts by media stalwart Ms. Harinder Baweja of Tehelka fame, the BJP team led by Prakash Javdekar and including media person Mr. Swapan Dasgupta, decided to shout her down. Mr. Swapan Dasgupta cut a sorry figure giving such outrageous arguments that he did, and on a debate that was telecast nation-wide. Ms. Baweja’s final remark that a Muslim youth in India today has very little choice but to pick up the gun was a bit over the top and designed to grab attention. Ms. Baweja, the total population of Muslim youth in the ages of 15-35 in India can be safely estimated at over 25 million. Surely if all of them had picked up the gun every street corner of India would be burning. You need to moderate your speech, Harinder, or else your utterances would be rated ‘Hyperbole’.
Even if one was to give credence to what BJP and their followers have been saying about a Muslim mob burning 59 innocent kar-sevaks alive in coach number S-5 of the Sabarmati Express at Godhra, it still eludes me how 59 dead kar-sevaks equals 2500 innocent Muslims killed in the aftermath of Godhra? I guess India is yet to learn modern Gujarat Maths.
Saturday’s bomb blast at a Mehrauli market, which is otherwise known for ‘Phoolwalon-Ki-Sair’ a procession taken out by flower sellers of all faiths to lay a ‘floral chaddar’at a nearby Sufi shrine, was the second theme of my weekend reading and TV watching. The death of nine-year old Santosh Kumar, who innocently picked up the plastic bag containing the bomb dropped by the motor-cycle borne bombers and chased them shouting ‘you have dropped your packet’ that left me thinking seriously about where we as a civil society are headed. This little child could not have been the target of the hate of those who plotted the bombing. I would like to believe they were targeting to bomb the deep-rooted bias that we all unknowingly harbor against the Muslims.
Ms. Rakshanda Jalil’s piece on Ghettoisation of Muslims in Urban India and different types of bias that they are subject to is illustrative of the above. Hindu parents are reluctant to send their children to a birthday party of a Muslim classmate in a Muslim dominated area. She talks about Pizza Home delivery firms sending Pizzas four kilometers away but refusing to deliver to her home though they are located less than a kilometer away from the outlet giving some excuse or the other. Her contention that there is no Mothers Dairy milk outlet or Safal vegetable outlet in ‘Zakir Nagar’ because these are Muslim dominated areas appears a bit stretched but I would like to believe that these decisions were influenced by commercial considerations of viability. Since the lady raised the issue in a national daily, it would be appropriate for the Government to order an inquiry and make amends. Punishing a few guilty junior officers of bias against Muslims would not solve the problem, opening these outlets would go a long way to assuage feelings of hurt and neglect. I am sure Ms. Rakshanda Jalil would agree.
There is one recurring thought that just refuses to go away. In the 1940s and 1950s, a Muslim actor aspiring for success in the Bombay Film Industry was given a Hindu name since it would increase his appeal. Thus we had stalwarts like Dilip Kumar and many others resorting to this tested formula. Not only that, they would never be seen publicly celebrating any Muslim festival. The fact that today a Shah Rukh Khan or an Aamir Khan or a Salman Khan feels no such need would have one believe that times have indeed changed. But have they? Have the underlying prejudices vanished?
I am sure that if the Khans start speaking or behaving as Muslims rather than as actors their popularity would begin to wane. We must remember that president A.P.J.Abdul Kalaam was loved by the whole country, not because he was a Muslim or a Hindu but because he was a good man with a clean soul and a gifted scientist. And a good soul by definition means he would have been a good Muslim first. But a good Muslim as defined by the prophet not by some Imam or Ayatollah.
The more I think about it the more I am convinced that it all started with the concept of the partition of India to create a Muslim state of Pakistan and a Secular state of India. Had India been declared a Hindu state the issues would not have arisen since then the various governments would not have resorted to using Muslims as a vote bank, which the Imams willingly allowed in exchange for a few pieces of silver. All policies then would have been created with a Hindu mindset and Muslims given a second grade citizenship with few rights as we see happening in most of the Arab world. But since we cannot yet travel back in time, erase and re-write History, we need to live with what we have been given and make the best of the situation.
In this I feel the Hindu community has to show a spirit of accommodation but at the same time the Muslims too have a responsibility. They need to shun visible symbols of their being ‘different’ because if they keep harping on their being ‘different’, the Hindus would keep seeing them as such and it would assume an air of ‘us’ against ‘them’.
Muslims must ask themselves why the Muslims in Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerela etc are so integrated with the local culture and ethos that one only gets to know their faith upon asking. They participate with equal fervor in Puja, Pongal and Onam Festivities. Even nature shows that animals and plants that adapt to their surroundings by suitable change in color or texture etc. manage to win the battle of survival.
I keep citing this example every time this subject comes up. Bharat Ratna Ustad Bismillah Khan Sahib started his day with his musical offering at the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Was he a lesser Muslim for it? Some of the best Hindi film bhajans have been written by lyricists like Jaaved Akhtar, Hasrat Sultanpuri, Sahir Ludhianvi etc. and composed by the likes of Naushad, A R Rehman etc and sung by the doyens of playback singing like Mohammed Rafi, Suraiya etc and filmed on Dilip Kumar, Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan etc. Visualize the evergreen hit film bhajans like ‘Madhuban mein radhika nache re’, ‘Ram Chandra keh gaye siya se’, ‘Madhuban mein jo kanhaiyya kisi gopi se mile’ or ‘Aaj sajan mohe ang laga lo’ and you would agree that while the people behind these works were Muslims they were able to create masterpiece bhajans since their own faith was strong.
It is indeed such an India I would like to leave for my children. An India that is Secular and Independent and truly free of all kinds of prejudice.