By Anusmita Mazumder, Department of Law, University of Calcutta.
We open the newspaper everyday to find several instances of social injustice and criminal offences. However, this sudden uprising of a “new social evil” in the guise of religious intolerance in the country has shaken its secular pillars.
Taking a short tour into the glorious history of the country, it can be seen that the Hindus and the Muslims were at one time, as the Bengali poet Kavi Nazrul Islam had said, “ek e brinte duti kusum, Hindu Mussalman” (just as there are two flowers on the same branch of a plant, so are the Hindus and the Muslims in India). They fought shoulder-to-shoulder in what is known as India’s first war of independence- The Revolt of 1857. There are several such instances where Hindus and Muslims have together made sacrifices for the country. The Hindu-Muslim unity was considered as a threat by the British and they did not leave any stone unturned to break it; starting with the partition of Bengal in 1905. This brotherhood, however, was successfully ruined during the India-Pakistan partition back in 1947.
It is true that there have been several instances of communal riots and terrorist attacks post independence. Starting with the Bombay bombings in 1993, which were widely believed to have been coordinated by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, to the 1998 Coimbatore blasts and the recent 2008 Mumbai attack by the members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamic militant organization, the death toll of the Hindus rose high. More recently, on January 2nd, 2016, a group of heavily armed terrorists having clear links with Pakistan, attacked the Pathankot Air Force Station. 7 people sacrificed their lives during the operation to neutralise the terrorists. However, it has not always been the Muslims. No one can forget the horrendous act of the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992 by the Hindu KarSevaks (a voluntary organization) in an attempt to reclaim the land as Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. Back in 1857, it was in Ayodhya where Maulvis and Mahants and common Hindu-Muslims stood united in rebelling against the British rule and kissed the hangman’s noose together! Violent riots broke out in Gujarat in 2002. All these and several other such incidents widened the gap between the Hindus and the Muslims.
Having said that, no one can ignore the immense contribution that the Muslim community has made to the art and culture of the country. From sports to entertainment to politics, there are numerous Muslims who consider themselves true Indians. According to the reports, the Indian Army has had 8 Muslim Generals so far, while the Indian Air Force was once commanded by a Muslim Air Chief Marshal.
Yet the country being the birthplace of some of the world’s major religions, which considers “secularism as a basic feature of the Constitution” (held in S.R. Bommai v. Union of India) and which houses around 175 million Muslims, is facing the biggest controversy of religious intolerance! The first is a spate of assassinations of Indian writers. In August, the Kannada scholar, M. M. Kalburgi who was a Sahitya Academy Award winner was gunned down by two visitors at his residence. He was a well-known critic of idol-worship, a practice adopted by most Hindus. Kalburgi’s killing has led to comparisons with the 2013 murder of Narendra Dabholkar, a former doctor-turned-campaigner against superstition who was shot dead by unidentified motorcycle-borne assailants while out on a morning walk in Pune in the western state of Maharashtra. More recently, in February 2015, a veteran communist leader and rationalist, Govind Pansare was killed in similar circumstances in the same State. The second trend witnessed is that of an increasingly violent reaction to Indians who consume beef. In September, 2015, a Muslim man was beaten to death by his Hindu neighbors because of a rumor that the carcass of a cow was seen nearby. When an announcement was made at the local Hindu temple, emotions flared, a mob formed, a (Muslim) target was identified, and a horrific act turned into international news. Over the next couple of weeks, at least two other Muslim men were attacked: one over rumors that he was transporting beef, the other for allegedly smuggling cows.
It triggered great upsurge in the national and international media. Around forty writers, poets and essayists returned their national literary awards in protest of the rising intolerance in the country. The first to return the award was Uday Prakash, on September 4, 2015 in protest against Kalburgi’s assassination. Following him, other eminent writers like Nayantara Sahgal, Ashok Vajpeyi, Shashi Deshpande, etc have returned their Sahitya Akademi Awards. Comments and remarks by several eminent people made headlines of almost every newspaper. A mere comment by an eminent actor and icon of the country, Shah Rukh Khan, raised great debates. “Religious intolerance will take us to the dark ages” was all that he had said. That was construed as a remark which might, in the long run, affect the peace and tranquility of the nation. It was distorted and several unintended meanings of the statement were thrown about. A senior BJP leader, Kailash Vijayvargiya, targeted him saying “Shah Rukh Khan lives in India, but his heart is in Pakistan. His films make crores here but he finds India intolerant”. After facing much criticism from his own party, he later apologized. Contempt against his comments had not fully died down when the party’s lawmaker, Yogi Adityanath compared the eminent actor with the 26/11 terror mastermind, Hafiz Saeed of Pakistan. However several others came forward to support Shah Rukh Khan, including the Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Sanjay Raut of Shiv Sena, Derek O’ Brien and Anupam Kher. News channels beamed with heated debates on religious intolerance of a country that boasts of rich cultural diversity! Another veteran actor, Aamir Khan joined the intolerance debate when he said at an event that his wife, filmmaker Kiran Rao had discussed moving out of India for the sake of the security of their child. This comment of his faced intense backlash. Protesters demonstrated outside his residence in Mumbai. The popular e-commerce site, Snapdeal, which is endorsed by him, was flooded with negative comments. The social media buzzed with tags like “anti-national” against the actor. What started as a protest on the death of Kalburgi and the anti cow-slaughter barbarism turned into a national phenomenon in weeks.
Without delving into any political aspect of the national scenario, there is a very humble thought that crossed several minds- where exactly does the problem lie? Is it the fact that Muslims have rituals that seem to be contradicting those of the Hindus? Or that the “rising intolerance” is more of a deliberately created drama than an instance of reality? The Indian Constitution has always protected the rights of the minorities, that is, if we can actually consider a 13.4% of the population a minority! Article 25 guarantees to every person the freedom of conscience and the right to profess, practice and propagate any religion. Articles 29 and 30 constitutionally protect the language and culture of the minorities and even give them the right to establish educational institutions.
These incidents are really unfortunate and disgraceful to have occurred in a country like India. India’s glory spreads far and wide, its diversities and the incredible amalgamation of the various religions and culture are rare. The Hindus and the Muslims have been living together harmoniously in India for centuries now and it is disagreeable that the Hindus in a quest for establishing their majority in India would do anything to hinder the peace and security of the Muslims. Every citizen of India should come together to prevent any barbaric act of intolerance towards any innocent Muslim of the land and hold the head of the nation high.