By Ram Puniyani
Ankit Saxena, a 23-year-old young man, was stabbed by the family of his girlfriend, whom he intended to marry. The police later revealed the girl’s family was against the relationship of the two as they belonged to different communities. In April, only a few months after his death, Yashpal Saxena, the heartbroken father of the deceased has taken upon himself to commemorate the memory of his son by setting up a trust which will focus on helping those who intend to marry outside their religion or caste. Yashpal Saxena refused to communalise the issue and while he asked for the guilty to be punished, he also requested people to not put the blame of the perpetrator’s actions on their entire community.
Similarly, in the case of the death of Maulana Imdadul Rashidi’s 16-year-old son, who was killed by the violence triggered by Ram Navami processions in West Bengal, Rashidi refused to communalise the issue of his son’s death. Rashidi who is the Imam of a mosque in Asansol appealed for peace and warned the assembly that he would leave the mosque and the town if there was any retaliation for his son’s death.
These actions of peace exemplify the humane spirit of India at a time where communal violence has been resurged in the community. Concerned activists and citizens seem to be at a loss to plan for the future in a way which can strengthen the spirit of amity and harmony of communities across the nation.
Communal interaction in Indian history
India’s medieval period saw the interaction of Hindus and Muslims at all levels, and this social interaction was called the Ganga-Jumni Tehjeeb. This phrase is particularly applied for North India and the Ganges belt, where Bhakti and Sufi traditions peaked and the interaction between the two communities in areas of music, literature, architecture and food showcased their bonding.
Mahatma Gandhi in his book “Hind Swaraj” talks us about the social and political interaction between Hindus and Muslims. Gandhi said, “the Hindus flourished under Moslem sovereigns and Moslems under the Hindu. Each party recognized that mutual fighting was suicidal and that neither party would abandon its religion by force of arms. Both parties, therefore, decided to live in peace. With the English advent quarrels recommenced.”
Gandhi questioned, “Should we not remember that many Hindus and Mohammedans own the same ancestors and the same blood runs through their veins? Do people become enemies because they change their religion? Is the God of the Mohammedan different from the God of the Hindu? Religions are different roads converging to the same point. What does it matter that we take different roads so long as we reach the same goal? Wherein is the cause of quarrelling?”
Similarly, former Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru in his book outlines the importance of Hindu-Muslim interaction during the medieval period. Incidentally, Shyam Benegal’s classic serial “Bharat Ek Khoj’ based on this book is a brilliant depiction of Indian culture.
Development of community-centric nationalism
During the Indian freedom struggle, three “nationalistic” movements emerged: one led by Gandhi-Nehru-Patel, one by the Indian National Congress (INC) and another led by Mohammad Ali Jinnah. While the INC stood for people of all religions being a part of the making of a nation, the Muslim nationalistic movement talked about the glories of Muslim kings and them having a separate nation. Meanwhile, the Hindu Mahasabha-RSS talked about the country being an essentially Hindu nation.
This communally focused on nationalism constructed the histories and laid the foundation of the mentality of ‘hate other’. This misguided notion has become the foundation of communal violence and polarised the rise of communal parties on the electoral arena eventually giving them widespread power in the country.
The violence we witness today, Mumbai (1992-93), Gujarat (2002) Kandhmal-Orissa 2008, Muzzafarnagar 2013 embodies the ‘hate other’ ideology. This has also perpetrated into low-intensity violence orchestrated on emotive issues such as the Ram Temple, Love Jihad, Holy Cow, ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ among others. While on one side we have the polarization and electoral rise of communal parties, on the other people like Yashpal Saxena and Maulana Rashidi stand out as the beacon lights for the nation. In Gujarat, we saw Vasant Rao Hegiste and Rajab Ali as the duo that stood against the violence. Similarly, one recalls Waqar Khan and Bhau Korde, in Dharavi area of Mumbai who through awareness programs and films tried to ensure peace in the aftermath of Mumbai violence.
Our country desperately needs devices and programs that carry forward such grassroots work which touches the cord between all the communities to bring back the spirit of peace, to bring back the harmony which marked Indian society.
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