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Mainstream, VOL LII No 51, December 13, 2014

Communal Harmony

Monday 15 December 2014

by Sadhan Mukherjee

The majoritarian approach to our body politic today presages a great danger to our communal harmony. These two words—communal harmony—represent our national ethos which is inextricably linked to our democracy. They constitute the corner-stone of our Republic and its federal structure.

The Constitution of India declares our country as “secular”, “socialist” and “democratic” and all its citizens, irrespective of their communities, castes, creeds or religious beliefs etc., are free and equal in the eyes of the law. India has no state religion. Secularism and communal harmony here have developed over the millennia through mutual interaction among peoples. These basic tenets are today under threat and challenged due to the manoeuvres of forces that now wield political power at the Centre.

The conscious use of divisiveness is affecting our unity that has not only survived over the eons but also largely overcome our colonial legacy and feudal hangover. Together with social oppression and deprivation of minorities, tribals, Scheduled Castes and other downtrodden people due to powerful men being in cahoots with the law and order machinery, these negative steps are damaging our social fabric. Add to that the Khap-type illogical systems contradicting the norms of modern civilisation that are giving rise to more and more conflicts within the society. We are in for bad times.

What is strange is that the Prime Minister, who leads the current government, is totally silent about the danger. Except for his peroration for a 10-year moratorium on communal conflicts, he has done nothing to contain the growing tendency to fan the fire of hatred and communal conflcit.

The Indian subcontinent is a major location where human beings evolved in many dimensions. India is not only a cradle of civilisation but also a melting pot of cultures, traditions and humane tenets. Endowed with a bounty of natural resources, India never grudged anyone who came here and handed out whatever one wanted. We, the people of India, are the outcome of an admixture of humanity that began coalescing some 15,000 years ago.

The primordial and the ancient, the original adivasi and the newcomers have all been mixed, blended and nurtured in the cauldron of evolution in our country. What we have today is a wonderful social milieu; a revolutionary mélange and a unique outcome of societal history of any land. What is more important is that this has by and large evolved in peaceful coexistence of diverse elements. In fact, impositions have not worked here despite many attempts by the powers that be.

It is this humaneness, this intermingling of human beings that sustains communal harmony in our multi-religious, multilingual, multi-cultural, multiethnic and multilayered society, unperturbed by invasions, religious orthodoxy and political manipulation. Every society has religions but every religion also has a common concept—to hold together the social fabric. What is described as dharma in our social history is nothing but this factor that holds us together, irrespective of varied developments in the country.

Swami Vivekananda, whose 150th birthday we have just celebrated, told the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893: “We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth.”

Rabindranath Tagore described the ethos of India wonderfully in his poem: Bharat-tirtha:

Hey mor chitta punyatirthe jagore dhire

Ei bharater mahamanaber sagartire.

Keho nahi jane kar aobhane kato manusher dhara 

Durbar shrote elo kotha hote samudre holo hara 

Hethay arya hetha anarya hethay dravir chin 

Shak hundal pathan mogal ek dehe holo lin 

A rough English translation:

Oh my mind, wake up slowly in this holy place, India, on the shores of this sea of great human confluence;

No one knows at whose call how many streams of humanity in turbulent torrents came from where to get lost in that sea.

Here the Aryans, non-Aryans, Dravidians, Chinese, Scythians, Huns, Pathans and Mughals merged into one body.

In 1938, in his book The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, Shoghi Effendi, who passed away recently in Mumbai, then head of the Baha’i Faith, used the concept of “unity in diversity” as the guiding principle of his religion. Long before that Indian sages and thinkers as well as social reformers elaborated the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, the whole world is a family, an idea that originated in the Upanishads and is believed in and practised by millions in our country.

Through various stages of history, this basic guiding principle has held us together albeit in small dimension. Even during foreign invasion and occupation, this harmony held sway and kept us as one, be it the invasion of Alexander or the Mongol hordes, Mughals, et al. King Chandragupta Maurya married the daughter of the Greek General, Seleucus, after defeating him, One may also recall that while Mughal emperor Babar pined for his return to his fatherland in his death bed and could not find solace in India’s soil, his progeny Akbar not only married a Hindu but also tried to set up a new religion, Din-I Ilahi (Religion of God), combining the best tenets of Islam, Hinduism and a few other religions like Christianity, Jainism and even Zoroastrianism to resolve differences among the people.

This is not to say that there were no attacks on followers of different religions in our country. There were many such attacks and destructions in the yore but these were invariably state-sponsored or invader-assaults.

Those people who talk of our country being the ‘land of Hindus’ are in denial of history. The people of India belong to many religions and beliefs. Our ancient social order had the Varna system based on profession. But it was not a rigid stratification. It could be interchanged. But over the years, it degenerated into the caste system. Our country is named Bharat in our Constitution, not Hindustan. The people of this country have by and large lived peacefully together through the ages until the British began a policy of divide and rule to blunt the surge of our freedom struggle. This affected our peaceful good neighbourliness at the community level and damaged our national body fabric woven through communal harmony. Unfortu-nately, the history of post-independence India is not only a history of progress, growth and development, but also an almanac of communal conflicts.

The notorious “two-nation” theory that contributed to the division of India also impacted the mindset of a large number of people creating massive fissures in our social fabric. Communal riots just before and after the division of India in 1947, constituted a blot that we have not been able to overcome yet. On the so-called Direct Action Day alone, which started on August 16, 1946, approximately 3000 were dead and 17,000 injured. Some 14.5 million people crossed borders in search of safety. The mayhem continued for a long time with over an estimated death of about a million people on both sides of the borders leaving a deep indelible mark in mind.

After our hard-won freedom for which all communities fought together against the British, there have been continuous phases of communal conflicts engendered by the seeds of division planted by the British and provoked by religious fanaticism. Many national leaders, like Gandhiji and Nehru, have tried to root out this evil but have not been entirely successful.

A progressive step towards national integration was taken by Nehru to reorganise the States of India replacing provinces set up by the British. Nehru opted for this process on the basis of language, besides integrating the princely states in the redrawn State boundaries. This effort was also supplemented by providing education in the mother tongue, so essential for a new India emerging from colonial rule. A three-language formula was set in place for common education.

The States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) was set up in 1953. During the two years of its work, the SRC faced a lot of problems including hunger-strikes and other protests from different vested interests. Linguistic groups clashed and blood flowed in many places. Many people were killed but finally the States Reorganisation Act 1956 was passed by Parliament providing a rational basis for national integration. The conflict between Maharashtra and Gujarat over Bombay is well known and bears no repetition. It was clear that linguistic States were not the best possible solution but it was a workable one. In place of 14 States and six Centrally administered territories after reorganisation, today we already have 29 States including Telengana and seven Union Territories. Of the seven UTs, two have elected legislatures but not full Statehood. More demands for new States are on the anvil.

One has to accept that the States’ reorganisation had a dual effect—uniting people as well as exacerbating narrow parochialism harming our body politic. In 1961 Nehru set up the National Integration Council to tackle the problems dividing the country. Till now 16 meetings of the NIC have taken place and a large number of recommendations have been made. The Emergency, imposed in 1975, also alienated many people and adversely affected various streams of people.

Communal conflicts have grown over the years due to political manipulations and we are bearing the accentuating effects of that conflict—the latest being what happened in UP, Rajasthan and Gujarat.

But it is not only the conflicts among communities that are damaging our communal harmony. We are becoming prone to racial and colour bias. The treatment meted out to people from Bihar, UP and other places in Maharashtra, the growing vindictiveness against people from the North-East in Delhi and elsewhere in recent times are sad reminders of the slide in our national values. Just think of it—India that has always stood by people fighting against racial prejudice is itself becoming a victim of apartheid of sorts. What a tragedy it means for us!

A rough tabulation of some large-scale communal riots will indicate how dangerously the virus has affected us. To cite a few examples: Hyderabad 1948, Gujarat 1969 and 2002, Moradabad (UP) 1980, Nelie (Assam) 1983, Delhi anti-Sikh riots 1984, Bhagalpur (Bihar) 1989, Mumbai 1992-93, Sopore 1993, Laxmanpur (Bihar) 1997, Wandhama and Prankote (J&K) 1998, Chittisinghpura (J&K) 2000, Hauranggatilla and Bagber (Tripura) 2000, Akshardham (Gujarat) 2002, Ragghunath Temple, Nandimarg, Kaluchak (J&K) 2002, Varanasi 2006, Doda (J&K) 2006, Kandhamal (Odisha) 2008, Mumbai 2008, Dantewala (Chhattisgarh) 2010, Assam massacre 2012.

Communal incidents are going up steadily in the country. These increased by 30 per cent between 2012 and 2013, from 668 to 823, the highest being in UP—from 118 to 247.

Between 1989 and 1990 about 300 Kashmiri Pandits were killed in Kashmir in various incidents to get rid of Hindus from the Valley. Between 300,000 and 500,000 Pandits migrated outside the State. In the North-Eastern region the decades-old militant separatist movements took on a new hue with religion playing a decisive role in accentuating ethnic divides. It affected Tripura and some other States creating conflicts between Christians, Hindus, Buddhists as well as tribal people. Many died in these conflicts.

What is worse is that proper measures to prevent these killings in time and adequately were not taken. TheHashimpura (Meerut) massacre of 1987 directly involved the UP Provincial Armed Constabulary whose members, allegedly rounded up 42 Muslim youth, shot them and dumped their bodies in canals. In 2007, twenty years after the killings, RTI applications revealed that the accused remained in service and none had any mention of the incident in their annual confidential reports.

The Palampur (June 1989) Hindutva resolution of the BJP has officially provided an aggressive mindset to its cadres against Muslims and also led to an accentuation of Muslim fanaticism as a reaction. Post-Babri Masjid destruction riots took place in many places, Bombay bombings and Gujarat riots, and the blasts in Malegaon, Ajmer Dargah and in Samjhauta Express have shaken the nation badly and deepened the communal discord. These riots and conflicts have brought about a big demographic change in many areas forcing communities to migrate to safer areas.

In anti-Christian violence in Odisha in 2007 and 2009, the attacks on Christians in Karnataka in 2008-2009, and similar attacks in Madhya Pradesh around the same time led to many deaths and destruction. Fanatic Islamic groups attacked Hindus and Hindu temples affecting religious sentiments. The issue of reservation has added to our communal disharmony as lack of justice and social emancipation of the downtrodden have created serious dissensions among various strata of our people.

All sorts of so-called “senas” and “dals” as well as gangs of hoodlums of varied nomenclature have come up in various regions. Very small issues now get blown up into big conflicts. Mutual confidence and trust have been shaken. It is clear that these killings and communal conflicts are the outcomes of dangerous political ambitions, attempts at using communities for vested interests and the failure of the law and order machinery which became part of political parties as well as local political and mafia groups. Social responsibility has been pushed to the background and political interest has overcome national interests. This could happen because over the years we have succumbed to maladministration or no administration at all.

The Communal Violence Bill, which was to be passed in Parliament, has been deferred due to opposition from several political parties. It is a much delayed Bill that seeks a course correction. But it is claimed that it is not clear enough and impinges on the States’ authority in regard to law and order affecting the federal structure.

Some fanatics tried to equate the 2002 Gujarat riots and 1984 Delhi anti-Sikh killings for their political ends. This is not a fully correct comparison. While no one condones the Delhi Sikh killings, it should be recalled that in 1984 Rajiv Gandhi had just taken over as the Prime Minister and was trying to grapple with the terrible situation arising out of Indira Gandhi’s assassination. As a journalist this writer was aware that Rajiv Gandhi consulted many people to find ways and means to mitigate the problem and control the situation. The main drawback at that time for the failure to control Delhi riots was the total collapse of the law and order machinery. In Gujarat, it was the other way round. There was a fully functional government in office controlling all sectors of administration. That government failed to discharge its duties that encouraged the mayhem.

The writing today is clearly on the wall. Unless we are able to halt this process of degeneration and restore people’s confidence in our fundamentals of secularism and democracy, this country will be reduced to a state of utter lawlessness and anarchy and divided along religious fault-lines as mutual trust will vanish sooner than later and communal harmony will be lost forever.

The author, a former journalist, is currently engaged in education management through distance education.