Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 15, April 4, 2015
Peace-loving People of Indore Rebuff Communal Forces
Sunday 5 April 2015
by Vineet Tiwari
Is it wrong for people of different communities to co-exist peacefully and celebrate each other’s festivals? Is it a sin for people to believe that the greatest faith on earth is humanity?
On the other hand is this something to be proud of that in our effort to make our own religion great, we have to insult other religions? Is this good politics that instead of employment opportunities our unemployed youth should be handed swords and trishuls? That instead of providing knowledge for their brains that would work for the benefit of the country, they are being instigated to indulge in violence, crime and hatred in the name of religion?
In the entire country somewhere in the name of religious conversion and at others with the slogan of ‘ghar wapsi’ [return home] and in several other ways throughout India, religious sentiments are being ignited and fanned so that the masses’ attention is diverted and they are turned away from the basic issues of food, shelter and work and they forget whom they had brought to power on the promise of ‘good days ahead’. The rights of the workers and peasants that had been won after decades of struggle are being snatched away. The land mafia and politicians are watching the land of the peasants with eagle eyes; the laws to grab the land of the farmers are changed with the same speed as the increase in the number of suicides by farmers. This is not a government of the people; it is a government of the corporates.
The masses wish to live happily and peacefully. They have no desire to burn the houses of others; rather they wish to save the four walls of their own hutments. But there are some people who try to fuel enmities and seek to benefit from these tensions. The more people quarrel in the name of religion and caste the more these elements stand to gain politically. There are such people present within the community who wish to trade in the name of religion and then reap the harvest of political mileage from this violence.
For the last one decade an organisation named ‘Sadbhavna Pratishthan”’ is working in Indore towards the propagation of communal harmony and peaceful co-existence. Its members are people from all communities who come together to celebrate each other’s festivals. Last year on December 18 they had organised a joint Christmas and New Year celebration at Geeta Bhawan (a premise meant for all religious and social activities and owned by a trust) with the permission of the authorities of this organisation. The celebration was attended by 20-25 people who represented the Parsi, Christian, Muslim and Hindu communities. They were greeting and wishing each other for the two festivals when suddenly from nowhere arrived 40-50 young men riding about 25 motor cycles and in the interior, where everyone had entered after removing their shoes, these young men forced their way wearing shoes and in a threatening manner said: “We have been informed that Hindus are being converted to Christianity here. We have come to stop it.” They announced that they belonged to the Bajrang Dal.
By this time the police also arrived. Maybe these youths had themselves summoned the police on their way to the venue. Initially, the people present there thought that someone had misinformed the police and since the information was wrong they had no reason to be worried. There was present in the group Comrade Perin Daji, who even at the age of 85 is extremely active and alert. She is the widow of late Comrade Homi Daji who had been a Member of Parliament. Also present were Anand Mohan Mathur, who is among the most respected lawyers of Indore, is counted as an eminent social worker and is also more than 80 in age; the well-known writer, journalist and professor Saroj Kumar, Father Prasad, who is always present in all the important social and religious events of the city, and Tapan Bhattach-arya who was very active in the student movement of the eighties and nineties and is still active in all social forums and their events in the city. There were another 15-20 people present at the gathering.
It was impossible to believe that an untoward event can happen in the presence of such people! But it did. First of all the young men insulted Father Prasad, then they tried to humiliate Prof Saroj Kumar and advocate Anand Mohan Mathur and then said: “Move away from here and give this Christian Padre to us.” In spite of being heckled these senior citizens refused to leave without Father Prasad. In the end, the police escorted Father Prasad and others to the police station on the pretext of ‘their own safety’. They were detained till 10.30 at night.
According to Tapan, about 250-300 people, wielding trishuls and other weapons, openly gathered outside the police station, demanding that Father Prasad be handed over to them. Prof Saroj Kumar said later that thankfully eminent people like him and Anand Mohan Mathur were present there or else anything could have happened.
We know from our experience that detention in police station is a way to pressurise so that once those detained walk out from the police detention they feel relieved to have come out unscathed. Who wants to make the rounds of courts and police stations to inquire: “If you are so worried about my security would it not have been advisable to detain those who are causing this insecurity?”
Anyway, the next day almost every important paper carried the news and condemned the act by the Bajrang Dal. Patrika and Naidunia, the leading Hindi dailies, printed it as headline news and Dainik Bhaskar too published the story in a roundabout manner so that its Bajrangi masters are not annoyed.
I rang up Father Prasad and inquired about his wellbeing. I also inquired from Comrade Jaya Mehta what should be done. She advised me that it was not enough to just let people know; more had to be done. Then as a counter to this incident I thought that even if five or ten people turn up we had to challenge this cowardly act of the Bajrang Dal in the open.
Immediately I wrote an SMS, asking people to collect at the Regal Chowk at 5 pm to protest against the humiliation of senior and respected citizens of the city. Comrade Sarika forwarded the message to friends, other comrades joined and in the evening there were more than a hundred protesting the hooliganism of the Bajrang Dal. Some Bajrangis were standing at a distance talking over their mobiles but they did not have the guts to come up to us and question us. This large crowd not only increased our confidence, we also walked the road raising slogans that police would not be allowed to work hand in glove with the Bajrang Dal and that peace-loving citizens of this city had till now not buckled before the communal forces.
For one hour we stood holding placards and raising slogans. In the end it was decided that we would hold a similar protest in another part of the city at Malwa Mill Chowk. As expected, only half the people turned up. We knew that the people, who had not joined us the second time were with us in spirit and emotion, but it was impossible to recreate the same atmosphere of the day before. We then informed all our supporters to gather the next day for a discussion to plan future strategies.
On January 4, 2015, a meeting was held at Shaheed Bhawan, the regional office of the CPI. This was attended by the AITUC, CITU, PWA, IPTA, NFIW, Mansi, Jagrit Dalit Adivasi Sanghathan and several other organisations. Also present were representatives from the CPI, CPI-M, Samajwadi Party and SDPI. There were some who did not subscribe to any political ideology or party but stood against the hooliganism being propagated in the name of religion.
We ran short of space as more than the expected number of people turned up. Everyone put forward her/his point of view complimenting us for our enthusiasm reflected in our initiative and expressing disgust at the ‘goonda’ elements in politics. The picture was clear: there was no dearth of people who wanted peaceful co-existence, only a common platform was lacking.
The meeting lasted for three hours. We were insistent that the programme chalked out should be imiplementable and result in the desired effect. And we also felt that these being difficult times more effort to handle the situation was necessary. As is natural, those who are capable of handling the work are those who are burdened with more work.
Just then a friend informed us that a crowd of about 100 persons on motorcycles had made its way to some Mall where 30-40 saffron-clad Sadhus were to see the film PK and decide whether the film is indeed insulting to Hinduism or not. A friend also commented that this was the first time these people were watching something and then taking a decision; otherwise they are in the habit of giving a verdict without seeing or confirming. According to the next day’s newspaper reports, the Sadhus saw the film and laughed at several episodes; yet they also claimed that they would meet the Chief Minister and request him to ban the film.
The newspapers also informed that some members of the Bajrang Dal with BJP MLA Ramesh Mendola and Municipal Councilor Chandu Shinde washed the Geeta Bhawan with Gangajal to purify it because of the presence of non-Hindus. They also conducted a ‘nazarutrai’ of the person who had allowed the event to take place so that better sense would prevail and he would not commit the same mistake again! A legislator and a Municipal Committee member, who have taken oath on the Constitution, were not ashamed to indulge in this public display of untouchability and neither the administration nor their own party was taking any action on such a development. It was obvious that these so-called protectors of religion and Bajrang-dalis have nothing to do with religion. However, they are able to give a false pride to the huge army of the unemployed which has been created by the liberalisation and globalisation policies of the earlier governments. One cannot shake them from their firm belief in lies handed out in the name of religion. For one, they are not research scholars; and secondly, inculcating belief in these lies is extremely profitable for the present government. Continuous propagation of lies leads even the educated to indulge in meaningless arguments. Thus the communal forces are able to fulfil their intentions. Hence our scientists, educationists, historians shall have to work in exposing these elements. But this war cannot be won without including the surging masses who have been left to the mercy of exploitation by innumerable national and international companies. This accusation is not just on the BJP Government of Narendra Modi but also on the previous Congress Government that had become a caretaker of the corporates and pushed the already poor masses even beyond the margins. Only secularism and religious plurality cannot quench the fire of hunger and unemployment. So the dangers looming over the oppressed working masses shall have to be tackled and the struggle must be intensified.
In the 500 years of history of our motherland there have been several periods in which members of one community have repressed and mistreated people of another community. But the mistakes of the past cannot be avenged by attacking the human beings of today. Yes, the past can be addressed in a humane manner and the crevices of hatred can be filled up with love and understanding.
One can feel pride in the fact that ours is a country where different faiths coexist, different languages are spoken and a variety of rituals and traditions are practised. But on the basis of these very facts some elements try to create enmities. The religious sentiments of such people are not hurt by the call for putting up statues of Mahatma Gandhi’s murderer, or that religion is being used as a profit-making business, or that dressed in the garb of Allah or Ishwar, god-men are found to be guilty of heinous crimes like rape. What brings their religious fervour to boil is a film! These people want that music, theatre, literature, poetry, films and painting should all be conducted as per their instructions. Perhaps they do not even know that when the great writer, Tulsidas, was tortured by the religious bigots he accepted to stay in a mosque but continued to write what he thought was right and in the language of his choice.
Such people raise the issue of ‘love Jehad’ and object to the young boys and girls falling in love, but have nothing to say about the inter-community marriages of their own leaders. National leaders of the BJP, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Shahnawaz Hussain, have both married Hindu women. Another important leader of the BJP, Subramanian Swamy, has married a Parsi, and Sushil Kumar Mody has married a Christian. Whatever might be the positions of these politicians on other issues, at least in this matter they have broken away from religious fundamentalism.
A similar debate is on ‘ghar wapsi’. Historians tell us that fed up with the caste and sect hierarchy in Sanatan Dharma, a number of people converted to Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and Sikhism, since they were not even getting the basic respect given to human beings and Brahminism was practising untouchability keeping them as outcastes. Baba Bhimrao Ambedkar was also born in such a community and had witnessed untouchability and ostracism being practised against members of his caste. That is why he had said: “I was born a Hindu. At birth I had no choice over my religion. But I shall not die a Hindu because now I have the choice.” More than two millennia ago, Gautam Buddha had, on the basis of a new ideology, propagated a new religion. Innume-rable social reformers like Mahatma Gandhi and Vivekananda have accepted untouchabilty as a major flaw in Hinduism. Today if some people are accepting the fact and trying to bring back those whose forefathers had sometime converted to another religion then they should also be told where and in which caste shall they be placed. Shall the Brahmins and Kshatriyas treat them as equals and develop a relationship of equality: break bread with and marry their daughters to them? What is called a relationship of “roti-beti”? If the intentions of those talking of ‘ghar wapsi’ are so noble that they are working towards a casteless Hindu religion and not intending to make some political gains from it, then this is indeed a great service to mankind.
But the fact is that this is not the case. In the name of ‘ghar wapsi’ Muslim and Christian communities are being subjected to terror and the fundamental right of every citizen of this country, guaranteed by the Indian Constitution, is being usurped. And using this opportunity, those who wish to become leaders of the Muslims are spreading another kind of communalism. If Mohan Bhagwat of the RSS proclaims that at birth every child is a Hindu, then Owaisi is quick to retaliate that every baby is a Muslim. Once this song was sung proudly in the streets of this country: “Na hindu banega, na muslman banega/Insan ki aulad hai Insaan banega. [Not a Hindu or a Muslim shall he be/ born of a human being, human shall he be]”. Perhaps this song needs to be revived now.
It was decided at the Indore meeting that those who are not communal, and they are a huge number, should be brought together and that would be a fitting reply to the people who are trying to create enmity and spread hatred among communities. Those who come to the forefront to take up this task shall have to collect resources and also struggle to stop spreading misconceptions among the masses. For this regular meetings on a monthly basis shall be held in colonies and roadside gatherings and soon a big convention would also be organised.
Keeping in mind the forthcoming municipal elections, a pamphlet would soon be brought out and distributed that would increase the confidence and warmth the people have for each other so that the masses are not misled by false propaganda. It is only as a united force that we shall be able to tell our adversaries that if they wish to do politics, then they have every right to do so but they have to do so on real issues. Every child should be given good education, everyone should have access to proper healthcare, everyone should have employment, industry should be developed, women should be respected and secure, and peace should be established. This is what politics should be about. Indulge in politics that takes up reforms of religions and addresses the caste system, do not aim for politics that is divisive and communal.
It was decided at the meeting that our aim is that people should move ahead with confidence and regard for each other, live their life in a secure environment with education, food, employment and health taken care of. We do not wish to leave a history of wounds of communal clashes for posterity. We wish to leave for them a history of knowledge and science, and a better country of peace and co-existence. These are difficult times and these times demand from us that we leave behind us an example of unity, peace, plurality and confidence.
The author is a leading activist of the Joshi-Adhikari Institute of Social Studies, New Delhi. He can be contacted at e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org