Fix this national schism

Fix this national schism

Hindu-Muslim Divide

A video grab showing two class IV students in Bidar, Karnataka, being interrogated by policemen for staging an anti-CAA play was at once tragic, horrifying and absurd. The management of the school (Shaheen School) has been reportedly slapped with charges of sedition. It is a different matter that in the same state, as recently as December 15, 2019, a play depicting the demolition of Babri Masjid and building of the Ram temple during 'Kreedotsava' in a school run by a top RSS leader, presided over and cheered on by Union Minister Sadananda Gowda and Puducherry Lt-Gov Kiran Bedi was considered kosher.

If one needs more proof of duplicity of the ruling dispensation, consider this: Cartoonists projecting Narendra Modi and other BJP leaders in unflattering light are routinely arrested. Even a satirist, Kunal Kamra, is banned for six months by a rash of airlines on the mere tweet of the Union Minister for Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri, for merely irritating the shamelessly partisan prime-time ‘Heckler-in-Chief’, Arnab Goswami.

But it is perfectly kosher for BJP MP Parvesh Singh Verma to raise the spectre of Shaheen Bagh residents (read Muslims) entering the houses of Delhiites to “rape and kill your sisters and daughters” if Delhi’s voters failed to vote for the BJP. Leave alone this being a hate speech intended to incite communal violence, it is an outright criminal offence amounting to blackmailing citizens into voting for the BJP on threat of being “raped and killed.”  

The same with Anurag Thakur, our Minster of State for Finance, who, with the violent slogan “Desh ke gaddaron ko...” repeatedly exhorts the crowds to “Goli maro salon ko…” That he did not directly utter the latter part of the slogan himself is a fig leaf that those offering it in mitigation should feel ashamed of. In any case, who are the “gaddars”? All citizens opposed to the Citizenship Amendment Act? Who is to identify the “gaddars” and shoot them? The crowd? 

It is one thing for the obviously partisan government to let these new avatars of “patriots” to literally get away with threats of murder and mayhem, but it is distressing to see our Election Commission letting them go with a gentle rap on the knuckles —banning them from shouting the same slogans for 3-4 days!

Let us also not forget the son of a poor farmer, who is asked to vacate the hostel for taping and circulating the public speech of the Vice Chancellor of Visva Bharati. In the speech, the VC implicitly denigrates the Constitution saying the “…Constitution was drafted by ‘minority’ votes. (Only) 293 people met at the Constituent Assembly and drafted the Constitution.” The truth is, there were only 293 members in the Assembly at the time; so the vote was unanimous. But no penalty attaches to the VC.

While PM Narendra Modi invoked “Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikas, Sab ka Vishwas” at the time of his election victory in May, his actually ability to control the runaway members of his own party and cabinet who are out to do everything in their power to ensure that the PM’s words are reduced to a joke, seems tragic. If the PM has ever come down hard on such divisive elements in his cohort, well the instances are rarer than hen’s teeth. On the contrary, some of them seem to be actually rewarded – like Pragya Thakur would testify, no doubt, or Parvesh Verma.

The support or opposition to CAA apart, the primary question we need to ask is this: Are the Muslims of this nation lesser Indians than other Indians? Are they the nation’s step-children, notwithstanding what our Constitution promises its citizens? Are they forever to apologise for not being Hindu? Or for the sins of those who wanted to partition India, in which today’s Muslim had no role?

To me, Shaheen Bagh’s ardent narration of the Constitution’s preamble is a patriotic act while the actions of Verma or Thakur (whether Anurag or Pragya) and their ilk are not. The deliberately divisive comments of BJP leaders, the three-way pincer moves of CAA-NRC-NPR, the excesses of the cultural police run amok that supervises who can eat what, or wear what or think what to the point of lynching, and the murders of the likes of Gauri Lankesh, MM Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare – have one thing in common: a culture of intolerance and divisiveness, and spreading an atmosphere of fear among those who disagree.

The country’s foundation is fractured. The time has come when Hindus’ perception of Muslims and the actions of the Muslims that may have led to such perception, both need repairing. Hindus and Muslims together need to heal it.

I recall speaking in a school run by a large Muslim trust in the heart of old Hyderabad city. I remember the trustee appealing to the students to work hard, do well and become productive citizens to strengthen the nation. He lamented how a few misled youth gave the entire community a bad name. He appealed to the students to be vigilant and avoid that path at all times. Our Muslim leaders need to use similar cues with their constituencies. They need to accept and respect the fact that historically, India has offered Muslims a more open, a more secular and a more tolerant space than many of the Muslim countries themselves. They need to help the nation move towards a common civil code and not halt such social progress in the name of religious freedom.

Hindus, the government, the BJP and its allies on their part need to work towards greater inclusivity. I studied in Sanatan Dharma School and College. They were fine institutions and I do not recall them even remotely promoting the kind of divisiveness we witness today. One could say the same about most Convent schools. Most of those I know who have attended them do not recall being nudged towards Christianity. It is striking that one doesn’t come across Muslim schools which are also all-encompassing, and the schools run by Muslim trusts are largely seen to be only for Muslim students. If there are secular Muslim schools, the fact does not seem to be widely known. Muslim educational institutions need to adopt a more inclusive environment towards all communities. Perhaps it is time educational institutions moved towards providing the healing touch to the social fracture we are witnessing today.

(The writer is Director, Schulich School of Business, India Programme)