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Getting down to the roots

Getting down to the roots

Author: M.V. Kamath
Publication: Oraganiser
Date: May 19, 2002

Introduction: "In secularism's name, politicians again adopt a strange attitude which, while it condoned the susceptibilities, religious and social, of the minorities, it is too ready to brand similar susceptibilities in the majority community as communalistic and reactionary. if every time there is na inter-community conflict the majority is blamed regardless of the merits of the question, the spring of traditional tolerance will dry up." K.M. Munshi to J.L. Nehru

When a person who is ill goes to see a doctor, the latter does not put the blame on the patient's body but seeks to find the source of the illness to prescribe a remedy. In the matter of the Gujarat riots, the Parliament-in effect the Opposition forces-have wasted five whole days trying to lay the blame on the Sangh Parivar while not addressing itself to what ails Gujarat. That is the greater tragedy. It is pointless to lay the blame on this or that factor. One can go all the way back from Ayodhya to Babur to Mohammed of Ghazni, to disunity among Hindu rulers and many other factors besides. The exercise may be interesting but would be fruitless. Finding logical reasons for prevailing hatreds may bring satisfaction to some but stopping there denies solace to many. Yes, one must certainly trace the cause of communal disturbances but to look for a happier, tension-free future, one must prescribe remedies. In the first place what happened in Gujarat was by no means genocide, any more than the murder of 3,000 Sikhs in Delhi and elsewhere following the, assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984 can be so described. Four times more people were killed in 1984 than they were in Gujarat in February-March 2002, a point well worth remembering. It is also worth emphasising that unlike in 1984, the killings in 2002 were strictly confined to Gujarat. Not a single Muslim was attacked or hurt anywhere else in India. Nowhere were there antiMuslim riots, not even in riot-prone Mumbai. If the BJP or the RSS was hell bent on killing Muslims, as a matter of policy, there could have been mayhem all over the country. That just did not happen. And may it also be noticed that even after the Army was rushed to Ahmedabad, tensions haven't subsided and killings have continued. This calls for an objective study of Hindu-Muslim relations in Gujarat-and more specifically in Godhra and Ahmedabad. Riots are not new to Godhra.

In his autobiography, Morarji Desai, who began his career as Personal Assistant to the District Collector and had been stationed in Godhra in the early 1920s (Vol. I, pages 54 to 70) writes about the riots situation he encountered there and how Muslims then (as now) in a majority, attacked Hindus and got away with it. This raises the issue of how to control a district, town or village with a Muslim majority. How alert should the administration be to a possible communal disturbance? In the entire country, surely, there may not be more than a dozen such hot spots. This would indicate the need to station a unit, say, of about two hundred special armed police nearabouts, whose sole responsibility would be to interfere at the first signs of rioting. These units should be invested with the right to interfere on their own, on the strength of their own assessment and independent of the existing State Governments and responsible. Only to the Central Government, so that responsibility to control a riot is taken out of the purview of the State authorities. This can be done almost immediately following the necessary legislation. Whether it would be expedient and wise to relocate the Ghanchi Muslims in Godhra, so that they are not huddled together and remain a constant source of mischief is another matter. In the second place, a matter of urgent concern is the welfare of refugees. It is well known that every MP gets rupees two crore for free use in his/her constituency. This amount should, with no further ado, be diverted to Ahmedabad's Muslim refugees so that their dire needs (house repairs, business losses, etc) are looked into. No objection from any MP on whatsoever ground should be entertained. Human distress has to be attended to as a matter of priority. In the third place a ban has to be imposed on the use of derogatory-and inflammatory-use of such terms as jihad. A letter written in an English daily by a Muslim draws attention to the fact that "Islam forbids the usage of the term kafir in a derogatory sense even against an atheist" and that it is wise not to speak of jihad to mean an attack on Hindus or India. That the word is relentlessly used by Pakistani Islamic fundamentalists in their hatred of India must, in this context, he reckoned as a constant cause of HinduMuslim tensions in India. In his book The Shade of Swords, M.J. Akbar notes that "the Pakistan Government could always be counted upon to provide support to the jihad against India." In the circumstances it devolves on the Muslim community in India to take extra care that Hindu sentiments are not provoked by the reckless use of the word 'under whatever context. Fourthly is the responsibility of 'intellectuals' belonging to any community to see that the word 'secularism' is not used as a word of contempt or hatred towards ordinary, godfearing Hindus who merely want to lead their daily lives in peace without having to be constantly told that in professing Hinduism they are at variance with the Constitution and the State. No single word has done more damage to the Hindu psyche than the unwarranted inclusion of this word in the Constitution. Hindus as a majority in India and as a minority in countries like Indonesia have never demanded any special privileges to themselves. They resent being harangued by a highly irresponsible bunch of 'intellectual' goons on their duties and responsibilities, especially when minority communalism is condoned if not highly encouraged. And fifthly is the role of the media, both print and television. At no time in India's tortured past, even from the days of the British has the Indian media shown itself to be so utterly and totally irresponsible as it has been in the last three months. Such a likelihood had been envisaged almost half a century ago by that distinguished patriot, K.M. Munshi, who had said in a far-sighted letter to Jawaharlal Nehru, "In its (secularism's) name, politicians again adopt a strange attitude which, while it Condoned the susceptibilities, religious and social, of the minorities, it is too ready to brand similar susceptibilities in the majority community as communalistic and reactionary... if every time there is an inter-community conflict the majority is blamed regardless of the merits of the question, the springs of traditional tolerance will dry up..." The greatest harm to the unity and strength of the country, one is forced to assert, has in recent times been done by the print and-especially-television media and it is about time that the Central Government reads the Riot Act to them. All these are remedies instantly applicable and call for no special effort. They must be brought into force with the minimum of delay so that never again will we have a repetition of Godhra and Ahmedabad, circa 2002. Nor of 1984, the sole handiwork of Congress goons. The great public is tired of being lectured to by a thoughtless media in the name of press freedom. It needs to be disciplined.

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