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India is one and will remain so

India is one and will remain so

Author: M.V. Kamath
Publication: The Free Press Journal
Date: May 2, 2002

In recent times some voices have been heard to say that India's  unity is fragile and may not stand up to the assaults made on it by  communalists. These voices have been raised in the context of the  events in Godhra and Ahmedabad and betray a shocking sense of  unreality. Much of the mischief has been wrought by the so- called 'secular' media which has been publicising the negative  aspects of the situation in Gujarat to an extent that instead of  steadying the forces of unity there has been what seems a deliberate  effort to divide the country along communal lines.

The first thing to remember is that communal rioting has been  strictly confined to one state, Gujarat and more specifically to one  urban area in the state, Ahmedabad. And if one were to look more  closely even at Ahmedabad, the killings have been limited to a riot  prone area in the city. There may have been sporadic assaults on  people belonging to the minority in some other parts of the state  but in no sense can they be called 'communal'. They have been more  in the nature of individuals trying to settle old inter-personal  disputes or just rowdies trying to cash in on a generalised  situation. It is well to remember that the communal tension in a  specific area in Gujarat has not spread elsewhere.

There is not a single instance of a Muslim being manhandled or  killed in any other part of the country, not even in a riot-prone  city like Mumbai. Not one. Things were much worse in 1984 when Sikhs  everywhere in the country felt unsafe. It is also worth remembering  that in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, as many as 3,000 Sikhs were  killed, not just in Delhi but also elsewhere. India came through  from that calamity more united than ever. There were four times more  casualties in 1984 than in Gujarat in 2002. And India will come  through this phase, too, with its strength and unity intact. It is  important that this is emphasised again and again. The greatest  damage to the sense of national unity, one suspects, is being done  by "left liberals" whose unceasing hatred of Hinduism calls for some  analysis. In a hard-hitting article in The Hindu (23 April), one  A.T. Thiruvengadam has raised some interesting questions. Thus, he  wrote: "Most of the intellectuals in India have been hard on the  Hindus whenever there is a riot or some utterance against some  minority groups.

Self-abnegation and denigration of institutions, ideology and  personalities connected with what is called 'Hindutva' has become  the habit of Indian intellectuals in all walks of life - politics,  media and in some specific groves of Academe. Why are they hard on  the community and hold a brief for others and indulge in 'mea  culpas?' They take cudgels on behalf of the minorities on the  pretext of espousing the cause of secularism and anti-majoritarian  politics. Are they justified in this baiting of their fellow-men and  what is the reason for this attitude?"

To defend minorities when they are in dire need is a beautiful  gesture and deserves commendation. But to defend them when they are  in an obvious guilt mode is to do them a clear disfavour. That is  secularism gone berserk. The English language media has done worse  in the Gujarat contest. Instead of attempting to pour oil on  troubled waters, the media has spread fear especially among the  minorities and need to be called to order. A chronic hated of the  BJP cannot be allowed to dig the chasm between Hindus and Muslims  deeper.

There are historical reasons for the vague distrust between the two  communities. But this much needs to be emphasised: It is not  prevalent uniformly all over the country; it is not prevalent among  all classes; and when riots do erupt - and they have been erupting  often enough - they are specific to one area and based again on  specific grievances. The task of the media is to identify them and  suggest remedies.

That said, it is foolish to dismiss Hindu-Muslim differences as non- existent. They exist and need to be faced in all honesty and  seriousness. How can that be done? This can be done a at various  levels: panchayat, taluq, district and state levels; rural and urban  levels; intellectual and academic levels; party and organisational  levels. The aim should be of seeking understanding and cooperation  between the two communities and discussions should not be allowed to  degenerate into mud-slinging, and name-calling.

Here the media plays a significant role. Is it too much to ask of  the media to look at the positive side of Hindu-Muslim relations and  identify where they converge to mutual satisfaction? Shouldn't that  be the primary aim of a responsible press?

On the law and order front the following steps can be quickly taken.  The Central government must identify such trouble spots as have in  the past been known to erupt in communal violence and place units of  armed police not far from them. These units should be placed under  central control and should be authorised interfere at the first  signs of trouble without waiting to be summoned. the threshold for  interference must be clearly specified This will help eliminate the  charge frequently made that local state governments have been lax in  summoning the help of the Armed Forces. Such a step is legally  permissible and should be taken immediately. It will give trouble- makers a clear warning that violence will not be tolerated. And it  will give minorities the necessary feeling of security.

There have been frequent references in recent times to the role of  madrassahs in propagating hatred towards the majority community.  This calls for investigation. It is patently unfair to presume that  all madrasahs indulge in fanning communal hatred.

But in the larger interest of fostering communal amity, a thorough  investigation of these communal schools would be in order. In fact  the government would do well to issue a White Paper on the subject.  But that is not enough. Syed Shababuddin, a Muslim leader has been  quoted as saying that government should establish regular schools to  replace madrassahs, so that Muslim children are not deprived of the  opportunity of getting a sound education. But that said, can one  expect the Muslim intelligentsia to take a more active role in  matters pertaining to their vast and divided community? Should the  spokesman for the Muslim community always be Syed Shahabuddin or the  Shabi Imam of Delhi? Or, for that matter, the Muslim Personal Law  Board? Is there an internal agitation of any kind within the Muslim  community for social reform as there is within the heterogenous  Hindu community? Shouldn't this aspect of communal life be of  concern to Muslim intellectuals? Why should Muslims always be  associated with extremism and fundamentalism? Don't the more liberal  among them have any voice at all? Why do they prefer to remain  silent as happened during the famous Shah Banoo Case?

The there is the charge against the police that no matter who is in  power they become the personal army of the ruling party. This was  noticed on several occasions, in Delhi in 1984 and in Ahmedabad in  2002. Admittedly the police have to obey orders from whosoever in in  power. The police cannot act independently of the government; that  would only usher in anarchy in the country. At the same time the  police must be shielded from unnecessary interference from civil  authority, so that they can be an effective force in times of  crisis. How is this to be done? This tricky issue should be the  concern all all major political parties. In a democracy there is no  guarantee that any one political party will stay permanently in  power whether at the centre or in the states. That makes it all the  more necessary to see that the police act independently and swiftly  in times of communal disturbance, in the interests of public law and  order, but again without being a law to themselves.

Then there is the place of education, and the teaching of history at  the high school level. In recent times there has been far too much  controversy over the so-called 'saffronisation' of education.  Teaching history, especially in India, is a very tricky affair to  start with. How does one handle, for example, the 'Islamic' period  starting with the invasion of Mohammad of Ghazni in the year 1000  AD? For that matter how does one interpret British rule in India?  How much of forbearance should different communities have to show in  the delineation of characters in history? And how is one to outline  the contours of history that will not raise one or the other  community's hassles?

These are matters that call for a great deal of sophistication on  the part of academicians and teachers and do not admit of ready  answers. In history one man's hero can be another man's villain and  yet a common ground has to be found to project images in the right  perspective.

And finally we come to the role of political parties in a democratic  set up. No matter how sharply they may differ among themselves over  many issues, one thing should be clearly understood: their interests  should subserve the larger interests of the nation.

One would imagine that half a century is long enough for all to  learn that a lot of give-and-take is called for if we have to remain  a fighting and united country that can be a role model to others,  especially our immediate neighbours. It is when this sense of  responsibility pervades all political action that India can emerge  as a nation respected and honoured the world over. Surely it is not  beyond our capacity to understand and appreciate these imperatives?

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