April 23, 2002


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Arvind Lavakare

Has a Muslim's prophecy come true?

If they are sincere in earning their livelihood, 'secular' investigative journalists aiming for Narendra Modi's jugular have a job on hand. They must examine why --

  1. In the post-Godhra violence in Gujarat, 8,000 armed tribals descended on Sanjeli town in the tribal heartland of Dahod district with bows, stones and gunshots, killing 15 fleeing Muslims and destroying 450 Muslim houses. The killers, be it noted, were tribals and not the urban elite moved by the Hindutva ideology; nor were they city goons armed with the Bajrang Dal trishul.
  2. In another post-Godhra episode, 7,000 armed Adivasis marched into Bodeli town in Chotte-Udepur tribal area of Vadodara district, intent on massacring Muslims who had fled there after being driven out of the neighbouring villages.
  3. As a sequel to Godhra, 15,000 Hindus, mostly armed Thakurs of the Other Backward Classes, burnt 250 Muslim houses, causing large-scale Muslim migration.
  4. The Godhra carnage resulted, till last known, in about 140 dead Muslims in unprecedented tribal-related violence in Gujarat.
  5. The presence of Muslims in a relief camp at Chotte-Udepur was opposed by Hindus.
The National Human Rights Commission, which recently unleashed a scathing, overbearing indictment of the Modi government, also has an unfinished task. So have other human rights activists that have mushroomed in various names and hues. All of them must examine why --
  • Police intervention that spared savage death to some 250 Muslims in incident 1 above was not highlighted by the media.
  • The police who saved hundreds in incident 2 above were denied media attention.
  • Bhagvesh Jha, collector of Vadodara, and other senior officers who were fired upon by tribals while trying to rescue trapped Muslims in incident 2 above did not make news.
Now 'secular' journalists are self-acclaimed liberal intellectuals when it comes to Hindu-bashing, and will, therefore, scorn at any appeal to them to introspect or investigate anything that even smells of anti-Muslim sentiment. On the other hand, they will love to front-page, for instance, the accusation by one Mushtaq Masken of Sanjeli that the macabre Godhra killing was not a communal riot but, hold your breath, a devious Hindu plan to wipe out the Muslims of Gujarat. That's worse than the Islamic charge against the Jews of America for the tragedy of 9/11.

But if, by some miracle, these 'secular' media people do some serious probing, they will find out that the tribals of Gujarat blame local Muslims for their exploitation, especially of women. The communal teaching and pan-Islamic brotherhood of the Tableeghi Jamaat movement could well be the other villain.

In the big towns, cities and metros, the feeling is going round, it seems, that the educated Hindu class -- those white-collared and professional people who read between the lines and are least concerned with minority vote-bank politics -- is veering to the conclusion that "enough is enough".

The overt and covert appeasement of Muslims by the political class and the media is finally, it appears, becoming too stifling even for the traditionally tolerant Hindu. This class, for instance, has noted how the 'secular' media has largely ignored the fact that on March 27, the special tribunal headed by a Delhi high court judge, S K Aggarwal, has upheld the central government's ban on the Students Islamic Movement of India announced in September last. "Would the media not have gloated over such a decision if the upheld ban had been on the RSS or VHP?" these Hindus ask. Active networking on the Internet by Hindu groups and individuals has helped to intensify such feelings.

Take, for instance, a recent interview given by Ravi Shankar, a disciple of Mahesh Yogi and founder of the Art of Living Foundation that's now getting widespread international recognition. In that interview Ravi Shankar revealed that the annual income from the 40,000 temples of Karnataka is Rs 400 million, of which only Rs 5 million are spent on the temples while the rest goes to the government; in contrast, the income from religious institutions of the minorities is just Rs 5 million and they get grants of Rs 80 million.

Again, he says, the minority community institutions are fully exempted from taxes whereas majority community institutions are not. He believes "these disparities should go. Everybody should be treated equally." The unbiased couldn't agree more because that's what secularism is really meant to be. [The interview is available as message number 283 to members of the Yahoo! message board.]

Some judicial decisions are also abetting this animosity against Muslims. Thus, on April 8, the Supreme Court dismissed as 'frivolous' a public-interest petition seeking a court directive to bar Muslims from offering prayers in places other than mosques. The court slapped a fine of Rs 10,000 on the petitioner and said: "People like you [the petitioner] are causing bloodshed in the country."

Varanasi-based businessman Arun Kumar Jaiswal had filed the petition to redress the inconvenience caused to people of other communities because of namaaz being offered in public places. He ended up paying Rs 10,000 and earning an insult, though there is no disputing that namaaz on Mumbai's public roads had forced the celebrated writer Dom Moraes to go to court several years ago. "Where was the need for the apex court to make that morbid, unproven allegation against Jaiswal?" ask Hindus. "Would the court dare to pronounce such an insult against a Muslim who went to it with a petition against the maha aartis of the kind initiated by the Shiv Sena in 1993?" they ask.

Other Hindus, educated and not-so-educated, point out how not a single Muslim leader of note has asked his/her community to yield the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya as a respectful gesture to Hindu sentiment. Those in the know point out how, after the overwhelming variety and volume of evidence provided by the Hindu representatives regarding the destruction of a Ram temple for building the Babri structure, the Babri Masjid Action Committee members just didn't show up for the crucial concluding meeting that was part of Prime Minister Chandrashekhar's initiative in 1990 to resolve the issue.

A taxi driver in Mumbai perhaps summed it up best the other day by asking, "If we Hindus are not to be permitted to build a Ram temple on the sacred spot in Ayodhya, are we expected to build it in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia?" His view on the Muslim ghetto attitude is also revealing. "Sa'ab, if you go through Mohammed Ali Road and Bhendi Bazaar areas," he said, "you begin to wonder whether you're living in the 21st century or in the mediaeval age." "No interest in becoming highly educated, in mixing with other communities," he concluded. And remember, he, a taxi driver, said all that before Vajpayee said some of that in Goa recently.

But the Ayodhya affair and the Godhra fallout are only symptoms of what was apprehended over half a century ago when our Constituent Assembly was debating the contents of free India's Constitution. Below are some of the views expressed in that august house.

"For the sake of securing the Muslim League's co-operation we have been accepting many things against our ideals. We should now put a stop to that and should not ignore our fundamental principles for the sake of coming to an agreement with the Muslim League."

(Shri Purshottam Das Tandon)

"The conception of a nation does not permit the existence of perpetual or permanent minorities. Either the nation absorbs these minorities or, in course of time, it must break up. Therefore, I would say that it is a good thing that we have these legal and constitutional safeguards, but that ultimately no legal safeguard can protect small minorities from the overwhelming domination of big masses, unless on both sides an effort is made to get closer and become one corporate nation, a homogeneous nation. That process has been shown to us by the United States of America, where peoples of different races have, with one unfortunate exception, been absorbed into one nation."

(Mr M R Masani)

"I have no hesitation in saying that notwithstanding the agitation of the Muslim League for the partition of India, some day enough light would dawn upon the Muslims themselves and they too will begin to think that a United India is better even for them."

(B R Ambedkar)

The strongest thought came from Syed Karimuddin. He warned the minorities that if they wanted to continue a communal approach and activities, they should be aware that it would not be possible to prevent the majority community from propagating majority communalism.

It would appear, after Godhra, that a Muslim's prophecy has come true -- precisely for the reason he envisaged more than 50 years ago. Karimuddin, of course, had not factored in the fact that vote-bank politicians, 'secular' media 'intellectuals' and some ivory-tower members of the judiciary would abet that process.

Tailpiece: Out of the 4,461 questions raised in Parliament during the second session of the 13th Lok Sabha, says the National Centre of Advocacy Studies, Pune, only eight pertained to the minorities. And none of them were from 'Maulana' Mulayam Singh's Samajwadi Party that projects itself as the champion of Muslim interests. Add QED to that statistic.

Arvind Lavakare

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