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'A majority of Hindus do not approve of hate'

January 25, 2019 09:47 IST

'Most Hindus believe in living in peace with their Muslim neighbours and vice versa.'
'It is this India we have to preserve.'

The lynching of Mohammad Ikhlaq in September 2015 created a national furore with protests in different parts of the country. Photograph: PTI

IMAGE: The lynching of Mohammad Ikhlaq in September 2015 created a national furore with protests in different parts of the country. Photograph: PTI

Retired bureaucrat Harsh Mander is an ambassador of peace. His Karwan e Mohabbat set out from Nellie in Assam, where thousands were killed in 1983 massacres, to the homes of Junaid and cattle trader Pehlu Khan who were killed in mob lynchings two years ago.

Mander, below, put in his papers after the 2002 Gujarat riots as he felt there was administrative complicity in the post-Godhra train burning carnage.

At present he runs the Centre for Equity Studies which was served with an income tax notice by the Narendra Damodardas Modi government after Karwan e Mohabbat gathered momentum and popularity.

"The last few years it has been demonstrated to me that there is a greater degree of radicalisation of the Hindu mind and heart," Mander, author of a new book, Partitions of the Heart: Unmaking the Idea of India, tells Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf.

 

After reading your book it looks like the concept of secularism has never been taken seriously in India even by the secular parties. How did we come to this stage?

India is right now passing through very difficult times. India is not as divided today since the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. Muslims and Christians have been reduced to a situation in which they are living in fear.

How have we come to this stage?

It is a difficult question and a very important one to answer to which I believe the struggle is an old one and at least 100 years old.

Right through our freedom struggle there were two ideologies being followed, one was of Mahatma Gandhi. In 1925, the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) was constituted.

Right through our freedom struggle there were two battles going on. One in which the battle was against the British and the second battle was what would India do after the British left.

Essentially, the idea of India after the British left was represented by the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and what was written beautifully in our Constitution by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar to which the foundation was laid by Jawaharlal Nehru.

In this idea of India it did not matter which God you worshipped. Even if you did not worship, it did not matter. You will be an equal Indian protected equally by the law of the land.

This is what you called the idea of India, which the Muslim League opposed and got the idea of Pakistan on the basis of religion for Muslims and where Muslims constituted a majority.

In a sense, the idea of India was that we respected our differences, and it was a fundamentally different idea of India.

However, the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS never accepted this idea of India and therefore they never participated in the freedom struggle. They were primarily in the battle for an India which would be dominated by Hindus, particularly upper caste Hindus who are 15 per cent of the population.

Everybody would be allowed to live as second class citizens. Now this was the alternative idea of India.

At the time emotions were high and Mahatma Gandhi's final fast was for his idea of India for which he was assassinated. After that, the country was stunned into the reaffirmation of this idea of India and the RSS went into the shadow of public life. It seemed for a while this issue was resolved for India.

But it was the battle against the authoritarian attitude of Congress and Mrs (Indira) Gandhi to which Jayaprakash Narayan called out the RSS to join battle. He gave them legitimacy, then the Ayodhya issue happened.

So the genie came out of the bottle?

Yes, the genie came out of the bottle. But the turning point of our history was the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

It was the first moment of political triumph of this alternative idea of India. And the Hindu right has never looked back from that time onwards.

The problem with the so-called secular parties was that they were weak in their conviction for secular values and did not stand up for secular values, which they should have stood for, and the values of the Constitution.

They constantly compromised on secular values in different ways. Even today, we see secular parties so unsteady in this battle.

One million people died during Partition. A country was born on the basis of religion, blood was flowing and in the midst of this, Mahatma Gandhi said this country belongs to all. That kind of moral courage we don't find at all among our secular parties.

Your book reminded me of Widening Divide by Dr Rafiq Zakaria. He wrote how Hindu-Muslim relations deteriorated during the Ram Janambhoomi movement. Do you think the relations between Hindus and Muslims are worse now than it was when the Babri Masjid was demolished?

The situation is much worse now. On my Karwan e Mohabbat travels we have met families affected by lynching. I am devastated by the extent to which I see street violence and hatred.

Hatred is of an extreme kind. They are not lynchings, bodies are mutilated and eyes are being gouged out.

The closest similarities to these kind of lynching was of (blacks) in America after the civil war where there was cruel kind of lynching where (white) families used to gather and watch it as a public performance. It was like some picnic was going on.

In India today that kind of thing has been replaced by video cameras (on cell phones). It is seen as a symbolic attack on the Muslim community just like the black community was attacked in America then.

Each lynching is like thousand lynchings and there is a message (to Muslims).

It is not the question of one Pehlu Khan or Junaid. Everybody is frightened today to eat meat.

With these acts they have reduced an entire community to being second class citizens.

So you don't change the Indian Constitution, but by these acts you make India a majoritarian Hindu State.

We find Muslims travelling freely across India wearing skull caps, women wearing burqas etc, so why do we generalise incidents like Pehlu Khan as if this is what India as a whole has become?

I have a lot of Muslim colleagues and friends. Many of my friends told me that a Muslim mother tells their children that when they are in a train not to say Salaam-Walekum or to discuss politics in public or not to grow a beard too long.

People are very scared to eat meat in a public place. This fact is demonstrating (Muslims) as second class citizens which is not the idea of India. That is the anguish and fear I talk about in my book.

Your book does not mention that there are cattle smugglers who happen to be Muslims and that there are incidents of terror where Muslims are involved. Don't you think Muslims must introspect and share blame for such incidents?

Of course, there is some radicalisation among Muslims in India, but if you compare the entire Muslim population of India, it is the least in the world.

There is also radicalisation of Hindus. I feel our opposition has to be against radicalisation and hatred.

We have no problem with Hindus or Muslims, but we have problems with Hindutva groups and radical Islamic groups.

The danger in India today is not from communalism but majoritarianism and this is across South Asia. In Bangladesh, it is the Jamaat-e-Islami which is a danger (for that nation's Hindus). In Sri Lanka there is a danger of Buddhist majoritarianism to Tamils and Muslims.

Your book says that in 1954, when Congress MP Seth Govind Das moved a resolution in the Lok Sabha for a total ban on cow slaughter, then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru declared that he would rather resign than accept this nonsensical demand.
Didn't Nehru fear a Hindu electoral backlash as he also rejected Dr Rajendra Prasad's demand for banning cow slaughter as unimportant and reactionary?

People like Gandhi and Nehru were worried about what was right and wrong. Nehru believed in what was Constitutionally sound and was not worried about losing votes.

If you believe that every Hindu is radicalised, which is not the case yet, and if they were radicalised, all would have voted for the BJP. Why should they have ever voted for the Congress or say the Samajwadi Party?

The Congress lost ground in UP and Bihar when it compromised on secular values. It is only after the opening of the Babri Masjid locks, the Shah Bano case and the Bhagalpur riots that the Congress was wiped out in UP and Bihar.

You write that Hindus have forestalled the path of majoritarian dominance and, however imperfectly, protected minority rights and respected differences and diversity.
Do you feel this situation has changed permanently as Hindus have failed in the last five years?

I think we are slipping by the day.

The last few years it has been demonstrated to me that there is a greater degree of radicalisation of the Hindu mind and heart.

I am scary of a greater level, but I still believe that a majority of Hindus do not approve of hate and do believe in living in peace with their Muslim neighbours and vice versa.

It is this India we have to preserve.

Iif we continue down this way, then one day we will reach the point where there will be no point of return and we become like Pakistan.

I know of Muslims who have given up eating beef to respect Hindu sentiments and do not mind saying Bharat Mata Ki Jai or for that matter Vande Mataram. What is wrong if all Indian Muslims do that?

The problem with this is the coming of conditionality. To my mind, the idea of India is I can belong without being forced.

You see the German idea of nationalism. If you want to live as a minority in Germany then you have to accept the dominant culture and behave like a German.

In France they made a big issue of Muslim women wanting to wear burkinis to bathe. It is very strange as Catholic nuns go to the beach (in their traditional attire) and they have no problems with that in France.

So it is clearly saying that if you want to live as a minority in this country, then you have to live by respecting the majority culture and adjusting with it. This is not my understanding of the idea of India.

We have a diverse culture and Arunachal Pradesh is the most diverse state.

In Arunachal Pradesh there are 66 languages. There are some languages spoken by only 300 people and it is those 300 people speaking only one language who equally belong to India.

Those 300 people have a right to their language, dress, culture, worship, eat, love or do whatever they want that the majority community is not doing.

So there should be no condition except to respect the Constitutional morality to be an Indian.

Would a bill like the Communal and Targeted Violence Bill ensure that there are no more heinous riots in India?

Absolutely. Manipur is the first state that has passed a law which is very similar to Communal and Targeted Violence Bill. This bill was completely misrepresented by the BJP.

The central idea of this bill was that a public official or local district magistrate or superintendent of police decides riots should stop and lynching should not take place, then no such incident will happen as riots and lynching are a huge crime.

No riots can take place with the active complicity of local authorities. Time and again, public officials have not acted in riots and not acting (on duty) has so far not been recognised as a crime.

So what we are saying is that we should create a new trial that dereliction of duty by public officials commands responsibility. And if they are punished for not being active and go to jail, then they will act and do their duty and stop riots.

I don't want them to be in jail, but just do their duty. The fact that their conscience is not powerful enough to make them do their duty, you have to have some thing like this (bill).

After the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots in UP, the Samajwadi Party gave Rs 5 lakh to each Muslim family to move out of their homes in Hindu localities. In the same way the Congress brought in the Disturbed Areas Act in Gujarat in the 1980s by which Muslims could not buy homes in Hindu localities.
So when secular parties fail in secularism, what does the future hold for the Muslims of India?

There is a movie called Garam Hawa. The last scene of that movie is iconic. The family feels they have no option but to go to Pakistan.

There is a procession passing and it has a red flag and not a green flag. Actor Farooque Shaikh gets up and says he will not go to Pakistan and that he will stay in India. He then joins the procession.

It says that Muslims have a complete future in India, but not in a Muslim identity, but in solidarity with other disadvantaged groups.

So Muslims must stand with Dalits, tribals, working class people, and farmers in solidarity and not retreat into a shell by saying they have no future except living in despair.

Muslims should join hands with other disadvantaged group in fighting the politics of hate.

Syed Firdaus Ashraf / Rediff.com