The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Communal rage in Secular India By Rafiq Zakaria, Popular, Rs 350

Communal riots have taken a heavy toll of human lives in India since independence. But never before was there a genocide of the kind that took place in Gujarat recently.

This book by Rafiq Zakaria is about the burning of the Sabarmati Express near Godhra and its bloody aftermath. In the foreword, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen warns that such “vicious sectarian politics” will soon turn “India into a barbaric country of which every citizen has reason to be ashamed”, adding that “we have to examine the causal processes that led to such barbarities” in order to prevent their recurrence. This is precisely what Zakaria sets out to do — set the record straight and denounce those communities, institutions and individuals which aided and abetted the perpetration of such heinous crimes. It ends with advice to Muslims on what they should do now.

The book is peppered with though-provoking ideas and explosive information to help dispel many of the myths spread by vested interests in order to drive a wedge between communities. Zakaria also tries to expose how historical facts and religious tenets have been distorted over the years, in order to purge the politics of hate and distrust. Keeping in mind the sensitivity of his subject-matter, he quotes extensively from media reports in order to establish the truth of what he describes. He is also scrupulously fair — while he rails at the fascist tendencies of some Hindu organizations, he also does not mince words when talking of Muslim personal law. In the chapter, “Muslims in the Dock”, he elucidates much-misunderstood terms like kafir and fatwa. There are also a few pages on terrorism.

Zakaria’s observations, which come from a close reading of history and religious texts, may come as a revelation to a generation ignorant of traditions. For example, talking of the similarities between the two religions, Zakaria talks of how highly some Islamic thinkers regarded Ram, Krishna and the Buddha. He also quotes from the Quran and Hindu scriptures to drive home his point.

What strikes the right note is Zakaria’s straightforward prose and no-nonsense approach. Zakaria may write with a heavy heart of horrendous crimes, but all traces of indignation are camouflaged by a firm belief in Hindu-Muslim unity and an optimism that all is not lost.

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