The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Seeds of violence and mutual ill-will once sown are not easily eradicated. After the partition, the conflict of material interests which fed the fire was no longer there in India. In East Pakistan, getting rid of Hindus might have proved to be profitable as their lands and other assets went to the Muslim neighbours. Similar incentives appear to have been absent in India outside Punjab, but as events in recent years have shown, there was no lack of ill will and it could be easily churned up to lethal purpose. Elements in the majority community, the 'have nots' among the 'haves' in terms of access to education, power, status and material well-being, projected a xenophobic ideology which saw the Muslims as a pampered vote-bank. These projections ignored such startling facts as that the Muslims had hardly any access to opportunity: some 13 per cent of the population, they accounted for less than one per cent of pupils even in secondary schools. The position is much worse in jobs, professions and universities. Some pampered community! The other side of this ideology was an undefined Hindutva, which gloried in destroying mosques and killing Muslims. Persistent organizational effort, funded by NRIs and others, have turned this politics of hatred into a major plank in India's public life.

The poison will not be eradicated in a day and the threat it poses to our civil life should never be underestimated. It has to be fought at many levels. First, all must realize that the days of single party rule are over and that communal hatred is the greatest danger facing our polity. Political parties need to give top priority to fighting it, to exposing its nature and projecting its obscenity relentlessly and without cease. Here, I feel, the vocabulary of our political discourse has to be modified. The sangh parivar are not Hindu nationalists, for nationalists do not usually arrange pogroms or condone them. Nor are they fundamentalists, for nothing fundamental to Hindu belief or practice informs their ideology. Only one expression describes them; xenophobic fascists. In fact, in the light of their words and conduct, all decent Hindus should question their right to call themselves Hindu. They have brought shame on us. In a properly ordered society, such people would have been expelled from the community. I have deliberately used very strong language in this paragraph. I have done so in the belief that movements based on strong negative emotions cannot be fought in the polite language of rational discourse. Our propaganda against projects of communal hatred must express our sense of total revulsion: we must try and implant that revulsion into the psyche of all sane Indians. Fortunately, the words and actions of the parivar are of great help in this matter. Theirs is not a language of civilized discourse.

In pre-British days, when the state did not honour our great men, people devised titles to show their high regard. Mahatma, Lokmanya, Deshbandhu, Netaji and so on. Since the state machinery is not about to punish the likes of Modi, Togadia or Advani, using appropriate labels to describe them might help consolidate and project our sense of disgust. I suggest naradham for Modi, and kumbhirasru for Advani as a start. Remember Advani's copious tears over Ayodhya! What crocodile could beat this old hypocrite, master manipulator of communal hatred'

Hatred of a community is not simply a political phenomenon; it strikes deep roots in the culture and psyche of a people. The experience of anti-semitism in Europe provides ample evidence to prove this point. And when I heard from a highly educated Bengali that the Gujarat pogrom had become a necessity, I realized that something has gone very seriously wrong with our social culture. In the mid-Twenties, the RSS outlined an extremely clever and sophisticated strategy and it has worked at it with dedication for some eight decades now. The members refused to call themselves a political body and focussed on culture. The basic idea was brilliant and simple. In the Twenties and Thirties, nationalism dominated the social culture of the Indian people. The RSS aimed to replace it with Hindutva and the ideal of a Hindu rashtra, which would reduce non-Hindus to the status of a subject population. They did not get very far until the emotive issue of Ramjanambhoomi was successfully manipulated, with massive financial aid from NRIs, to catapult a party which had only two seats in parliament to the position of the single largest party.

We can learn something from this staggering record. To eradicate the poison of communal hatred, we need a countrywide organization ' not a political alliance or a party, but an organization which would project and try to inculcate values most relevant for positive developments in our society in the 21st century. Away from the goal-oriented and highly purposive education with which our elite students and their parents seek to facilitate the passage of our youth to the United States of America, or to highly paid jobs in the corporate sector, this cultural organization should try and spread out into every area of our social life. The NGOs willing to cooperate could be used first for these purposes. And units should be established in as many universities, schools and colleges as possible. Such an organization should of course have a wide-ranging programme, trying to inculcate positive values through classes, discussion groups, drills and active involvement in social work. The organizational structure of the RSS provides an excellent blue print for such a body; only positive slogans have to replace its hate-filled negative messages, I feel sure that if initiative is taken to set it up, resources will not be a problem.

For the purposes of this essay, I shall focus only on one aspect of the possible activities of such an organization, ' the effort to replace inter-community hatred with healthier attitudes which would inform the future development of our society.

For this, we first need to understand the true nature and extent of the problem. In the Sixties, Aligarh University's department of psychology did a limited but very focussed study of mutual images in the consciousness of local Hindus and Muslims. Similar random surveys in many parts of the country, focussing especially on areas with experience of inter-communal riots and strong RSS presence as well as Muslim ghettoes in urban complexes, might be illuminating. I am not suggesting a multi-million dollar research project supported by big US foundations, but a much more modest cottage-industry-style effort using local knowledge and interviews in depth. Voluntary contributions to such a study should be welcome. We assume we know what makes a communalist tick or what exactly is the nature and range of his impact, but do we' The exercise I have suggested would help us identify what to attack and how. Biographies of communal activists in both communities would be particularly welcome.

I think it is supremely important that liberal Muslims are involved in such organized activity. The orthodox ignorant mullah, whose mental world belongs to the middle ages, has to be expelled from his position of authority. Muslim society, especially Muslim women, must be free from their unwholesome influence. The liberal Muslim at some point in time has to take courage in both hands and initiate legislations which are in conformity with contemporary needs without references to the scriptures. Muslim women have already shown considerable courage in such action. Our cultural movements must strengthen their hands. The obscurantist mullah is something of a paper tiger. It is worth noting that he does not enjoy the support of the majority virtually in any Muslim country. The liberal or radical citizens of India, whatever their community, must at some point stop being mealy-mouthed in criticizing the reactionary obscurantist.

We also need true histories of inter-community conflict, a history of hatred ' la Annales school. The xenophobic Hindu historian talks endlessly of Muslim tyranny, the vile nature of the Yavana beast. The radical-liberal historians, on their part, really do not help by playing down the facts of Muslim iconoclasm and temple destruction. Whether a Rama temple once stood where the Babri mosque was later erected is an almost irrelevant issue. What matters is that such things did happen all over Northern India. Like Eaton, we need to understand and inform the lay public of the true nature and context of such happenings. More important, we historians have done a great disservice to our people by virtually papering over the history of violent inter-community conflicts. School text-books gloss over them with one-liners. As the historians of the Subaltern group are now pointing out, the history of Indian independence and partition virtually relegates the horrendous suffering of the partition riots, which took some five million lives, to brief footnotes.

In our cultural propaganda, several points need to be emphasized. First, we should neither over- nor underplay the fact of communal tension in the past. What we need to emphasize is that such tensions were real enough but they shared space in our social consciousness with the far more dominant traditions of co-existence, cooperation and cultural symbiosis. As Rabindranath Tagore pointed out in a seminal essay, the material and cultural environment of the Indo-Islamic era and its inheritor, our contemporary culture, are the joint handiwork of Hindus and Muslims. From fabric, dress, food to painting, architecture and music, all our civilizational and artistic output bears the impress of two distinct traditions so interwoven that they cease to be identifiable as separate entities. These are facts accessible to our sense perceptions. And if the two communities were continually at loggerheads, the marvellous products of our composite civilization would not have been there.

In being honest about the facts of tension and conflict in the past, we should locate these in the context of world history. Modern Britain is the result of a union between four ethnic groups with a very long history of bitter conflict. So is Germany the end product of union between warring principalities. Memories of such ancient or even recent conflicts usually do not poison the present, though old memories at times inform current action, as in Scotland and Wales. It does not help to nurture grievances, especially those picked up selectively from the remote past. If Turkish kings destroyed Hindu temples, it does not help to avenge the insult by attacking mosques today and killing the descendants of poor Muslims who were converts from Hindu society. Such actions merely distract us from our task of moving forward and undermine our basic humanity. Our cultural propaganda must emphasize not highfalutin ideas but solid good sense. Togadia may want to hang Ghazni, but Ghazni is long dead. To kill and rape fellow citizens because they share Ghazni's faith are acts of sadistic morons.

One final word. On Kurfurstendam, in the centre of Berlin, stands a stone plaque. It lists without comment the Nazi death camps. The Museum of German history in the same city contains an entire section, Hitlerfeld, detailing those horrors. A young German writer wrote a play entitled 'Was I there when Hitler ruled' He answers the question in the affirmative, because later generations of Germans, he believes, have not done enough to exculpate the guilt. What about us' What have we done to repent and transcend the sins of our partition riots' Does any Hindu or Muslim in the three countries of the subcontinent feel ashamed that they are descended from the monsters of the partition riots in 1946-47 or of the Dhaka pogrom in 1971. Have we apologized for what we did to Delhi's Sikhs' We need a black book of our misdeeds to be made available to every literate person in three countries. We need museums dedicated to the horrors of communal riots, so that the rising generations learn to hang their heads in shame for the sins of their forebears and say, 'Never again.'

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