Blog Archives

Survival mantra: Condemn violence, re-invent secularism as our guiding light

It could be true, that inverse relationship between brawn and brain. I haven’t been as alert mentally since I started going to the gym regularly, but today I’m resolving to snap out of that stupor and get back to my blog and my work with total concentration.

I’ve been following the controversy following Home Minister Shinde’s remarks about Hindu terror. And thinking about the intense feeling of discomfort I have about that particular faction of our society. Yechury’s editorial in The Hindustan Times today about zero tolerance reveals the sordid history of the RSS and their commitment to military means to achieve their wins. It also exposes the essential fascism in their ideology. This scares me (despite growing up in a very much Hindu family). Because I was brought up in independent India with the clear understanding that secularism is very much a value we fought for and want to keep fighting for, that this is a deeply ingrained belief.

As I grew up, various incidents influenced me- the 1984 riots, Babri Masjid, Mumbai blasts and the general observations of how citizens in a city as cultured and nuanced as Lucknow got polarized and compromised in the crush of religious fear and machoism. Yet, my belief in secularism as the ideal to aspire towards never wavered.

Today, an urban practitioner in rapidly urbanizing, rapidly growing India- I hear disparate voices all around me. I know that religious identity continues to be the strongest one for many in this country and, while I do not think that is wrong, I am pained by having to accept that secularism no longer seems to be the agreed upon framework of taking this country forward.

The world over, religious fanaticism seems to be overpowering the voices of tolerance. I often wonder, why? Is it cyclical, moving closer and then way from fanaticism, clannishness? Or are we essentially an irrational and violent race and occasionally we get lured into more rational thinking by great people like Gandhi or Martin Luther King who for some reason all seem to happen around the same time?

In my analysis, it all boils down to managing anger. Just like we learn to manage anger and frustration in our personal lives, or should at any rate, collective anger also needs to be managed. When the management tool becomes skewed and leaders would rather incite, and preach retribution and revenge, violence and terrorism appear as very logical alternatives to those in a group. In the absence of reason, no one is able to break the tit for tat and the war goes on…

This is a war on our senses, on our liberties. It is a war that threatens to annihilate the beauty from our lives and marry us all into a culture of violence and retribution, which can only lead to sadness and more anger. It is a vicious cycle. We must break out of it. Secularism is one way to break out of it. Perhaps we must change the way we see secularism- not as a society sans religious affiliations, but as one where each group is tolerant of the faith and the cultural practices of the other strains that co-exist with it, an within that larger fabric of India, Asia, the world.

I would respect that Hindu leader that came out and punished perpetrators of violence from within its folds, same goes for the Islamic leadership. Religious leaders must condemn violence and be unabashed in naming all those who incite it. If they continue to shield murderers, no matter which religion they belong to, they are doing a huge disservice to us all. By luring people into the false cocoon of us-versus-them on hand and by alienating all those of us who refuse to support violence, on the other.

Of paranoia, celebration and faith- Eid in Gurgaon: Aug 20, 2012

This morning, I headed out of my home with Udai to meet a prospective music teacher for both of us. It was a lovely relaxed morning. Out on the streets, there were few cars, but many shared autos full of people wearing white skullcaps, just out from the Eid namaaz.

Gurgaon has not been a city that most associate with a Muslim culture. There is no tangible Islamic presence among the white collar migrants living in high-walled bungalows and gated condominiums. Outside of those gates, though, live an unestimated but significant number of Muslim immigrants from West Bengal. Often, they are loosely referred to as Bangladeshis as well, though most appear to have Indian voter IDs.

This is a community integral to Gurgaon. Househelp, drivers, sweepers and cleaners come from this hardworking bunch, who are diminutive in size and mild in their mannerisms. Their Islamic practices, to me, appear very different from the ones my Muslim friends in Lucknow followed, for instance. Roza, or the Ramzan fast, is not something they keep. And in previous years, I do not remember the Eid after Ramzan being a big deal for them. It’s the other Eid that they seem to be more excited about.

Slowly, though, things seem to be changing. I had the chance to interact with a local mosque earlier in the year (during the Jalti Jhopdi project), a mosque that largely caters to this immigrant population. The volunteers at the mosque said that they understood that regular namaaz attendance was not a priority for these people, earning a living took a lot out of them and turning up for work every singly day was far more vital for survival. The bonding of language seemed to be stronger than the bonding of religion; they were happier to work for Hindu Bengali families. Even my two sentences of Bangla thrills them! Yet, in the absence of any other form of support, the masjid is beginning to assume the role of community organizer.

We used the services of the masjid to distribute aid to a burnt down jhuugi in the Jalti Jhopdi initiative. The mosque also lent the contractor money so that their huts could be speedily reconstructed. The children in these hutments have no access to education at all. Government schools often don’t take them in; private education is unaffordable for most. The masjid is soon looking to fill that gap as well.

Which is great. That is what community organizations, religious ones included ought to do. And yet, we live in the crazy paranoid times that makes us look at this with suspicion. Understandably so. Growing evidence points to the fact that the “neighbouring nation” is where the volatile content in the form of morphed images of atrocities against Muslims originated from; the content that has sent shock waves among north-eastern Indians and triggered the crazy exodus we are reading about everyday.

In India, terror and Islam and the ISI are all intertwined in our consciousness. And the innocent white skullcaps of Eid revellers become symbols of danger, spark worry and fear. I fight hard to not fall prey to stereotypes. But as I watch my nation torn apart, I feel helpless and angry as well. It takes much strength to not let the anger and frustration destroy your faith in humankind. Do we have that sort of strength?

%d bloggers like this: