Last week, I wrote about the senselessness and infructuousness of “JCB bulldozer justice.” My remarks, it would be evident, were addressed more to those who seemed in favour of, if not actually responsible, for delivering it. Yesterday was Eid. What could be a better occasion to think about how to move forward and work for good Hindu-Muslim relations in the republic? Especially for the so-called minority community, to whom I now turn to, rather than target.
My premise is simple. The onus of communal harmony and peace cannot be solely upon the majority community. What can Indian Muslims do to ensure that relations are restored and mended, instead of frayed and fractured? Instead of victimhood or retaliatory violence, what might be a better way forward from a crossroads such as the Ram Navami riots?
Rationality and progress
First of all, accept that the politics of appeasement, whether in exchange of votes or support of the ruling order, is a thing of the past. At least in Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states and as long as this is the party in power at the Centre. Now, the aim would be not to invite, let alone provoke, aggression or assault. Expecting special treatment and enforcing some of the most retrogressive tendencies in one’s own culture in the name of religious piety or prestige is an equally bad idea. Why not, instead, embrace reform, rationality, progress, education, and prosperity?
More to the point, the recent incidents—attacking Shobha Yatras or festive processions is a really bad idea. Listening to those who wish to organise or incite such hostile or rancorous reception to Hindus in so-called Muslim neighbourhoods is worse. Storing bricks, stones, and other deadly projectiles is a culpable offence leading to prison terms.
What to do instead? Why not ask the local leadership to get in touch with the processionists. Invite them to the community house, even mosques, to have tea and biscuits or even sheer korma and kheer? If Hindus can celebrate Eid, why can’t Muslims celebrate Ram Navami? By the way, this is not something new or radical. It has happened in the past and can be resorted to in the future. Hostility can be overcome with hospitality. Mindless assertion, whether in dress or other practices, is unnecessary for preservation of identity.
Burden of peace on politicians and religious leaders
Never listen to those, especially politicians from other parts of the country or opposition parties, who wish to exploit the situation for their own gains. They come in from the outside only to leave after exploiting the situation. Instead, call the local MLA or MP, whether from BJP or otherwise, whether Hindu or Muslim, to broker and ensure peace. Put the burden of peace on politicians and religious leaders instead of succumbing to their provocations or incitements.
Distrust so-called “secularist” Hindus who spin a narrative of Muslim victimhood. Instead, read the history of the conquest of non-Muslim lands by Muslim armies. Understand the nature of these invasions and their aftermath, including the conversion, enslavement, and genocide of local populations, the destruction of their places of worship, their palaces or monuments.
If there is any truth in charges of vandalism or mass murder, never resort to denialism or rationalisation. Instead, ask if such acts, whatever ever their historical contexts, can be endorsed, supported, even countenanced today. If not, disassociate, even disown such histories as not worth espousing or promoting. Highlight and share contrary instances, wherever evident, of Muslims and Hindus working together for shared goals and causes. Plenty of such instances may be found, not only in recent history but from the very beginning of the contact between Hindus and Muslims.
By the same token, Hindu activists should quit blaming today’s Muslims for the alleged sins of their ancestors. If most Indian Muslims are actually Hindu converts, as many claim, then they too were victims of these invasions, not aggressors. The circumstances, in which individuals, families, and entire communities went over to Islam may be examined, even written about in new histories.
Failure of Pakistani State
Seeing the economic, political, and cultural failure of Pakistan as a theologically legitimated modern Islamic State, Indian Muslims have long ago decided that that was not the model to emulate. Pakistan never became the destination of choice for subcontinental Muslims.
After the birth of Bangladesh, as an independent nation with a more moderate, culturally-nationalist version of Islam, Indian Muslims have even less reason to have any Pakistan-envy. Especially now, given how successful Bangladesh is economically, having overtaken its erstwhile parent and now sub-continental rival, Pakistan. There is little chance for Indian Muslims to embrace any other model of being Muslim, whether it is Arab, Afghan, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, or even Malaysian or Indonesian, other than the Indian one.
What, then, is the best option? Simply join the Indian national mainstream, rather than hoping for and persisting in maintaining a separate identity, almost a nation within a nation. What this actually means is hitching one’s wagon to the Indian story, as respected, albeit in the eyes of some members of the majority, junior partners. There is no shame, sorrow, or humiliation in such a position.
For the Hindu majority, such rapprochement is equally necessary and profitable for national wellbeing and progress. It is the prosperity partnership based on mutual trust, respect and loyalty to the nation that will benefit all those who consider themselves Indians. On their part, the majority must incentivise and encourage such partnerships by ensuring the dignity and safety of those who opt for it.
Some give and take in the short term, along with sincerity and generosity, in the long run, will do the trick. After all, isn’t that the true meaning of sab ka saath, sab ka vikas, sab ka vishwas, and sab ka prayaas? A new covenant between Hindus and Muslims in India is the urgent need of the hour. Let’s work to make this happen for the larger public and national good.
This is part two of a series on the demolition issue. The first part focused on the incidents.
Makarand R. Paranjape is an author and professor. His Twitter handle is @makrandparanspe. Views are personal.