Wednesday, 29 June, 2022
HomeOpinionHow Muslims can neutralise Hindus' urge for taking processions through 'forbidden territory'

How Muslims can neutralise Hindus’ urge for taking processions through ‘forbidden territory’

Regarding the recent spate of violence which followed the Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti processions in Khargone and Jahangirpuri, most discussions have missed the nub.

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In Bihar’s Bhumihar-Brahmin-dominated Mohanpur village, every 9th and 10th of the Islamic month of Muharram enter the tazia processions, from all five entry points. The crowd constituting the processions is known as hanseri, the colloquial for a ragtag militia. They carry weapons such as swords, machete, spears and lathis, which they brandish with martial flourish as they simulate the onset of a battle in commemoration of the carnage of Karbala in 680 CE when Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, was killed with his family and followers by the Caliph’s army.

These Muslims, however, belong to the Sunni sect, who are very minimally aware of the import of the event; therefore, such processions inadvertently acquire the colour of a carnival rather than commemoration. All the five processions moving to the beats of drums played by subaltern caste Hindus, romp into Mohanpur, with their respective tazias, and traverse the whole length of the village to converge at its eastern end in the spacious compound of the main temple, to re-enact the battle of Karbala.

As these processions wind through the village, the caste Hindus line up the streets wearing welcoming smiles even as their womenfolk look through windows at the spectacle. At the battleground, in the compound of the mandir, the yearly recurrence of the dispute over the order of precedence, from right to left, in installing the tazias, is mediated by elderly Bhumihar men who thoughtfully linger at the site, since a dispute among armed men could take a bad turn. Sometimes it does, either on the issue of precedence or when show-combats are taken too seriously; but it remains an intra-Muslim affair in which Hindus play peacemakers. Tradition has it that some generations back, the Hindus of Mohanpur offered their village for the procession as a neutral venue because Muslims were getting too often into a fight while carrying tazias to each other’s village.

Now, for comparison and contrast, let’s imagine a scenario in which the Hindus of Mohanpur planned to take out a religious procession through the neighbouring Muslim villages. To add some piquancy also imagine a mosque on the proposed route. The import of this hypothetical scenario can’t be grasped fully without taking into account the entitlements that the bygone Muslim rule conferred on Islam, and disabilities it imposed on Hinduism, and how much of the past mores have gone into the making of the secular common sense of the contemporary times.

So, would the Muslims reciprocate the courtesy, welcome the procession and facilitate its passage? Unlikely. The permission for passage through the thoroughfare would be denied on the grounds that: first, it’s not a traditional event; second, a political motive would be imputed; and third, apprehension of a law and order problem would be invoked. But even if the event was not a part of the traditional calendar, and even if political motives were suspected, it still remained a religious one, and therefore, why should it be resisted? By the way, what is the alleged political motive except to claim the same rights for Hinduism in the Muslim areas as Muslims have everywhere? Why should some areas be off limits for the celebration of Hinduism even as Islam is celebrated in every conceivable public space? One can see namaz being performed even on public roads and railway platforms, and azan being called above the permissible decibel.

The Muslim narrative makers are intelligent enough to know that the supposed islands of Muslim-dominated neighbourhoods exist within the vast sea of Hindu majority. Therefore, to demarcate some areas off as autonomous Muslim enclaves — darkly whispered as “mini Pakistan” — would be counterproductive as it would not only cut the Muslims from the national life, but also generate a host of suspicions, apprehensions and stereotypes, which eventually lead to othering, dehumanisation and violence. To what extent this othering is self chosen, or imposed from outside, is for the Muslim community to calmly contemplate.


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Stop the resistance

Hindus respect Islam because they don’t regard any religion as false, and consider every faith to be an equally true spiritual path to the same destination. Sarva Dharma Sambhav, loosely translated as “all religions are equally true” is a lived concept for an ordinary Hindu.

Whether the Islamic theological dogma that Muslims alone are on the path of spiritual salvation should have an assertive reflection in their attitude towards other religions is a moot point to consider as it is not conducive to behavioural secularism. Beyond politically correct platitudes, the Muslims would be best advised to cultivate a temper which extends similar respect to other religions as they expect for their own. Doing so is an ineluctable imperative for evolving the modus vivendi of mutual respect and toleration in the post-Islamic age.

Regarding the recent spate of violence which followed the Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti processions in Madhya Pradesh’s Khargone and New Delhi’s Jahangirpuri, most discussions have missed the nub. Why do people in such processions behave like frenzied conquerors when passing through the Muslim localities? Would they still behave the same way if their passage was not opposed? Likely not. The day Muslims stop resisting such celebrations as an invasion of their inviolable space, sting will go out of the violent emotions, sense of conquest will evaporate, and normalisation will be attained.

In the flurry of impassioned debates around the recent incidents of communal violence that followed the Shobha Yatra, the emphasis on events and details have obscured the long-term patterns. Few people have focused on the subterranean stirrings which are finding articulation in the eruption of raw emotions misread as intimations of fascism. Nativism is a non-reified form of nationalism. Having a sense of ownership of the whole of India is far from fascism. The insistence on taking a Hindu religious procession through a particular route is no more than an expression of the suppressed urge to break into a historically forbidden territory. The only way to neutralise this urge is not to get into its dialectics by putting up a resistance which vindicates it.

Muslim narrative makers have long scared the community with what befell the Muslims in Spain — a total expulsion. The long-drawn process of Reconquista, which reclaimed Spain for Christians, came to pass because another trend, Convivencia (living together), had been abandoned by the Muslims. As the Quran says, “Repel the evil deed with one which is better, then lo! he, between whom and thee there was enmity will become as though he was a bosom friend.” (Quran 41:34)

Ibn Khaldun Bharati is student of Islam, and looks at Islamic history from an Indian perspective. He tweets at @IbnKhaldunIndic. Views are personal.

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