The time has come to actively try and write the next chapter of history in the tone of amity, and not strife.
In the Indian subcontinent, mutual distrust and hatred between Hindus and Muslims is sometime insipient while at other times painfully obvious.
We are yet to forget the Great Calcutta Killing of 1946, the riots at Noakhali, Malabar, Nagpur, Nellie, Meerut, Bhagalpur and Ranchi over the past century. And, the Bhiwandi riot of 1984, the riots in Bombay and Hyderabad in the 90s, the riots in Gujarat in 1969 and again in 2002, besides the incidents in Canning, Kaliachak and Muzaffarnagar, are still fresh in our minds. In all these riots, the casualties included members from both communities.
Our nations were divided simply to avoid riots and deaths, and to maintain peace between Hindus and Muslims. When the trains were carrying Muslims to that side and Hindus here, nearly 10 lakh people were reportedly killed. Quite often, it appears that it will be impossible for the two communities to cohabit peacefully again.
Persecution of minorities
It’s true that Hindu-Muslim riots are not as frequent in Pakistan or Bangladesh. But it is also true that in both these places, the oppression of the Hindu minority by the Muslim majority is a relentless phenomenon. Many from the minority communities in these two countries either emigrate or convert to save themselves from persecution.
Just as Islamic fundamentalists are proliferating in Pakistan and Bangladesh, in India, too, Hindu fundamentalists have recently become extremely proactive. In fact, minorities are under threat everywhere, and those from Bangladesh and Pakistan frequently have no recourse left but to migrate to India.
The Muslim minority in India, however, has no desire to live in either Pakistan or Bangladesh. Perhaps they believe that, despite being the majority in these two countries, Muslims are worse off there.
But a number of remarkable things too have happened recently in India.
Humanity above all
Rajesh Kumar, an eight year-old boy suffering from thalassemia, had been admitted to a state general hospital in Bihar some time ago. He was steadily deteriorating and the local blood banks had run out of his blood type. Anwar Hussain, a sweeper at the hospital, heard the news and informed Alam Jawed, a friend of his who shared Rajesh’s blood type. Alam broke his Ramzan fast and rushed to the hospital to donate blood, thus, saving the young boy.
Something similar happened in Darbhanga too. Ramesh Kumar Singh’s wife Arati delivered a newborn at a nursing home, but the infant’s condition began to deteriorate and he had to be shifted to the NICU. The doctors informed the family to make arrangements for O-negative blood if they wanted to save him. Neither the family nor their acquaintances could provide it. The family posted their ordeal on Facebook and WhatsApp groups. On hearing about the child’s condition, Mohammad Ashfaq, who had the same blood group, rushed to the hospital.
After initial tests, doctors informed him that since he was fasting, they could not use his blood – he was already weak and a blood donation would only harm him. Ashfaq broke his fast immediately.
He said: “I can keep roza whenever (I want). It was Allah who made me do it.”
The family, too, has expressed gratitude: “Those who create hatred in the name of religion can probably learn a lesson or two from his actions.”
These two incidents have moved me immensely.
Beyond hell, heaven
There is no greater religion in the world than humanity. Alam Jawed and Mohammad Ashfaq were devout men themselves, but they had shown no malice towards someone of a different faith. Rather, the two had come to their aid at a time of crisis.
When the value of humanity disappears from faith, what remains is only the ceaseless chanting of a prayer to be allowed into heaven or to be spared from hell.
We have seen this complete disappearance of humanity from religion numerous times. But it is also impossible to cohabit with so much hatred, envy and distrust among people. An educated, cultured, forward-thinking individual will not want communities to irreparably fall out over differences in faith.
Rising above politics
I can give you instances of humanity in many incidents involving Hindus too. Take Yashpal Saxena, for instance. His son Ankit Saxena, a 23-year-old photographer, was murdered in West Delhi’s Raghubir Nagar in February allegedly because of his relationship with a Muslim girl. Her relatives had been unable to tolerate the union and, during an argument over the matter, the girl’s father had allegedly slit Ankit’s throat.
There were numerous attempts to give the murder a communal angle for political gains, but Yashpal protested and refused to let his son’s death be used as a political tool. These were his words: “How can the people of an entire faith be blamed just because my son’s murderers belong to it too? Both my wife and I are unwell. Numerous Muslim neighbours keep us company and feed us day and night. It was my neighbour Izhar Alam and his son Azhar who suggested holding the iftar at our house. They are family.”
His son was no more, but the aggrieved father wanted to keep the boy’s memory alive by holding an iftar to ensure that his name spreads as a message of harmony. Yashpal said that a trust has been set up in Ankit’s name and the iftar was the first step in a long road the family intended to travel to spread peace.
The bereaved Yashpal also did not fail to point out that most rituals regarding the last rites of Ankit were performed by Azhar, and it was this message that he wanted to spread among the people. “We want our son’s name to live on. That can only be possible by doing something good, and for that we have to resolve to be firm. At first we had thought we will keep it a low-key affair, but the response, so far, has been so great that now the arrangements are going to be made in a local park.”
People like Yashpal Saxena, Mohammad Ashfaq, and Alam Jawed give us the hope that communal harmony between Hindus and Muslims is possible. In Bangladesh too, Iskcon and the Buddhist temples give iftar to destitute Muslims during Ramzan. Do Muslims do the same – give food and alms to Hindus and Buddhists during their religious festivals? I don’t know. If they don’t, they should.
We are well aware of a bloody history of violence, persecution and genocide in the name of religion. Perhaps, the time has come to actively try and write the next chapter of history in the tone of amity, and not strife. Self-aware individuals are at the core of new possibilities. That we will be by each other’s side in times of need, let that be our resolve in this holy month of Ramzan.
Taslima Nasreen is a celebrated author and commentator.