Friday, January 27, 2023
YourTurnSubscriberWrites: ‘Undoing the past’ is the root cause of ongoing religious polarisation....

SubscriberWrites: ‘Undoing the past’ is the root cause of ongoing religious polarisation. We need to move on

An overarching lesson we should not miss is that we were invaded and conquered because we were divided, and its happening again, writes Anurag Mehrotra

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I have been observing with dismay, and with some trepidation, the increasing polarization along religious lines over the last few years. Polarization has always existed in our society and caste-based division readily comes to mind. But what is different now is the shrillness of the campaign and complete indifference to the feelings and sensibilities of a section of society. Earlier polarization, for all its political shenanigans, was with the ostensible objective of giving justice to a section of society. Now the objective is to polarize by demonizing with all possible tools including raking up the past- real or imagined. Of course, social media has made a bad situation even worse.

If the past is determinant of the treatment meted out today, in a tit for tat manner, then I would imagine that Britishers would be our worst enemy. They subjugated, emasculated and looted (harsh words but deliberate), and left the country much poorer than what it was when they came in. Unlike other invaders who stayed on and assimilated into the society, British remained outsiders till the end.

It isn’t just about outsiders and invaders, the biggest atrocities committed and that too over last at 4000+ years, is by upper castes to backward castes and Dalits (not necessarily as defined today). Everything else pales into insignificance as compared to what has happened to this section of society.

Today, we look at relationship with the UK without any rancour. It is based on future possibilities and driven by national interest of both the countries. The past doesn’t cast a shadow over the future. The way it ought to be. Talking of Dalits and backwards castes, what if they seek “revenge” for what has happened in the past? Would that be acceptable? Is that in the realm of possibilities? In fact, in eighties, BSP’s election slogan was “Tilak, Tarazu aur Talwar, inko maro joote char”. This was quickly abandoned and the focus shifted on securing rights keeping the future in mind. Without extracting “revenge” for the past. Rightfully so. Way to go.

That, to my mind, is the nub of the issue. The focus needs to be on the future. Past is our heritage and we need to be at peace with the same. Only relevance of the past is the lessons to be learnt. And an overarching lesson to be learnt is that we were invaded and conquered because we were divided. Hence our focus ought to be unity to confront the myriad challenges- social, political, economic and security- that the country faces. But that sounds very boring!

To set the record straight religious polarization has been endemic in our society. More so in the last 60+ years as the afterglow of independence dimmed. It has been an easy option to divert attention from immediate and more pressing problems. It is about time that more voices- especially the voices that matter for communities- speak about the future. It is also the time that more moderate voices take centre stage. And not be hostage to lazy binaries and narratives which are designed to deceive and mislead.

We aren’t unique in having a hoary past.  Almost every country has had one. Successful nations are those who have learnt from the past, looked at the future and focused on opportunities for prosperity of their population. Just to take one example, look at Japan- US relationship. I needn’t say anything more.

While what has been said above may appear as a no brainer, the fact remains it is very hard to stay focused on economic issues as they, by nature, are dry and  anti septic. It is cultural issues which whip up emotions and drive behaviour, more so for us as we are a civilizational society. My argument is that cultural issues being whipped up are unidimensional and don’t encompass the wide sweep of society. For example, issues of Dalits and Backwards are reduced to political shibboleths and don’t take centre stage. Possibly because that section of the society is not vocal and articulate and their issues aren’t driven with the same force and passion. The argument being made isn’t about what political parties do or don’t do and it isn’t above reservation. It is about confronting all aspects of our past, learning the right lessons and then moving forward. All this is possible with honesty of purpose and there needs to be a concerted effort in that direction.

While it is easy to blame political parties (and they indeed are guilty of not “leading” and showing the way), the real change will happen when there is groundswell opinion which nudges the political narrative. It is time for each one of us to look within and drive the change. Or be left behind. The choice is ours.

These pieces are being published as they have been received – they have not been edited/fact-checked by ThePrint.

Also read: Behind Krishna Janmabhoomi controversy lies centuries of politics & a Mughal game of thrones


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