A metaphor for the widening chasm

For fear of further backlash from netizens and increasingly intolerant Indians, the jewellery company Tanishq hurriedly withdrew its family ad. It showed a pregnant Hindu daughter-in-law in a Muslim household, where she's greeted with a specifically Hindu ritual by her Muslim in-laws.

The gulf between communities in a highly polarised Indian society seems to be widening by the day. The palpable feeling of you and I, they and us and that 'others are hell' (to quote French existentialist Jean Paul Sartre) has seeped into the collective consciousness of 'new' India in recent times. Our national proclivity to read between the lines and see a religious angle in everything is becoming a tad too obvious. This is a dangerous trend.

Why should a Hindu-Muslim marriage become a bone of contention? The general tenor is: Why a Hindu girl is shown and depicted, marrying a Muslim boy? Why not the other way round? This perception has stemmed from the perceived love-jihad cases in UP where Hindu girls are allegedly being abducted and converted after getting married to Muslim boys. In other words, this is being seen as a systematic religious conspiracy on the part of a religious minority and the ad seemed to be perpetuating and fuelling this general perception of Indians.

But these protesters are forgetting and ignoring a very important aspect depicted in the ad. It showed a Hindu ritual being followed by Muslims with a sense of gaiety and solemn dignity. The strict scriptural interpretation from the perspective of sub-continental Islam is that celebrating a typical Hindu ritual by Muslims is kufra (sacrilege/blasphemy) and shirk (from Shirkat in Arabic; sharing Allah with others).

When hardcore Muslims and clerics consider even Holi and Deepavali (jashn-e-charaghaan/Shab-e-charaghaan in Farsi) to be haram (not kosher), how can they accept the godbharai rasm being celebrated by Muslims? But there wasn't even a murmur from the Muslims after watching this ad! So, at the moment, who's more intolerant, Hindus or Muslims?

The majority of Indians seem to be living in a religiously dichotomised society. The divide is being widened and hardened in a pathological manner. This generation is being indoctrinated as the upholder and torch-bearer of Hindu nationalism or renaissance. The traces of Islamic presence are being expunged as a part of ethnic cleansing.

The WhatsApp generation is being forwarded a falsification of history and the over-glorification of our Hindu past. Mughals are being shown as uncouth invaders and vandals of all that was aesthetic in ancient India. That the Taj Mahal was actually a Hindu temple and Shahjahan got the hands of 2,607 artisans chopped off after the completion of the greatest monument to love are lies that have now graduated to becoming facts for neo-Hindus and overactive netizens who have an aversion to verification. This is fatal. You cannot do away with the Islamic part and past of the subcontinent. Muslims invaders indeed came, marauded, decapitated and also converted Hindus to Islam. But they contributed as well. How can we forget that?

What're we going to achieve by vitiating our young and impressionable minds on the lines of religion/s? Why're we so hellbent upon vilifying a whole community for the wrongs of a few? What's wrong if a Hindu girl marries a Muslim boy and vice versa?

Aruna Asaf Ali remained a Hindu till the end, despite tying the knot with the freedom fighter Asaf Ali. Sunil Dutt didn't change his religion after marrying Nargis. She remained a Muslim and Sunil Dutt a Hindu till both breathed their last. The great Punjabi writer Kartar Singh Duggal had a Muslim wife (she was sister-in-law of the progressive poet Ali Sardar Jafri). But he remained a devout Sikh and his Muslim wife didn't bid adieu to Islam. Cricketer Zaheer Khan's wife Sagarika Ghatge is still a Hindu, with a Hindu name. Theatre stalwart Habib Tanvir's Bengali Hindu wife never embraced Islam. Shah Rukh Khan follows Islam and his Hindu wife Gauri still follows Hinduism.

We need to broaden our vision to encompass all faiths, people and relational permutations. Then only can we call ourselves truly evolved.

The writer is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, civilisations and cultures.

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