Segregate religion from politics

Wonder when it will stop. Politics in the name of religion that is leading to manipulation, death and destruction. Got two messages early this morning, one from Jammu and Kashmir where communal clashes were reported from Rajouri on some excuse or the other. And the other, far more desperate, from Jamshedpur by people on the ground asking for help as the district authorities were not listening. Communal tensions again, with fear stalking all the residents.

It is difficult to understand ¬¬¬¬¬¬-despite having covered all major communal riots-why the common man needs to kill in the name of religion. And why the faithful remain paranoid about the faith they follow, that they need to kill to protect what is really not their own. A large part of the answer lies in the right wing groups’ ability to stoke fires through rumours, lies and distortions whereby the common man feels under siege from the ‘other’. Reason and sense is overtaken by the rumours that precede, and have preceded, every single incident of communal violence in India. The trigger, then, becomes something as small as an altercation between two persons of different communities, as the stage of fear and conflict has been set over the preceding weeks with rumours of kidnappings, rape, murders and what not.

There are reports from some part or the other of low intensity violence, low in that the numbers killed are not sufficient to excite media attention, but definitely high insofar as fear and trauma is concerned. Properties are looted, burnt, people injured, with threats and abuse leading to large scale displacement. Muzaffarnagar set the trend last year, but since then, there have been many such incidents of violence where the villagers-largely Muslims- have fled for their lives. And the fact that the attackers now are more oft than not neighbours, makes it even more difficult for them to return to their homes for fear of renewed attacks.

The politicians are for the first time succeeding in turning neighbours against neighbours, and thereby destroying the harmonious structure of the villages of India that had resisted the spread of urban communalisation for all these years.

Nations like India are not like Israel or for that matter, Pakistan. The founding fathers of the Indian Constitution perhaps realised this better than others, and resisted attempts to turn India into a monolithic theocratic state. The reason why India has held together has to do with the federal, tolerant, and right based structure of the Constitution and the initial thrust to build institutions that protected this. The country is diverse, and certainly not Hindu in the monolithic sense that the right likes to project it. The people thrive on these differences that the Constitution wove into a fabric of unity, and thereby turned into the strength of India. Efforts to divide -perhaps at the moment on religious grounds-will impact on unity per se, and flow into efforts to muzzle dissent, curtail ‘differences’ and impose a monolithic structure that will clash with the federal aspirations of the people of India.

Communalism, casteism and all such ‘isms’ based on hate and divisiveness cut into the basic unity of a nation, and more so in India that is really strung together with the federal doctrine of respect, dignity and tolerance. If the atmosphere is vitiated, it will have an impact on all, as violence cannot be contained in a box and it tends to flow out to impact, often even in unforeseen ways. To put it simplistically for reasons of space, it weakens nations and history has demonstrated this over and over again.

The minorities of India-both Muslim and Christian-are feeling insecure in the environment today. They join the Dalits who have been insecure even in Independent India that has brought in laws to deal with the stigma of untouchability, but has not been able to cut into this social scourge as effectively as it hoped. They also join the women, more so in north India, who are discriminated against,even before they are born. Sexual harassment, molestation, incest, rape are all part of a young girl’s life, more than perhaps society likes to admit, or is reported. The point is that there is unrest, frustration and unhappiness and instead of dealing with it our governments are adding to it with new target groups, and/or an inability to deal with the societal evils with a determined hand.

Unrest in the border states has not eased. And poverty- despite the statistics, whatever these might be- remains intense and debilitating.

There seems to be so much to do to get India on the tracks that one wonders at those who spend more time in spewing venom and hate than in dealing with the problems that face the citizens on a daily basis. Growth is not just statistics, or the rich getting richer; growth is all about parity, rights, justice as without these, nations cannot be built.

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