• kewal sethi

the rising intolerance


(i presented a paper in a meeting which is being shared here )


the rising intolerance

kewal krishan sethi

may 2022

there is little doubt that the communal incidents have gone up since 2014, not that they were non-existent earlier. it is my surmise that the number of incidents is likely to see an increase rather than decrease in the coming days, notwithstanding the pious statements by various persons. just this week, a person was killed in hyderabad for having married a muslim girl. this is how ndtv reported the incident.

" nagaraju and sulthana had known each other for 10 years and married for love; that he belonged to scand she to muslim community was incidental to them; the hatred & horror of the crime though should not be given a communal / caste colour".

it is this attitude of not calling a spade a spade which has been in vogue for many many decades. this is not to justify the killing or a call for retaliation. if we have to overcome this attitude, we will have to face the situation squarely in the face.

for this, it would be necessary to go to the root of the problem. india was partitioned on the basis of religion. jinnah called for exchange of population but it did not suit the powers that be or the muslims. the higher strata did not want to give up their privileges and the lower strata saw no increment in going to the promised land. the hindus had the same view in pakistan but, unfortunately, they had no option. let me quote from the novel "my god is a woman" by noor zaheer. she says, "migration had begun but those who chose to stay on, prided themselves having chosen cultural unity over religious unity; motherland over the promised land, and coexistence over getoism. true, they had chosen all this, but they had a lot of expectations and the greatest one was that the hindus would be grateful to them". (p130).

the persons who were transferred the powers by the british were really grateful to them since it accorded with their virtuous declarations of secularism. in course of time, they transferred this gratefulness to the constitution and the statutes. protesting vigorously that we are one nation, they proceeded to divide the nation. forgetting about equal status in their public statements, they gave special privileges to them. pious wishes were confined to the directive principles which nobody read and nobody cared for. the provisions were just there for deception rather than implementation.

it can be conceded that it was not exclusively religion which got the preferential treatment but also the tribes and the castes. but this has not affected the situation so much because their personal laws did not run into conflict with the law of the land. minor differences were tolerated, not exaggerated. friction is there but within the limit.

another factor which affected the government policies was their notion of secularism. the actual meaning of the term was that state shall not interfere with the religion. as it is, the interpretation became that religion should be kept out of government and all government institutions. this applied, with a vengeance, to the educational institutions. the morning prayers and the group drills were ousted. and there was no substitution by other items to ensure serenity and discipline. half-hearted attempts were made to have the national anthem sung or heard but to no avail. even cinemas were asked to do it but it led not to honour for the anthem or the flag but its denigration. fortunately, the attempt was given up.

the lack of religiousness was accompanied by two factors – the rise of materialism, and the adoption of western mores of life. how they have affected the lives of the common man does not have to be described in detail.

the phenomenon on the above lines was not a short-term affair. it continued for a long time with the result that it became normal mode of life for the majority. there were sporadic protests as some practice or other was encroached upon but no sustainable movement to counter the onslaught of the new way of thinking.

so, what is the situation now? familiarity promotes contempt but it also promotes apathy and indifference. due to constant living with the situation, people have become used to what is called appeasement of minorities. it did not surprise the public at large as some new measure was announced in that direction. they took it into their stride.

it will be argued that the advent of islam or of christanity is nothing new. we have lived with the islamic domination since 1206 and christian domination since year 1757. the communities had got used to coexistence without major upheavals. some people even refer, erroneously, to ganga jamuna tahzib. the dress was common, the language was common. even the festivals were not frowned upon. the khilafat movement raised the level of conflict but it was one sided and quickly suppressed and, even, forgotten thanks to kamal ataturk.

what has changed? my answer is 'petro dollars', and the rising prosperity of the christian countries. to begin with both islam and christanity are proselytizing religions. they are out to save the souls of everyone, whether he is willing or not, and usher in the kingdom of god or allah the world over. but the handicap was that they had to get their means of livelihood from within the community. this necessitated interaction and that meant the inculcation of some local beliefs leading to coexistence. the petro dollars changed this. there was a huge inflow of money. the mosques became larger, the festivals more rigorous. the emphasis was on expansion and deepening of faith not on upgradation of life of the adherents. not one engineering college, not one medical college has been built with saudi money. it can be conceded that even in their country also, these facilities are scarce. there also, the rulers do not want enlightenment. it is a dangerous concept. it can mean changes in regimes. it can mean changes in social status.

one of the fastest growing institutions was, and is, the madarasa, the source of fundamentalism. nominally they teach the holy book and its recitation. but it goes beyond that. it generates hatred towards any other point of view.

the christians have more subtle way of doing things. they pose as if they are out to save the bodies also, not only the souls. schools have been started and the hospitals are there. but the emphasis is always on conversion. hospitals are built in remote areas where the education is scarce. it helps. they have the tacit support of the officials. it lessens their responsibility. money, as has been pointed out above, is no problem. the prosperous people of the west are cajoled to help saving the souls of the condemned and they oblige. horror stories are planted (not that they are non-existent but the gravity is vastly enhanced). the institutions, funded by the western nations, take a hand in projecting a dismal picture of india. whether it is nutrition (or lack of it) or the deaths due to covid, or the freedom of press, or the racist policies, they have their own norms, which are anything but impartial. these are used to portrait india as a lost land persuading prosperous people to come forth to help. the ultimate aim is to persuade india to adopt western mores of life and with it christanity.

are they the only ones to be blamed? no. the fault lies more with our comfort loving elite and the upper middle class. being fed with long term induction of negative view of the country, and its past, they are ready to believe everything adverse brought out by the western institutions. they cannot help it as they have been conditioned to believe it.

but where does all this discussion lead us to? we must return to the question why this spurt in communal incidences. what difference these seven or eight years have made to the polity? the explanation is that it is not these years which are responsible for the outbreak. the resentment had been building up for a long time. it could not find outlet as the avenues were highly limited. left to myself, i would term the godhra burning of the kar sevaks as the breaking point. even the police firing in ayodhya did not rouse passions to that extent. the preplanned massacre at godhra tilted the balance. the gujarat riots were spontaneous. the loss of lives is to be regretted but it is an event which led to upheavals in the hindu society. even those sitting on the fence were drawn in. the attitude was 'this much and nothing more'.

the rest is history. bhartiya janata party swept to power in the country and many states. this roused the hopes of the community. they became more assertive. i am not talking of raj thakare or the like. i am talking about the men on the street. the growing empire of public platforms like facebook, instagram, twitter gave them a voice but the basic urge to be heard was the dominant theme. there have been some gains and some losses on the political front for the party but that is not relevant. the rude awakening of the masses cannot be overcome. we have to live with it.

the other side, long used to a special position, which led one prime minister to assert that minorities have first right on national assets is their current way of thinking. anyone would hate to lose the higher ground. so, their resistance is natural. the support by the dissatisfied ones of the political front is natural but it serves only to firm up the opposition to appeasement. even their visits to temples does not fool the one who is awake now to the realities of the situation.

what will be outcome of unspoken hostility and not so silent hostility? perhaps more incidents of communal nature leading to more resentment. can they be controlled? one sided impartiality is not going to help. the judiciary, steeped in their english school of jurisprudence and hard-boiled mores of liberalism, are going to stand firm but for how long. that would determine the course of events. but it will be difficult to stem the tide.

perhaps the only way is to turn back the clock. it is easier said than done. too much water has flown down the ganga and yamuna is almost dry. the blame may go to the ever-burgeoning population but perhaps therein may also lie the solution. a complete dry up of foreign resources, or, at least, reducing it to a trickle might help. given an isolated way of living might again lit the fires of reconciliation, of co-existence, of mutual give and take. we must assert we are one nation, and only one nation. no one more equal amongst the equals. and last but not least, we should try to get back to ethical standards of yore.

æ सर्वे भवन्तुसुखिन:

सर्वेसन्तु निरामय:

सर्वेभद्रानि पश्यन्तु:

माकश्चित दु:ख भाग भवेत।।


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