Crisis Of Secularism Around Us
As India and Pakistan celebrate their 66th independence day, there are vital questions which both can learn from history. There is no need for us to score a few brownie points in a debate of secularism verses communalism as ideologies have been made to suite particular interest groups; yet, the idea of both Pakistan and India was largely secular and yet remained unfulfilled.
Let us first take India where constitutional secularism was the order of the day yet the government and power structure remained in the hands of high caste Hindus who changed their loyalties according to the power politics. The administration did not change to secular values. In fact, we all came with our respective identities and that retained our first and last identity everywhere despite the fact that we wanted a secular Indian identity which unites us. The continuous marginalization of Muslims in our services, jobs and political sphere was alarming and seemed to be done intentionally. The so called secular governments did not do anything particular except targeting a few of their radical leaders who could take a fair share of government cake in the name of community thus putting an entire blame on the community for appeasement (as alleged by the Hindutva outfits).
The so-called communal riots that have happened many times since independence have most of the times been sparked off after spreading rumors and using stray incidents of somewhere else to target the community. The incident of Kashmiri Hindu women being targeted by militants or terrorists was used by Vishwa Hindu Parishads and their gangs in different riots.
When Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her body guards who happened to be Sikhs, the same logic was given and communalists took to the streets and justified their anger. When Godhara’s incident happened as alleged by some Muslim youths of the area and for which we do not have any reports of their participation or no participation, the entire Gujarat burnt into flames and Muslims were targeted selectively in the entire state with the effective participation and guidance of the state. In most of the cases state is complicit in these incidents with its active engagement.
Pakistan and Bangladesh failed to protect Hindus and other minorities in their countries. The caste system followed by Hindus was more rigid in these countries and Dalits were constitutionally part of Hinduism. There was no effort to bring them to national mainstream and high caste Muslims behavior towards the untouchables remained as abominable as it is in India.
The real fact is that India and Pakistan came into being not to help the most marginalized but to ensure the power remained in the hands of both the Hindu upper casts in India and Muslim feudals in Pakistan. Both of them pretended to be secular but at the end of the day had no interest in promoting the interest of the marginalized, hence those Dalits who felt that Pakistan would be a ‘dream come true’ for them felt betrayed after some time.
South Asia has not yet developed democratically. The majoritarian tendencies still dominate. Every community who is a minority elsewhere is a majority somewhere and here lye the crux of these problems in affecting others. An incident in Pakistan and Bangladesh against Hindu will only help the Sangh Parivar and the forces like them in India.
An incident like Babri Masjid will only make Hindus and other non-Muslims vulnerable in Pakistan and Bangladesh. The incident against Tamils in Sri Lanka rocks Tamil Nadu and so on. Such things are dangerous yet they happen because we do not have the capacity to speak the truth and stand with secular constitution. In fact, rather than secular communal debate, it is the constitutionalism which we should strive hard to bring people together. We must ask our governments to follow international human rights standards and secular constitution in protecting each citizen of the country irrespective of their faith and thought.
At the same point of time, it is important that we do not become victims of media propaganda unleashed by overzealous media in our respective countries and for particular communities. We cannot allow the incidents happening elsewhere to destroy our relationships among communities. We can stand together in solidarity for human rights and human values but that cannot be an excuse to instigate rumours and violence in our society.
Terrible things happened in Burma with Rohingya Muslims as state watched helplessly. All these things trigger off with some incidents which make a sweeping generalization of the community. While the incidents are actually related to a few individuals, stereotyping spreads rumors and sensationalizes things. We have stopped short of rebuking people for their mistakes. Can’t our Hindu friends chide their own community if something goes wrong? Why should the Muslim intelligentsia not speak when something gone wrong in the community. While, I defend rights to protest peacefully, of each citizen of any country on any issue that concerns them, yet it is also important to know whether such gatherings are just emotional fodder in a surcharged atmosphere.
Hundreds of pages have been published in various regional magazines and newspapers on Burmese situation which were alarming for me. I did not believe anything when we were fetched with all the internet incidents. Not that the Burmese cannot do so but then in this globalized world, why is there not a single person who could report from the ground. Already many people have exposed those photographs as false. Killings happened in Burma and even Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International put the death toll to around 80 and not 20,000 as being circulated.
The situation at Bodo areas is dangerous but it is also a fact that in the community identity issues, we are ignoring vital issues. I am not against immigrants as people will go for better life and people from Bangladesh and Pakistan want to come to India for betterment.
Immigration in individual societies does not make much difference where the people coming in are not a challenge to economic social and cultural domination of the locals. Once these things are threatened, there will be voice. Assam burnt for so many years for this, Mumbai was burning once – though we used nationalist rhetoric to douse the fire. The issue of Bodo and non Bodos need to be settled according to local situation and not every Muslim or Hindu who speaks Bangla be treated as Bangladeshi as is happening.
When I raised the issue of Muslim students beating up the North Eastern student in Mumbai and Pune, I did not intend to condemn the rights of the Muslim students to protest. My friends have commented they were disappointed with my attitude. Is it wrong when I wrote that incident of justification for a campaign or violence is no answer? In that matter, I simply wrote what happens if the rightwing Hindus take some ill-conceived recourse in the name of conditions of Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh? Don’t we know what had happened during partition and how our respective communities were fetched with rumors about each other? What if the history written in our countries India, Pakistan and Bangladesh suiting the interests of our power elites?
India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have not fulfilled their secular dreams. India remained a secular constitution despite all problems. Pakistan is not of Jinnah’s dream where minorities can have similar rights. How can any minority have rights when there is a theocracy? The role played by Blasphemy law in hounding minorities in Pakistan is well known. All the three countries have Enemy Property Act, which they have used against minorities and controlling their properties. My friends in Bangladesh have meticulously done research as how many of Hindus lost their property in their country and how the radical Jamatis have taken over possession of these properties.
It is important to understand secularism in a wider perspective and not just in terms of multiculturalism. We will have to add here that communalism of any variety whether minority and majority is dangerous for us. Those disappointed with my statement must see in a broader framework that I stand with the rights of the people and have a right to speak if I feel they are wrong. If people working for the rights of the people cannot express their opinion for the benefits of the community and shy away from this, no purposes would be solved.
Sectarianism has killed Pakistan. How many times have we shown the concern for killing of people in the mosque? If I say, Shias were killed in Mosques in Pakistan and what is the condition of Ahmadiyyas then, immediately, I am charged of playing caste politics but that we do play here in India too. Pakistan’s record towards Dalits is most deplorable and made lone member of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly JN Mandal to come back to India. Mandal had migrated to Pakistan after partition in hope that Dalits would get better treatment in the Islamic Pakistan but what happened was remotely removed from his expectations.
Pakistan and Bangladesh’s Islam could not liberate Dalits in these countries while tall claims were made here how Muslims treat them. Those who are not habitual of listening to dissent cannot really accept such arguments but it is time when we need to introspect and speak language of Kabir to chide our own people also, look inwards for our faults, too.
The danger of victimized minds is enormous as it damages the communities’ confidence in themselves and cages them in the past. For all of us, it is time, to look forward and learn from our mistakes and ensure that we support secular initiatives everywhere; and remember, many-a-time a secular activist might say something which might not look great to friends but then in the greater cause of freedom it would work for all of us and for our secular cause if we can introspect on that rather than shooting the messenger and blaming with communal overtones for an alleged statement.
I wish a day comes when the issue of Bodo Muslims is not raised by the Muslims here but it becomes a cause for non-Muslims too. We wish a day when the issue of minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh does not go not in the hands of Sangh Parivar but in the hands of secular Muslim activists. We want a society where the injustice to a Dalit is taken sensitively by a non-Dalit and where we raise the issues of common humanity.
It is not that people are not doing it. In India, Pakistan and Bangladesh we have number of such activists who have made them unpopular among their respective communities fighting for the rights of minorities and marginalized.
It is they who are the beacon of hope for us as their dissent makes a lot of difference in the lives of so many people in our society. If at certain point of time, they speak something which looks different and needs our attention, we must listen to them carefully.
It is time when our hearts and borders opened to our people without restrictions; let everyone get opportunity to enjoy this vast continent and its great strength in providing resources for all. A regular interaction of people with each other will ultimately bring them together and make the job of those fanatics redundant who thrive on the jingoism and communalism in our society.
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