A Hindu’s protest
NEVER painless, writing is excruciating in these times. Especially if you happen to live in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat, an impotent witness to this unprecedented assault on the Muslim community, spending your days in endless circular discussions with like-minded individuals, meeting members of various enquiry committees whose arrival fills you with futile hope, joining peace marches about which you cannot but be a bit sceptical, visiting the affected areas and relief camps, worrying lest common human failings hamper the small peace efforts. Still, write you must. But where do you begin? And how? So much is simmering inside, and the outside continues to be in turmoil.
Let me begin with the caption itself. Why qualify the protest as that of a Hindu, when any civilised human being, not just every civilised Indian, must condemn the terror that is being systematically unleashed by the reigning Hindutva in Gujarat? The simple answer is that all this is being done, and valorised, in the name, and on behalf, of Hindus. Never in the last five thousand years and more was our culture violated like it is being now by Hindutva. Nor, in its short history of five and a half decades, have the pivotal cultural and political ideals of independent India been targeted as they now are by the self-same phenomenon. Implicated thus, Hindus as Hindus must make just that extra effort in the otherwise joint fight against Hindutva.
What Gujarat is subjected to today is no simple communal violence. It is communal violence employed by the ruling Hindutva with a view, in one fell blow, to materially and psychologically knock down the Muslim community beyond the possibility of a revival. As a necessary corollary – aiming to hit at the very potential of communal solidarity within society – terror is extended, for the first time perhaps, even to those miscellaneous groups that in various well-meaning non-violent ways usually come out on behalf of peace and communal amity.
The unsuccessful attempt in Ahmedabad to disrupt the work of the enquiry team sent out by the Editor’s Guild, and the successful forcing of Gandhi’s own Gujarat Vidyapith to refuse its premises for efforts to bring about what the Old Man lived and died for – peace – presage the kind of fear that, very soon, will confront those striving for peace and communal amity. Each week of the undisturbed hibernation of the famed Gujarati charity and sense of community, that barely a year ago leaped into action in the very instant of the Kutch earthquake, bears testimony to the fear that now grips the munificent. They would rather not serve than be counted, cf, the Hindu factory owner in Ahmedabad who, having for two weeks sheltered the family of a Muslim employee, was constrained to hide his identity.
Hindutva is out to create an atmosphere in which you would require the courage to be a martyr before you venture out to work for peace and communal harmony.
The terror unleashed by Hindutva, obviously, feeds on and seeks to further consolidate, the communal consciousness – Hindu communal consciousness masquerading as rashtravad – from which it seeks its legitimacy. But for that communal consciousness, this terror would have been seen very widely, if not universally, for what it is – terror – and rejected. Which, sadly, is not the case. The crucial question is: How wide is the non-recognition of this terror for what it is, and its reprehensible rationalisation on the pretext of the no less reprehensible Godhra killings?
There are those who seem to know the answer. Talk to people in Gujarat, and you will receive diametrically different answers, but always delivered with certainty. The question, it seems to me, does not admit of a definitive answer. The answer, bearing with it all its potential uncertainties, is currently being played out. Even the perpetrators of the terror, while feeling emboldened by previous experience to expect a measure of success, can do no better than guess. They have set out on this sanguinary experiment to test the utmost limits upto which they can employ communal violence to reduce their opponents – i.e., for the moment, Muslims and secularists – into submission, and legitimise that violence in the name of Hindutva. Judging by the prime minister’s speech in Goa, Modi’s Gujarat experiment is now to be expanded into a big gamble on a national scale from which the country is unlikely to have an escape.
Was it the forces of dharma – and this language must be familiar to those rallying behind Hindutva – that in the Mahabharata rendered the game of dice and the resultant devastation inevitable?
Be that as it may, I must return to Gujarat where two contradictory trends are visible. Nothing in Gujarat today is more reassuring than the reaction of those who, going by past experience, should have seized the Godhra killings to demonise the Muslims. Instead, shocked by the brutality of Hindutva, they tell you with pain and shock and shame that never have such things been witnessed in Gujarat. These are people who had morally or electorally supported the BJP despite the bloodletting that had accompanied the Ratha Yatra and the demolition of the Babri Masjid. But they can’t accept what is happening now.
At the same time, however, current events have made communal consciousness in Gujarat sharper and deeper than before. Many, consequently, are gripped by contradictory pulls. Eyewitness accounts of the burning of Professor Bandukwala’s house suggest that some of the middle class neighbours who had rushed to his help also facilitated the escape of the miscreants when the police came.
Given the design to cause the Muslims irretrievable material and psychological damage, neighbourhoods and sections of society traditionally little affected by communal violence have this time been especially targeted. Recall the burning alive – despite prolonged frantic calls for help – of the former Congress MP, Ehsan Jaffrey, along with some members of his family. Recall also that even being a High Court judge or a senior police official – despite residing in official colonies – brings a Muslim in Gujarat no guarantee of safety. Death by torture is something to which any and every Muslim now stands exposed. (Having made this matter-of-fact statement, can I ensure that it is not read as rhetorical or sentimental?)
Coming to neighbourhoods, not till long ago it was assumed, whenever communal violence erupted in a city, that only certain parts of it would be affected and nothing would happen in safe zones like the civil lines, the cantonment, the university area, and similar privileged quarters. In recent years the safe zones have tended to shrink progressively. This time the very idea that there could be a safe zone has been destroyed. Destroyed on purpose, so that the mere fact of a privileged physical or socio-cultural location does not bring a Muslim escape from the feeling of constant fear and threat. Howsoever dangerous its larger repercussions, the idea is to force the Muslims into ghettos.
Let me, by way of example, talk of Baroda where I live in a small, beautiful neighbourhood, Pratapganj, which also houses part of the famous MS University. From 1969 till the 1980s, when the last communal conflagration occurred in Baroda (it remained peaceful during the aftermath of 6 December 1992), violence had erupted in the traditionally sensitive localities even while expanding towards the safe areas. All that has suddenly changed. Professor Bandukwala, gentle to a fault and yet uncompromising in his crusade for Muslim reform and Hindu-Muslim unity, was living in an area previously unaffected by communal violence when his house was ransacked and burnt. Painter-poet Gulam Muhammed Sheikh and his painter wife Nilima Sheikh could not this time trust to the safety of Pratapganj, where they had lived through several communal riots in the city, and were obliged to leave.
Just one more case. Especially as it also shows the eternal recurrence of a story which, while remaining the same, is always different in the pain suffered by each one of its individual subjects. Hasan Mahmud, Professor of History at the MS University, was living in a multi-storeyed apartment in yet another safe area of Baroda. For three days, beginning 28 February, there seemed no problem. His safety, his neighbours assured him, was their problem.
On the fourth day, he was advised that he and his family should spend the night in a neighbour’s apartment. Some unknown persons were reported to have made inquiries about him. The neighbours were beginning to worry. Next morning, like the Sheikhs a day earlier, Mahmud and his wife and daughter abandoned their home to fly away to the nearest city that promised them shelter.
Paradigmatic as they are, the cases of Bandukwala, Sheikh and Mahmud also point towards a related dimension of the Hindutva design to universalise the reach of its terror. My most vivid recollection of Bandukwala dates back to early 1991 when he, Arun Shourie and I spoke at a symposium on religion and politics. Organised in the wake of the 1990 assault on the Babri Masjid, the symposium was meant to focus on the Ayodhya question. Speaking with great earnestness, Bandukwala suggested that the Muslims of the country should, as a goodwill gesture, hand over the structure to the Hindus. Needless to mention, Arun Shourie was quick to accept.
Even as I opposed the suggestion, I could not but admire Bandukwala’s sincerity of purpose, and the admiration has increased since. A very different personality, Sheikh represents in his life and work an organic fusion of ‘Muslim’ and ‘Hindu’ elements that makes the two – along with so much more that shapes a contemporary Indian – indistinguishable. In a more modest way, Mahmud belongs to the same category.
Even such Muslims are not safe from the wrath of Hindutva.
Indeed, they are especially prone to invite that wrath. For, no one can belie more powerfully than they do – by their lives and intellectual and cultural contributions – the false demonology of Islamic fundamentalism which Hindutva posits as the ‘opposite of the culture of Hinduism’.
Even death cannot shield such Muslims against that wrath if, failing to die after they have been dead, they continue to be remembered by Hindus and Muslims alike. Three hundred years after his death in Ahmedabad, Wali had his tomb vandalised. ‘Children of Adam are they all’, sang this first great poet of Urdu, whose poetry could weave together Indian and Persian strands of thought in an inextricable web because they existed indivisibly in his own being.
Ustad Faiyaz Khan has been less lucky in Baroda. His repose has been disturbed within just fifty years of the great maestro having earned it after making a matchless contribution to Hindustani classical music. The followers of Hindutva, who swear by Bharatiya parampara, have desecrated his mazaar. To indicate what Faiyaz Khan signifies, I shall simply quote what my eighty-five year old Brahman father, his life revolving around the pursuit of Sanskrit, said to me: ‘When I am dying, play Faiyaz Khan’s music for me.’
How can I let Hindutva rob my old father, my country, and me of the parampara that produced, and was wonderfully enriched by, Faiyaz Khan?
Hindutva, it should be clear after the Goa meet of the BJP national executive, is switching political gears. This, we may remind ourselves, is the party which could do nothing in 1996 to mobilise a single vote from among the Opposition in Parliament. Such, at that time, among our otherwise manipulable parliamentarians was the perceived fear of supporting the BJP. Within a couple of years, the same party, heading a motley alliance, was back in power. Having climbed to the top on the heads of its partners – one more indecisive and opportunistic than the other – it seems to have now resolved to gamble on its own agenda. It is itching to go on its own.
That puts in a radically different perspective the continuing violence in Gujarat. No longer valid is the earlier perspective in which it was plausible to see Narendra Modi as a hawk who could – the incongruous metaphor notwithstanding – hopefully be reigned in by the dove in Delhi. Now that the BJP has defiantly blessed the Hindutva terror that was begun on 28 February, and shown that the party harbours only hawks, the Gujarat situation becomes even more frightening.
Imagine, in this changed scenario, the more than a hundred thousand Muslim refugees languishing in relief camps. And what relief camps? Hundreds of men, women and children huddled cheerlessly together, depending almost entirely on their own already battered community, convinced not without reason that the government, having reduced them to this pass, will do nothing for them. Imagine, in this changed scenario, what an average Muslim would do to not succumb to the feeling of belonging to a marked, beleaguered and persecuted community.
It suits Hindutva to promote such polarisation. The spread of communal violence in remote villages and among the adivasis is indicative of the slow and silent propaganda done through agencies like the RSS and Vanvasi Seva Sangh. The adivasis had taken some part in the communal violence that erupted after the unsuccessful assault on the Babri Masjid in 1990 and again after 6 December 1992. But this time the violence perpetrated by them has been spread over a larger area, and it has caused wholesale uprooting of Muslims from the affected villages.
(It has been difficult for some to accept the ugly fact of the communalisation of adivasis. They have, consequently, tried to highlight the role of outside agencies, even suggesting that the naturally peaceable adivasis were coerced into violent communal activities. That the adivasis avoided killing Muslims and did not touch their women – concentrating on looting and arson – is also mentioned in order to minimise the culpability of the tribals. I, however, find both the evidence and reasoning unconvincing. As I write this, I have received news that innocent children were butchered in village Godhar. If the news is correct, adivasi violence must be deeper mired in communalism than even I am inclined to believe.)
One shudders to think of the polarisation of the entire society and polity. Hindutva’s dream is the country’s nightmare. Gujarat must be saved before it overtakes the whole country.