The suspension of one BJP member, and the expulsion of another, for inflammatory remarks against the Prophet of Islam, is perhaps the first important step taken by the party in the past eight years to contain the deadly attack on the pluralistic fabric of society. . India has become religiously polarized by hate speech and open calls for unchecked mass violence against Muslims. Indian Muslims, who are the second largest Muslim population in the world, can be living proof of our inclusive and vibrant democracy. Unfortunately, their protests were not important to the government, which acted only when it was pressured by foreign powers, by the way, not known for its democratic outlook.
Prime Minister’s call for Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas is still meaningless as our nation continues to split in the name of Mandir – Mosque, Adhan, Hijab, Halal, Love Jihad, Gao Raksha, Babur and Aurangzeb. Most ordinary Indians believe that with the BJP at the center there will be something like communal peace. This did not happen.
The unity and integrity of the nation is threatened by the actions of hatemongers in the streets as well as in the television studios. Forces of hatred have always existed in our society between Hindus and Muslims. The two-state theory had subscribers from both societies. Pakistan became a reality for Jinnah and his followers. Those who adopt Hindu Rashtra should take a cue from the recent statement of the head of the RSS and stop seeing red in everything Muslim and in any Muslim place.
We must remember that our independence from the British was painstakingly achieved by sacrifices of women and men of all faiths. We have established a constitution rooted in the universal values of justice, equality, pluralism, freedom and fraternity. The freedom fighters demonstrated a lively nationalism of common humanity and struggles. We lived as neighbors despite differences in faith, language and culture. Those who advocate for a civilized state must remember that our civilization represents vasudhaiva kutumbakam and common heritage in contrast to the monochromatic universe of the Crusades or jihad.
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This discussion cannot be complete without asking Muslims what they can do to help restore harmony. Indian Muslims have paid a heavy price for the kind of secularism practiced by the Congress party in which a group of conservative clergy has been coddled at the expense of the welfare of society. Official data shows that Muslims are becoming poorer and more backward in educational and economic terms even as the accusation of Muslim appeasement from the BJP gains momentum. Fortunately, today’s conservative cleric is no longer his spokesperson except perhaps in television studios. There are many activists, students, lawyers, journalists, fact-checkers, and academics who participate in community issues in a secular way. The lack of democratization and social reform in society predates Narendra Modi’s government. Most Muslims adopt a democratic line of thinking about sensitive matters such as mosque loudspeakers and cow slaughter. More and more emphasis is placed on the constitutional principles of democracy, diversity, justice and equality. But more democratic-minded people are needed to have meaningful conversations about faith, culture and democracy.
Clarity on various issues related to interfaith harmony can go a long way. Muslim activists can learn a lot from Dalits about building democratic alliances and alliances with people of other faiths for a just and peaceful coexistence. Issues such as women’s equality, caste among Muslims, and ideas of infidelity and apostasy must be discussed and categorized as obsolete. Political Islam must be discarded and a more liberal humanistic ideology must be adopted.
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Although the responsibility to maintain the pluralistic social fabric rests with every Indian, it is the duty of the government first and foremost to enforce the rule of law and act against the promoters of hate. The national government should be more aware of the threats to internal security from fanatics who attack the blood of their fellow Indians. There must be clear guidance from the relevant ministries to detain those involved in polarization and violence. The Prime Minister should make interfaith harmony a major topic of Man Ki Pat and issue a warning to the vigilantes who indulge in riots against minorities.
All of us ordinary Indians, engaged in various spheres of work and life, need to restore the middle ground of a peaceful and harmonious society. We need to avoid hate and extremist attitudes on social media and in our individual lives.
The writer is a women’s rights activist and founding member of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan