April 11, 2008 10:28:27 pm
A teacher of history for the last 25 years, my convictions about the country I call my own were put to the test when I sold my apartment in a condominium to a Muslim family last week. The buyers, a respected old Pune family living already on Boat Club Road, one of the most “posh” Pune localities, were invited to the meeting of condominium owners on a Sunday morning. They left crestfallen when they (and I) realised that the neighbours were not going to welcome them in and, in fact, would try to stall the deal on account of their religion.
We sought legal opinion and proceeded with the deal once we were sure that we had the law on our side. Subsequently the media came into the picture and brought the issue to the public conscience in an exemplary way.
Let us rewind the yellowing reels of history. Excluding people from housing units on the basis of caste, class and religion is not new. The Brahmins did it in Vedic India.
The result was a mass exodus into Buddhism, Jainism and later to religions from outside the subcontinent, such as Christianity and Islam.
The Nazis did it in the first stages of their ascendancy. The next stage being the “ghettoisation” of the Jews, all the better to label and exterminate them. Exclusion is a powerful way to create resentment and energise the loop of hatred.
Our society has deeply held mental models of “purity” and “pollution”. We do not hesitate to humiliate others to keep our own “purity” intact. Notice how many homes have different glasses and teacups for “servants”? Note the continuing exclusion of Dalits from this, that and the other social forum. The myth, not fully articulated, goes that all those who left the Hindu fold after the golden Vedic period were actually disgruntled lower castes. That makes the “Other” doubly “impure” in some fuzzy way. Mental models passed down through family lore create images of decapitated goats on our manicured “upper caste” lawns giving us the collective shiver, never mind the fact that we all enjoy biryani!
We (Hindus) carry a collective and unconscious memory of atrocities, violence, coercion and injustice by Muslim invaders against peace-loving citizens of this country. These wounds had been reopened in the run-up to Partition and in the riots of 1947 and after. All this is real and true but not necessarily the whole truth.
To get the whole picture we have to listen to the whole story. We have to learn about the mental models and assumptions in the collective unconscious of the “Enemy”. In our country, the space for this telling and real listening to the stories replaying in the minds of Hindus by Muslims, and vice versa, has never been created.
We continue to reinforce our own images of each other. We continue to exclude the “Other” from our residential colonies and from the space in our minds and hearts. Most often our biases are so deeply entrenched, buried so deeply and rooted so firmly, embedded and entangled in a mess of roots and soil and rocks in the unconscious that we do not even know that they are there. Those invisible biases are most dangerous.
A wide and deep process of catharsis may follow all of this. In the meantime can we ask ourselves how many of us have chosen our faith. I could very easily have been born a Muslim and been socialised into the assumptions of the “Other”. In that case, I would have been campaigning for Hindus from the other side of the divide.
The writer lives in Pune email@example.com
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