Friday, Dec 02, 2022

In spite of the faultlines

In a post-Trump world, India can be an example of plural values.

idea-759 Illustration by C R Sasikumar

With Trumpism let loose in the US and the general flow of Europe away from the liberal cause due to rising terror threats one is reminded about the plural fabric of India. With every intention of our neighbours to exploit what they perceive as India’s faultlines, success for them remains elusive.

There may be vote banks or competition for resources, opportunities and space between communities in India but at the end of it nothing works against the unity of the country. We have our share of problems which prevent us achieving our true calling — such as the general turbulence in the Northeast which prevents the continental outreach in earnest under the Act East policy. Or the problem in tribal belts along the Red Corridor which prevents the commercial use of the natural resources of the area — but there is no existential threat to the unity of the country.

India needs reminders and examples from time to time because frequently some esteem problems enter into our national psyche. Reflecting on my own experience in the Indian Army, there was many a proud moment when one felt elated at being an Indian. One of these moments was while viewing Aamir Raza Husain’s magnum opus in the year 2000, the open air play at Chhatarpur, Delhi, titled Kargil, The Fifty Day War. The play may have exited the memory of many and I wish it had been filmed and uploaded on YouTube to be watched today. Moments of the play led us through the build-up of the Pakistani deceit and the manner in which India responded in May-July 1999. There was a scene which stuck to my mind and even Aamir Raza has perhaps not realised the deep message it carried.

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At the lofty heights above Dras, a Pakistani JCO and a young soldier from the Pakistan Army are on alert during the 50-day war. Suddenly, the sound of the azan (the muezzin’s call to prayer) wafts in from the Indian side across the LoC. The battles around Kargil’s heights are still raging but this is a break in those armed and highly kinetic engagements. Hearing the first few lines of the azan, the young Pakistani reacts angrily, pulling up his rifle to fire at an imaginary enemy. The grizzled JCO questions his discomfort to which the soldier responds with fury stating that the Indians are making fun of his faith by trying to replicate the azan.

As a Muslim he feels he would like to kill each one of them. The old JCO smiles and places a hand over his shoulder and states, approximately, “no son, you are wrong. They are not aping you, me, or our faith. There are as many good Muslims in that country and in that army and they fight shoulder-to-shoulder with followers of all other faiths”. He looks towards the horizon and after a long interval goes on, “what a tragedy that we in this subcontinent fight each other. The unit you see there on that other hill has many Muslims who are willing to die for their country. That country is really a strange one — there is respect there for every faith and they all come together to fight us”. The words left me numb for a few minutes. How true.

The unit in question was the 12th Battalion of the J&K Light Infantry, one of those assigned the title “Bravest of the Brave”. The regiment this unit belongs to has men from the major faiths of India — Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Buddhist. This is indeed a strange country, where struggles between faiths, castes, regions and ethnicities continue unabated. Yet, it remains one. By the theories which explain the rise of religious radicalism, populations with low human development indices are supposed to be the most susceptible. After that, come those nations with minorities which are subjugated and vilified and the standards of general education are not world class. India has much to boast in terms of some of its economic achievements but its human development indices do lag behind. However, the penetration of Islamic radicalism in India is perhaps the lowest in per capita terms. There almost no support for al Qaeda and even less for the Islamic State (Daesh).

India’s Muslim population is 180 million — no mean figure. It is neither marginalised, as many minorities tend to be, nor overly angry. Yes, it is a little concerned which fringe elements which come to the fore once in a while. It prefers to live in clusters keeping its security in mind. But it is emerging from the cold and becoming far more mainstream than it ever was.


Behind the lethargy in movement towards mainstreaming has been the Muslim community’s awkwardness in emerging from the uncertainty of Partition. An event as tumultuous as that leaves at least two generations in a state of paralysis. Partition was something which people could not come to terms with. It is said even the first chief justice of Pakistan in 1947 thought he would be functioning out of Delhi.

India’s assimilation of its Muslims has been slow, but steady. They lag behind on most social parametres, but I ascribe that many times to their initial tentativeness, the slow start. It will take many years to achieve higher parameters, but without turbulence in their lives, unlike that being witnessed by their co-religionists in Pakistan and parts of West Asia.

I never fail to remind audiences I speak with on issues concerning radicalism and violent extremism, that the singular human pleasure of sitting at a school bench with friends from three or four different communities, faiths or cultures can only be experienced in India. That is why an Indian should really be the most evolved of people in today’s world. America’s emancipated way of life and Europe’s tolerance and middle-path highbrow status is now being occupied by India.


I felt proud that when I was leading a team of Indian Army officers in the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces in Africa with warriors from 35 different countries, each one of our officers could hold his own in terms of knowledge, practices and even ethos of people from different faiths. Indians were the most respected for their professionalism as well as their qualities of the heart. Nurtured in the multi-faith environment of the Indian Army, each of our soldiers and their officers stood head and shoulders above their counterparts. UN commanders and staff never hesitated in telling me this, including our Pakistani Head of Mission.

So as Trump finds solutions in bans and vilifying faiths, let the Indian model tell the world that there is something more evolved and more cultured right here, in India the land of sages and spiritualism.


First published on: 24-02-2017 at 12:15:42 am
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