The suspension of one member from the BJP, and the expulsion of another, for incendiary remarks on the Prophet of Islam is perhaps the first significant step taken by the party in the last eight years to contain the lethal onslaught on the plural fabric of society. India has become religiously polarised with hate speeches and open calls for mass violence against Muslims going unchecked. Indian Muslims who are the second largest population of Muslims globally could be living proof of our vibrant inclusive democracy. Sadly, their protests did not matter to the government which acted only when pressured by foreign powers who incidentally are not known for their democratic outlook.
The Prime Minister’s call for sabka saath, sabka vikas remains meaningless as our nation continues to get divided in the name of mandir-masjid, azaan, hijab, halal, love jihad, gau raksha, Babur and Aurangzeb. Most ordinary Indians would have thought that with the BJP occupying office at the Centre there would be a semblance of communal peace and order in society. This has just not happened.
The unity and integrity of the nation is threatened by the actions of hate-mongers on the streets as well as in TV studios. Forces of hatred have always existed in our society amongst both Hindus and Muslims. The two-nation theory had subscribers amongst both communities. Pakistan became a reality for Jinnah and his followers. Those espousing a Hindu Rashtra must take a cue from the recent statement of the RSS chief and stop seeing red in everything Muslim and anywhere Islamic.
We must remember that our Independence from the British was hard-won with sacrifices from women and men of all faiths. We gave ourselves a Constitution rooted in the universal values of justice, equality, pluralism, freedom and fraternity. The freedom fighters demonstrated a lived nationalism of shared humanity and struggles. We have lived as neighbours despite our differences of faith, language and culture. Those arguing for a civilisational state must remember that our civilisation represents vasudhaiva kutumbakam and shared heritage unlike the monochrome universe of the Crusades or Jihads.
This discussion cannot be complete without asking the Muslims what they can do to help restore harmony. Indian Muslims have paid a heavy price for the kind of secularism practised by the Congress party where a bunch of conservative men of religion were pampered at the cost of the well-being of the community. Official data show that the Muslims got poorer and more backward educationally and economically even as the BJP’s charge of Muslim appeasement gained traction. Thankfully, today the conservative cleric is no more the spokesperson except perhaps in TV studios. There are several activists, students, lawyers, journalists, fact-checkers and academics who are engaged with community issues in a secular manner. Lack of democratisation and social reform in the community predates the Narendra Modi government. Most Muslims are adopting a democratic line of thinking on sensitive matters such as loudspeakers in mosques and cow slaughter. More and more are asserting the constitutional principles of democracy, diversity, justice and equality. But more democratic-minded persons are required for meaningful dialogues on faith, culture, and democracy.
Clarity on various issues concerning inter-faith harmony can go a long way. Muslim activists can learn a lot from Dalits about building coalitions and democratic alliances with those from other faiths for a just and peaceful co-existence. Issues such as womens’ equality, caste amongst Muslims, ideas of blasphemy and apostasy need to be discussed and sorted threadbare. Also political Islam has to be shunned and a more liberal humane faith must be adopted.
Although the responsibility of preserving the plural social fabric is of every Indian, it is first and foremost the duty of the government to enforce the rule of law and act against hate-mongers. A nationalistic government should be all the more aware of threats to internal security posed by fanatics baying for the blood of fellow Indians. There should be a clear directive from the concerned ministries to book those indulging in polarisation and violence. The Prime Minister must make inter-faith harmony a key topic of his Mann ki Baat and issue a warning to the vigilantes indulging in hooliganism against minorities.
All of us ordinary Indians engaged in various spheres of work and life need to regain the middle ground for a peaceful and harmonious society. We need to shun hate and extreme posturing on social media and in our individual lives.
The writer is a women’s rights activist and one of the founding members of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan