Website authored by
Dr. Ram Puniyani
Issues in Secular Politics  •  Issues in Democracy and Fundamentalism  •  Secular Actions  •  Useful Links

Bridging the Divides: Set back to Amity Initiatives in Ayodhya
11/04/2005
By Ram Puniyani

In the otherwise dismal scenario of communal amity one good initiative by Sant Gyandas of Hanuman Gardhi, the biggest temple of Ayodhya, had come as a whip of fresh air. Three years ago he invited the local Muslims for Roza iftar in the temple premises. He repeated it the next year as well. Meanwhile to match these sentiments one Babu bhai from Muslim community took the initiative of Hanuman chalisa recital on Id Milan. One Madhuban Das, not to be left behind, went on to distribute Ram Rahim chadars to people. The Muslim community which earlier in the wake of the proposed Kar Seva was planning to abandon Ayodhya out of fear felt reassured and stayed on. This year, under the influence of VHP a section of Hanuman Garhi mahants filed a case in the court that such Roza Iftar is against the by laws of the temple, and court ruled in their favor. Also, many a VHP activists sat on a Dharna in front of Hanuman Garhi to oppose the Muslims entry into the temple premises for the Roza Iftar party.

What is the worth of efforts of the likes of Mahant Gyan Das or various other groups who are trying to bring different religious communities together through such festive occasions, through mutual respect for each other’s sentiments?

A thriving democracy, needs the principles of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity (community) as the base of its existence. In India we have seen mauling of these values under the impact of a politics, which derives its legitimacy from the religious identity of the people. With rising pitch of communal violence the physical and emotional polarization of communities along religious lines has been taking place. In places like Mumbai, post 92-93 the Muslim dominated areas have come to be called a ‘Mini Pakistan’, in Ahmadabad the Muslim majority area is called, ‘border’ and one hears that Muslim localities are also being called as Gaza strip. Post 92-93 Mumbai violence, a huge chunk of Muslim population living in mixed localities shifted to places like Mumbra and Jogeshwari, which are becoming exclusive Muslim areas. Similarly the builders in previously mixed areas are refusing to sell the housing units to minorities. In places like Gujarat the economic boycott of Muslim community persists in substantial chunk of places.

One was aghast to know about the conversation of two Hindu women, in Anand; Gujarat, when one said that she lives in a good and clean locality the other one went on to say that she lives probably in a better area as there are no Muslims at all in her area. It is common place to hear such things like ‘Oh one is good despite being a Muslim’, in Gujarat.

This Navaratri festival one was pained to hear that in Indore, the local VHP has put a ban on the entry of Muslim youth in the Garba dance festival, on the grounds that Muslim youth will lure away Hindu girls, ‘our girls’. Those using religion on the chessboard of politics are working overtime at a deep societal level to create a wedge between the communities. At the same time the propaganda is promoted to the effect that we the Hindus go even to the Sufi Dargahs but the Muslims do not come to our temples. This has been a frequent question fielded in the National integration workshops conducted by many of us. The polarization along religious lines strengthens the communal forces; the ghettoisation of minorities strengthens the fanatics of that community and gives a free run to the Mullahs to dish out their fatwa’s on the community. And the vicious circle begins.

The democratic nation state can only be based on the values of Liberty Equality and Fraternity (community). The national community is the basic pillar of the democracy. The country fragmented on the lines of religion or caste can not stay together, cannot progress. As such also most of the times the pluralism and diversity are a matter of celebration till the vested political designs step in. India’s rich syncretic traditions have seen the boundaries between religions as the point of meeting of the people and not as the point of separation. The interaction seeps into all aspects of social life, religion being one major component of that. It is keeping this in mind that Dara Shikoh, who was a scholar of Persian and Sanskrit, went on to write in his book Majma ul Baharain that India is a great ocean, the meeting point of two seas, Hinduism and Islam. The same is manifested in our religious traditions (Bhakti and Sufi), in our food, dress, architecture, music, dance, literature and what have you. This is what was envisaged by founding fathers of our nation as the ground on which India was to stand. This was the base of our national movement. This was in contrast to the ideas of communal stream, Muslim League (Urdu, Muslim, Pakistan) and Hindu Mahasabha-RSS (Hindi, Hindu Hindustan). The latter tendencies were rejected by the freedom movement, by the people of India.

With ascendance of Hindu right, the exclusivist politics based on dominant culture is being asserted and brought to the fore. The present trend of polarization, ghettoization is seriously undermining the National integration. It will breed in to divisive trends in sections of society. We need to choose as to in which direction we have to go, direction of the efforts like that of Mahant Gyandas which can bring the communities together or in the direction of VHP associates who under one or the other pretext want to exercise the exclusionist politics. The Mahant, rather than getting discouraged by the court ruling has decided to take out Ram-Rahim yatra, which surely is the best way to continue his earlier initiative at Hanuman Garhi. One can just compliment the efforts of Mahant Gyandas, Babu bhai and their likes and hope that their tribe increases.