Thursday, August 30, 2007

Lesson 5: Hindu-Muslim, bhai-bhai?

It happens only in India

(bhai = brother)

I will not stereotype any section or community; even if it means asking my friend to shutup with a stupid joke. If I cannot stand up against religious-cultural bullshit/stereotyping; I will not actively participate in stereotyping. That’s my bit today. Yours?

Those of you who tune in to the news must have seen the video or heard the news about the chain-snatcher being lynched by the public in the Bhagalpur district of Bihar. What initially started out as a case of a mob going out of hand and the police abetting in the inhuman treatment – the thief was tied to a police bike and then dragged on the ground – is now becoming a religious-shenanigan. Rabble-rousers Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has decided to provoke the public by saying that the chain-snatcher was beaten because he was a Muslim. And of course, India being India, certain people are getting over-excited.

And yet I wonder, is it just the uneducated who can be swayed by religious sentiments? I am an educated Indian – perhaps far less educated than the doctorates and other bigger degrees that one is supposed to have, am not even a post-graduate – but I have been to one of the best colleges in the country and am also a media professional. Given those two facts, tolerance for religious differences should come rather easily to me. Sort of part of the job, ethics, etc.

Political Science was one of the media papers in college and my final year 100-mark thesis was on Shiv Sena and the hand Saamna and Marmik (those were the Marathi newspapers brought out by the Shiv Sena) played in the 1993-94 Mumbai riots. I had run away from home - to Mumbai - to well, interview Bal Thackeray. But my father and my college sabotaged that attempt... Anyway. So I pretty much STUDIED the way religious sentiments are played up, incited and played out for vested interests and yet…

A year back there were bomb blasts at the Mahim-Matunga railway stations (July 2006) and there was an undercurrent that perhaps it would erupt into another Hindu-Muslim riot. I was here in New Delhi, staying in a locality called Panchsheel; one of the better-moneyed colonies of this city (rented apartment people!) when the news broke on air.

Standing on the terrace, I was thinking of calling a friend in Mumbai when my phone rang… it was another friend – a Sikh gentleman and a biker – who lives in the Nizamuddin side of town (Muslim majority area). He sounded worried as he called…

“J Bo, are you at home? You stay there and don’t get out. Something is happening,” he said. He is a biggish Sikh boy and usually is the first to get into an argument. He sounded scared… and it was infectious. I went inside the house to hear him better and the TV – on mute – showed scenes from the blasted stations. The kickers and breaking news flashing were hinting at building tension (TRP or truth?) and the possibility that Hindus and Muslims might start killing each other gain… Before I could ask him exactly WHY he was asking me to stay indoors, a loud vrooming noise could be heard from the road.

Watching from the terrace, a strange scene was unfolding – rather repeating itself – on the main road (visible from terrace). Muslim young men in sherwanis and the traditional scull caps were going to and fro, 3-4 of them on different motorbikes and scooters. There were about 20-30 bikes and the boys on them were shouting slogans and going up and down the road.

I narrated what was happening to my friend – still on the phone – when he said that the same thing was happening in Nizamuddin as well. “I have never seen them this excited. Something is about to happen. You stay indoors. Don’t get out.” By the time he got off the phone, the motorists had taken eight more rounds on the road. I started calling my friends too… asking them to stay indoors. It was very eerie… I kept expecting a blast to ring out any moment, or someone to throw a bottle on the terrace from where I was watching, or someone else to start dragging people from inside their homes and hacking them… No, I wasn’t being imaginative; all this HAS happened in Mumbai. Gujarat. Till the phone rang again…

“Listen, the Muslim boys you see on the scooters are not rioters. Today is xxx*, they are celebrating xxxx. They are celebrating a festival J Bo. They are celebrating and we are getting scared.” We both kept quiet for a bit, don't know how long, and then we hung up without the byes and take-cares. We are both educated. (xxx* = forgetting which one, will tell...and that too; most kids in Indian schools know all Hindu holidays... let me hear them rattle off all the Eids and for that matter when we have Onam and Pongal... Honestly, I am NOW making it a point to learn. I don't know all of them. And I think, I AM ashamed, and sorry that I have not bothered so far...)

THAT day; I was ashamed. Growing up, we celebrated Durga puja with Ma-Papa; but that was not a choice. You did what you were asked to. So one can say that I am Hindu by birth and not necessarily by choice. I would perhaps not choose any religion at all. However; I had always thought that I was pretty open-minded when it came to accepting other religions and religious views.

The brightest girl in our class in college was a Muslim. My caretaker is a Muslim. One of my father’s best friend’s is a Muslim. One of my close-friend’s girlfriend is a Muslim. And yet that day, I got queasy. Because there were many Muslim boys. It was a mob on two-wheels.

I know that at the end of the day, any mob does NOT see religion. They do not see reason. They do not see sense. A mob does not recognize neighbours. A mob does not hear logic. And yet, while I was scared of the mob… BUT was it JUST the mob, or was it the sight of many scull caps? And WHERE did that thought come from? I have NEVER been hurt by a single person of that faith, EVER. So...why did I think like that... or get scared? Is someone feeding me those thoughts... the repeat a 'stereotype' many times and it becomes a truth angle?

If I were a Muslim… What would it feel to live in a nation – in fact now the world – where your religion is looked at suspiciously? Where you are considered a minority? What does it feel when friends might look at you suspiciously because the way you pray is different from theirs?

What I understood about myself; and perhaps a bit of the Indian psyche that day: We are a nation of mistrust. We, as a people, are closed to anything that could be different from us. We don’t trust our government (it's funny that we choose the morons), our police (oh well, relatives and the police are both things we have to live with), we don’t trust our doctors and our lawyers (both lie to take our money), our gurus and priests are free-loaders and any faction of us that becomes the majority, will have a condescending tolerance of the minority factions (I mean c'mon, even in clubs we have THREE different levels for people to party on - And it's not to sell better service, it's JUST to sell a stupid exclusivity, to make some feel superior and the others, aspirational).

We are simply SCARED of anything that is different. Of agreeing that perhaps there are other ways of life and living and those could be better too (each to his/her own). And of course, being amazingly lazy, the thought of trying to understand something different does not enter our heads. So we get scared and we start stereotyping and making fun of it or defiling it or whatever. School-kid tactics actually; but like most damaging are the insults in childhood, so are these tactics. Till THAT fear stays in you and me, the likes of Bal Thackeray, LK Advani, Narendra Modi, RSS and RJD WILL be able to play up sentiments and blow-up issues beyond proportions. But what do we do to curb that fear? HOW do we trust each other? I don’t know… do YOU?

Hindu-Muslim, bhai bhai
Zara si aafat, jhat bane kasayi?


Disclaimer: The views expressed in posts written by me, are expressedly mine. No other contributor or reader of this blog is responsible or should be held responsible for what I write in my posts. Or who I name.

PS: I realise this is not a game. I realise I am naming factions and parties here. Let no one think that what is said here does not matter. YOU are spending time here, it matters. I am a nobody. But a 100 bodies have ALREADY been reading this blog. If it makes a difference to two, we are happy. Hello Citizens, we touched a 100-readers mark on Aug 30; and it's just been five days since we started. That is GOOD news. Let's keep this rolling.

Those who wish to contribute stories, anecdotes, recipes, pictures, music, thought for the day, a drawing… Please feel free to email me: No cut and paste please, we are looking for original content. If you don’t want to contribute, just spread the word! Talking, for us, is never a bad thing. Hum baat zyada karte hain, achcha karte hain. ;)


Care Bear said...

Bravo...J.Bo.This can be tagged as 'something different' kinda write up from you.Nice...
I live at the US-Canada border, and at times travel across the border too.My passport has a Dubai Transit seal which is in Arabic, and every time i pass the border,the officer surely has too many questions, to know why i traveled through Dubai.Muslims(from certain countries,am not sure which all) have to go through an extra security every time they travel.Its sick.
I don't know either to built the lost trust.

Crimson Feet said...

this ones touching!..

Soil & Music said...

Hi JB,

That was a nice post.

Yes when i was in school in kerala,(25 years back) i did have very close muslim friends. That time my parents also never said he or she is muslim etc, we looked forward to meeting each other, Ramzan,Onam,Vishu, Bakrid & all the sharing of esp food among other things.

But now even my old parents live in an imagined hindu ghetto & all the muslim friends in theirs. My parents or relatives don't even get into a auto driven by a muslim, they do not buy things from a muslim's shop. Mutual trust is history, suspicion rules the present

When i am there (which is once in two years) i deliberately go to the shops they don't go, chat up etc,have chai, share a smoke. I try to initiate a discussion in the family, got some of my family members to read Communalism Combat...., try to get them to see the damage which the rath yatra did in the 1990's,also get them to understand that the so called 9/11 is not about the pictures which one saw on tv. But i must say that the SriKrishna Commision, Rajendra Sacchar report etc does slowly make sense to them.

I take on some of the RSS types in the family not just eye to eye, but by the scruff of their neck, if they try any propagandist stuff with me, i've thrown them out of the house, esp. when they try to make a simple private function in the house into a show of hindutva.

But the damage which the fundamentalists in all religions have done is immense.

I ask...Why should we surrender our faith or beliefs to them ?

Remember the slogan "garv se kaho hum insaan hai"

Amin Ali said...

JB i guess ur right when u say that u werent scared of mob, but only of skull caps... and as for the guys with skull caps, they dont have any social recognition and when they see themselves in numbers, thats their moment of glory...all of a sudden their ghetto existense takes a backseat and they feel they rule the streets. then comes the year of negligence where the educated further enhance their wealth and adavnce a century while not so educated scull cap sporting men have more school drop outs added to their ranks. while one part of city opens to the world the other is further walled. so every year when they meet each other it seems two aliens looking at each other. coz we live ignorant of each other's existence while we know who stays in XYZ street in Paris, London or etc etc.. for the 'educated' its like an Alien Attack.

J. Bo said...

Yes, Amin, a very good point raised (good to see you here as well).
And I hope you, and we, do realise that it is not about scull caps alone. It is about a Gujjar gathering, Sikhs out on the roads, or any other community in large numbers that makes a mob. So its strange... and I wonder... what makes the mob? Or is there a mob that already lives in us?

J. Bo said...

Amna Ali says on Facebook:

"ask me J-Bo..

Angad said...

that was brilliant. i love how you can step aside from the moment and start to question it. anyway, this is quite a meaty issue and i think your post realy brings out that raw moment, the sublime moment. i dont think those moments are decided by our "educated" mind, or our "moral" mind, if those are valid concepts at all is another matter, you could say its the return to our animal instinct.

unfortunately, we're all brainwashed animals. we're fed stereotypes and we're happy recieving it until it becomes too real to remove from our realities. ofcourse you will try to identify the "enemy". the skull cap is only a symbol that will define what you are up against. not that anyone expects you to do anything about it. so does this mean war? do we fight these symbols. can we?
or maybe we can be happy if we can escape the blame for being part of the problem.

on another note, a less questioning note, maybe we should see the beauty of people coming together in their most raw, for a shared expression of anger and disgust at a society that will never fully accept the outsider, but will never let him be either.

J. Bites. J Bo. said...

Hmm..."do we fight these symbols. can we?"... Perhaps not in ways of burning these symbols or whatever; but perhaps at an individual level by NOT being scared of what we dont understand or identify with...

Amin Ali said...

yeah ur right about our fear of mob... what i thought after reading ur blog was "who is ghettoised? those who hang with members of their community? those who are paranoid about their existence being constantly under threat and wear their religious, social or communal identity on their sleeve, or head or face or wherever?" Then arent we so called moved up the social ladder, educated, evolved and more importantly thinking people equally paranoid? Where our class and society is the norm and any deviation from it is considered abnormal? Even going to the length that we dont recognise other's existence. We need to realise while what is 'wreaking havoc on the streets' for us is a fight for existence for someone else. I guess with every educational or social degree we acquire we get more ghettoised.
(my allusion to scull caps was just incidental as ur article was about it. and the night is called Shab e baraat....its great to see you write on these topics...cmon JB...look fwd to many more thought provoking blogs....go for it)

Anonymous said...

mitti meri thi tu hi
wahin mere ghee aur churee
wahin raanzhen mere wahin heer
wahi savaiyaan wahin kheer
tujhse hi rooth na re tuzhe hi manana
tera mera naata koi dooja na jaana
teeja tera rang tha main to
jiya tere dhang se main to
tu hi tha maula tu hi aan
Maula mere le le meri jaan…….
Maula mere le le meri jaan…….
Maula mere le le meri jaan…….



Anonymous said...

>> but perhaps at an individual level by NOT being scared of what we dont understand or identify with...

This is not quite possible or as easy as it looks like on the face value. BEING scared of/from something we dont understand is the most basic of human nature. Its in the blood... almost genetic you can say.
Which makes a good reason why one should go out and educate (if not embrace) him/herself of the other entity (religion in this case) with an "open" mind ready to accept facts.... however disturbing.

Good post, as with the rest of few others I've read on this blog. However, I will not shy away from saying that your text has shades of pseudo-secularism. A tone very favorable with media and the elitists BUT is far off from the ground reality of the "situation" & its solution.

I do not know the nature of this blog (yet) but I certainly hope it does not move towards the left (read anti national) at the cost of appeasement for any culture or religion or region.


J. Bo said...

1. "perhaps at an individual level"
Is what We are trying: to think individually and then perhaps act on it.

2. shades of pseudo-secularism... far off from the ground reality of the "situation" & its solution.
Good point raised and something for All to watch out for.

3. ...(read anti national) at the cost of appeasement for any culture or religion or region.
Nope. Appeasement of any religion, region is not the idea and will never be. but BEFORE solving any situation, one needs to understand. IF we understand that certain fears are genetic, we handle those fears differently... dont you think?

Hello Rahul: welcome. Your words in the response are well-chosen and well-worded too. Got something to share with us? The email is flashing all over, feel free.

sector7 said...

J.Bo, I'm glad you found it readable. It may seem well-worded cuz... well I had to keep up with the.. umm spirit? of this blog. Otherwise I'm hardly a thinker/writer. It was just my gut feeling about the way I feel for my country.

Your point 3 is well taken.

I have not much to share except my geeky services (i'm a computer professional). I will however be a loyal netizen (or shitizen as u may like) of this blog and will post my thoughts on articles where I feel I can add value.

Rahul aka sector7

mads said...

I live in bombay. Been here all my life. I've lived through those riots that inspired films and those Mahim blasts that caught your attention in Delhi. Dunno anout other cities but here such riots happen daily. Every day somebody gets a heart-bleed because of somebody's behaviour. Being a hindu, i'm gonna bitch about fellow hindus. Anti-muslim hindus. I commute by train, ladies' compartment to be precise. In the world of Bombay railway, there's an even bigger divide. The first class and the second class. Often you find shabbily dressed women entering the first class dibba. And you see nike-clad women yelling 'bahar niklo' at the top of their lungs, outdoing the fisherwoman in the adjacent second class compartment. I was in the middle of one such incident. Diamond-studded aunty yelling 'yeh sab second class waale yahan chad gaye hai. utaaro sab ko. yeh saadi waali aur woh kaale burkhe waali.' The kaale burkhe waali raised her veil and spoke in flawless english, 'how can you say that to me ma'am. i have a first class pass.' Stunned silence. Everybody looks the other way. Aunty mutters something about how she was only trying to maitain order. Everybody ignores the hurt in the eyes of the burkhe waali. My station has arrived. Before i get a chance to apologize to her, she's pushed away by the sea of new entrants. These things happen every day. Dunno what to do.