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?
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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.
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