• Pranav Jha

Mazhab Nahi Sikhata: An Analysis of Communal Tensions in India

The world is going through an unprecedented crisis. We are witnessing the systems all over the world crumbling to contain the pandemic. This gargantuan crisis has brutally exposed the inefficiencies of our system. We all must hope for the well-being of our fellow beings and that things resume back to normalcy soon. In this moment of crisis, we have been given ample amounts of time to introspect and so I did. Some time back, Delhi witnessed one of the deadliest riots. Evidently, the nation has been showing an upward trend in terms of religious intolerance. India, a country hailed for its ‘unity in diversity’ has seen barbaric incidents in the name of religion. The birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism; which has enshrined secularism in its constitution. Indian secularism has always been interpreted as religious or anti-religious. However, religion continues to impact our history, culture, and society.

Mazhab nahi sikhata Aapas mai bair rakhna. Hindi hain hun Vatan hai Hindustan humara. Religion does not teach us to bear ill-will among ourselves; We are of Hind, our homeland is Hindustan-Muhammad Iqbal

Since the introduction of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, religious tensions have been simmering throughout the country. However, it would not be accurate to suggest that this is the first time our country is brewing with religious discontent, religious tensions have frequently appeared on the national scene since independence often marred by sectarian violence. Communal violence has raised its ugly head from time to time in the history of our nation. And so, it did again. The citizenship act intensified the religious tensions that were already floating around. The naked dance of communal violence hit the streets of the national capital, Delhi. Interestingly, It coincided with the visit of the US President and he lauded India for its religious freedom. According to a report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, India was put in the Tier 2 category the same as Iraq.

But what is it that makes India so susceptible to communal frenzy time and again. Surely, there must be something that predisposes the ‘aam aadmi’ to indulge in patterns of thinking that perceive certain communities to be outsiders. Over the course of this piece, I will highlight six such reasons.

Firstly, communalisation is being institutionalized when the elected representatives and those who wield influence in society incite violence through inflammatory speeches and writings. It is the utter disregard of the constitutional values that all of us are duty-bound to uphold. Furthermore, when the state is complacent in containing such fringe elements and not bringing them to the task, they become equally responsible for the violence. Additionally, if the state machinery becomes susceptible to sectarian passions, like the administration and police force, incidents rivaling the magnitude of 1984, 2002 and 2020 occur. Are states oblivious of the “us-them” narrative being built? If a system perpetuates communalism or provides immunity to those who are doing so it is inherently anti-democratic. There should be no space for religious fanaticism in a democracy. The alignment of state narrative and religious zealotry ought to have deadly consequences. Pliant bureaucracy and police are equally to be blamed for non-containment of riots.

Unka jo kaam hai, vo ahl-e-siyaasat jaanein Mera paighaam mohabbat hai, jahaan tak pahunche What their job is, let the politicians be bothered about My message is ‘love’, may it reach the whole world– Jigar Moradabadi

Secondly, when society becomes a part of an institutionalized riot system network. Stereotypes emanating from religious hatred are becoming a part of society’s psyche. Prejudices have been deeply ingrained in society fermenting the “us vs them” diatribes. We show utter disregard to human rights when we begin to gaze at incidences of violence from a religious prism, segregating the causalities based on religion. It is only then that we build a narrative by substantiating our arguments, cherry-picking data on our convenience or even justifying it(that speak of plight only one community oblivious to the feelings of others). Two wrongs never make a right! Whenever we counter any incidence of violence by citing the diametrically opposite narrative; we further imperil society. The exodus of Kashmiri pandits should deserve the very same amount of severe condemnation as any other anti-minority violence taking place. Religious slogans slowly are becoming war cries for fringe groups. The tag of ‘infiltrator’ is used in place of refugees to gain religious tones.

Thirdly, how efficiently our judiciary is handling such situations when the executive totally fails in doing so? The independence of the judiciary has been questioned from time to time. We find it extremely disappointing when the judiciary is inclined to the government ideals and not the constitutional ideals. How long has the judiciary to dispense justice in case of the ghastly violence of 1984 or has it even done so entirely? After the 2020 riots, the Supreme Court had expressed its helplessness in controlling the riots. It seems to be very contradictory when the constitution empowers it to protect the right to life and liberty even if it has to go the extra mile in doing so. The politicians and preachers in blatant defiance of the constitutional norms use religious identity for petty gains. It is high time that the judiciary decides what extent of identity politics based on religion is desirable. Similarly, recommendations of inquiry committees investigating violence have mostly remained on paper.

Fourth, the role of the media in incidents of communal violence has always been subjected to aspersions. The subjugation of mass media by the government can have deadly implications in times of riots. Newspapers and TV channels are the primary sources of information. However, mass media has often reflected the biases of their political feudal lords. The local press had been accused of inciting violence during Jabalpur Riots, Ahmedabad riots, and Moradabad riots. Media has an important role to play in the opening phase of riots. It has the capability of controlling them due to its wide coverage but only if it chooses to be unbiased. However, when the media chooses to be a propaganda churning machinery, half the damage is already done. Media has a very sensitive role to play during interpretation and any irresponsible coverage might mobilize communities on religious lines. Newspapers have carried articles and televisions ran stories that were inflammatory. Press mechanisms appear to be toothless during these times. When the media starts acting like mouthpieces of organizations of communal connotations, religious friction increases. Furthermore, in the digital age, unchecked social media became the preferred medium of rumor-mongering. Social media has the advantage of quick and widespread transmission of messages. Perhaps, Delhi riots were the first full-fledged riots to take place under the glare of social media. Misinformation rapidly spreads through these mediums instigating people. Social media was swarmed by spine-chilling posts of violence unchecked and unverified wrecking havoc.

Fifth, it is the failure in upholding our national and constitutional values. Those passionate debates regarding the State remaining unconcerned with religion in the Constituent Assembly sound hollow when those under the constitution perpetuate violence. We as a nation are doing a huge disservice to our founding fathers who dreamt of a secular nation devoid of majoritarian politics. Mahatma Gandhi spent his last years in areas worst hit by communal riots. Had he been alive, he would have been the first one to dash to the violence infested zones providing solace. His life long struggle was for a free and united India. Each time, riots take place, we are scorning the ideals of Mahatma, the values he stood for! We disrespect our rich intellectual heritage that is synergies of various cultures. The land where Nanak and Kabir preached getting reduced to a land of religious intolerance. What even is more dangerous is communalism under the guise of nationalism.

Sixth, there have been attempts to present a grotesque version of Indian history. Interpretation of communal identities on grounds of medieval history has been accrued as a tool in fostering hatred. The two-nation theory was deep-rooted in the history of the sub-continent as claimed by Hindu Right. Resentment has been stemming against Islamic invasion and domination as they further reiterate the dichotomy of “invaded vs invaders”. The historical wrongs have to be undone- is used in fermenting bigotry. Further, attempts are made to rewrite and even erase medieval history, as outrage emerges over the naming of roads and towns. In the past, mass mobilizations have been witnessed around places of worship and medieval encounters are presented as battles of faith. The information that does its rounds on digital platforms, conveniently overlooking the very long periods of peace and religious tolerance even during medieval times.

Aisi koi misaal zamaane ne paayi ho Hindu ke ghar mein aag khuda ne lagaayi ho Basti kisi ki Ram ne yaaro jalaayi ho Nanak ne sirf raah sikhon ko dikhaayi ho Ram-o-Raheem-o-Nanak-o-Eesa toh narm hain chamchon ko dekhiye toh pateeli se garm hainHas the world ever seen an example Of a Hindu home having been burnt down by the Muslim God A neighborhood having been torched by Lord Rama Or Guru Nanak having only shown the right path to the Sikhs Ram, Raheem, Nanak, and Christ didn’t teach these things It’s the self-appointed custodians of their teachings who corrupt us-Saghar Khayyami

What progress have we made in real sense? The scientific and technological prowess would be of no avail if the social fabric of a nation is being torn apart. We seem to have lost our nation, preached secularism and peace somewhere.

As Ramdhari Singh Dinkar wrote,

Jab chalo aage Zara sa dekh lo mud kar Chirantan roop who apna Akhil parivartanon mein jo aparivartit raha hai Karo mat anukuran aise Ki apne aap se door ho jao Na badlo yun ki bhaarat ko Kabhi pehchan hi na paaye itihaas bharaat koWhen we go ahead, just look a little and turn back to the eternal form that has remained unchanged. Do not follow such that get away from yourself. Do not change it such that the past cannot recognize the new India.