Monday, August 13, 2012

Indian first….then Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian….

The recent violence in Mumbai by Muslims in support of “their” brethren in Assam is what makes orthodox Hindus (and a lot of liberals) bay for their blood. What possible connection could the Mumbai Muslims have with the Muslims of Assam, in whose support they supposedly staged a protest? These kinds of acts make the rest of us ask: Why don’t Muslims put India first…..before their religion….?

Long back, this kind of sentiment used to get aroused during cricket matches between India and Pakistan. Living in Ahmedabad those days, I could see for myself how a section of the Muslims would cheer for Pakistan. Everytime India lost a wicket, they would burst crackers. This provoked and irked most of the Ahmedabadis – irrespective of whether they were orthodox Hindus or not – and perhaps had something to do with the deep distrust Hindus in Gujarat continue to harbor against the Muslims. This could be one of the reasons for the Godhra flare-up as inner distrust built over several decades poured out that disastrous day.

I have always believed that the beauty of living in India is the diversity we have here. I am proud of how India declared itself a secular country unlike Pakistan at the time of independence. I feel delighted that in India, Muslims live as they should – honorable citizens of this great country. I also feel happy that the population of Muslims in this country has only increased in the last sixty five years. The same cannot be said about Hindus in Pakistan; their numbers have dwindled over the years as an orthodox Islamic state has ruthlessly converted Hindus to Islam. Everytime I want to feel good about India, I look towards Pakistan. For me, this diversity is what India is. That is why I am not an avid supporter of the uniform civil code that the BJP promotes – eliminate as it would the diversity that is at the heart of India.

Having said all that, I want to return again to my complaint. Why is it that Indians put their religion ahead of their country? The BJP is clearly a party that supports that. For the BJP, the Hindu is a vote-bank. The BJP believes that India is inherently a country of Hindus and the rest are “guests” who should be mindful of their behavior. For the BJP to accept that there can be instances of “saffron terrorism” is next to impossible. Anyone who points this out is anti-national. In their world view, Hindus cannot be terrorists; only Muslims can be. They fail to understand that Muslim terrorists have largely emerged from certain geographies only (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Saudi) – largely because of the politics of that area. To classify terrorists as Muslim or Hindu is bad enough; but to believe that terrorists from one camp are impossible is worse.

The BJP also has no qualms in interfering in the internal affairs of other countries. For instance, the BJP raises questions about the poor treatment of “our” Hindus in Pakistan. Excuse me, but those Hindus are citizens of Pakistan, and we have no right (except as a general concern for all ostracized people around the world) to ask about them. How upset would we be if the Pakistanis asked about “their” Muslims in India?

We saw the same thing happening with Tamilians in Sri Lanka. Again, while the Tamilians in Sri Lanka are ethnically the same as the Tamilians in TN, there is no way that India can interfere in that country. Sri Lanka is a sovereign nation and we must respect that. If we must do anything with Sri Lanka, it is to ensure that we have friendly relations with them, so that ethnic Tamilians from Sri Lanka can visit their relatives and friends in TN and vice versa. That is also why India has no option but to seek friendly relations with Pakistan; inspite of all its provocations. In a different context, every NRI who lives in the US first owes allegiance to the US….only then to India. Just imagine how much conflict these NRIs would face if India and the US had poor relations. It is only because of the good relations between the two countries that NRIs can maintain loyalty to both countries.

Much of the BJP’s politics of being anti-Muslim gets support from some Indians because the Muslims place religion ahead of India. And the BJP is happy to exploit this. Look at the BJP’s reactions on the Assam communal riots. The riots gave them a chance to beat up the Muslims. Why Muslims? They could rightly beat up the immigrants from Bangladesh, without specifying their religion. They could have said that we don’t want Bangladeshis to enter India illegally and they would be right. But no….their focus is on equating Bangladeshis with Muslims. Likewise, in Mumbai, the BJP plans to make the Muslims its target yet again – alleging that the Muslims cared less for the country and more for their religion. Honestly, the BJP wouldn’t be wrong this one time. And for that, the Muslims would have only themselves to blame.

What is going on in Assam is tragic. It’s clearly a turf battle between the Muslims – most of whom the BJP alleges are refugees from Bangladesh (and there must to be an element of truth in this) – and the locals, one of whom are the Bodos. The Muslims in Mumbai have absolutely no cultural or linguistic ties with the Muslims of Assam. What made them come out in large numbers to express solidarity with them if it wasn’t that they put religion ahead of nationalism? How many times have Muslims in Mumbai come out in support of people of other religion in other parts of the country? The communal strife in Assam is bad enough, but for the BJP to exploit the situation and for the Muslims to trigger off riots in Mumbai is unacceptable. Neither the BJP in Assam, nor the Muslims in Mumbai, are justified in fuelling this communal discord. Both are placing religion before the country.

And like I wrote in an earlier post, “Newton’s third law of motion and Narendra Modi…” (July 27th), every time the Muslims put their religion ahead of their country, it generates an opposite force that makes the Hindus do the same; and vice versa. The division between the communities grows. And it doesn’t help anyone. It also makes me wonder if diversity is too elitist a concept for a socially backward country like India.

The real truth is that both the BJP and the Muslims in this country put religion before country. The BJP’s view of nationalism is just an excuse for Muslim bashing. The Muslims have a lot to answer as well. This is why so much of India’s politics is based on religious divides….

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