Thursday, 6 November 2008

Let's talk communal for a change

A wonderful piece in DNA.

R Jagannathan

Why does the emergence of terrorism in the Hindu fold come as no surprise to anybody? My answer: every community in India, at some level, has a sense of aversion or ambivalence towards the "other", whether that "other" is defined in religious, caste, racial or linguistic terms. We all know it, but pretend otherwise.

Raj Thackeray has Biharis, Hindus have Muslims or Christian as hate objects, secularists have their Sangh Parivar, the Marxists have their class enemies. Everyone has an "other" - real or imaginary foe - to fight with. Once we are sure there is no "other" within earshot, our true feelings emerge. Xenophobia, bigotry and insecurities emerge centre-stage.

We cannot be truly secular unless the unstated fears and insecurities of all our peoples are acknowledged and addressed. Once we let it all hang out, we can learn to be less communal, less sectarian. Bigotry thrives only when we fail to acknowledge our deepest worries and concerns, however unreal they may be.

If Muslims fear that their identity is going to be overwhelmed in a Hindu-majority India, let us acknowledge it. If Hindus are worried about conversions, let them say so without fear of ridicule. We can find ways to address these fears. Instead, what we have done is de-legitimise these concerns by branding it all as communal. This leaves the Sangh Parivar as the sole torch-bearer of Hindu concerns.

So how do we build a truly tolerant and secular society from here? I have four broad suggestions.

First, we should never accept any justification for violence by anybody. If Hindu extremists justify the Malegaon blasts as retribution for earlier acts of terror by Muslims, the latter can justify their handiwork as revenge for the post-Godhra massacres. Hindus can then talk about the Godhra train fire. There is only one way to end mindless violence - and that is by ignoring all rationalisations for it.

Second, we should abolish all politically-appointed commissions of inquiry and replace them with a permanent Truth Commission manned by people with impeccable personal credibility. Two enquiries were set up to look into the Godhra fire - one by Lalu Prasad and the other by Narendra Modi. Both gave out findings convenient to their political masters. If commissions have to have any credibility, they have to be citizen-oriented and depoliticised. A permanent Truth Commission that is charged with the responsibility of finding out the truth - and improving on it with more evidence - would be able to do this much better and with far less rancour.

Third, all histories must be recognised as partly true. Historians tend to think of history as their property. This is not simply true. Every history has a bias, and there are several ways of telling it. If histories are not told openly, they will be told subversively - feeding communalism. Just as there is a Marxist view of history, there can be Hindu and Muslim views. There can be Dalit and OBC views. There can be psychological and sociological renderings of history. In short, all history is a work-in-progress. History gets communalised when there is no space in it for alternative versions. The only way to decommunalise it is by giving partial legitimacy to all versions.

Fourth, all communities must take responsibility for violent elements in their midst. Hindus must deal with Hindu extremists and Muslims with Muslim ones. To keep saying "no Hindu/Muslim can be a terrorist" is a cop-out. It is also easy to take cover under motherhood statements like "Islam is a religion of peace" or that "Hinduism is the most tolerant" of faiths. There is no such thing as Islam or Hinduism outside the minds of the faithful. A violent Hindu makes Hinduism intolerant. Religions take on the hues of their believers. So it is we who make Hinduism or Islam tolerant or peaceable, not the religions themselves. No community can thus shirk its responsibility for people from their own faiths who turn violent. In the end, terror in the name of Hinduism can only be defeated by Hindus.

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