On reading the Tehelka issue of 3 November on Gujarat, my immediate reaction was fury— mostly at those who style themselves as the Sword of the Hindu religion. The story quoted Babu Bajrangi, Rajendra Vyas, Ramesh Dave, Madan Chawal, Mangilal Jain, Suresh Richard, Deepak Shah, Anil Patel, Haresh Bhatt and a host of others bragging about their mindless brutality. Theirs are heartless, psychotic deeds which cannot be excused by any justification—not in the name of religion, nor in the name of extracting revenge for Godhra or anything else. I felt perplexed anger, too, at government authorities who aided and abetted the massacre.
I would like to say to all of them: “You sully my saffron. My religion and I do not accept venal cowards as our defenders. If you want to be a defender of my faith, do upright things and then, like Bhagat Singh, go singing to your just punishment with your head held high. Don’t hide behind the corrupt legal machinery, or bring dishonour to my religion by raping women, killing innocent people and resorting to brutality.”
We must get to the “why”, so we can avoid other Godhras and Gujarat massacres. Consider the progression of violence. Arguments with tea vendors and rumours of a foiled kidnapping led a Muslim mob to burn 60 Hindu pilgrims alive. This resulted in carnage all over the state. A petty incident leading to a gross overreaction, leading to grosser overreaction. We don’t need much intelligence to fix the blame where it belongs. Babulal Bajrangi is just a symptom of the disease. The underlying causes are our lopsided politics of division along caste and religion and our skewed perception of the word “secular” since independence. We have to wake up to the chilling lessons of this tragedy.
To start with, we must recognize the deep resentment among Hindus at their treatment by Muslims who are emboldened by the nature of India’s lopsided “secularism”. Most Hindus view themselves as the disadvantaged people of India and are constantly reminded of this by the politicians and the media and by urban intelligentsia, which shows remarkable unawareness of its double standards. Hindus cannot even enter Mecca but Muslims lay claim to Ayodhya, the Mecca of the Ram Bhakts. Such things cause dissonance in the Hindu mind. Yet, anyone raising these issues is dismissed by the urban Indian intelligentsia as an RSS stooge, almost in a knee-jerk reaction. The deeper truth is that resentments are building up all over India. The tensions of modern living, the proliferation of the media and its populist feeding frenzy, the minority-appeasing manipulations of political parties, the subversion of the bureaucracy and other such factors ensure that the detonator is well primed, the fuel is available; the cynical facilitators are all in place and only the trigger is needed. All that’s lacking is a charismatic politician getting up to say, “I have a nightmare…”
We need emotional integration. For this, we must take some unpalatable decisions. The first is to impose the primacy of the Indian Constitution over religious laws. Minority religions guard their turfs jealously. Such religious jingoism encourages anti-minority feeling among the Hindus. Then, the government must show sensitivity towards the feelings of the Hindu faithful. Through their evil conduct, Babulal Bajrangi and his tribe have ensured that there will be no more Godhras in Gujarat. Had the political leaders paid half as much attention to the Hindus’ concerns as they have paid to those of minorities, they would not have looked towards the Vishva Hindu Parishad or Bajrang Dal or even the Bharatiya Janata Party to provide them assurance. We also need a more effective law enforcement machinery and a faster judicial system, so that citizens do not feel the need to take the law into their own hands. Next, minimum qualifications and a law-abiding record are a must for our legislators, to keep out lumpen elements. Finally, it is essential to improve our education system to promote self-esteem and regard for our nationhood. Our education delivery system and curriculum does not inculcate desirable values in our young. They do not encourage emotional integration.
These things are not easy to implement. But if we continue to proceed as we have, we will have other Godhras, other Gujarats. Talk to the average, middle-class Hindu anywhere in India and you will realize this is sadly true.
Tehelka headlined its exposé as “The most important story of our time”. That’s hyperbole. There are many more important stories: the Naxalite menace; rampant corruption; judicial system in a mess—justice delayed and denied; the trivialization of basic education; terrorism which has killed more Indians than all wars combined... But the expose does point towards what could be the most important story of our time: the Hindu mindset all over India vis-à-vis other religions. There’s no point focusing on events, rather than deeper causes. Indians must look deeper into themselves and at the politicians, media, judges and bureaucracy, if they wish to avoid more bloodshed in the name of religion.
Kishore Asthana, earlier with Tata Administrative Services, is a management consultant and convener of Mensa, Delhi/NCR. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org