(File photo: HT)
(File photo: HT)

Opinion | Politicians must stop playing with our social fabric

How long will we continue to reap the harvest of the seeds of division sowed by the British?

Recently, in a residential area of Delhi, a parking dispute between people from two communities took a communal turn. As usual, people gathered at the police station. It appeared as if the quarrel had been resolved; but soon, one side turned it into something much bigger. Within a few hours, a house of worship of one community was vandalized and the faceless people on social media made this act viral. The police managed to control the situation and sort things out. People from both sides came forward and the community from which the vandals came from decided to repair the shrine.

Such communal aggression is becoming commonplace. A few days ago, some people in Jharkhand caught hold of a thief, thrashed him and forced him to chant the religious slogan of another community. The police arrested this man who succumbed to his injuries in jail. The community the deceased belonged to claims that it is a case of mob lynching while the post-mortem report suggests otherwise on technical grounds. Logic and technology seem to have become matters of convenience for communities and leaders alike. We cannot risk this in a country as diverse as ours.

Take a look at the reactions to this incident in some cities of western Uttar Pradesh. Hundreds of people came out on streets, shouting slogans. The city in Jharkhand where this incident took place was quiet. The neighbouring villages and towns were silent too. But hundreds of kilometres away, there were reactions. The same scenes were witnessed in Malegaon, Maharashtra. Clearly, in this era of social media, grief and anger can’t be limited to geographical boundaries.

Recently, some people of a locality in Meerut hung ‘For Sale’ placards outside their houses. The reason? Some people from a community had performed stunts on motorcycles and passed lewd remarks on women. After a media furore, the police and administration sorted out the matter. But when the people who hung up placards were asked why they did not file any police report, there was no clear reply. The intention was not to sell the house then, but to draw attention to the problem. Meanwhile, in another locality of western Uttar Pradesh, people of another community had also hung similar placards outside their houses. They said they were moving fearing communal violence. The very next day, chief minister Yogi Adityanath said there was no exodus anywhere in the state. The CM was right. It is apparent then that violence due to this herd mentality has now reached a dangerous stage.

Earlier, society elders played an important role in maintaining peace and calm in mohallas and residential areas. But now, their role has become limited. They are not able to control the ‘fire’ but later on, definitely contribute to re-establishing peace. This is the time when we will have to make it clear to our politicians that they should stop playing with our social fabric.

This brings to mind the first war of Independence. The rebellion of 1857 was not merely a mutiny. Long before Mangal Pandey rebelled, many holy men were visiting military camps. They were trying to spread the message of freedom. Jolted by the rebellion, they realised that they will continue to face such challenges if they did not break the communal harmony in India.

They recalled that when Robert Clive won the battle of Plassey and established East India Company’s rule, in Murshidabad alone, there were more pathshalas and madarasas (educational institutions) than all of England. That tradition remained alive till 1857. That is why the holy men spoke in one language.

After the battle of 1857 deliberate attempts were made to shatter the closely-knit social fabric of society. The Partition was also a result of these attempts. The British could not suppress the Independence movement but they certainly handed over divided freedom to us. Now is the time to ask ourselves—for how long will we continue to reap the bitter harvest of the seeds of division sowed by the British?

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan.

The views expressed are personal.