Sagarika Ghose has been a journalist for 20 years, starting her career with The Times of India
, then moving to become part of the start-up team of Outlook
magazine, subsequently joining The Indian Express
as Senior Editor. She was anchor of the flagship BBC World programme Question Time India
Let's win a medal for a Hindu-Muslim charter
On the heels of The Verdict, came The Games. Wicked ghosts of the past were dredged up during the Allahabad High Court verdict. But only three days later at the Commonwealth Games, young India leapt forward to claim gold. A stunning opening ceremony showcased traditional diversity in high tech style. The heart sank with a reminder of communal division. Immediately afterwards the heart leapt upwards with a spectacular display of progress.
The Ayodhya dispute seems headed to the apex court. But Ayodhya cannot be solved legally. Instead of a judge, this dispute requires a politician, a natural born leader of people to seize the moment. It requires a politician of courage and heartfulness to stride out among the warring litigants, to embrace each one with fulsome warmth and to convey the following: I come with respect for both religions. I come to build a new relationship between Hindus and Muslims. Mutual respect for religious identity is the cornerstone of my new charter.
Today urban religiosity is increasing rapidly, both among Hindus and Muslims, as a direct response to westernization and perceived "loss of traditional culture" due to globalization. In 2007 in a CSDS poll, 42 per cent urban Hindus and 39 per cent urban Muslims said religion is becoming more important in their lives. Yet proud Hindus and proud Muslims (as opposed to 'political' Hindus and 'political' Muslims) have always respected each other. Wrote Khwaja Khusrau the medieval poet: 'Noble Delhi is the Garden of Eden. May Allah protect it from calamities. If it but heard the tale of this garden, Mecca would make the pilgrimage to Hindustan.' For this Muslim poet the holy land was Hindustan, not Mecca.
At the height of the stone-pelting protests in Kashmir, the Amarnath Yatra went off without a single hitch. Kashmiri Muslims went without food to ensure Hindu pilgrims were well cared for. Syed Shahabuddin the stormy spokesman of 'Muslim' causes remains a lifelong admirer of Chandrashekhar Saraswati, the late Paramacharya of Kanchi. On a visit to Kanchi, the Paramacharya told Shahabuddin, `you have come all the way to see me, before you leave let me show you a masjid nearby and please make sure you pray before you leave.' A proud Hindu made sure a proud Muslim said his prayers before a journey!
Yet today we are doing a disservice to the Paramacharya of Kanchi. Systematic terrifying discrimination against Muslims in housing, the emergence of Brahmin-bania-thakur dominance in urban neighbourhoods, denial of opportunities and bank loans to Muslims, trumped up charges of terrorism against youth, collapse of governance in Muslim majority areas have resulted in the Sachar Committee concluding that the condition of India's Muslims are worse off than SCs and STs. Should a nation where cosmopolitanism is one thousand years old, not be ashamed that it needs to tear down masjids and mobilise gangs of unemployed youth to prove its identity? Surely Hindus are too ancient and too sophisticated a people to fall prey to such un-Hindu practices and prejudices.
The Paramacharya would not want Hindu majoritarianism to be seen as a force of evil. It is perceived to be precisely that because it has so far been coupled with aggressive discrimination and threat of violence. Yet some majoritarian arguments are perhaps justified. The argument that all citizens irrespective of religion should follow the laws of independent India, that Muslim citizens should plunge into the entire spectrum of Indian civic activism and not remain imprisoned only in the "Muslim" cause, that Muslims should accept that Hindu 'faith' is as important as Muslim 'faith', these arguments are not without some justification. A sagacious Muslim leadership should realize that asking for the removal of the idols of Ram Lalla from the disputed site is an unrealistic expectation. Removal of the idol is certainly a legal possibility but it is a political impossibility, just as the forcible removal of any object of worship of any faith from any shrine, is difficult. For better or worse, the cultural mainstreaming of majoritarianism has been the BJP's contribution to Indian politics. Hindu majoritarianism must become respectable, decent and civilized and for this a new charter with the Muslims is an urgent crucial necessity.
What other concrete steps can be taken to implement a new Hindu Muslim charter? The Centre should consider introducing a law against religious discrimination with strong safeguards to prevent its misuse. When we have a law against caste discrimination why is there no legal protection against religious discrimination? School textbooks should be written exploring the many examples of co-existence that has existed between the communities down the ages. Every government official, from lowest babu and cop upwards should take a course in Hindu Muslim understanding. Corporates who are secular employers should be given awards and applauded. Celebrities must demonstrate how religious discrimination comes in the way of wealth creation and upward mobility. Bollywood should make a special effort towards challenging Hindu and Muslim stereotypes. Just as there are campaigns showing that its not 'cool' to hit women, there should be campaigns to show that its not 'cool' to hate minority religions. And above all, India's modern politicians, if they want to make a mark on the global stage of statesmanship, must stay out of stoking religious hatred.
Let every Hindu see the tears running down the face of shooter Aneesa Sayeed as she saluted the Tricolour after winning her gold medal. Let every Hindu listen to Aslam Sher Khan when he said how proud he was to play in the 1975 Hockey team against Pakistan. And let every Muslim mark the loud cheers the Pakistani team got when they walked out at the opening ceremony. Lets create a new charter by becoming spiritual athletes from the land of Sri Krishna and Salim Chishti and aim for the gold medal in jumping the maximum number of hurdles in our minds.