The word immediately conjures images of deep-rooted, violent religious differences. The average citizen of India is well aware of the Godhra riots in ‘02, the Hindu-Sikh riots in ’84, and the ghosts of the riots at the time of the Partition. The memories of bloodshed ignite hatred for different communities, and more often than not it runs in the blood, almost genetically passed on to us from our ancestors who suffered at the hands of communalism.
The hatred and hostility is rooted in deep seated differences, because of different ways of life of different communities. Such a phenomenon is not unexpected from a country diverse religions and cultures. The nature of the Indian state has always been to follow the ideal of tolerance, welcoming migrants from several parts of the world, only to assimilate their ways and culture into the identity of the nation. The sheer volume of variegation, and consequent stalemates because of different principles followed by people, has led to a battle for supremacy of opinion, often violently.
Religion carries an oft underestimated importance in peoples’ lives. For scores of people, it dictates rationality and their way of life. A direct opposition to it strikes at the very core of one’s values, impertinent to the point of blasphemy. The weakness of religion lies in its ambiguity. The most conspicuous case in point is the word jihad. It has been interpreted and twisted to serve the desired meaning of waging war against anti-Islamic elements. The ‘soldiers’ are held to it because they are simply following the will of God, as told to them by their leaders, the self-proclaimed agents of the Almighty.
Differences in practices, in treatment of all things have the potential to create much controversy. This lack of understanding and at times, rigidity, fosters mistrust among communities. The fault of society lies in making generalizations on the basis of individual behavior and beliefs. The step from a Hindu cleric or a maulwi to a fundamentalist has been reduced to the blink of an eye, and has created false stereotypes of violence and cunning, even for the best-educated minds in the country.
Fear stems from our very homes today, and perceived difference has been ingrained in households. Many people carry impressions of fellow countrymen being hell bent upon doing them harm, and act accordingly to “protect” themselves. The attitude does not remain hidden and invokes reciprocation, perpetuating existing disharmony.
The problem has been magnified over the years, brought sharply into the focus with intense media scrutiny and rampant politicization. Major political parties, a lả the BJP, have a reputation for a hard-line communal stance. Election campaigns are wrought with hate speeches, like Varun Gandhi’s recent tirade. The surprising thing is that the party has shown positive results. However, one must not mistake this as being because of their stance, rather despite it. The non-secular ways of the party and the involvement of its karyakartas led to the Naveen Patnaik led BJD severing its ties with the BJP, a substantial blow for the NDA’s hopes in the general elections.
It is clear that such unrest is part of a transition, and a conscious one at that towards secularism and tolerance. Given India’s vagaries of culture and ideologies, there also exists a class of people following the aforementioned ideals. In the short and long term, it is giving a voice to these sections that takes a step towards mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence.