Few years back, I was watching a BBC documentary ‘In Search of Gandhi – Why Democracy’. The film was about a journey by an Indian film maker Lalit Vichani in the route taken by Mahatma Gandhi on his Dandi Yatra in the 1920s.
Lalit’s film was a pure documentation of what he saw and interacted with common people and then draws an interpretation on what Gandhi had visualized about an India, where people irrespective of their religions and castes would be living with great harmony and cooperation, and the India today, which is so divided on these grounds.
For last 10 years I have been living in Gujarat, where Gandhi was born and practiced non-violence. It has been the land of great reformers, saints, entrepreneurs, political leaders, rulers, artisans and so on. Over last 10 years I have been meeting and interacting with people of all kinds. In fact I am a member of a Gujarati family as I am married to a Gujarati. I like the overall Gujarati hospitality, love and affection and also their helping hands. But most of these kindnesses I have been mostly receiving because I am a Hindu Brahmin and my liberal attitude towards all human religions and castes are overlooked.
I doubt if I would have been a Muslim, I would have received the same affection unconditionally. Even though I am an educated man and capable of earning well, but it would have been very difficult to find a rented house close to my office, as the area is mostly Hindu and Jain dominated. So, why this prejudice? I don’t know what had happened in the past much as my roots are not here. But, what I have read and talked to people, I am told that this has been a recent development, mostly post independence. Muslims in Gujarat have been continuously sidelined and pushed into the ghettos for living.
When I talk and listen to common men, I often discover that there is hardly any respect for the minorities. Any crime happens, whether small or big, immediately Muslims are labelled in the psyche of common men. I don’t deny that all Muslims are good, but all Hindus are also not good.
In the video, I mentioned earlier, when Lalit and his crew made visit to the house of a Gandhian (a man who had met Gandhi and boasted proudly that he followed his path) he was surprised to hear the hate for Muslims from his mouth. The old man after bursting has anger against Muslims then asked, is there any one from the crew is Muslim?
In one of my recent experiences I had met a young educated Muslim man at Pirana, a village outside Ahmedabad famous for a Sufi shrine. When I met the young man, who is a descendent of the pir, a sayyid, he revealed his plight. He faces discrimination at his office and also with his child. There are no good schools nearby and his child has to travel daily 15 km one way to study in a decent school. There is a school nearby run by an Orthodox Hindu charity. When he had gone for his son’s admission, he was denied, only because he was a Muslim. This is the height of such divide which even is not sparing children. According to law, we are all equal and each of us has the right to receive and share love and compassion. But our mindsets have been full of hatreds. No religion has ever told to hate others. But our blind practice and faith have polluted our minds. We are moving away from religious morals and instead building stress to our secular existence.
But this divide has gained momentum more recently. Recently, I was reading the book on Ahmedabad by social activist and scholar Achut Yagnik. With relation to Hindu-Muslim peaceful coexistence in the pol, prior to 1960s, he writes, ‘Even though Hindus and Muslims mostly lived in separate localities they lived in close proximity. The walls they shared were porous enough to allow for a sharing of cultures. While caste regulations may have prevented upper-caste Hindus from eating with Muslim neoighbours, they accepted dry food items on festivals and family functions; the lower caste Hindus even exchanged cooked food. Till the mid 1960s, some Muslim communities even lit lamps on the Hindu festival of Diwali.”
When I posted this information in facebook, some of my dear friends commented their views. A friend of mine shared information on cooperation between two communities for the maintenance of their religious shrines. It is definitely a good sign. But I think we must go beyond the maintenance of religious shrines like darghas and temples and accept each other at mundane levels, like sharing of food, celebrating each other’s festivals together, extends cooperation at the time of need, studying together with harmony at schools, etc.
Some friends also blamed on politicians who are dividing the communities. I don’t accept this fully. I don’t have the intention to blame anyone in particular. We are all part of a system, where there are many different factors working together to create such divide and tension. We must address these problems with cooperation and holistically. We have to develop strength in each of us and inner convictions to work tirelessly, till the time, all the minorities of this country are treated as one of us, both mentally and physically.