Does a bearded man in a skull cap frighten you? Are you scared when you see someone reading Urdu? What about when somebody chants Allahu-Akabar? Does it scare you? There is a chance that the answer for most of these questions might be “yes”.
Hindus often use Swastik symbols and hoist saffron flags in their homes, but all these things are not uncommon for us. Then why we do hear murmurs when someone hoists a green flag or uses a symbol of moon in his/home? Do these acts seem to be anti-Indian?
If chanting of ‘shlokas’ and using of religious symbols by Hindus are considered normal, why should similar symbols used by Muslims stir fear? Is this something new or has it existed for long?
When Did We Become Strangers?
Just spare a moment and think - despite living together for centuries, when and how did Hindus and Muslims become strangers to each other? The wall of ignorance and mistrust divides the two societies or, one can say, this wall has been erected.
To understand this, one would have to travel back three decades. After the Babri Masjid dispute, the animosity that was created between the two communities continues to exist and with the passage of time, it is only getting worse.
In Uttar Pradesh, when a maulavi (cleric) asked children to sing Allama Iqbal’s ‘Lab pe aati hai dua…’, it was instantly considered anti-national, while the fact is this famous nazm has been sung in many films and in real life for long.
During a protest against the amended Citizenship Act, students of IIT-Kanpur sung famous Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s revolutionary poem ‘Hum dekhenge…’ The message that went out was that this was against Hindus and the institute also initiated a probe into the matter.
Later, when the issue was highlighted in media and criticism poured in, IIT-Kanpur authorities said they were looking into the entire issue and not the chanting of Faiz’s literary work.
Why not talk?
Why are all these things happening? Why does it seem that a bearded man may appear from nowhere and throw a bomb or may do something bad? The biggest reason for this is the absence of any dialogue between the two communities. There is heavy trust-deficit. The fast disappearance of the wealth of shared culture from day-to-day life is another reason.
When I came to Delhi in 2006, I was looking for an accommodation in Laxminagar in Delhi. Even after exhausting myself for seven days, I could not manage to find one for myself.
People would ask me my religion and refuse to rent their house. A friend of mine who lived in the area had almost convinced a man involved in dairy business, but after he came to know my name, he became reluctant. My friend then told the man that he too was a Muslim, but there was no issue of contention between them.
Finally, a Sikh man rented me his flat in the same street where the dairy owner lived. After some days, I started talking to the family members of the dairy owner and this helped remove whatever distrust existed between us. When I started staying there with my family, all the remaining misgivings faded with time.
I have narrated this incident for two reasons. First, we should not be in the illusion that this happens only with Muslims. Such things often happen when a person of one community seeks to stay in an area dominated by members of another community.
This should not be looked at from the point of view of animosity and discrimination. It actually tells a lot about the distrust that exists among communities.
Though ghettoisation has not increased over time, it has not gone down either. Even today, people prefer to live among people of their own religion and caste. This needs to be changed. There is a need for more social interactions, but unfortunately, that is not happening.
For the last three decades, politics has gravitated more toward caste, religion and regionalism. In terms of garnering more votes, this is helpful, but it is giving a body blow to the unity of the country.
It is not that politics has not been played in the name of development, but this has so far been limited to a few states only. One has to put a lot of effort for development, but destruction requires only a few statements here and there and some tweets.
To teach morality to media is like looking at one’s own face in the mirror. That is the reality and one cannot shy away from it. For several years now, a number of prominent television anchors are exploiting Muslims to increase the TRP of their programmes.
But in how many of these programmes issues of unemployment, hunger and illiteracy among Muslims have been discussed. I too would want to watch such shows. It is the media’s duty to make society aware of issues, but if it is busy 24x7 in telling its audience how ‘halala’ is done in the community, how ugly is ‘triple talaq’, then one can very well understand the image of Muslims that is being created in the minds of the common people.
The question is - are all these things being done unknowingly or there are certain designs behind such programmes. Readers would know better.
Social media has become a tool in the hands of anti-social elements to foment hatred in society. On any issue, poison starts spilling in public domain in no time. Who are these people who target particular societies instead of targeting issues on Twitter and Facebook under some fixed agenda? It is essential to know this.
Finally, it is still not very late. Both the communities will have to take steps to clear the air of deep mistrust. We should not expect much from politicians, but need to stop the creation of many India in the hearts of the young generation. The train of trust is still at the station. Jai Hind!
(Views expressed are personal.)