India has been witnessing many communal riots, small and big, since independence. According to the data presented by the government in the Parliament on 6th February, 111 persons were killed and at least 2384 injured in 822 cases of communal violence in 2017, the highest figure in the last three years. In 2016, 86 persons were killed and 2321 injured in 703 incidents. UP witnessed 60 communal riots, the highest in India in 2017.
Often communal riots are triggered by vested interests, particularly political leaders and parities. Each communal riot leaves a scar on Bharat Mata. It is an irony that those who shout Bharat Mata ki jai are often responsible for fomenting communal riots and making the heart of Bharat Mata bleeding. The ordinary people have to pay the price for the communal riots and the political leaders who are responsible for the riots not only go unpunished but also reap the electoral benefit of communal polarization effected by the riots.
Various reports of enquiry commissions have pointed out the failure of the state to prevent and diffuse communal riots. The governments have neither taken seriously the findings of the committees that probed the communal riots nor implemented the recommendations to prevent religious riots and punish the real culprits. For example the Srikrishna Commission that probed the Mumbai riot of 1992-93 submitted its report to the BJP-Shiv Sena government. Instead of implementing the recommendations of the report the then Chief Minister Manohar Joshi said that if anyone touched the Sena Supremo, Bal Tackeray, he would resign and agitate in the streets. Many indicted policemen were promoted by the government and indicted politicians continued to hold high political office. The history of the communal riots in India vindicates that the state which has the bounden duty to protect the life and property of the citizen often miserably failed in fulfilling its responsibility and in some cases it tacitly supported the riots planned and implemented by the supporters of the party in power.
Only vigilance of the citizens and the civil society can make a government accountable and responsible in a democracy. When the political parties and religious leaders indulge in hate speech and create an atmosphere of distrust and disharmony among the followers of different faiths the civil society has to be proactive to build trust and harmony among different communities in the society. There are many individuals and groups in India involved in promoting peace and harmony among different religious and ethnic groups. Unfortunately, when the communal organizations that spread the venom of hatred become aggressive and violent with the connivance of the party in power, often the peace-promoting individuals and groups become frightened and inactive. Still there are some organizations and individuals who are courageous enough to withstand the threats of communal forces. One such person is the noted Malayalam writer, K P Ramanunni. He had received a threat through an anonymous letter last year. The letter had warned him that his right arm and left leg would be chopped off if he did not convert to Islam within six months.
As per the media reports Ramanunni who won the Sahitya Academy Award for his book, ‘God’s own Book’ donated the prize money of Rs. 100,000/- to the mother of Hafiz Junaid Khan, the teenage boy who was killed on a train in Hayana for allegedly carrying beef. “Junaid is someone who was killed by Hindu communal forces for just being a Muslim. Let me place this award amount as an offering at the feet of Junaid's mother as an act of penance for that wicked sin; for penance is a special observance in true Hindu tradition,” Ramanunni said. This was indeed a proactive and courageous act of challenging the Hindutva fanatics. It was also an excellent example for communal harmony in action.
The theme of the Novel, “God’s Own Book” is harmony between Hindus and Muslims. The very purpose of the book according to the author is to foster harmony between the Hindus and Muslims. “In the present Indian situation, 'God's Own Book' ( Daivathinte Pustakam) bears an enormous political mission and that is to uphold the love for other religions, something that is cherished by true Hinduism. Also to build a conceptual foundation for religious amity and to put up a bulwark against the country's catastrophic slide into communal ruin,” he said. 'Daivathinte Pusthakam' (God’s Own Book) is a book where the prophet, Muhammad Nabi, calls Krishnan ‘Ikka’ (elder brother) and Krishnan affectionately calls the Prophet ‘Mushy’ (precious dear).
As religious fundamentalism is another important cause for conflict and tension among different religious communities, promoting religious pluralism helps in preventing religion based conflicts and violence. Pluralism is not mere tolerance, but it is acceptance, appreciation and celebration of differences. Different religions are different way to reach the one and the same God and each one has its strengths and weaknesses. On the other hand, religious fundamentalist believe that their religion has the fullness of truth and hence superior to other religions. Therefore they think that they have a right to impose it on others. Naturally the attempts to impose one’s religious belief on others lead to conflicts and violence.
In the context of India the citizens and religious and social organizations, particularly the Church, can adopt various strategies to promote communal harmony and peace. Peace building is mandatory for the followers of Jesus. Some of the proposals for fostering harmony among different religious groups could be as follows.
· Providing opportunity to the students to learn about all religions without any bias. Often lack of proper knowledge coupled with prejudice is responsible for conflict among the followers of different religions.
· Celebrating the festivals of different religions in the educational institutions and explaining to the students the message conveyed by each festival.
· Exhibiting quotes from different scriptures on the universal spiritual values in all educational institutions, health care institutions and social work centres.
· Conducting inter-religious prayers with readings from different sacred scriptures and common songs/bhajans. Universal Solidarity Movement (USM) for Value Education, Indore has published a book, SANGAM with readings from 8 different religious scriptures and common songs. Many schools are making use of it for value education and prayer during the school assembly.
· Exhibiting the symbols of different religions in the educational institutions and health care institutions.
The current socio-political scenario of India is characterized by hatred, prejudice and violence against the minorities due to the support the religious fundamentalists receive from the government. The objective of the party in power appears to be polarizing the Hindu votes so that it would be able to capture power in 2019. Since it could not fulfil most of the election promises made in 2014, there is a possibility that it would resort to communal polarization, a strategy it has been using for many years. Hence there is an urgent need for promoting understanding and harmony among the followers of different religions.
(firstname.lastname@example.org)(Published on 26th February 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 09)