Secularism has a long way to go
By Kuldip Nayar: Dawn, August 18, 2007
IT is a straight question which should have been addressed long ago. If the accused in the Mumbai blasts could be tried and punished, even after 15 years, why not those who rioted and killed hundreds in Mumbai in the wake of the Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992? The rioting, as the Justice B.N. Sri Krishna Inquiry Commission put it, was a “cause and effect” happening.
The Shiv Sena has threatened to organise a “Hindu backlash” if the government reopens the rioting cases. The Maharashtra chief minister at the time, Manohar Joshi, has warned that communal amity in the state would be torn asunder on religious lines if the past was looked into. But how does one explain that out of 13,000 cases, only 800 odd were taken up? Obviously, they were not pursued because of communal considerations. If things are left as they are, the government will be seen to be coddling communal elements.
The Sena’s hysterical outcry is understandable because the commission has held its men guilty. The report, now nine years old, has said: “There is no doubt that the Shiv Sena and the Shiv Sainiks took the lead in organising attacks on Muslims and their properties under the guidance of several bodies of the Shiv Sena.” Justice Krishna has specifically mentioned Sena chief Bal Thackeray “who, like a veteran general, commanded the loyal Shiv Sainiks to retaliate by organising attacks against Muslims.”
When the riots took place, the Sena-BJP combine was ruling Maharashtra. Atal Behari Vajpayee led the BJP coalition at the centre. Both rejected the report, the Sena characterising it as “pro-Muslim”. Today, the Congress leads the state and central governments. They have been in power for more than three years. The question that arises is why (seeing the BJP inaction) they did not move against the politicians and police officials indicted in the report?
Even now, the action taken is cursory because of the Sena threats. The Mumbai police are establishing a cell to re-examine the closed cases. When the police have done little so far and when the force itself is involved, how can a fair probe be possible? By not taking action, what the government would prove is that there is no rule of law and no constitutional right of equal citizenship.
The guilty, whatever their religion, have to be punished. However wayward India’s democratic system may be, there has to be justice. Instances like the non-compliance of the Krishna report give the impression that when it comes to taking action against the Muslims, the government is firm but lax in the case of Hindus.
This reading is confirmed when one goes through the recommendations of various commissions after Independence. Seldom have their steps been implemented. Action is still awaited on reports on the riots at Jabalpur (1961), Ranchi (1967), Bhiwandi (1970), Jamshedpur (1979), Meerut (1982) and Bhagalpur (1989). These were major riots where the names of politicians and police officials were mentioned because they were involved.
In all the riot reports, Hindu extremists were found to be the instigators. The police were blamed in every riot for their connivance. Muslim fundamentalists, too, were involved in some cases. But politicians of both communities remained behind the scenes. None of them were punished. The action against the police and other officials was a simple departmental inquiry which ended with a warning, censure or demotion.
Unfortunately, politicians and criminals have become so intertwined that when it comes to prosecution or punishment, it depends on political convenience, not legal advice. Invariably, those who get away are Hindus.
Take Gujarat. It is a standing shame. No action has been taken against Chief Minister Narendra Modi in view of political considerations. Around 20,000 Muslims are still refugees with no means of livelihood and no future. Even the belated action against those responsible for the massacre can mollify opinion in the country and abroad. But it is a prestige issue for the BJP. Or, is Gujarat a dress rehearsal for the party’s hidden agenda?
One is, however, stumped when one sees that Muslim fundamentalists are tearing a leaf from the BJP’s book of hatred and hostility. Their number is small. But when they are able to get a fatwa (cheaper by the dozen these days) in favour of a wrong action, they cause serious concern.
The recent instance is that of an attack on the Bangladesh novelist, Taslima Nasreen, in Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh. Members of the Majlis-i-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) who came to her book launch attacked her. The organisers protected her at the risk of their lives. The MIM gets a fatwa in its favour in no time as if it was ready beforehand.
Still, criticising any religion is not in order because its followers feel hurt. But one cannot stop writers who enjoy freedom of expression. I was sorry to watch on TV Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad of Jammu and Kashmir and UP Congress chief Salman Khursheed advocating that authors should avoid writing on religion. This is, in fact, defending the MIM — and both are Congress leaders. What the MIM members did (attacking Taslima Nasreen physically) smacks of fascism. One does not have to agree with the author, but she must have her right to expression.
This is what differentiates a democratic setup from a theocratic or dictatorial state. What the MIM members exhibited was a deep-rooted religious prejudice. I hope it is not spreading among Muslims.
The extremists among Hindus and Muslims have failed to realise that our tryst with destiny is to build a secular state. This is not dependent on whether Pakistan is an Islamic state or not. The ethos of the freedom struggle was to build a secular state. And that is what Jawaharlal Nehru did.
I feel disappointed that even after 60 years of independence the Hindu-Muslim question has not been sorted out. I imagined it would be within a few years of Independence and that the pluralism which the British had methodically destroyed would reassert itself. It is clear that this is not taking place. The nation must undergo introspection to find out why.
When organisations like the Shiv Sena feeding on hatred continue to attack the Muslims and when even the elected MLAs in Hyderabad are not willing to apologise for their action, it is clear that our society has been thickly coated with the grime of faith. It cannot be wiped away easily. What the government can ensure is that at least the parties do not have the name of Hindu, Muslim or Sikh appended to them.
The writer is a senior columnist based in New Delhi.