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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 1, December 20, 2008

From Ayodhya to Mumbai: Communal Frenzy stands Demolished by Indian Secularism

Sunday 21 December 2008, by Nilofar Suhrawardy


What has Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sought to gain by extending an apology to the country for having failed to prevent the terrorist strikes the people here have fallen victim to time and again? True, the terrorist strikes in Mumbai, where a handful of young militants kept life in the financial pulse of the nation at stake for around three days, deserve the strongest condemnation possible. At the same time, despite the concerned authorities having received warnings much ahead of the strikes, the cruel fact that Mumbai was still subject to such a carnage can be called nothing but a shame. A national shame for the government and all the authorities supposed to be in charge of the country’s security. Acknowledging the hard reality that there prevailed security lapses and extending an apology for the Mumbai terror strikes can from no angle be regarded as sufficient. The scars left by such terror strikes can never be healed, the dead cannot be brought to life and the government’s image tainted by the Mumbai-siege cannot become pure and untainted. Thousands of Indians, who have fallen victim to terror strikes time and again, have primarily belonged to middle-class and/or poor sections of the society. In these cases, loss of even a breadwinner has been equivalent to the future of all the surviving family members and at times even all their lifetime’s earnings being lost forever. What prevented the respected politicians from extending an apology in such cases? Has the Prime Minister decided to apologise now, primarily because the targeted people included the rich sections and the foreigners? Are their lives held to be more valuable and precious than thousands of lives lost by poorer Indians? Did he choose to enhance his credentials at the international level by extending an apology for the Mumbai terror strikes? India needs a leader concerned about its citizens and their security and not one whose primary aim appears only to please Uncle Sam.

With due respect to whatever may have prompted the Prime Minister to take the stand of extending an apology, surely from the Indian angle it appears to be a meaningless and futile exercise. When viewed against the backdrop of the attempts made, whether by external and/or internal elements, to create a schism within the country by indulging in terrorism and/or communal orgy, this apology seems a rather hollow rhetoric. For secularism has retained its grip on the average Indian’s mentality. Give a thought, sixteen years have passed since December 6, 1992, the day when the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, raised apprehensions throughout the country and the world about the fate of minorities, particularly Muslims in India. The demolition-phase was one in which Indian secularism was put to a strong test. The phase witnessed riots across the country, with extremist elements inciting communal passions and provoking violence, linking these with their “religious” propaganda. The demolition and accompanying riots raised numerous questions on whether these symbolised a major achievement for the Hindutva movement, promoted by the saffron brigade to transform secular India into a Hindu state. Was the demolition suggestive of this movement having actually reached its peak?

Paradoxically, during that phase, when headlines across the world blamed “Hindu terrorism” as responsible for the communal frenzy having apparently gripped the entire country, a few important facts were sidelined. The Sangh Parivar, that is, the saffron-brigade primarily responsible for fuelling the communal campaign on the Ayodhya issue leading to the mosque’s demolition, does not represent the entire Indian Hindu community. Statistically, not even a quarter percentage of Hindus were involved in the demolition and accompanying riots. If each and every Hindu were actually a terrorist and/or a communal fanatic, India would not have been home to the second largest population of Muslims in the world.

YES, while viewing live-telecast (CNN) of the Babri Masjid’s demolition from Madison (Wisconsin, US), this scribe was pained. But was more hurt and angry when the US media loudly blamed “Hindu terrorism” for the demolition and riots. Not willing to remain a mute spectator, I wrote piece and gave interviews to US television, underlining the fact that simply because a small percentage of the Hindu population had participated in the demolition and riots, the entire community cannot be labelled as terrorist and/or communal. Blaming the Western media for incorrectly linking religion with terrorism, this journalist raised the question as to why they indulged in this practice only regarding Islam and Hinduism. Questioning the ease with which a few Muslims or Hindus were labelled as Islamic or Hindu terrorists, respectively, if they were so inclined to link religion with terrorism, one asked: what prevented the West from following the same pattern when Christians or Jews were held guilty of similar violence? What refrained them from using the words Christian terrorism or Jewish terrorism?

It was perhaps the first time that questions were raised against linking of any religion and the entire religious community, specifically Islam and Hinduism with terrorism.

Sixteen years have passed since, with Indian secularism having been repeatedly put to tests time and again, the latest being the terrorist strikes in Mumbai. Undeniably, there still prevail certain elements, bent on creating a division within the country and thus weaken it, to be able to exploit the situation to their advantage. Whether these elements are internal and/or external, they are apparently politically, socially as well as diplomatically too naive to understand that the true Indian, whether Hindu, Muslim or of any other religion, cannot be swayed along the lines of communal frenzy. Two decades ago, leading newspapers refrained from publishing details of even a small riot out of fear of it fuelling communal passion in other communities in the country. The year 2002 was witness to the Gujarat carnage, the news about which was telecast across the country. The communal fire remained confined to Gujarat. The recent years have been witness to numerous blasts, killing hundreds, for a majority of which Muslims have been labelled as “suspect” terrorists. What is noteworthy, each of these has only prompted average Indians, cutting across religious barriers, to join hands, help each other and also let the communally motivated politicians know that Indian secularism is too strong to be easily swayed by such moves.

Terrorist strikes in Mumbai, telecast across the world, have of course hurt and angered Indians. With it being the election season, politicians are naturally crying themselves hoarse, blaming Pakistan and terrorist groups based there (Muslims), for the Mumbai strikes. The Prime Minister’s apology also falls in this bracket. An apology for the Mumbai terror strikes, even if it is from the Prime Minister, bears practically no significance for secular Indians. Literally unmoved by such rhetoric, Indians across the world have chosen to display their feelings for the Mumbai victims and heroes, by lighting candles in their memory and forming human chains to display their unity. It is time the world learnt that communal frenzy they expect to be aroused by such incidents stands demolished by Indian secularism!

The author is a freelance journalist who spent several years in the US and specialised in communication studies and nuclear diplomacy. Her book, Ayodhya without the Communal Stamp: In the Name of Indian Secularlism, is the sixth most popular book on the website

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