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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 50 New Delhi December 1, 2018

Black and White

Sunday 2 December 2018, by SC


Last week African nationals staying in the Capital were subjected to wanton attack once again. According to reports, two Tanzanian women and two Nigerian men were hounded by a mob in the wake of rumours that they had kidnapped a local boy and even ‘eaten’ him, an allegation which was ultimately found to be totally false. Thankfully they were rescued on time before they could suffer physical assaults leading to grievous injuries. Such attacks on Africans in the National Capital Region have taken place in the recent past as well. These are all manifestations of intolerance springing from xenophobia which is indeed reprehensible as it tarnishes the country’s image and dents its stature in the developing world.

In the four-and-a-half years since the Narendra Modi-led BJP came to power at the Centre in 2014, the country has witnessed a sea-change from the past, something unprecedented in post-independence India. The clamour for the construction of a Ram temple at the very spot the Babri Masjid stood for four hundred years in Ayodhya till December 6, 1992 is getting shriller by the day. If this eventuality overtakes the nation now that the RSS has decided to organise a weeklong agitation in the first half of December, that could mark a further and perhaps the most decisive step towards a majoritarian polity heralding the total obliteration of any trace of secularism.

Not only that. India-Pakistan relations have been on the downslide since the present Union Government assumed power despite some hopes generated in the initial months. Now there is anticipation of a further deterioration of bilateral ties in the event of the Ayodhya issue reaching a flashpoint.

Against such a fearful backdrop the latest develop-ment in New Delhi-Islamabad relations offers some ground for optimism. The laying of the foundation stone for the Kartarpur corridor yesterday to help Sikh pilgrims to visit the shrine where Guru Nanak (whose 550th birth anniversary will be observed in November 2019 by which time the corridor is expected to completed) breathed his last was a significant positive move in the annals of India-Pakistan history; and the visible warmth in the speeches of all the dignitaries at the function—from Pakistan PM Imran Khan to Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Congress leader Navjot Singh Siddhu—contributed to it in no small measure. Regardless of the negative reactions to this event on both sides of the border the positive features of this development cannot be minimised.

It is in this context that one mourns the sudden demise of an outstanding figure, Pakistan’s distinguished poet Fahmida Riaz, who played a prominent role in bridging the India-Pakistan divide. Besides spending seven long years in New Delhi, courtesy the generous hospitality extended to her by the then PM, Indira Gandhi, she did everything possible to fight the bigots in both the states. Her memorable lines in a remarkable poem—“Tum bilkul hum jaise nikle... voh moorkhta voh ghamarpan, jis mein hum ne sadi ganwai, aakhir pahunchi dwaar tumhaarey, arre badhai bohat badhai (So you turned out to be just like us... that foolishness, that ignorance in which we lost a century, it has reached your door, many many congratulations)”—remains etched in one‘s memory. It was recited at the JNU some years ago causing much indignation in Right-wing circles while being warmly welcomed by progressive public opinion. She was indeed a messenger of peace and amity among peoples of the two neighbouring states. Her loss will be deeply felt by all those striving to rebuild trust between the two peoples defying manifold impediments.

As we go to press farmers from across the country have come to the Capital today for a massive march tomorrow to project their demands that would enable them to come out of the ongoing agrarian crisis. All major kisan organisations are behind the march. Would the government respond positively to the demands? That is the vital question.

November 29 S.C.

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