Was also a year that is best forgotten…
This column will appear on the last Sunday of 2014. And as I sit down to write it, I can’t help but think back on the year gone by. But hard as I try to look for something positive, all the images that flash before my eyes are of violence and grief; sadness and despair.
I guess that is only to be expected. The aftershocks of the ghastly Taliban attack on a Peshawar school still have me shaking with sadness, anger, and the realization of our impotence in the face of crazed madmen who subscribe to a murderous ideology. Those gory pictures of bullet-ridden children and a blood-soaked school auditorium will live with me forever, no matter how much I try and erase them from my memory. And maybe that’s how it should be. None of us should ever forget the evil that monsters inflict upon us – and more tragically, on our children.
But even when I look beyond the horror of Peshawar, the theme of violence and grief refuses to recede. The riot victims of Muzaffarnagar continue to live in makeshift homes a year later, looking for justice that seems forever out of reach. Communal riots in the Trilokpuri area of Delhi have revived the traumatic memories of the 1984 pogrom against the Sikhs. And in Uttar Pradesh, communal clashes have become so common that they barely merit mention in the national papers. And yet, every such incident leaves indelible scars in its wake.
More significantly, what every such clash represents is an attack on the idea of India itself. That idea – of a secular, inclusive, tolerant India that treats every citizen equally, no matter what his or her religion – has increasingly come under attack as the lunatics scramble to take over the asylum. The first weapon deployed in that fight was the idea of ‘love jihad’: a ‘jihad’ in which Muslim men were apparently targeting Hindu girls and marrying them after converting them to Islam. Thankfully that campaign was junked after it didn’t get much traction in the UP polls.
Ever since then, though, we have had a long line of loonies jostling one another in the competition to be most outrageous. First off the mark was Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, a BJP minister, who announced that the people of Delhi needed to decide if they wanted to be ruled by ‘Ramzadas’ (children of Ram) or ‘H****zadas’ (bastards). Next up was BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj, who claimed that Nathuram Godse was as much a ‘deshbhakt’ (patriot) as Mahatma Gandhi. Both of them retracted these statements after a public outcry (and presumably, a private bollocking from saner elements in the government).
But despite their climbdown, Godse, the killer of Gandhiji, continues to be the flavor of the season with various offshoots of the Sangh Parivar. Some fringe outfits in Mumbai celebrated November 15, the day when Godse was hanged in 1949, as Shourya Divas. The Akhil Bhartiya Hindu Mahasabha asked the government to install busts of Godse in public places across the country. And the same outfit is now threatening to release a film, Desh Bhakht Nathuram Godse, on 30 January, the same day on which Godse gunned down the Mahatma in 1948.
Ironic, isn’t it, that an organization that styles itself as the ‘Hindu’ Mahasabha is attacking what is best about Hinduism – its values of tolerance, brotherhood, and universal peace – by glorifying an assassin who killed a man we venerate as a Mahatma? This really is violence of the worst kind; violence that tries to destroy the very values that make Hinduism the great religion that it is.
And that’s before we even start on the biggest controversy of our day: conversions. If there is any one thing that characterizes Hinduism it is its non-proselytising nature. You have to be born a Hindu; you cannot become one by conversion. That is one of the essential differences between Hinduism and both Islam and Christianity. Hindus don’t believe in converting others to their faith. And you can’t really be a Hindu if you do that.
Ah, but the right-wing crazies have a way out of that. They are not converting anyone, they say, they are just welcoming them back into the Hindu fold. It is not ‘conversion’ when Indian Muslims and Christians become Hindus, they explain, it is merely a ‘gharwapasi’ (homecoming). Never mind that the ‘home-comers’ are complaining on national television that they were misled/bribed/terrorized into giving up their faith.
All this banging on about religion; glorifying murderers and assassins: where have we seen all this before? Ah yes, in Pakistan, where that same sorry journey to religious extremism and militancy led to the massacre of 132 innocent children in Peshawar this month. There, but for the grace of Indian secularism, go we…
It is for all these reasons that I, for one, will not be at all sad to see 2014 go. Maybe we’ll have a better time of it in 2015. With that wish – and a prayer – I wish all of you a very Happy New Year.