The carnage in Godhra and rest of Gujarat is a painful reminder that beneath the veneer of civilization, beastly impulses continue to lurk in our society. Thanks to mindless manipulation of power-hungry politicians, a local dispute over a place of worship became an intractable national crisis. Whatever be the origins, the Godhra tragedy could not have been the handiwork of ordinary Muslims. As a religious minority, Muslims are most vulnerable when such a ghastly incident takes place. Only foreign saboteurs could have hatched such a cruel conspiracy putting a whole community at risk.
The real India is not what we see in Gujarat. The real India is what we witnessed in Bombay after the bomb-blasts of 1993. Despite 300 deaths, not a single incident of violence followed. Bombayites exhibited exemplary courage and wisdom in supporting each other and maintaining peace and communal amity despite grave provocation.
It is such response that India needed from Gujarat after Godhra. But marauding mobs have a different agenda, and care little for innocent lives. What have innocent Muslim children and women, hard-working labourers and shopkeepers done to deserve the cruelty and suffering inflicted on them? But if we think that we are entirely blameless, then we are mistaken. True, only a few crooks loot, rape and kill in the name of religion. But we encourage them by our silence, and acquiesce in the act by our passivity. As Marltin Luther King said “the ultimate tragedy is not the brutality of the bad people; but the silence of the good people”
We build stereotypes based on religion. Many educated Hindus actually believe Muslims breed prolifically, what with each man having four wives! The truth is Muslim population growth is roughly the same as that of other poor groups like Dalits. Female literacy among Muslims is appallingly low – some estimates put it at below 2%. The problem is one of backwardness and not religion. And when men and women are roughly equal in number, Muslim men cannot have four wives each. Yet misinformation continues.
And then there is the bogey of support to Pakistan. Indian Muslims are the worst victims of partition. They have to live and die here. India is their land. It is absurd to think that all Muslims support our enemies, or are not loyal to India. It is the likes of the Hindu customs inspector who took a bribe of Rs 20 lakhs to allow RDx into the country to be used in Bombay blasts who are the traitors. It is rabid Hindu politicians who nurtured and protected mafia dons and had business links with them who are our enemies. There are crooks and criminals among Hindus, Muslims and Christians. No religion has a monopoly over them.
And yet we continue to harbour suspicion and ill will. Take the recent MCH election. Most people voted on communal lines. In fact the ruling party issued advertisements stating that a vote for Congress is a vote for MIM, clearly implying that if Hindu vote is split, MIM candidate will win. And Hindus fell for that, just as many Muslims voted for MIM purely on religious grounds. Such bigotry is the real cause of communal conflict in our society.
We in Hyderabad have a proud tradition of genuine communal harmony. But in recent years each community is living in splendid isolation. True, with NTR's rise to power, communal riots are a thing of the past. Ruling TDP deserves credit to that extent. But mere absence of violence is not harmony. We need to stretch our arms and forge links. We need to know each other, and learn to respect and like people across the community divide. And most of all, we need to strengthen each other's resolve to root out suspicion, to fight poverty, illiteracy, ignorance and prejudice. Hyderabad, can show the way to the rest of India.