Do you, like me, worry about what’s happening to our country? Are you also perturbed by the increasing instances of intolerance? Are you concerned about the spreading bans and prohibitions as well as the attempt to justify them on the grounds that the sentiment of India’s majority Hindus must not be offended against or upset?
Perhaps I am naïve or idealistic but I cannot accept, leave aside understand, that in my country scholars are murdered because they have campaigned against religious superstition or because they’ve criticised Hindu idol worship. And I’m appalled that a man is barbarically battered to death for eating beef or possessing it in his fridge. This is not my India. It can never be. And, yet, it is.
When I open my eyes and look around me such examples seem to proliferate. If it’s not intolerance of another person’s right to choose and be different, it’s the irrational and unscientific acceptance that in our past we had already discovered (and somehow thereafter forgotten) what modern science took 2,000 years more to achieve or it’s the glorification of villains as patriots because they profess a particular Hindu ideology or weltanschauung. In the end it all amounts to the same thing: a narrowing of our horizons, a prioritisation of a sectarian Hindu viewpoint and, through this, a re-defining of what it is to be Indian.
I was born a Hindu and I’m proud to be one. Nisha, my late wife, was born Catholic and was proud to be one. Analjit, my partner, was born Sikh and is proud to be one. Aftab, a dear friend, was born Muslim and is proud to be one. What brought us and keeps us together are bonds of affection. Religion is of no consequence except as a personal belief.
I’ve celebrated Eid, Gurupurab, Christmas and Diwali and never felt it was not my festival. Today, however, the country I live in is increasingly conscious of religious rights and boundaries, preferences and bans and it feels as if people are seeking to divide and, then, separate us along such lines.
Let me give you a small but telling illustration of how significant and worrying is the change that’s slowly but steadily creeping over us. In 2011, when Salmaan Taseer was murdered for opposing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, MJ Akbar allegedly boasted: “If Salmaan Taseer had been an Indian Muslim, he would still have been alive.” Today, a Pakistani could legitimately riposte: “If Mohammed Ikhlaq had been a Pakistani Muslim, he would still have been alive.”
I don’t know about you, but this fills me with shame. Mine is not a Hindu country. Indeed, I’ve always believed it’s the broad-mindedness of its Hindu majority that guarantees India’s secular character. That is, after all, the quality that makes my religion not just unique but truly great. Why then are we in danger of forgetting it? Of even, altogether, losing it?
I’m not sure who is to blame. Perhaps we all are? Perhaps we must all accept a share of it? But I do know who needs to act. And you do too. Yet this silence is not just deafening but also mystifying and, ultimately, unforgiveable.
So, maybe, the time has come for the rest of us to stand up for the India we wish to protect? After all, this is our country too. And if we don’t our silence will convict us.
P.S. I’m not a lotus-eater but I happily eat beef!
(The views expressed are personal)