Stop straining the social fabric of the country
In a residential area of Delhi recently, people from two communities suddenly came to loggerheads. What began as a parking dispute took a communal turn. As usual, people gathered at the police station. Initially, it appeared as if the quarrel had been resolved, but this was not so. One side turned it into something much bigger. The consequences were apparent within a few hours. A religious place of one community was vandalised and the invisible magicians of social media made this act viral. The police managed to control the situation and sort things out. People from both the sides came forward and the community from which the vandals came from decided to repair the shrine.
This is just one incident. This kind of communal aggression is becoming commonplace. A few days ago, some people from Jharkhand caught hold of an alleged thief, thrashed him and forced him to chant the religious slogan of another community. The police arrested this man who succumbed to his injuries in jail. The community the deceased belonged to claims that it is a case of mob lynching while the post-mortem report suggests otherwise on technical grounds. Logic and technology seem to have become matters of convenience for communities and leaders alike.
We cannot risk this in a country as diverse as ours.
Take a look at the reactions to this incident in some cities of western Uttar Pradesh. Hundreds of people there came out on to the streets shouting slogans. The city in Jharkhand where this incident took place was quiet. The neighbouring villages and towns were silent too. But hundreds of kilometres away, there were reactions. The same scenes were witnessed in Malegaon, Maharashtra. Clearly, in this era of surging social media, grief and anger can’t be limited to geographical boundaries. This cannot be dismissed as just a mob reaction.
Recently, some people in a locality in Meerut hung placards outside their houses announcing that the house was for sale. The reason? Some people of a particular community performed stunts on motorcycles and passed lewd remarks about women in the area. After a furore was raised over this in media, the police and administration sorted out the matter. But when the people who hung up placards were asked why they did not file any police report, there was no clear reply. The intention was not to sell the house then, but to draw attention to the problem.
When Meerut was witnessing this commotion, at another locality in western Uttar Pradesh, people of another community had also hung such placards outside their houses. These people said they were moving fearing communal violence. The very next day, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath responded saying that nowhere in the state was any exodus taking place. The CM was right. It is apparent then that violence due to this herd mentality has now reached a dangerous stage.
Earlier, society elders used to play an important role in maintaining peace and calm in mohallas and residential areas. But now their role has become limited. They are not able to control the ‘fire’ but later on definitely contribute to re-establishing peace. The incident in Delhi is the latest example. This is the time when we will have to make it clear to our politicians that they should stop testing our social fabric.
This brings to mind the first fight for Independence here. The rebellion of 1857 was not merely a mutiny. Long before Mangal Pandey rebelled, many holy men were visiting military camps. They were trying to spread the message of freedom. The British were alarmed by it but they couldn’t stop it. When they were jolted by the rebellion they realised that if they did not break the communal harmony in India, they will continue to face such tough circumstances and challenges. They recalled that when Robert Clive won the battle of Plassey and established East India Company’s rule in India, in Murshidabad alone, there were more pathshalas and madarasas (educational institutions) than all of England. That tradition remained alive till 1857. That is why the holy men spoke in one language.
After the battle of 1857 when Queen Victoria took command of India, deliberate and well-thought-out attempts were made to shatter the closely-knit social fabric of society. The Partition was also a result of these attempts. The British could not suppress the Independence movement but they certainly handed over divided freedom to us. Now is the time to ask ourselves—for how long will we continue to reap the bitter harvest of the seeds of division sowed by the British?
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan
The views expressed are personal