Social interaction oils human progress
Ram Puniyani on how syncretism can lead to peace and progress like in pre-British days
IT WAS heartening to note the observance of ‘Peace and Harmony Day on the anniversary of Vasant-Rajab on 1 July in Ahmedabad. Vasant Rao Hegiste and Rajab Ali Lakhani were two friends who were working for amity in the society. In the communal conflagration which broke out in Ahmedabad after Partition, the duo went into the city to restore peace and amity. The crowd, maddened by the feeling of hate, killed them. The day of their martyrdom is being celebrated in Gujarat by various groups.
One recalls there have been many outstanding individuals, thinkers, social activists who have sacrificed their lives on the altar of communal peace. The name of Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi comes to one’s mind for his selfless work in the Kanpur violence of 1931. For Gandhi, father of the nation, Hindu-Muslim amity was top of agenda. When the whole nation was celebrating release from the clutches of colonial powers, he was doing his best in riotravaged Noakhali and other places. His efforts were superhuman, as he did not care for his safety: What was paramount for him was as to how to restore sanity amongst the violent mobs. It is because of this that Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of the British Empire and first Governor-General of independent India, called him a ‘one-man army’.
There must be various glorious examples of Indian citizens who deserve to be remembered with respect. One needs to learn a lot from their values while celebrating their anniversaries.
The root cause of communal violence is the politics in the name of religion. In this the political, social, economic agenda of vested interests are presented in the language of religion. In India, unfortunately, this phenomenon is running parallel to the process of global aims of imperial powers which, in pursuit of their control over oil wells, have promoted fundamentalism and terrorism in the name of religion. The imperial power has also demonised one of the major religious communities of the world. This present era has been one where the deeper process of ‘alliance of civilisations’ has been undermined and the flagship of the vested interests has been the thesis of’ ‘clash of civilisations’, which is a falsification of the reality of human history.
One knows that human society has progressed due to alliance of diverse civilisations and cultures. While the rulers and the affluent have been fighting for increasing their power and wealth, the average people of the world have been allying, intermixing with each other, leading to high degree of synthesis in all aspects of human culture, be it food habits, clothing, language, literature, architecture, or be it even the religious traditions followed by people. Social interaction is the moving engine of human progress.
Divisive politics in the name of religion begins by changing the paradigm of human understanding from socio-economic differences to religious ones. The core aspect of human stratification runs around economic and social factors but politics in the name of religion presents it as differences amongst practices preached by the clergy. From some time now, the syncretic aspects of society are being undermined and the divisive aspects are being highlighted. Communal politics has a base in the spread of ‘hate the other’ propaganda. These sentiments are the foundation on which innocent people are killed during the carnages. The carnages also polarise communities along religious lines and ghettoisation of minorities follows. This ghettoisation further traps communities into becoming inward-looking and being further demonised. Today we in India are witnessing a very concerted attempt to marginalise religious communities.
WE MUST restore the humanism of our society. We, people of different religious communities, have a common heritage and our aspirations for better society are also common. What prevents our efforts for a better society is the hysteria created by religionbased politics. In fact, communal violence is the sad reality of South Asian states, where the British divided and ruled.
There is a dire need to change the paradigm of social thought, from identitybased issues to one revolving around the rights and livelihood of weaker sections of society. There is a need to overcome the impact of prevalent myths about minorities and stereotypes about them and strengthening the tradition of syncretism, which is our basic hallmark.
There is a need to uphold the values of Bhakti and Sufi traditions, there is need to uphold the values of likes of Gandhi, Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, Vasant-Rajab and their tribe. We salute this spirit of peace and amity in our traditions and hope this will show us the path to progress and peace in the long run.
Ram Puniyani is a communal harmony activist based in Mumbai.