Monday, November 9, 2015

RSS March in Jammu :  Torching centuries of co-existence 

By; Salman Nizami

In what seemed to be a nefarious attempt to undo the age-old communal harmony of Jammu, activists of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh took to the streets recently flaunting guns and swords that too led by the Speaker of J&K assembly and his other BJP colleagues. Whereas a peaceful  procession of Muharram had just been disrupted in the Kashmir valley, the administration turned a blind eye to this overt display of muscle-power by the Hindu far-right group. The message is loud and clear. Now that we have a coalition government of the PDP and BJP in J&K, the RSS which provides the ideological anchor to the saffron party, wants to threaten the very existence of the minorities in Jammu. This is a grim contrast for a state that has his social values steeped in the Nehruvian ideals of secularism and plurality, which also forms the bedrock of our constitution. The arrogance of the RSS, hence,  reminded me of my childhood years when the words “communalism”, “riot”, and “fundamentalism” did not form a part of our vocabulary. Even adults were immune to such feelings.
I was in the 5th standard, and very merrily living with the Hindu neighbourhoods in Jammu, a city where Muslims families could be counted in the fingers. I belong to a Punjabi family and my roots are from Pakistan. But this was never a bone of contention to anybody. I gelled well with my Hindu friends and there was no hint of alienation. During the winters, my parents had put me in a tuition centre. One day the teacher asked us to bring hand-made paintings to decorate the class. I went home and made a crayons painting of the famous Raghunath temple. The teacher was surprised and was curious to know what prompted me to draw a temple, and not a mosque. With the innocuous smile of a child I told him this was the place my Hindu friends visited so often. And I wanted to gift them a painting of their beloved place of worship.
The Hindu teacher hugged me and said that every religion indeed has the same core message: of love and humanity.  All my friends were overjoyed and they also clapped for me. Our mindset was free from religious passions then. A year later my parents put me in a Madrasa and a very similar incident happened. In one of our drawing classes, a boy had painted a temple. When one of the fellow classmates complained to the teacher about this, the Maulvi sahib scolded him and said that all places of worship must be respected and there is no harm in painting a temple or a church or a gurudwara. He further explained that faith should be in the heart and there should always be the capacity to offer respect to others’ faith. It is only when we can love somebody from a different community as our own, that we can achieve the true essence of religion.
Jammu has been a symbol of communal harmony and brotherhood since time immemorial. But, perhaps, not any longer. The RSS is making every effort to put the Hindus against the Muslims, and they are also attempting to revise the very tenet of Hinduism from one of tolerance to that of rabid inclusivity.
They sowed these seeds of hatred right in 2008 during the Amarnath Land row. It was a time of Jammu vs Kashmir, and the Muslims in Jammu for the first time felt cornered in their own homes. The right wing groups were creating a false impression that we were rejoicing the cancellation of the land granted to the shrine board. It was not true. Most households here in Jammu are apolitical. In fact politics does not form the predominant discourse when families sit at leisure and talk.
But the general bonhomie could not be muted by the radicals. A Hindu friend had come frantically to my place, enquiring if we were safe. Later, some of the Hindu and Muslim families joined hands and took out a peaceful demonstration across the town. We wanted to send out the message that even at time of this Amarnath controversy, we stood united. It was not forced. Muslims participated in this peace march voluntarily. I had told my friend back then that I will live and die in Jammu. Because if I fled, it would inadvertently mean that secularism was dead in this place. But it was very much alive back then. None of the Muslim households were torched despite the hate mongering by RSS and its allied groups.
But, the scene in Rajouri and Chenab Vaĺley is different. In these far flung areas, the right wing groups have managed to have a sway. The Muslims have come under suspicion despite the fact that we in Jammu region suffered badly during the militancy years. In the post 1990-era, the Muslims in Jammu region were targeted but they refused to join the armed conflict. The Muslim youths here stood by the nation. But their patriotism was not acknowledged by right wing groups who always incite Hindu youths to view us as “others”. Even the Kashmiri leadership ignored the Jammu Muslims. But we remained nationalist. The Hurriyat too failed to cajole us into supporting their agendas. Our Hindu brethren too showed a remarkable resistance to Hindu fringe elements.
But slowly, this culture of tolerance has begun to erode. This has happened ever since the Narendra Modi led BJP government captured power at New Delhi in 2014. During the last year’s general election, the BJP’s entire manifesto aimed at putting the Hindus against the Muslims. They opened a Pandora’s box by shouting from the roof top that they would install a Hindu chief minister in the state, revoke Article 370 and resettle refugees from West Pakistan. These issues have for long been the epicentre of debate between the two communities. But both parties have skirted discussing them in order to focus on peace and harmony. But BJP channelled people’s thoughts and sentiment toward these very contentious issues. They stormed to power, encashing the renewed Hindu sentiment and in the last one year they have left no stones unturned to keep this alive.
The rise of the Hindu fringe group is the beginning of the end of our long history of shared aspiration, shared struggle and shared values of harmony, peace and brotherhood. It is high time people see through the BJP’s tricks and denounce its politics of hate. Jammu is the confluence of varied cultures. This is one place where Dussehra, Eid Milan, Ravan Dahan, Deepawali, all have long been celebrated together, making a grand spectacle of oneness. Let the vested groups not undo our inherent social fabric.

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