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All is not lost in Gujarat
By Asghar Ali Engineer

No one should lose hope for Gujarat. It is true the Gujarat carnage is heart-breaking. The tragedy is soul searing indeed. Violence is still continuing in that unfortunate state. And the Sangh Parivar is continuing its job of spreading hatred against minorities, both Muslims and Christians. Thousands of leaflets are being distributed by them to spread poison against them. 

One of these tracts has surfaced in the Gujarat town of Kalol in North Gujarat. This leaflet, according to Asian Age asks Hindus to train their children in karate, keep them away from Christian educational institutions and go in for complete boycott of films featuring Muslim film stars.

One of such Gujarati leaflet even accuses Muslims of inciting labour unrest in various business enterprises run by Hindus and of running illegal liquor dens. The leaflet under question also calls for boycott of those business establishments in which Hindus and Muslims are partners. “Recognise them and isolate them and do not buy any thing from their shops, because, indirectly, Muslim partners also benefit from their profits.” It goes on to say “If you stop buying goods from their shops then the Hindu partners will learn a lesson and break away from Muslim partners”.

The leaflet also attacks educational institutions run by Christians. “With the intention of giving them (the children) the best of education you get them admitted in schools such as St. Xavier and St. Anne’s and consider it prestigious. In fact this is the biggest mistake of your life. In order to make the Hindus forget their religion, the Christian schools inject the tenets of Christian religion into tender minds of the students right from their childhood..

Even Hitler can learn a lesson or two from such propaganda against the targeted communities. Thousands of such and other leaflets are circulating in Gujarat today. But the Sangh Parivar is not the total reality of Gujarat. There are lakhs of Hindus who have good will for Muslims and there are as many Muslims who bear no ill will towards Hindus. In fact when the Sangh Parivar elements are busy distributing these venomous literature a Muslim despite his riot trauma continues to distribute copies of Geeta, the holy scripture of Hindus.

Mr. Ishaq Chinwala, a resident of Vadodra and a Gandhian and a devout Muslim who distributes copies of Gita says, “What happened in the past one month cannot be defined as communal riots. It was a conspiracy to create poison in the minds of the people against Muslims. Secularists lost the battle. Mr. Chinwala’s factory was burnt down during the riots. But it has not deterred him from distributing free copies of Gita which he has been doing for quite sometime. Mr. Chinwala belongs to Sarvodaya movement and is organising, with other NGOs shanti abhiyan (peace movement).

According to Chinwala the “conspiracy” that resulted in the pogrom of the past one month is a apart of the RSS ideology. “Since 1947”, Chinwala said, “RSS Pracharaks have moved from cities to villages spreading their ideology. They have poisoned the minds of the people and Godhra incident gave them the spark needed to ignite the fire they had planned.”

Though his factory was burnt down along with 30 others belonging to Muslims, he has not lost hope. He says I am a Gandhian and believe in forgiveness. Some Muslims are unhappy with him for distributing copies of Geeta and consider it as his pro-Hindu stand. However, Chinwala is undeterred and continues to distribute free copies of Geeta.

The dargah of Shah Alam in Ahmedabad is another centre of Hindu-Muslim unity. Despite holocaust in the city the dargah continued to attract Hindus and Muslims. Shah Alam Dargah is 600 years old. Right opposite the dargah is memorial of Narsinh Bhagat, a Hindu sadhu. It is believed that Narsinh Bhagat once showed concern on how their friendship could be made an example of communal harmony. To this, Shah Alam said that every person wanting to visit his dargah would have to light a lamp in Bhagat’s memory.

Today even though most members of the communities seem to have become sworn enemies no one entering this dargah forgets to light a lamp in the memory of the Hindu saint. Zeenat Bivi, an inmate of the refugee camp said that it does not matter that we are in this camp because of VHP activists, lighting the lamp in memory of the Hindu saint is something we have been doing for years. According to most of the inmates of the camp this practice (of lighting the lamp) is of religious significance and no amount of atrocities can make them boycott it.

Bharuch is also a strife torn town of Gujarat. It is communally quite sensitive. But while Gujarat burns and people are being massacred in the name of religion, a Muslim and a Hindu family of Parsiwad on the bank of Narmada live in peace and harmony keeping the flame of friendship burning.

Mohammad Khanderao and Ramanlal Narayandas Mali’s families have been living together, sharing the same kitchen and house for the past 44 years. Their children have been brought up together , taught virtues and values of both faiths and did not forsake each other even in such a crisis. Said Ramanlal’s wife Ramila Patel that “My elder daughter Sona’s kanyadan’ (giving away in marriage) was performed by Mohammadbhai. My son Amit was named by him. Similarly Mohammadbhai and Mumtazben’s two daughters Jasmine and Seema, were named by us. 

Similarly Mohammadbhai said that “Ramanlal and I have been staying together since our bachelorhood days, when we struggled to ensure a decent life. Even after our marriage, we decided to live under the same roof with our families. Mohammadbhai has five daughters while Ramanlal has three children. When Moammadbhai and his wife Mumtaz went for haj their daughters remained under the care of Ramanlal. Ramanlal maintains that my faith is in my heart and though I am a caste Hindu but that does not bar me from loving Mehjabin, Zeenat, jasmine, Seema and Minaz. For them I am as much a mother as for my children, says Ramilaben.

The residents of Ram-Rahim Nagar slum in Ahmedabad kept the flame of love and harmony alive while rest of the city was burning. They got on with their work as in normal days. This is the fourth time that this slum in which equal number of Hindus and Muslims live together has remained unaffected by communal hatred and killings. A temple of Lord Hanuman and a dargah by its side symbolise togetherness of two communities.

Mutual trust and love has ensured that the 20,000 inhabitants of the slum overcome every communal hailstorm that has broken out in Ahmedabad. One of the inmates of this slum Pyar Ali Kapadia who is also the president of Ram-Rahim Nagar Jhupdawasi Mandal says that humanity is our religion here. No body is worried about other’s faith. This secular colour has, in fact, become a retreat for some 300 riot affected people housed in a nearby mosque. “Members have contributed on their own to arrange food and shelter for the riot victims, said Taj Bano Sayyed, who is co-ordinating the relief measures.

Poverty being their common enemy co-existence of Hindus and Muslims is at its best. People here are least concerned about the mandir-masjid issue. Ram-Rahim Nagar has never experienced the pain of riots and its ugly aftermath. Since 1973, the mandal, the local governing body comprising a 21-member executive committee, has maintained communal harmony and has ensured peace for its residents.

The village of Hilol, a Muslim dominated village in Sabarkantha district also held the flag of harmony aloft. The 11,000 Muslim population is again segregated in Sunni, Shiah, Devbandi and the Hindu population consists of Vania, Brahmin, Vanjara, Dalits and Durbar. The united village does not want outsiders to bring virus of communal hatred. Groups of 15 to 20 people have been guarding the village at night to foil any attempt by outside mobs to disrupt the village tranquillity.

Mention must be made here of individuals like Geetaben and Veersinh Rathod. While Geetaben laid down her life to save her Muslim friend (she was brutally stripped naked and killed by frenzied mob) Veersinh Rathod saved lives of some Muslim families at the risk of his life and is facing threats from Hindutvawadis. We salute both of them.

Several such other examples of communal harmony in the midst of communal frenzy can be given from Gujarat which has been torn apart by communal hatred. This goes to prove that hostility between Hindus and Muslims is not natural but created by powerful vested interests to fish for votes in rivers of blood. If common people – Hindus as well as Muslims – are determined to maintain peace and harmony it is not difficult at all. What is required is determination and strong will.

Even several localities in Mumbai had remained quiet while rest of the city was burning in 1992-93. Bhivandi, otherwise communally super-sensitive, also remained peaceful due to determination of people of this area. Hard-boiled communalists also could not disturb peace and harmony. After what has happened in Gujarat common people should gird up their loins and maintain peace while the vested interests are determined to disrupt the unity of the people. Nehru had once rightly pointed out it is communalism and not communism which is the real enemy of India. And let the Sangh Parivar, which claims to be ‘super-patriots’, know that India’s external security cannot be ensured without internal security, which they are out to disrupt. 
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