Do you think that we Indians are bloodthirsty?
No, India is a land of Ram and of Allah. Iqbal once said about Ra: Hai Ram ke wajood pe Hindustan ko naaz/ Ahle nazar samajhte hein us ko Imam-e-Hind. Why should the followers of Ram and Allah be bloodthirsty? In fact, 80 percent people in all the communities are peace loving and are concerned more with routine matters of bread and butter than fighting a battle for the prestige of a temple or a mosque. It is unfortunate that 10 to 20 percent people consisting of riotous elements of society bring India a bad name. Such elements are present in all communities. They should be brought to sense and sanity. It is just inexplicable as to how people living for years together and helping each other in times of need can turn into beasts and murderers. As an artist, my heart is lacerated by the orgy of violence in Godhra and its aftermath.
What is the way out?
The most practicable method is that Hindu communalists must be sidelined by good, balanced, secular and sensible Hindus, while Muslim fundamentalists should be taken care of by right-thinking liberal Muslims. I think that in both communities there is no dearth of talented young people who are dedicated to the nation and should be provided an opportunity to lead and replace the corrupt system with an honest one. Besides, I believe that a constructive dialogue should always be on as Ali Sardar Jafri once said: Guftgu band na ho baat se baat chale/ Sar pe hansti hui taron ki raat chale.
At whose behest these lumpen elements go on a rampage every now and then?
In fact, the poison of communal hatred has percolated down the system because of the politicians who have always considered people not humans but commodities to be used as votebank. The truth is that because of the unbiased media today, these covetous politicians have been exposed. In order to remain in power, these people instigate one community against the other. I believe that incidents like Godhra are always stage-managed by politicians.
What about religious fundamentalists?
Fundamentalist clerics on both sides form part of the criminal nexus that ignites communal fires. In fact, these are the people who have been flouting court rulings to fulfill their lawless demands by exploiting public sentiment. Anyone can grow a beard and start quoting the Gita or the Quran. The most unfortunate aspect of it is that they misinterpret religion. No religion asks its followers to lunge for the jugular of people from other religions. Hinduism believes in Vasudeva kutumbakam (the whole world is a family) while the Quran says Lakum dinokum waliya deen (you follow your religion, I follow mine).
What is the root of the Hindu Muslim problem?
According to me, the Hindu-Muslim problem is a gift the English gave us after 1857. And more so, in 1921. They took steps to divide Hindus and Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, upper castes and lower castes, Aryan North and Dravidian South. They got maximum success dividing the Hindus and Muslims. For them communal riots were games to be played. Today, this game is played by our own politicians. We have to see through this game and work steadily for firmly cementing Hindu-Muslim bonds on the unexceptionable principle of "justice for all and appeasement to none." Islam, as taught by the Prophet (PBUH), possesses sufficient elasticity to enable it to adapt itself to social and political changes.
What about Muslim backwardness in education?
This is the basic problem with Muslims. Anyone -- Hindu, Muslim or Sikh -- who is educated in one of those small-minded, sectarian schools that religious institutions run will find himself, at the end of his education, almost unemployable. So, what Muslims need to be demanding are more and better schools, instead of more Muslim schools. If Muslims of India remain backward, the country cannot progress.
Do you think that the Western media has projected a lopsided picture of Muslims?
What I have observed in the media of the West is that Muslims are shown as fanatics with little concern for human values. I have noted that even our own films have restricted the portrayal of Indian Muslims to burqa-clad women, bearded men in sherwanis, with nothing to do except listening to qawwalis and ghazals. Then we have inebriated nawabs and dancing girls. The outstanding achievements of Muslim philosophers, thinkers, scholars, scientists, artists and reformers have been underplayed by the media. On the contrary, rabble-rousing statements by some clerics are highlighted.
Any solution for the Ram Mandir-Babri Masjid imbroglio?
Very easy. Rather than demanding a temple a or a mosque built on people’s dead bodies, it is better that both the communities help each other out to overcome the impasse by letting the court take care of this matter. I blame the politicians and clergy from both communities for bringing this controversy on the roads. Holy men from both the communities must not fan fires of hatred against each other. Generosity and love for each other should be the dominant pattern. Both Muslims and Hindus are beset with problems of inflation, unemployment, economic and educational backwardness. Sir Syed Khan said that these two communities are like the two beautiful eyes of a bride that is India, and they should stay that way. More than being in the concrete structures of a temple or a mosque, Ram and Allah reside in the hearts of all of us.
How Gujarat can be rebuilt?
It’ll take years. The earthquake-devastated Gujarat has lost financial assets worth crores of rupees in the rioting. The economic infrastructure built by Muslims has been destroyed. Their houses, shops and factories have been looted and burnt. It was clearly a fascist attack in order to cripple or exterminate a community. Today Urdu, Persian and Arabic names worry hoteliers in Gujarat and they are going in for non-Urdu names. Then on top of this is the RSS drivel that the safety of Muslims depends on the goodwill of Hindus. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure the safety of all citizens regardless of their religion. It is a common practice that after major tragedies, newspapers launch relief funds for victims. After the communal carnage in Gujarat, however, there has been no such effort as was seen after the quake. Where are we going?
Do you think it would be worthwhile initiating some changes in the electoral system?
These can best be brought about by the electorate and not people like me as the most important thing on the agenda is to send people to parliament whose image is spotless and who rather than filling their personal coffers believe in serving the people. If good people from all the communities rather than the present set of politicians fight an election on a nationalist agenda and come to power, it should be an experiment worth the trouble. When I broached the idea to the politicians of major parties, they just never took it seriously and called the idea Utopian.