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The cruel intolerance of diversity
By Saeed Suhrawardy

The hostility of M.S. Golwalkar, the late well-known Sarsanchalak of Rashtriya Swyam Sewak Sangh, (RSS), author of A Bunch of Thoughts, to anything connected with Muslims and Islam is well known. Some time back a non-Muslim friend presented me a cyclostyled leaflet, carrying the "gems" of Nobel Laureate VS Naipaul. All of them were extracted out of context, precisely because they had anti-Islam or anti-Muslim flavour. In the campaign of hatred against Islam and Muslims, carried on by Sangh Parivar, the Nobel Laureate status of V.S. Naipaul is being flaunted with gusto. V.S.Naipaul writes in English, so his potential to mislead and misinterpret Muslims and Islam is unlimited. Among his works, Beyond Belief, enjoys widespread notoriety. 

Commenting on that book, the well-known historian, Shahid Amin states:
‘The central message of Beyond Belief (1998), an intricate weave of stories told to Naipaul by Muslims living in Indonesia, Iran and Pakistan, is that for these people of these Muslim countries, as indeed for all Muslims all over the world, there is no colour, no life, no past, no memory, no suffering, no regrets—beyond belief is monochromatic submission to Islam. The cruelty of Islamic fundamentalism, of Islam more generally (Naipaul uses the two interchangeably), is that "it allows only to one people—the Arabs, the original people of the Prophet—a past and sacred places, pilgrimages and earth reverences".

‘Most of the stories are about the mismatch between faith and technology, faith and nationalism, faith and history, faith and justice, faith and reasonable behaviour, faith and hygiene, even faith and good food.’ However the mismatch is not specific to Islam and Muslims. To some extent, every society has to face that and adjust accordingly. There may be divergence in the degrees of adjustment, but Muslims too have done so to their best, within the limits of available resources and opportunities. Their faith has not obstructed their progress in technology and related fields.

Refuting the absurd thesis of V.S. Naipaul Shahid Amin asserts that ‘Were we to go by Naipaul’s opinions, it would pay put to all the future international conferences on the local and regional faces of Islam in south and southeast Asia! 

That might or might not be a bad thing. But for those of us with roots in this land (and there are millions of ‘us’), turning to west to the Kaaba even two times a year (during the festive Eids) or indeed five times a day, is not to turn away from pasts, practices and histories truly east of Suez.

On the contrary, living in the aftermath of the bomb, and with the aggressive sectarian barbarism that preceded and followed the 1998 phase of nuclear jingoism, the creed of intolerance of diversity seems to be characteristic of majoritarian nationalism."(Asian Age, Sunday, June 2, 2002)

The creed of intolerance of diversity revealed its ugly face in the recent carnage in Gujarat. According to a fact-finding report a Delhi-based human rights organization, People’s Union for Democratic Rights, the groundwork for the Gujarat carnage was put in place long before the Godhra arson on February 27. 

The report refutes the Sangh Parivar thesis that Gujarat carnage was a reaction to the arson at Godhara. In its report "Maaro, Kaapo, Baaro: State, Society and Communalism in Gujarat," PUDR has said that the organizers of the carnage tapped on a seam of hatred, based on anti-Muslim propaganda, which had been carefully cultivated over many years.

‘The hate propaganda increased in the six months prior to February,’ the report claims. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal organized "trishul" distribution ceremonies, and speeches were made abusing and threatening Muslims. In Pandarwada, where one of the worst massacres took place, such a meeting was held about a fortnight before (Godhra) attack. According to the report "organizational meetings" were held in many villages, affected by the Godhra incident, on the evening of February 27 and 28.

In many cases, those who attended the meetings participated in the attacks that followed.

Gujarat carnage has been adequately covered not only in unofficial reports but also by National Human Rights Commission and National Minorities Commission, which are bodies set up under the Constitution of India.

The catalogue of misdeeds committed or abetted during the recent Gujarat pogrom, and the indignities and miseries suffered by the victims grows in bulk and content. That shall be a part of shameful and tragic history of the country. 

Rasheeda Bhagat, in Business Line Delhi dated May 22, 2002, put the crux of the matter, in her article, "Do Muslims have a future in Gujarat". She tries to answer the question in the first two paragraphs of the article:
"Watching the devastation—physical, psychological and economic-of the Muslims in Gujarat, and their sense of helplessness and desolation, one asks ex-counsellor of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, Khurshid Saiyed, what the future of Muslims in Gujarat is? He thinks for a moment before replying: "Jo soch saktey hein; unka kuch bhi nahi; Jo nahi soch saktey, unka to vaisey bhi nahi" (Nothing for those who can think; for those who can’t, it was always nothing.) 

This is the chilling assessment of the hopelessness that stares the Gujarati Muslim in face today. The polarization in Gujarati society is so deep; people talk of the two communities with such anger and deep suspicion, distrust and hatred, how will they ever live together again in harmony?"

The cruel intolerance of diversity is no longer confined to the psyche of Gujarati Muslims. It has become a part of the mind set of Muslims all over the country.
Muslims of both the secular and anti-secular variety have been issuing sermons to Muslims, glorifying the virtues of joining the mainstream. 

For Muslims the mainstream has been nothing except the secular democratic constitution of the country. Those who sermonized never identified the "mainstream", where it existed and how it could be reached. Actually that too was an expression of the intolerance of diversity. Could anyone, secular, pseudo-secular or anti-secular oblige Muslims of Gujarat with a word of advice about finding access to the so-called "national mainstream". Why did it fail to reach them in their worst hour of distress?

Even those who felt proud of their national identity in preference to their cultural or religious identity are disillusioned today. There was a recent report in Statesman, Delhi that Muslims in the capital too are scared of repetition of Gujarat holocaust. They are scouting for living space in predominantly Muslim areas. Old Delhi being densely populated and overcrowded is not in a position to accommodate them. The middle class for obvious reasons is reluctant to move to the jhuggi-jhonpri clusters of Mustafabad, Jafarabad, Seelampur etc., because of lack educational and medical facilities there. Their natural choice is the emerging Muslim suburban township comprising of areas surrounding Jamia Millia Islamia, Jogabai, Zakir Nagar, Batala House, and Abul Fazal Enclave. The locality has scope of expansion. Muslim middle class has found a safe haven there.

That is a process parallel to what is happening in Gujarat now. Indian Express, Delhi, dated June 2, 2002, carried a report by Janyala Sreenivas, outlining developments there. Under the caption, ‘Heard of a place called Juhapura? She reports: ‘Slowly but very surely, the Gujarat carnage has forced a fearful Muslim community to start building a city of their own—hardening the fault lines in an already deeply divided Ahmedabad.

This is Juhapura. And it’s not only the poor and homeless, there are judges and IPS officers, executives and businessmen, lawyers and bureaucrats including, ironically, Security Advisor K.P.S. Gill’s Officer on Special Duty A.I. Saiyed. He is the person who knows and respects the Gayatri mantra, which according to him is the kalma for the Hindus. He is proud of the fact that his family built a Shiva temple in his village. However, he had a narrow escape from death on February 29, 2002. Luckily for him, it was his Hindu driver who saved his life.

He’s moved to Juhapura from Navrangpura in March. His neighbourhood is Who’s Who among Muslims. They moved to their relatives’ homes during the riots and how now made permanent arrangements. They want to make Juhapura self sufficient, so that they and their children don’t have to move out, especially during riots. They would prefer to live away from ‘national mainstream’, but in safe and secure isolation. 

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