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Wednesday, Jun 26, 2002

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The deepening communal divide

Rasheeda Bhagat

As though we did not have enough communal poison being spread by the politicians and their cousins in non-political outfits, we are now subjected to a debate on whether the Muslims have any reason to feel proud about India's missile man Dr A. P. J. Abdul Kalam becoming the third "Muslim" President.

THE speed with which this country is sinking deeper and deeper into the mire of communal politics is petrifying. What has happened in Gujarat in the last couple of months and what is continuing to happen there, is for the entire country to see. Even as Gujarat burnt, politicians there, particularly the BJP, were pulling out their calculators to add, subtract and multiply the number of votes they would get if elections were held in the immediate aftermath of the communal carnage.

As the international media zoomed in on Gujarat to tell the world that India was incapable of managing its minorities, a horrified Prime Minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, quickly put an end to the Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr Narendra Modi's plans of cashing in on the Hindutva shaurya (courage) in "teaching the Gujarati Muslims the lesson of their lives" by having a quick election.

And now, once again, we have the Vishwa Hindu Parishad doing yet another about turn on the Ayodhya issue, saying it will not be bound by a court verdict on the matter of building a Ram temple in the city, if the verdict is negative.

But what is more distressing than this about-turn is the homily yet another Sangh Parivar leader spelt out to the Muslims. Addressing the Kendriya Margdarshan Mandal meeting of the VHP, its leader, Mr Ashok Singhal, warned Muslims that "if they continue to take the country towards partition" they would have to stay forever in refugee camps, as Muslims in Gujarat were doing at the moment.

Mr Singhal's colleague, Praveen Togadia, went one step further at the meeting in drawing a ludicrous parallel between the VHP's obduracy in its refusal to go by the court verdict on Ayodhya and a Calcutta High Court ruling of 1985.

He said that the Court had ruled that no order could be given in a case involving the holy Quran, as it was a matter of belief for the Muslims. The Ram temple, said Mr Togadia, was also a matter of belief for the Hindus.

Where is the connection, one would like to ask. The matter in question is not a holy scripture of the Hindus, like the Bhagavad Gita, but the construction of a brick and mortar structure. And that too, at the very spot where the Babri Masjid had stood. By Mr Togadia's logic, any number of mosques or churches can be pulled down all over India and temples built in their place because "it was a matter of faith for the majority community". The justification would, of course, be that some conqueror had, a few hundred years ago, destroyed temples to build these mosques.

As the VHP's pitch gets shriller over the Ram temple issue, even the moderates in the Muslim community are veering toward the Islamic fundamentalist view that there is no room for negotiation on the disputed Babri Masjid site. For every ridiculous e-mail Mr Togadia and his friends send to the Hindu NRIs all over the world claiming that Hindutva and Hindus in India are in grave danger of being annihilated by AK-47-wielding Muslims terrorists, there are two electronic messages being circulated in the Islamic world over of Muslims being harassed and butchered in India, particularly Gujarat. This is in addition to what the "infidels" in the Western world are doing to Islam.

The other day I was forwarded a message from somebody to "Muslim sisters" all over the world, spelling out for them their duties as wives, daughters, mothers, sisters, aunts, nieces and the rest. Appealing to Muslim women to be ever alert against the "enemies of Islam", mostly in the Western world, who will do all within their power to lure them away from "their duties and responsibilities" and tempt them with "worldly baits such as jewellery, fashions that originate in non-Muslim countries, new models, desires raised, hunger that can never be satisfied and pleasures and competition (sic)."

Muslim women should beware, says the electronic message of "the sinners to whom you are a daughter that is put down, a humiliated mother, an abused wife and an oppressed sister! Men are always unjust, hypocrites, dictators, freedom- preventers (sic) and suppressers... . (they will) direct you to rebel against your father, be arrogant with your brother and disobedient to your husband. They do not call for justice, mercy and unity. They call for hatred, arrogance and destruction."

The message then comes to the core point — the hijab — which is "an honour and protection, and it must be modest in colour and not exotic, wide and thick and not revealing and different from the dress of non-Muslim women".

What a convenient way of keeping women in "check" and under control, in their dress code, their thinking and independence, their questioning the "authority" of male relatives and their rebellion against injustice meted out to them. Religion, in this case Islam, becomes such a convenient cover for carrying forward a male chauvinistic agenda!

But, then, Islam, as other religions, has its political uses too. Just look at the way the Taliban distorted its core teaching and values to present a totally false picture of Islam to the world, tarnishing its image and bringing ruin to the people of Afghanistan. All for political power.

Nearer home, the Islamic card is being played by the father and son in Kashmir. The Kashmiris' human rights and honour have all of a sudden become very important to the two Abdullahs, and it is no co-incidence that the Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir are only around the corner. As one watched the Minister of State for External Affairs, Mr Omar Abdullah, lashing out at the NDA Government for denying his father a place in Rashtrapati Bhavan, as had been apparently promised him, and the J&K Chief Minister, Mr Farooq Abdullah, thunder about his being a Mussalman, and replying to Mr Singhal's inanities, one realised that the J&K Assembly elections are going to be fought on entirely communal lines.

And, as though we did not have enough communal poison being spread by the politicians and their cousins in non-political outfits, we are now subjected to a debate on whether the Muslims have any reason to feel proud about the India's missile man Dr A. P. J. Abdul Kalam becoming the third "Muslim" President.

It was distressing to find an eminent Muslim scholar opining that though Dr Kalam might be an eminent scientist/technologist (you can take your pick as there is a quarrel over this too!) and a good human being, Indian Muslims need not celebrate his elevation to the top post. Writing in Asian Age, Dr Rafiq Zakaria says: "Because he (Dr Kalam) was born a Muslim and bears a Muslim name, he should not be put in the same category as the two former Muslim Presidents, Zakir Husain and Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed.

Both of them were as patriotic and Indian to the core as Dr Kalam is. But they were also Muslims in the real sense of the word; they believed in the tenets of the Quran and faithfully followed the traditions of the Prophet. They worked for the uplift of the Muslims as much as for the progress of India."

Dr Zakaria is unhappy that "Dr Kalam has kept himself completely away from Muslims; he refused to mix with them and, even when invited to participate in their nationalistic activities, he politely declined."

He then quotes Dr Kalam's former colleagues as saying how they had never seen him fast or pray, even during Ramzan, and how he was more prone to chanting verses from the Gita than the Quran. "Dr Kalam feels much more at home with the Hindus. His Hindu friends, with whom he has spent a good deal of his life, have testified to the fact that he is far more attracted to Hinduism than Islam; I find nothing wrong with it. But, for God's sake, don't describe him as a Muslim President and take credit for having obliged the Muslims by giving them this great honour."

Certifying him to be "worthy" for the post of President, he concludes wryly: "May God, of whatever denomination Dr Kalam believes in, be with him."

As though the deep division of this country along communal lines was not complete, we now have one of BJP's venom-spewing MPs, Mr Vinay Katiyar, as the BJP chief in Uttar Pradesh. He represents the Faisabad constituency (which includes Ayodhya) in the Lok Sabha, and has derided Mr Vajpayee often for his "diluted views" on Hindutva.

And the party that is leading the NDA Government took this decision within 24 hours of the VHP announcing that it will not accept the court verdict on Ayodhya if it goes against the building of a Ram temple on the disputed site.

Need one say more about the deepening religious schisms in our society?

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