Bigotry and the divide

April 30, 2020

Rohit Dhankar

“BJP MLA threatens ‘Muslim’ vendor” is a headline in The Hindu on 30th April 2020. It gives details of an incident where a BJP MLA threatens a Muslim vegetable vendor not to ply his trade in the MLA’s locality. Another BJP MLA is said to be caught on the camera saying “I am saying openly don’t purchase vegetables from Muslims”. Article 19 clause 1(d) gives freedom of movement and 1(g) gives freedom of trade in any part of India to all its citizens. “19(1) All citizens shall have the right— …(d) to move freely throughout the territory of India; …(g) to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.”. The MLA who is threatening the vegetable vendor if he comes to his locality is violating constitutional rights of a citizen.

I am somewhat unsure whether the advice of the second BJP MLA not to buy vegetables from Muslim vendors violates any provision of Indian law. May be some reader with legal knowledge can inform. But as far and moral standing of such an advice is concerned there is no doubt that it is highly deplorable and condemnable. It is certainly divisive and expresses animosity to a whole community.

Many BJP leaders time and again express this, and even worse, kind of hostility and ill-will towards Muslims. They are not ordinary citizens on the road, they are elected representatives of people and are legislators. Being members of BJP, and such statements coming too often from members of that party, gives a glimpse in the mindset of that party. It is deplorable that a party in power at the centre and in the state of both these MLAs harbours such ill-will for a community. It is also very dangerous for the country.

I personally know of up to fifty or may be even up to hundred people gathering in funeral processions and customary condolence gathering in Hindu villages. Such customs are wide spread in rural India and Hindu community. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that these gatherings might have been happening at hundreds, if not thousands, of places unnoticed by the media and police. I also have knowledge of people within the community advising against these gathering and trying to control them. Such community behaviour can be controlled or rectified only from within the community.

There are also videos of hundreds offering collective namaz in mosques. The police looking helpless and the participants completely ignoring the police. One can safely assume that this behaviour is also being resisted from withing the Muslim community.

Incidents of the same kind as last two mentioned above involve common people may be partly because of not appreciating the gravity of the situation. However, ignorance of the government orders on the part of common public can not be assumed. Therefore, tendency to violate the government order in the public—Hindus and Muslims—seems to be rather wide spread. And that does not bode well for their own good and the good of the country.

Irresponsible behaviour is not limited to the common public as we have seen above in the actions of the two BJP MLAs. Nor is it limited to responsible public figures belonging to Hindu community. Mr. Zafarul-Islam Khan, holding a very responsible post, Chairman, Delhi Minorities Commission, had put a rather elaborate post on his Facebook. I quote in full:

“Thank you Kuwait for standing with the Indian Muslims! The Hindutva bigots calculated that given the huge economic stakes involved the Muslim and Arab world will not care about the persecution of Muslims in India.

The bigots forgot that Indian Muslims enjoy huge goodwill in the eyes of the Arab and Muslim world for their services over centuries to Islamic causes, excellence in Islamic and Arabic scholarship, cultural and civilisational gifts to world heritage. Names like Shah Waliullah Dehlavi, Iqbal, Abul Hasan Nadwi, Wahiduddin Khan, Zakir Naik and many others are respected household names in the Arab and Muslim world.

Mind you, bigots, Indian Muslims have opted until now not to complain to the Arab and Muslim world about your hate campaigns and lynchings and riots. The day they are pushed to do that, bigots will face an avalanche.”

Mr. Khan’s threat, list of his heroes and looking at the Muslim world for support are unmistakable. Shah Waliullah was a bigot of bigots, and hated Hindus. He advised Muslims not to live close to Hindus and dreamed of converting the whole of India to Islam.

Mr. Khan threatens Hindu bigots, but is incapable of noticing bigotry in his own post. He is not alone in calling others bigots but being completely oblivious of their own bigotry. He is not an ordinary citizen, he is the Chairman of Minorities Commission of Delhi Government. The divisiveness, ill-will and bias in his post can not be ignored, as the same bigotry in BJP MLAs can not be ignored.

Mr. Khan is acting in a historical tradition. Shah Waliullah invited Ahmad Shah Abdali to invade India and to invigorate weakening Muslim dominance over India. He implored him not to loot Muslim property during the attacks, while looting Hindus is supposed to be fine. Inviting assistance of foreign powers by responsible people in Muslim community is neither new nor should be very surprising. Ambedkar notes “in 1919 the Indian Musalmans who were carrying on the Khilafat movement actually went to the length of inviting the Amir of Afghanistan to invade India”.[1]

The same hope was expressed by the very well reputed and considered liberal founder of Aligarh Muslim University, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, in a lecture delivered in Meerut in 1888, he says: “At the same time you must remember that although the number of Mahomedans is less than that of the Hindus, and although they contain far fewer people who have received a high English education, yet they must not be thought insignificant or weak. Probably they would be by themselves enough to maintain their own position. But suppose they were not. Then our Mussalman brothers, the Pathans, would come out as a swarm of locusts from their mountain valleys, and make rivers of blood to flow from their frontier in the north to the extreme end of Bengal.”[2]

Thus, Dr. Khan’s statement is not an insignificant one. Neither the behaviour of the BJL MLAs mentioned above is insignificant. Both are coming form historically held ideologies and both have sizable support in the respective communities.

The religious rigidness and competitive bigotry are the real reason for this. And the only path to harmonious relations between the two communities still requires a rational and flexible attitude to religion, as Lal Lajpat Rai recommended for unity in 1924, he said for all religiously minded people that they have to “make up their minds to be more liberal and rational in their religious and social life than they at present are.”[3] The country, of course, ignored all such advices coming form several leaders, suffered partition and the acrimony between the two communities persisted even after indolence.

Hindus and Muslims have no choice but to live together. Neither can they banish each other nor can any one of them hope for blackmail of foreign pressure; be that imagined as military aggression as did Sir Syed and Waliullah, nor in the form of world-wide economic and maligning pressure, as Dr Khan imagines.

All have to live according to the constitution. Those who are unhappy with the constitution, there are plenty at present on both sides, have to remember that they can debate the justness of the constitution but can not disobey it in action. And while debating the provisions of constitution or constitutional changes each in his/her own mind will do well to remember the age-old principle of reciprocity.

There are three very apt shlokas in Mahabharata[4] regarding this. When Yudhishthir enquires of Brihsapati regarding dharma (righteous action) that is for the good of human beings Brihaspati responds:

न तत्परस्य संदद्यात प्रतिकूलं यद आत्मनः। एष संक्षेपतॊ धर्मः कामाद अन्यः परवर्तते।। (१३.११४.०८, Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune)

Which means: “One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of Righteousness. One by acting in a different way by yielding to desire, becomes guilty of unrighteousness.” (13.113.08)[5]

Then he goes on to indicate how one can understand the other:

परत्याख्याने च दाने च सुखदुःखे परियाप्रिये। आत्मौपम्येन पुरुषः समाधिम अधिगच्छति।। (९)

Meaning: “In refusals and gifts, in happiness and misery, in the agreeable, and the disagreeable, one should judge of their effects by a reference to one’s own self.” (13.113.09)

And cautions of the dangers in acting otherwise:

यथा परः परक्रमते ऽपरेषु; तथापरः परक्रमते परस्मिन। एषैव ते ऽसतूपमा जीवलॊके; यथा धर्मॊ नैपुणेनॊपदिष्टः।। (१०)

Meaning: “When one injures another, the injured turns round and injures the injurer. Similarly, when one cherishes another, that other cherishes the cherisher. One should frame one’s rule of conduct according to this. I have told thee what Righteousness is even by this subtile way.” (13.113.10)

Presently most of us seems to be thinking only from our own perspective and only from our own interests. Accommodation of the just interests of the whole society is absolutely necessary for harmony.


30th April 2020

[1]Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar WRITINGS AND SPEECHES VOL. 8, Ed Vasant Moon, Pub. Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, New Delhi. Page 98.

[2] Syed Ahmad, Sir Syed Ahmad On the Present state of Indian Politics, Printed at the Pioneer Press, Allhhabad, (1888), (Kessinger Legacy Reprints), page 38.

[3] Lala Lajpat Rai, Writings and Speeches, Volume 2 (1920-28), University Publishers, Delhi, page 183

[4] The rule given in the first of these shlokas (13.114.08) is called the Principle of Reciprocity and is found very widely in almost all ancient cultures. Confucius, Buddha and Mahabharata more or less exactly the in the same manner, and Bible in somewhat different manner.

[5] The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa, translated into English prose from the original Sanskrit Text By Pratap Chandra Roy, Oriental Publishing Company, Kalkatta. (Reference from Volume 11, Anusasana Parva, pages 240.) The translation is taken from this edition because there is no English translation published by BORI, or I did not find it. Also, the chapter in Anusasana Parva of BORI edition is 114, while in this edition its is 113. Text in both the Editions is exactly the same.