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Practical steps for combating communalism

By M. Zajam, TwoCircles.net

“That unity is strength is not merely a copybook maxim but a rule of life is in no case so clearly illustrated as in the problem of Hindu-Muslim unity. Divided we must fall. Any third power may easily enslave India so long as we Hindus and Mussalmans are ready to cut each other’s throats. “ Mahatma Gandhi on 11th May 1921.

Grave warning was sent out by Mahatma Gandhi about dangers of communalism roughly 90 years ago. Mahatma Gandhi had closely observed the British policy of Divide and Rule and could foresee that India with so many religions, castes and languages will be very vulnerable even after independence. Even this clear warning from the Father of the Nation failed to move either government or common man. Now Communalism has taken top slot in the list of challenges our country faces today. Government, without showing any inclination to fight this battle, has passed this problem for social activists and concerned citizen to tackle it. Kind of forces social activists are up against, it is impossible task for them.

Reason of this problem not being on government priority list due to the fact that only certain sections of society namely minorities are affected by this. Almost all the political parties have used communalism to achieve short term political objective. Political parties comfortably switch sides overnight citing reason to keep communal parties away from power. But there commitment to secularism is as shaky as their coalition in the name of secularism. But when they are in power, they do nothing to keep check on rising communalism infact they encourage groups thriving on communalism and regionalism. Parties have successfully exploited religion, region and caste to divert attention from real issues.

After 62 years of Independence and numerous loss of life in communal riots government has woken up to tackle it half halfheartedly. Communal Violence bill will help in some way to fix responsibility for communal violence. The government is planning to incorporate concern of social activists after much protest.

First decade of the new millennium considered relative peaceful compared to violent 1990s, saw 6541 communal clashes leaving 2234 dead and 21460 injured as per home ministry figure. An average of 130 lives lost in over 600 violent clashes during communal riots. It is difficult to estimate the economic loss but some rough figure puts 9,000 crores for 92-93 Mumbai riots after Babri Masjid demolition and 2002 Gujarat riots cost 600 crores.

Government looks for every new ideas toward western countries weather it is to open our economy or to build new road in the country. Our babus go abroad to understand the systems. But in case of communalism, government has neither has come up with some new ideas or tried to copy few from other countries. Government has to be proactive in tackling this problem. Merely half halfheartedly passing a bill will not make much of a difference in the society. Government needs to come up with long term planning to eradicate communalism. Long term planning should include creating awareness in adults and cultivating values of communal harmony in next generation. Corporate world is well versed with phrase “Cathch’em young”. All the advertisement is targeted to children. Some studies have found out that children in nucleus family wield enormous power and their views are taken in account even in deciding car to buy.

Singapore is a multi- religious and multi- ethnic country. Singapore had race riots in 1964 and 1969 which resulted in death of 40 people. This shook up Singapore government and civil society. Government declared 21st July as Racial Harmony Day to commemorate the 1964 Race Riots, which took place on 21 July 1964. Racial Harmony Day is celebrated to highlight Singapore’s success as a racially harmonious nation and society built on a rich diversity of culture and heritage. In schools all across the nation on that day, students are encouraged to be dressed in their traditional costumes, traditional delicacies are also featured in the celebrations. Racial Harmony Expo is organized to highlight various culture and Racial Food Fair give chance to learn about each other food. Result of this exercise is that Singapore have no major communal riots after that.

Hong Kong also gives great emphasis on maintaining communal and racial harmony. They established Race Relation Unit to promote racial harmony and facilitate integration of ethnic minorities. RRU established hotline for complaints and inquiries on racial discrimination. To create awareness about communal harmony, RRU gives talks to schools on culture of ethnic minorities and concept of racial discrimination. Story books are produced to arise student’s awareness and interest in Racial Harmony. They have also developed education kit for teachers with some interesting class activities. RRU also educate people about different culture through exhibitions. They also award schools, which make outstanding efforts in diversifying their enrollment and promoting integration. They are also very aggressive with poster campaign highlighting message of communal harmony.

In United Kingdom, school children are taken on tour to various religious places. During one of my visit, I happen to see such visit to a mosque. Those children aged 10 from neighborhood school spent few hours in the mosque. After being briefed about basics of Islam, they toured the campus. They watched whole prayer from a distance. After prayer, they had chance to ask question about Islam. This first hand experience of visiting various religious places will help long way in removing misgivings about other religion.

In USA, pre schools provide toddlers with dolls of different races to develop understanding in very early stage of life. Schools promote early grades activities, students learn about unfair practices in a simulation exercise and then create plans to stand up against discrimination. They also explore the meanings of the terms stereotype, prejudice/bias, and discrimination.. The follow-up activity on discrimination helps ensure that students understand that the goal is to change those practices, not the characteristics that make us different from one another. Various schools call religious scholars for talk with the children. This also gives them chance to clarify doubts and misgivings about other religions.

Australia too have established a system where young ones are taught the values of racial harmony. Government encourages and supports NGO to develop projects to build stronger community relation. Harmony Day is celebrated on 21 March each year and government conducts regular survey to access the racial harmony.

Malaysia has developed early-warning indicators to prevent racial clashes. The Malaysian Ethnic Relations Monitoring System, known by its acronym Mesra, was developed by University Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Institute of Ethnic Studies (Kita). The research methodology includes use of a quality of life index and a perception index to gauge people’s needs and feelings about race relations in their area. The quality of life index included criteria such as housing, health, income and education.

In India, body responsible for promoting communal harmony is National Foundation for Communal Harmony (NFCH). NFCH was set up with the main objective of providing assistance for the physical and psychological rehabilitation of the child victims of communal, caste, ethnic or terrorist violence, with special reference to their care, education and training besides promoting communal harmony, fraternity and national integration. Foundation also gives out award for promoting communal harmony in country. Foundation also encourages research in the filed of communal harmony and so far only four has been done. Foundation also offers fellowships, In order to promote study and research in promoting communal harmony . So far only one person has completed the project. As per the NFCH website Shri A Mani has completed his fellowships in Dec 2004 and his subject was “Social structure and religious conversions in two districts of Tamilnadu- A diagnostic study”

Foundation encourages NGO to organize program for promotion of communal harmony and its budget for 2006-07 was 3,16,426, 2007-08 was 8,04,681, for the year 2008-09 it was 5,42,995. In the year 2009-10 Rs 5.45.000 was spent organizing total 9 programs and 8 of them were seminars.

The National Foundation for Communal Harmony (NFCH) observes Communal Harmony Campaign and Fund Raising Week every year from 19th to 25th November and the last working day of this week is observed as the Flag Day. The Foundation received a corpus of Rs. 11 crore with the direction to use only the interest earned on the said amount and the balance requirement of funds to be raised through donations, to meet the expenses. In view of this, it was decided in 1992 to organize communal harmony campaign week in which an appeal is also made for raising funds for the purpose.

Apart from distributing publicity material to various government departments, universities, selected educational institutions and embassies & missions abroad, few child victims of violence from different States are also invited to Delhi to share their experiences which promote communal harmony & national integration. These children also pin up flags on the person of the dignitaries such as the President, the Vice- President, the Prime Minister and the Home Minister. These children are also taken for local site seeing in Delhi and nearby historical places.

It shows the passive approach of our government in combating one of biggest challenge of our country. No wonder, communalism has become unmanageable now.

Communalism only adversely effects the minority communities, so it is in their interest to be active in the battle against communalism.

Christians have managed to negate some of the bias against them by establishing and running efficiently educational and health institutions. This has given them respectable position in the society. The largest minority, Muslims has failed to judge the severity of the situation and far reaching adverse effects of it.

Muslim community need to take pro active approach in fighting the communalism. Communalism shows its worst from during Communal riots otherwise it visible in form of discrimination in jobs, housing and daily life. This is also a reason for their backwardness as minorities are denied their legitimate rights by the biased bureaucracy. Very few welfare schemes are launched and if launched then not implemented efficiently by administration. Their conditions and problems are not reported honestly by the administration.

Muslims should work out strategy to fight communalism and start working on it without delay.

Following are the few suggestions:
1. Muslims need to join groups fighting communalism and actively participate in the programs.
2. Ensure communalism in own community is checked.
3. Should participate in program for betterment of society in general like participating in city clean up drive, organizing blood camp, organizing eye camps etc.
4. Muslims should be visibly present to help others in the time of natural calamities like flood, drought and cyclone etc.
5. Should also volunteer after incidents like bomb blast, they can assist administration and victims family with information and moral support. Organizing blood donation camp immediately after incident can save many lives. Jaipur blast was one such example where Muslims lent helping hand to the victims
6. Muslims should also setup camps for first aid, food and water stalls in occasion like Kumbh Mela and for kawariyas
7. Muslims should also come forward to volunteer in occasion like Commonwealth Games.
Madrasa should organize flag hoisting ceremony on the occasion of Independence day and Republic Day and invite neighborhood non Muslim for the function
8. Madrasa should also invite neighborhood schools for a visit. By opening doors for Non Muslims and neighborhood schools, Madaras will send a strong signal to all
9. Increase interaction with Non Muslims as neighbor, friend, colleague and co-traveler.
10. Muslim should build and strengthen their educational and medical institutions so as to offer its services to all
10. Set up call centers to answer questions about Islam and Muslims
11. Advertise on newspapers and TV to remove misgivings
12. Set up information centers for unemployed, students etc, it will help in generating goodwill
13. Incidents of communalism and discrimination should also be reported to Minority Commission

With little extra efforts Muslims should be able to reduce communalism in the society. Without direct interaction with Non- Muslims , wall of mistrust will be impossible to breach. Muslim need to take initiative in this regard.

Government can not shy away from its prime responsibility of maintaining communal harmony. Both Central and States Government can take following initiatives:
1. Launch aggressive TV/ Radio/ Print campaigning involving famous sportsmen and famous personalities against communalism. Currently government is running Polio vaccination ads on this line.
2. Celebrate communal harmony day aggressively by organizing programs in Schools, Colleges and Office. People should be encourage to take pledge for promoting harmony and peace in India.
3. Ensure school books have sufficient information with pictures about Minorities and their culture and festivals. Minorities names are also used in the course books . Special books highlighting real life stories of communal harmony should be introduced in the schools.
4. Ensure schools and colleges regularly hold programs like painting, debate and essay writing to promote harmony
5. Government should publish information countering negative propaganda about minorities in Newspapers and TV.
6. Inform society about ills of communalism and advantage of having peace and communal harmony in the country.
7. Inform citizens that the discrimination on the basis of religion, is a crime
8. Should also launch special exhibition train promoting communal harmony and our rich Ganga-Jamuni culture of India.
9.Need to develop the monitoring and reporting system so that incident of communal nature are reported and control immediately. Malaysia has developed early-warning system to maintain harmony. A software can be developed which will keep track of news reports and police station database for incidents involving different communities and will give early-warning of untoward situations.

It is unfortunate that our government realizes the magnitude of any problems only after it becomes unmanageable. Communalism has become unmanageable now need some concrete and honest effort from government. Apart from working on present generation, its focus should be on the next generation.

India is on the path of development and will join the league of developed nation soon. Country need absolute peace and harmony to achieve this goal in shortest possible time. Few countries jealous of India fast paced development would like to throw spanner to halt its progress. Unity in Diversity, which was our strength has become our weakness, both internal and external enemies are ready to exploit our weakness. India as a nation is mature enough to learn the from past mistakes which allowed British to rule for centuries on the basis of Divide and Rule policy. Indians should not allow again to be Divided and Fooled. Defeat of communalism will pave way for India’s all inclusive development leaving behind exclusive development.

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