By Ram Puniyani
Lately, when India is undergoing the massive crisis of the Coronavirus epidemic and the offshoots of its mishandling, we have also seen the pandemic being used to demonise a particular community in India. These hate mongers, operating through the powerful medium of TV social media and frequently resorting to fake news has intensified the hate campaign against the religious minority. In this hate filled environment, it seemed that all is lost as far as amity between people of different religions is concerned. Despite this broad generalisation one feels happy when one comes to know of a few incidents where religious communities came forward to help each other.
The most touching incident of amity came forward in the story of two workers Amrit and Farooq. The duo was travelling in a truck from Surat to UP. On the way, Amrit fell sick and most other travelers asked him to leave the truck in the middle of the night. As he was offloaded, he was not alone. His friend Farooq also came down with him. Farooq put the sick Amrit in his lap and cried for help which caught the attention of others and an ambulance finally arrived to take Amrit to the hospital.
On another occasion, one worker, who had a differently abled child, took the bicycle of another person, leaving a touching letter of apology, saying that he was helpless as he had to travel with his children and he had no other means. Many people reported it as a theft of the bicycle but the owner of the bicycle, Prabhu Dayal took it in his stride. The one who took away the bicycle was Mohammad Iqbal Khan. In Sewri Mumbai, Pandurang Ubale, a senior citizen died due to old age and other related problems. Due to lockdown, his immediate relative’s could not organize the funeral. His Muslim neighbours came forward and performed his last rites as per the Hindu customs. Similar cases are reported from Bangalore and Rajasthan. In Tihar jail, the Hindu inmates joined the Muslims in keeping the Roza (fasting). In Pune, (Azam Campus) a Mosque and a Church in Manipur has been offered as a place for quarantine. In another heartwarming incident, a Muslim girl took shelter in a Hindu home and the host would get early in the morning to prepare and give her food for Sehri, a pre-morning meal taken before the fast begins.
One can go on and on.
Surely what is reported is just a tip of the iceberg as many such incidents of harmony usually go unnoticed and unreported. Following the reporting in a section of Indian media who jumped to communalise the spread of Coronavirus and coined words like Corona bomb, Corona jihad, one thought that the efforts to break the mutual trust between Hindus and Muslims may succeed after all. The deeper inherent humanism of communities has ensured that despite the manufactured hate and propagated by communal forces for their political agenda, the centuries-old amity and the fraternity promoted by the freedom movement will sustain itself – although it is clear that the amity has deep wounds caused by religious nationalists.
India’s culture has been inherently syncretic, synthesising the diversity in various forms. The medieval period – which is most demonized, and as many of the sectarian ideologies are presenting it as a period of suffering of Hindus, the fact is that it is during this period that Bhakti tradition flourished and literature in Indian languages progressed during this period. Even Persian, which was a court language, interacted with Awadhi and produced the Urdu, which is an Indian language. It is in this period when the most popular story of Lord Ram was written by Goswami Tulsidas. Tulsidas himself in his autobiography Kavaitavali writes that he sleeps in a mosque. As far literature is concerned, many outstanding Muslim poets wrote wonderful poetry in praise of Hindu Gods. One remembers Rahim and Raskhan’s brilliant outpourings in praise of Lord Shri Krishna.
The food habits, the dress habits and social life emerged having components from these two major religions. The sprinkling of Christianity in different aspects of Indian life is as much visible. It was the symbol of deep interaction of Hindus and Muslims that Muslims followed the Bhakti saints like Kabir and many Hindus visited the Sufi Saint Dargahs (Shrines). This interactive element is vibrantly visible in Hindi films. Here one can see the outstanding devotional songs in praise of Hindu gods composed by Muslims. One of my favourite’s remains, ‘Man Tarpat hari Darshan ko Aaj’ (My soul is longing to see Hari). This song was written by Shakil Badayuni, composed by Naushad Ali and sung by Mohammad Rafi. The latter must have sung innumerable devotional songs.
Our freedom movement, despite the divisive role of British, the Muslim communalists and Hindu communalists, brought together people of all religions, in the struggle against colonial powers. Many literary people painted the beautiful interaction of diverse communities. During the freedom movement, and in the aftermath as communal violence flared up, the likes of Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, and the towering figure of Mahatma Gandhi tried to douse the fire of violence through exemplary efforts – in which Muslims and Hindus both reciprocated despite the hate campaign by the communal forces.
One recalls here the efforts of those friends, who laid down their lives to combat the fire of hate.
In Gujarat the names of Vasant Rao Hegiste and Rajab Ali will always be remembered as they laid down their lives, as a team, to restore sanity. This interaction is very deep and the present government cannot tolerate the impact of Islamic-Muslim component in our culture. That’s precisely the reason that attempts are on to change the names of cities (Faizabad to Ayodhya, Mughal Sarai to Deen Dayal Upadhyay etc).
The deeper interaction of communities is present in all facets of our society. The examples during the coronavirus pandemic have again brought to fore the fact that Indian culture is essentially a product of the synthesis of different aspects of many religions prevalent and practiced here.