By Aishwarya Iyer:
As I was growing up, my family said that religion is a matter of faith. It keeps one hopeful, pure and compassionate. It led to a very confused and agnostic state of being in me because of all that was, and is still, happening in our country.
I have always been very proud of the fact that my country does not have an ‘official religion’ or a ‘national language’. People here have different cultures but shared histories. Mere words are never going to be enough to express the kind of feelings that this diversity arouses in me. In spite of all the flaws of this country, these feelings keep me grounded to my motherland.
India’s 68th Independence Day has recently gone by and like every year, I am thankful for the freedom that I have in this country. The freedom to speak the language I want, to celebrate my festivals, to follow my religion or for that matter not following a religion at all. When these freedoms clash, we call them communal clashes. I refer to them as clashes of egos.
There have been numerous communal clashes this year, out of which Uttar Pradesh alone has had over 400 clashes. While the recent Saharanpur clashes led to a curfew and thousands of Muslims not being able to celebrate Eid in peace, our beloved political parties continued their blame game. “In UP, there is no place for communalism, anti-social elements… if opposition tries to politicise this, then law will take its own course,” remarked Rajendra Chaudhary, spokesperson of the Samajwadi Party. The law and justice have been gagged and imprisoned in U.P for quite a while now. Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav might just have diminished my belief in an India led by the ‘youth’. Ever since Yadav has come to power, it has just been a slew of insensitive reactions and irresponsible statements given to the media as a response to the atrocities committed in his state.
Before the Saharanpur riots, a Whatsapp message was allegedly released by Vijay Kumar Mittal, head of the Bageshwar Temple committee after the temple blared a ‘Shiv Katha’ in full volume during the evening ‘namaaz’. An argument began in the Hindu-dominated Behat road after which Mittal incited Hindus by releasing this message. On the same day, in a Muslim dominated area called Holiyan, a priest called Rajesh Saini was attacked on the pretext of his temple’s ‘bhajans’ being too loud and disturbing for the Muslims around that area. The police often dismiss such tensions which later mount up to intense and violent clashes between communities. Four days after this incident, Sikhs who wanted to expand a gurudwara started construction which led to early morning clashes with Muslims who claimed that a mosque was situated in the same land over ten years ago.
Construction of places of worship has been the largest contributor of tensions. Every religion preaches that one can only find God when one looks within. Every person has divinity within them. Communities don’t start fighting because their freedom to practice their own religion has been stifled, they fight for land. I call these clashes of egos because eventually, it all comes down to material resources like property. If a place of worship existed 100 years ago on a piece of land where another religious community now wants to build theirs, what is the point of bringing it up just when that land is being claimed by someone else? I believe that the urge to acquire political clout is often cleverly camouflaged by religious sentimentality in this country. In a land where we have been battling with issues like poverty, illiteracy and unemployment, our faith is our only respite. Unfortunately, it is more often than not blind faith. Religion and faith have come to define, for me, the fine line between ego and self-respect.
Ever since the Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013, communal tensions have been breaking out across the state in regions like Moradabad, Meerut, Bijnor, Bareilly, Sambal, Amroha, Rampur, Baghpat, Balrampur, Balraich and Saharanpur. The first major trigger this year occurred in June when speakers from a Dalit temple were removed and Hindu mobs broke out on the streets. The fact that there needs to be a Dalit Temple in a country which claims to not discriminate on grounds of caste is the first thing that disturbs me. The speaker being removed is secondary. Tensions mounted after Ramzan began and there were tensions on similar grounds in almost all the states; Hindus and Muslims being disturbed by each others’ prayers.
Balraj Singh, the Bajrang Dal’s regional coordinator for western UP, gave a statement to The Indian Express: “Why do Muslims object to mandirs using loudspeakers? They don’t want Hindus to express themselves. They want to subjugate us. We are being denied the right that they enjoy. That is why they are making an issue out of mandirs using loudspeakers.”
The saddest part of all these occurrences for me is that the very diversity which makes me proud of this country is being used to mount its demise. Since when did our own countrymen become the ‘other’? With constant talks about one wanting to subjugate the rest and usurping rights, it makes me wonder – In a country which was supposed to be formed on ideals like freedom of speech and secularism, who is ‘them’? Or for that matter, ‘us’?