Religious Intolerance And The Idea Of Nationalism

Posted by Ahmed Zuber in Politics
September 28, 2017

Masjid To Bana Di Shab Bhar Mein Imaan Ki Haraarat Waalon Ne

Mann Apna Purana Paapi Hai, Barson Mein Namaazi Bann Na Saka..!

(Mosque we did construct within a night! Hearts ours are, Alas! Old sinners, they couldn’t become pious years after years!)

The above verse, taken from one of the poems written by the legendary Allama Iqbal, is about an incidence which had deeply troubled the man’s heart. Iqbal, also known as Shair-e-Mashriq (Sage of the east) is popularly known in India mostly for writing the song ‘Saare Jahan Se Achha Hindostan Humara’. However, Iqbal’s literary prowess extends much beyond that song.

The incidence mentioned goes on like this: Lahore, the capital of the pre-partition undivided Punjab, was a bustling British era city composed of multicultural elements, owing to centuries of Mughal and Sikh Rule. Iqbal was a resident of the city, which had a population comprising of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. The incident is related to a patch of land in the city’s old parts, over which a dispute arose between the Muslim and Hindu communities.

To reaffirm their claim to the land, the Muslims built a mosque on the land overnight. Due to the colonial government’s law that religious structures, even if they exist over illegal patches of land couldn’t be destroyed, made sure that the Hindu community couldn’t claim it anymore. Deeply saddened by this, Iqbal penned down a poem (nazm) in which he expressed his dissatisfaction.

Little did Iqbal know at that time, that the words which he said a hundred years ago, will hold great importance in his motherland. Iqbal pointed out, in the poem, the hypocrisy of those who advocate religious activities that how they themselves don’t follow the teachings. He also pointed to the increasing feeling of intolerance towards each other amongst the hearts of people, and how religion was being used as a tool to promote hatred.

Protests inside the JNU campus

The present-day scenario in India is a classical mirror reflection of what the poet pointed out a hundred years ago.

Intolerance simply refers to the lack of tolerance on the part of a person, a group, or community to tolerate views and practices different from their own, taking place within their vicinity or near surroundings. Intolerance can be religious, racial, political and so on.

Our point of discussion, though, is religious intolerance and the intimately linked idea of religious nationalism, which is being massively and aggressively promoted across the country nowadays. Religious intolerance in India has been on the rise ever since after the partition, and more so particularly after the 1990s. But in the last three-four years, it has been rising at a never-before-seen brisk pace. The change in guard in Delhi has been associated with increased incidences of religious strife being reported from across the country, but the records for previous governments is not any better, if not worse.

Nationalism And Religion

From incidents of mob lynching to trolling on social media platforms, the intolerance can be seen almost everywhere. Even the educated middle class is not aloof from it. Rather it has been an inherent part, thanks to the propaganda being created by news anchors, speaking in fluent English, wearing prime western outfits and shouting over their fellow panellists.

The rise in intolerance amongst the educated middle class is part of a distinct type of identity politics being practised, which primarily revolves around the assertive expression of nationalism as a token of patriotism, and raising the nationalistic fervours by identifying nationalism with religion.

Nationalism has nothing to do with religion, and this can be easily understood by anyone with a rational outset. This is what our leaders have taught us. We don’t need to go back in the history. We can read about the life and teachings of Gandhi and Bose, Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad, and we will have a fair understanding of how nationalism works.

However, integrating nationalism with religion is not something new. It has been going on in our rival neighbouring country ever since partition, and the outcome has been disastrous. While the 1971 war of secession, resulting in the creation of Bangladesh was a direct result of religious nationalism, the rest of the country has also been plagued by the seeds of destruction sown by its leaders.

It is a classic example of how integrating nationalism with religion can be catastrophic, particularly in a multicultural society. The intolerant brand of nationalism being practised upon in India is not hidden from anybody. In fact, it as visible as can be seen by a person with open eyes.

Few incidents in this regard need mentioning.

In February last year, a few student leaders from the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi were picked up by the police and kept in jail for several days over complaints that in a protest the students had led the crowd and shouted anti-national slogans. While the video proof which was being cited as the evidence later turned out to be doctored, nobody at that time thought for a second that were those students actually anti-national?

Why? Because the arrested students had been involved in criticising the government for its policies and thus were automatically assumed to be anti-national.

In a similar event, this time in the Delhi University’s Ramjas College, in February this year, some students and teachers protesting against the cancellation of an event in which one of the supposed ‘anti-nationals from JNU’ was supposed to speak, were mercilessly beaten up.

Online Platforms Aren’t Safe Too

Nationalistic gangs have been roaming on social media as well, acting like vigilantes, trolling and shaming anyone who dares to raise voice against dogmatist views and criticise the government.
Primetime journalists like Ravish Kumar and Barkha Dutt, who have been in the field of journalism for a long time are the chief targets of the online troll army because they happen to freely criticise the government and the ruling party for their wrong policies. The irony is that people like these two are journalists, and what they do is actually their job. Even during the UPA rule, they heavily criticised the government for all of its wrong policies.

The murder of a prominent Kannada leftist journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru a few days back is another important angle here. Gauri was a staunch critic of the ruling government and right-wing organisations. She had been receiving continuous threats to her life. Eventually, when she couldn’t be tolerated anymore, some thought it better to silence her. Killing someone for speaking their mind is the ultimate form of lawlessness. So, shall we say that we are witnessing a modern day Jungle Raaj?

Attacks on journalists like these are a direct attack on freedom of speech in our country. This doesn’t stop here. I mentioned these two because they are two people who are well known in the country. But the troll attacks aren’t merely limited to those who are prominent faces. Whoever you are, if you happen to share or speak against the government or its policies, question the activities of the ruling party and its offshoot organisations, raise the issues of increasing hostility amongst the people in the country or increasing threat to the security of women, you’ll be immediately labelled an anti-national.

Moreover, if you happen to be a woman, you’ll have to hear the worst form of abuses and threats ranging from rape to assault just because you dared to raise your voice.

Online harassment has also become quite prominent these days. Some self-proclaimed messiahs of piousness take it upon their conscience to repeatedly remind women how to dress properly, while in private most of them enjoy the pictures of half-naked models. Hypocrisy can’t stoop any low.

Most of us might remember the Gurmehar Kaur episode last year, where the daughter of a martyred army officer was heavily trolled over social media just because she took an anti-war stance and called on us and the government to try to normalise the ties with our neighbour.

So Much For A Brand Of Intolerant Nationalism.

Coming back to the issue of religious intolerance, all of us are quite aware of the pattern of mob lynching which has become quite prominent in the country. It all started with the murder of Akhlaq in Dadri, U.P. over false rumours of cow slaughter.

Since then we have witnessed ghastly episodes of mob lynching in various parts of the country, from Pehlu Khan in Alwar, Rajasthan to Junaid in Faridabad, Haryana. In most of the cases, the victims are mostly innocent, poor people who fell victim to the twisted beliefs of some fringe elements of the society. The intolerant views of those involved in lynching are mostly directly related to religious nationalism, and wherein there’s no place for minorities or their existence while enjoying an equal status with the majority.

The threat of mob lynching has been increased because of the patronage the criminals are enjoying from the ruling government. Take, for instance, the fact that a union minister attended the funeral of one of Akhlaq’s murderers who happened to die in jail, and called him a martyr. If this wasn’t enough, his body was draped in the national flag!

Was this not an insult to the national flag, that a criminal’s body was draped in it? Wasn’t it disrespect to the creators of the flag and the constitution that someone who blatantly violates the law gets a state funeral?

One thing the incident made clear though, was that the state fully endorses the idea of violent religious nationalism.

In a similar incident, the Rajasthan Police recently closed the case of Pehlu Khan’s murder and gave a clean chit to each of the six accused. This is the scenario with most of such lynching episodes, cases are registered, but they don’t reach their consequences.

India has been a peaceful country since time immemorial, and without a doubt, we Indians are a peaceful people. Raising fervours and endorsing violence is threatening our delicate social fabric.

In the light of all these, few things need to be made clear.

First is that we are a diverse multicultural country, composed of hundreds of communities speaking several different languages and practising several different religions. The brand of aggressive majoritarianism being promoted by the ruling party is not only harmful and unsuitable; rather it can have dire consequences. We as a heterogeneous society can’t afford to ignore our minorities

Second, and more important, is the fact that patriotism and nationalism are two entirely different concepts. Patriotism, on the one hand, is the actual love and respect a person holds in their heart for their motherland, Nationalism, on the contrary, can be the violent and aggressive form of the idea of a nation which could be promoted by rightist groups and parties for their political gains.

Nationalism and patriotism shall never be confused with each other, and people need to understand that it’s perfectly fine if you don’t believe in nationalism, that doesn’t make you an anti-national or someone who is ungrateful to their motherland.

Nationalism rather is being used as a tool today by the ruling party, hiding its policy failures. Whenever you question them, they’ll invoke the nationalism rhetoric to silence you.

Third, and most important, is that criticism is inherent to the idea of a democratic society. It is a fundamental right of the subject of a democratic regime to have the right to criticise the government. After all, it is the people who elect the government, for a specified period, and criticism is the only way it can be ensured that the elected lawmakers fulfil their poll promises.

Criticising doesn’t make a person an anti-national. What it rather makes them, is a responsible citizen, someone who is concerned with the well-being of their motherland, someone who cares.

These points need to get absorbed in the psyche of the Indian masses. That’s the only way to prevent ourselves from going on a path of anarchy. After all, it is the people who write their own destiny.