Is India becoming an intolerant country? It’s a question that has been worrying me because I would hate to see India change from being a welcoming, accepting of all faiths, peace loving nation. To prevent the very threat of that change, it is becoming increasingly clear that all concerned Indians need to open the door to communal harmony to counter communal negativity and divisive forces.
The question remains as to “What, if anything, can an ordinary citizen do to counter the rising polarisation and intolerance?”
It’s a million dollar question because watching the news on television or social media feeds is often a recipe for depression, fear and helplessness.
Well, perhaps the answer lies in simple but effectively reassuring gestures, which open the door to communal harmony. One person and one gesture at a time.
I have two examples to offer.
I am a member of Majestica Co-operative Housing Society (Majestica CHS). Majestica is a cluster of buildings in Casa Bella, Palava City located in Kalyan Shilphata (Thane district near Mumbai). Here’s a picture of Majestica…
Soon after forming the society, a group of enterprising residents mooted the idea of setting up the Majestica Cultural Committee to build a vibrant, happy community.
The Majestica CHS Cultural Committee celebrates all major festivals across faiths. On each such occasion, the doors to all five wings are painted with a festival greeting. A couple of days ago, residents entering their wings were greeted with a Eid Mubarak message (see featured image above).
That simple gesture resulted in a couple of members from the Islam faith post their feelings on the Majestica WhatsApp group. Essentially these members expressed the feeling of warmth that overcame them when they saw the Eid Mubarak greeting painted so prominently on the entrance doors.
To my mind, it was as effective as any red carpet being rolled out. Now, imagine if this gesture had been replicated on doors across India!
I salute the Majestica Cultural Committee members for the work they are doing to open the door to communal harmony – across faiths. Take a bow – Ajay Gupta, Mr. Mohanan (Chairman Majestica CHS), Hardeep, Manesh Nair, Manoj Shukla, Meenu, Parul, Rashmi Saxena, Sarasi Basu, Shilpi Mukherjee, Subhash, Sushma Sharma.
The second example I have of simple, but effectively reassuring gestures to bring people of different faiths together is personal.
I have this propensity to strike up conversations with cab and rickshaw drivers. On one such journey in a Uber car, the conversation I had with the driver left me shaken enough to recount the whole thing on Facebook. I am reproducing the Facebook post here:
Conversation with a Uber driver
48 hours later, I still feel shaken when I recall the hesitation, the fear in his voice when he informed me he is a Muhammadan.
Why? I ask why? Did he have real cause to be fearful? Or was it caused by the ceaseless media coverage of the sporadic incidents by Hindu extremists (with near zero coverage on incidents of bonhomie).
What particularly broke my heart was prior to his tentatively informing me that he followed Islam, we had conducted a spirited conversation about the duty of citizens to keep our country clean.
His exact words were, “Log samajthe nahin hai. Pura desh hamara ghar hai” (People don’t understand that our country is our home).
It was at this point that I told him about my experience in Haridwar and how I just couldn’t understand how the Ganga could be worshiped but not kept clean. It was then that he hesitated and informed me that he was a Muslim.
Hearing the fear, I reassured him by immediately telling him that I didn’t believe that there were different Gods. But I think he really warmed up again after I shared with him that my mother had invited (and sheltered) my Muslim neighbours for 4 nights during the 1993 Mumbai riots after seeing how terrified they were.
Post that, he proceeded to tell me that he hails from a small village in UP with a majority Muslim population. He told me with pride that the village lives in total harmony with Hindu families. I asked him if all villages in UP were the same. He said no…his village was an exception because of the village leaders. Apparently, if there is religious discord in nearby villages, the entire village prohibits their relatives from visiting to avoid any chance of their bringing discord into their village!
Continuing on the subject of religion, we shifted ground to speak about how people went to places of worship to do sauda (conduct transactions) with God. He told me he believed that one should only thank God and not ask for anything. He stated that the universe is kind to people who had a clean heart.
Here was this man struggling to give his family a better life. Yet, it seemed to me that he had a better philosophy and more courage than most.
He shared with pride that he was educating his young daughter in an English medium school and was now going to arrange for extra tuition. On that, I advised him to invest in a computer and look for the excellent lessons and educational videos available (I did caution him to monitor the content his daughter watches). He told me that the latter would be a problem as he was away at work all day and his wife was not educated.
We grumbled about the still widely prevalent graft. He told me that prior to enlisting with Uber, he used to sell fruits and he had to pay around Rs. 30/- as hafta every day to keep his livelihood going.
I expressed distress at the lack of progress in thinking in our country.
And guess what? His parting words to me were, “Nahin…aap dekho…ek din hamara Bharat banega” (No, don’t get despondent. You’ll see…one day our Bharat will happen)!
Mohd Bhai….Hum aapka kadar karte hain. Hum aapko salaam karte hain (Mohd brother….My respect! I salute you!)
P.S. We had also spoken of ISIS and Kashmir. At that point, he turned to look at me and said, “Mujhe sharm aati hai, Madam. Islam yeh nahin sikata.” I placed my hand on his shoulder and told him, “You have nothing to be ashamed of. You are here, a living example of true Islam”
Post this experience, I am thinking that every sensible Indian should go out of her/his way to extend a hand in friendship and understanding to people of other faiths to reassure them that this is their country and they have nothing to fear because there is support.
That then was my personal experience recounted on Facebook.
Post that experience, I have recently had cause for cheer for some religious leaders are now taking steps to promote communal harmony and goodwill. Here are links to articles that laud their efforts: