Across the Aisle by P Chidambaram: Will South Asia go blind?

By: |
October 24, 2021 6:15 AM

Founded in 1951, the IOM recognised the link between migration and economic, social and cultural development as well as the right to freedom of movement.

A file picture of the Delhi communal violence (PTI)A file picture of the Delhi communal violence (PTI)

Boundaries define countries. Boundaries cannot contain people. The history of the world has many examples of large numbers of people migrating from one country to another. The 20th century was — and now the 21st century is — noteworthy for migration.

There is a body called the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) as part of the United Nations system. Founded in 1951, the IOM recognised the link between migration and economic, social and cultural development as well as the right to freedom of movement. Migration — both internal and external — cannot be stopped. (There are 65 million inter-state migrants in India.) We can only work, as the IOM does, to “help ensure the orderly and humane management of migration”.

Migration of millions
Partition is a cause of migration. War is another. India has witnessed both. The Partition of India in 1947 is believed to have caused one of the largest ‘forced’ migrations in human history — estimated at nearly 18 million. Before and after the Liberation war that gave birth to Bangladesh, 8-9 million refugees came to India. Most settled in West Bengal, a significant number settled in Assam. They included Hindus and Muslims. At the same time, millions of Muslims stayed back in India, thousands of Hindus and Sikhs stayed back in Pakistan and a large number of Hindus stayed back in Bangladesh. Of the three, India and Bangladesh, self-declared secular republics, are under severe test.

Over the years, millions of Indians, including Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, migrated to the United States. We proudly call them the Indian diaspora, but they are a minority in a secular, but largely Christian, country. So are the Indian migrants settled in many European countries, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The Indian government is legitimately concerned when any of them becomes a victim of racial or religious prejudice.

Majoritarian agenda
213 million Muslims have their home in India where their forebears lived. Similarly, 15 million Hindus (out of a population of 160 million) in Bangladesh are descendants of families that did not migrate to India either during Partition or the Liberation war.

Both groups of Muslims — descendants of Indian citizens and migrants — reside in India. They are, from time to time, victims of religious prejudice. Yet, the Modi government refuses to protect them or condemn the violence against them. If any country raises questions, the Modi government warns them against ‘interference in the internal affairs of India’. Contrast the concerns expressed by India when Hindus and Hindu places of worship were attacked in Bangladesh. Consider also the forthright statements of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her firm instructions to her home minister.

Let me recall what M S Golwalkar, one of the founding fathers of the RSS, wrote in his book We or Our Nationhood Defined: “Muslims must entertain no idea(s) but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture… may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing… not even citizen’s rights.”  Have the current leaders of the RSS/BJP distanced themselves from that philosophy?

Assuming they have, their actions and words belie that assumption. In fact, their silence in the face of excesses upon Muslims tells us more.

  • Will a secular nation justify a patently discriminatory law such as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that embraces people of all faiths but excludes Muslims? Can one say that the CAA and the threat of detaining thousands of alleged ‘foreigners’ will not have an impact in Bangladesh and elsewhere?
  • Will a multi-cultural nation condone the lynching of Pehlu Khan who was transporting cows to his small dairy farm in Rajasthan, or of Aklaq on the suspicion that he had kept beef in his house in UP?
  • Will a multi-religious country tolerate the pernicious theory of love jihad when two young persons belonging to different faiths fall in love or wish to be married?
  • Will a modern nation pressure Tanishq, a popular brand, to pull out an advertisement which suggested that an inter-faith couple are living happily with the husband’s family?
  • Will a multi-lingual country take offence to an Urdu name given to the launch of a line of clothes by Fabindia, an international brand, on the allegation that it gave an Islamic colour to a Hindu festival that was two weeks away?
  • Will an unbiased State obliged to uphold the law tolerate the kind of outcomes in the investigation and prosecution of the accused in the Muzaffarnagar and Northeast Delhi communal violence?

Pluralism is here
If some Indians — not all — can find excuses to taunt, abuse, harm, hurt, terrorise or kill fellow Indians who are Muslims, will not Hindus and Sikhs living in other countries become the objects of taunts, abuse, harm, hurt, terror or homicide? In a combustible sub-continent, ‘action’ and ‘reaction’ can never be neatly separated.

Pluralism is a reality. Every country must learn to live with people who belong to different cultures, practise different faiths, speak different languages and follow different mores. What bind a nation are acceptance and mutual respect. In recent years, India has failed in this regard.

Violence seems to have taken the place of tolerance. That is abhorrent anywhere, any time. Violence will breed violence. An eye for an eye will render the world blind. Ask yourself, who said that?

Twitter @Pchidambaram_IN

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