Combating purist and exclusivist ideologies that breed self-righteous, fundamentalist and ultimately terrorist bloodletting of Taliban and other varieties is the need of the hour, not just in India and its neighbourhood but everywhere in the world. And the response to this virus of extreme violence lies in the composite culture which is the heritage of India, one of the oldest practitioners of unity in diversity.
The call for a balanced approach to life in our highly terror-prone world came at a seminar on composite culture in February at Mumbai’s Taj Palace Hotel, the site of 26/11 massacre just over a year ago. ‘We are living in glass houses and there is no need to demolish any mosque or temple because God belongs to all whether we call him Ram or Rahim. The Gita and Quran have the same message,’ said the opening speaker, Dr. P.S. Pasricha, former DGP, Mumbai,
Organised by Urdutahzeeb.net of London-based NRI Ajit Singh, the event was marked by highly emotional, thought provoking and divergent opinions both from the invited panel of speakers and the floor. Pasricha set the ball rolling by reminding that we all live in glass houses and demolishing a Babri Masjid or a temple or pursuing the Khalistani agenda in the name of religion are anathema to all true faiths. What is needed is not to force somebody to change his or her religion but to change one’s own way of thinking to realise that we share the same sun, rain and the air we breathe and indeed are all part of each other.
But the world we live in today is a very brutal place where the power of talk, discussion, seminar and debate often looks too weak and inadequate. As veteran singer and composer Jagjit Singh put it in his poem: Aaj ke dour mein ay dost yea manzar kyon hain/ Zakham har sar hai, Par haath mein pathar kyon hai? Against the backdrop of street violence, stone pelting and gun attacks picturised by him on the screen he asks: ‘How come that we are confronted with this (troublesome) spectacle today where every head carries a wound and yet every hand carries a stone (to hit somebody)?’
Maulana Madni of Deoband and true inheritor of pre-partition Deobandi tradition brought out the stark reality of rampant prejudice and perception through a child’s pointer to his mother. On seeing the bearded Maulana’s figure with head covered with a white topi, the child simply exclaimed: ‘There goes bin-Laden.’ But despite such perception, emotionally hurtful in the extreme, the Maulana said every time he came back from abroad, he felt from the core of his heart that India remains ‘the best country for Muslims.’ Discrimination and injustice is not merely against Muslims, but is so against other sections of the society too. And he recalled his interaction with former Pakistani president Musharraf, whom he told that the ‘Indian Muslims do not need your help or advice. Clear your own house first.’
Madni Sahib advised a fellow Muslim from the floor who had suffered discrimination at the hands of a passport control officer at an airport on arrival in India not to lose sight of the fact that India remains ‘the best country for Muslims’ despite the odd provocation. To a question about his identity whether he was a Muslim first or an Indian first, Madni Sahib replied: ‘My Hindustani and Muslim identities are like my two eyes. Which eye can I destroy? I am just a Hindustani Muslim,’ part of the Mushtarq or composite culture of India.
Bringing the European experience to the Indian subcontinent, Baroness Emma Nicholson of Britain recalled her report on Kashmir in the European Parliament which underlines the ‘common heritage shared by India and Pakistan, exemplified in the ancient culture of Jammu and Kashmir; (which) recognises and values the pluralism, multiculturalism and multi-faith nature and secular traditions of the peoples of Jammu and Kashmir, which have been kept alive.’
‘Those who think that they are the absolute owners of the truth are the founders of the heaviest block against dialogue,’ she pointed out. The emergence of a new Europe after the Second World War was made possible only through debate and dialogue. While each side in any conflict has the right to be different, it has also the duty to make it a ‘whole and complete’, said the Baroness.
Illustrating the Mushtarq or composite culture theme through the world of poetry from Amir Khusro to Wali Gujrat, Mirza Ghalib and Imam-i-Hind Allama Iqbal, Professor Ali Ahmed Fatmi of Allahabad University chose Firaq Gorakhpuri’s words: Kafiley aatey gaye, Hindustan banta gaya (Hindustan flourished as travellers pour in).
Dr Ajai Sahni, the last speaker of the first session, gave his strategic view of India’s place not just vis-à-vis its neighbours like Pakistan but in the global context. ‘If India fails against terrorism, the whole world will fail.’ He called for a credible and effective response to the barbarians who are threatening our society and civilisation and plainly questioned the wisdom of continuing the dialogue with Pakistan, the ‘enabler of terrorism’.
Presiding over the pre-lunch session, Vice-Chancellor of Jamia Milia University, Dr. Najeeb Jung questioned the very term of ‘Islamic terrorism’ and held the West and CIA squarely responsible for finding an enemy in Afghans, who are not Taliban. The search for an ‘enemy’ has long existed in history from the time of the French revolutionaries to yesterday’s Marxists and today’s Naxals, he reminded. Veteran journalist and Loksatta Editor Kumar Ketkar, who presided over the second half of the composite culture day at the Taj, feared that the message of peace in Indo-Pak affairs or the light at the end of the Indo-Pak tunnel looked more that of a fast train running towards a head-on collision rather than a signal of peace.
He saw terrorism not just an Indo-Pak problem but that of the wider world. He also saw it not just today’s problem but one that has a large footprint from the past. Terrorism does not happen suddenly. There is always a conspiracy behind it. Political conspiracy is just one element of it; there is the narco-terrorism and mafia terrorism besides the distortions introduced by the media.
Shabana Azmi, film actor and victim of media distortions, gave a forceful answer to those who questioned her identity as a Muslim and an Indian. Answering a questioner who brought up the old controversy about her alleged remark on being unable to rent a house in Mumbai because of her being a Muslim, she once again clarified that the operative part of her remarks on discrimination had been edited out by the television channel and repeated by some newspapers. She had not said that she had been refused accommodation in a Hindu locality because of her religion. Her Muslim identity was only one part of her total identity which includes her identity as a woman, film actor, parliamentarian, social activist, and a Hindustani, she said.