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Will festivals like Ram Navmi now be used to terrorise Muslims?

Saturday April 7, 2018 11:13 AM, Syeda Hameed

Ram Navmi Riots

I never heard about Kakinara until two days ago when that tehsil in 24 Parganas of West Bengal burst into news. I saw a video clip of a frenzied mob in a street chauraha. Most of them were in lungis. Clearly audible were sounds of stone hammers pounding against a solid substance.

All too familiar. I could make out a few slogans which were in rhythm with the pounding. ‘Laga de Jai Hindu ka naara', ‘laga de BJP ke raj mein'… ‘Randi ka bachcha’ .

The hammers were shattering the bust of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad which must have stood there for 60 years since his death in 1958. Erected in recognition of this son of Bengal who began the struggle for India’s independence in 1912 in Kolkata. the man who was active member of Jugantar and Anushilan, underground resistance movements born in Bengal before the formal struggle was launched.

In the last few weeks the country has been rocked with a spate of destruction of statues of national and international icons by political lumpens who take a weapon in their hand and in the name of deshprem and deshbhakti go on a rampage.

Ram Navmi and other festivals are now being used by political strategists for demonstration of power and impunity. These men in the video were after all ordinary residents of the area who would have come out every year to celebrate Ram Navmi, a festival of thanksgiving for Sri Ram’s Ghar Wapsi after 14 years Vanvaas. Triumph of good over evil, restoration of order and good governance. All peace and joy, it has nothing that triggers demolishing national icons.

The present climate of communal hatred looks for any opportunity to deepen the chasm between Hindus and Muslims. So Azad’s bust is destroyed for one and only one reason that he was a Muslim. No one thought of what he stood for. No one in the crowd in all likelihood even knew who was Azad. They would have been most surprised to learn that he belonged to Bengal. That he lived on Ripon Street Circular Road. That his closest friend was Bidhan Chander Roy. That his wife Zuleikha was born, brought up and was buried in Kolkata. So also his father Maulana Khairuddin and his one and only child Haseen.

I recited the Fatiha at their graves in Manektala qabristan which was a dump for scrap materials. I requested the then WB governor Prof Nurul Hasan to get it cleaned and restored. It was during his tenure that work began on turning his Ripon Street home into a Museum to house his archives. Last week when I visited the place I was pleased to see it well maintained. Destruction of his bust at Kakinara made me wonder when the day will come when mobs with trishuls and saffron headbands may decide to vandalise this memorial?

Taliban destruction of Bamiyan Buddhas was no different. The ancient relic was destroyed because of religious fervour which had nothing to do with the religion Islam. Azad’s bust (as Lenin’s statue) was also destroyed by religious fervour which had nothing to do with Hinduism. Neither religion favours destruction yet fanatics of both religions instigate their hired mobs to destroy in its name.

The best explication of respect for all faiths which is intrinsic part of all religions is found in Azad’s work on Quran, his magnum opus Tarjumanul Quran. He wrote it during years following the launch of his weekly journal Al Hilal in which he exhorted Muslims to join hands with Hindus to fight for freedom because their religion enjoins them to do so. His compelling reason to translate, explicate and comment on the Quran was two fold. First, by showing them the mirror of Islam he could best get his people behind the freedom struggle. Second because he wanted to show them that this was the universal belief in all faiths.

At the time of Babri Masjid demolition the slogan we heard was ‘Ye to Pehli Jhanki hai Kashi Mathura Baqi hai’. After his bust what more are they targeting? His rare book collection housed in Azad Bhawan in Delhi or Azad Bhawan itself? Is this my country?

Let the people of my country decide whether this is the India they want where history is destroyed by hired mobs only to denigrate Islam. Let ordinary Indians, Hindus, decide if a beautiful festival like Ram Navmi will now be used to terrorise neighbours just because they happen to be Muslims?

Will this festival henceforth contain motorcycle gangs tearing around Muslim neighbourhoods at midnight peddling fear while law enforcement looks away as is happening now in my area?

In Jodhpur this year Ram Navmi was nothing but a cavalcade of ‘jhankis’ glorifying anti Muslim violence. One ‘jhanki’ showed a man in white trouser red shirt and saffron scarf as icon of Hinduism. It was Shambhulal Regar who had lynched and burn Afrazul while his teenage nephew filmed the event for social media.

[Syeda Hameed is former member of Planning Commission of India.]

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