An Indian speaking from a global platform may be a routine occurrence these days, but it was not on September 11, 1893, when Swami Vivekananda spoke at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, which was convened in a hall in that city’s Art Institute. The room where the Swami spoke has been carefully preserved by this famous institution, where priceless exhibitions draw crowds of viewers daily.
Indians among the visitors to the exhibits are delighted to learn that only a few steps away is the room where the celebrated speech was delivered 130 years ago. Here’s what Vivekananda, then just 30, said there on a date in 1893 that would become memorable in 2001 for another reason:
“I am proud to belong to a religion that has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. Not only do we believe in universal tolerance, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation that persecuted and the fugitives of all religions and all nations of the earth.”
Indians reading these words today cannot feel completely at ease. Our current government has stated more than once that there is at least one religion whose adherents are persecuted in countries bordering India can not eligible for Indian citizenship. However, the point I want to make here is another point, and it is this. While many today mentally “accept” (as Vivekananda put it) that “all religions are true,” some seem unwilling to accept Indians who adhere to Islam or Christianity as neighbors or fellow citizens who have rights equivalent to those we have. to enjoy.
Accept other “religions”? Yes, they will probably say. Accepting Muslims and Christians? Sorry, no, would be the real answer for some.
After a face-to-face survey of 29,999 Indian adults of all faiths conducted between late 2019 and early 2020 – before the COVID-19 pandemic – the famed Pew Research Center found that 84% said they were “truly Indian”. important to respect all religions. 80% believed that respect other religions was a very important part of what it means to be a member of their own Religious community. These large majorities were found among Indians of all religions.
It appears that Pew did not ask the 29,999 Indians whether they thought fellow citizens of different religions should have full democratic rights. Nor can we be sure that all respondents would give truthful answers to such a question. Yet we can safely assume that a majority of Indians want all their compatriots to enjoy full and equal rights.
We hear the often fiery voices of those demanding the curtailment of minority rights. Sometimes you could imagine that the toxic winds that blew across our subcontinent in 1947 have returned after 75 years. However, that is by no means the whole truth.
Years ago, in 2005, when my wife Usha and I were interviewing people with memories of the 1947 violence in both halves of what was until that year a single, undivided Punjab, the expression zahreeli hawaa was used in Lahore by Chaudhry Muhammad Hayat, a retired Pakistan Air Force squadron leader, to describe what had struck both halves of the Punjab and destroyed the lives of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs.
With warmth and emotion, Hayat recalled “Bhagat Saab” as he called him, an old Sikh teacher who apparently knew “all the headmasters and headmasters of Gujrat tehsil (North of Lahore, South of Rawalpindi) and used to get tuition excused for poor Muslim boys, especially poor Jat boys”. Thanks to Bhagat Saabs With incentive and financial help, Hayat went to school, enrolled in the first division and started a successful career. “If it wasn’t for Bhagat Saab,” said Hayat, “I would still mow grass in my village.” Bhagat Saabs relatives were murdered in that summer of 1947, and after spending many weeks on Hayat’s small farm, the old teacher simply disappeared. Hayat cried as he told the end of his benefactor.
What India is experiencing today (along with many other countries) is not so much one zahreeli hawaa which led to the senseless killings of 1947, as a relentless drive to subjugate and humiliate minorities and to establish majority rule. Accompanied by the arrogance of power and wealth, and aided by strong propaganda engines, this urge is justified as history’s process of correcting its mistakes.
In India, the following line reads: “After Mughal rule and white rule, and then rule by the Muslim appeasing, West-worshipping Congress, Hindu rule has finally arrived. Avenged!” Yet probably only a minority of Hindus in India would accept such a characterization. Just like in 1947 the antar-atmathe Lake, talkative and conscientious Indians (Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs) quietly, ingeniously and courageously protected the “others”, so today many Indians are aware of what their conscience says. They are deeply troubled and express their fears in various ways, including joining the Bharath Jodo Yatra.
There is a difference between the zahreeli hawa of 1947 and today’s intoxicating mix of contempt and arrogance – van naphrate and ghamand. Pains caused by real injuries can heal over time, or they can be set aside by wisdom or by the warnings of our conscience. On the other hand, it may be more difficult to dispel the enjoyment of power over those we must view as the descendants of conquerors of ages past.
Since those willing to swallow the line do not meet or talk to these “descendants of conquerors” – these Baburki aulad as the expression of horror goes – these “others” are not seen as having the same joys, hopes and fears that “we” possess. And when this aversion is coupled with a predilection for coercion and violence, people may be willing to support even extreme proposals, such as the call from the very highest circles to pulverize the core of our precious constitution.
Prime Minister Modi’s slogan on taking over the G20 presidency is “One Earth, One Family, One Future”. Hearing or reading these touching words, the people of the world, as well as the people of India, will want to know if the Indian family will be broken up, with some members pushed into a dark basement or a homeless outhouse. In many Indian heads, if not always on their lips, the refrain is probably “We Indians accept each other.”
(Rajmohan Gandhi’s latest book is “India After 1947: Reflections and Recollections”)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.
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