In good faith (a journey in search of an unknown India)
by Saba Naqvi,
published by Rupa publications,
New Delhi, pages 191
Religious bigots gain ground in the biggest secular democracy
Whether India was still secular or turning into an abode of fundamentalists, she set outon a tour of the country, visiting all sorts of places and meeting all hues of people and this book is a firsthand account of those experiences penned down “in good faith”
“In good faith” by Saba Naqvi is her sojourn to “search for an India that is tolerant and safe for all communities”. So, we find out that India is neither tolerant nor safe not from a Pakistani or any other foreigner but from a well-informed Indian journalist, who works as the political editor of the Outlook magazine and has had closely observed for many years the politics of Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the sundry Hindu nationalist outfits that combine together are called the Sangh Parivar. She has been groomed to believe in the ideal of secular India that promised equality to all irrespective of race, religion, language, etc. That ideal was broken with the rise of the communal Hindu nationalist BJP and the subsequent demolition of the Babri Masjid. Her non-communal outlook towards life has been shaped to a great extent by her family, in particular her Muslim father, the Christian mother, the Hindu ex-husband, a Congressite paternal uncle, a communist maternal uncle as well as the syncretic sufi tradition that encourages a non-doctrinaire approach towards the divine.
She has admitted that she and her extended family members felt threatened for the first time after the Ram Mandir controversy and when the Hindu fanatics brought down the Babri Mosque, she wept; her tears were all the more precious because she cried on the destruction of a religious symbol despite being a non-believer (p18) and someone, for whom religion is nothing more than the opium for the people. (p9) The rising communal temperature also burnt her personal life when at a get together, an educated Indian reminded her that “you Muslims should know your place in India” whereas on another occasion a leading reporter while visiting her house enquired as to how her marriage with a Hindu was sustaining by posing an embarrassing question: “Do you fight over the Babri Masjid?” It hurt. With the rise of the BJP, the ugly head of Hindu extremism began to poison the social life and threatened the ideal of the composite Indian culture, which now looked more like a “romantic notion of an age gone by.”
Whether India was still secular or turning into an abode of fundamentalists, she set outon a tour of the country, visiting all sorts of places and meeting all hues of people and this book is a firsthand account of those experiences penned down “in good faith.”In Kerala, the non-Muslim influencesvisibly affect the Muslim ways of life. It is the same place where the first mosque was built and designed by the Hindus in the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in a settlement set by the earliest Arab settlers. Again, it is here that a whole Muslim community called Mappilas came into being. Literally, Mappila means son-in-law and the Mappila Muslims are children of those early Arab settlers who married native women and integrated well in the local milieu.
Somewhat similar Hindu-Muslim harmony could be experienced in Assam where books on Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) have been written by Hindus: one of them by Gopinath Bordoloi, who was the former chief minister of this province. Another Hindu Tarun Phukan is credited for translating surah ‘fateha’ of the Quran in the Assamese language and the most popular native short story ‘Shiraz’ written by Lakshmi Dhar Sharma is about a Muslim who married a Hindu widow yet permitted her to continue professing the Hindu faith.
From time to time, the Muslim intellectuals reciprocated such goodwill gestures of the Hindus. For example, the popular Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib praised several places of Hindu worship in his poetry and in particular penned down a long poem in Persian on the holy city of Banaras which he termed as the ‘Ka’aba of Hindustan’. (p184) Moreover, the Mughal Prince Dara Shikoh not only translated the Upanishads in Persian but also wrote the classical ‘Majma-ul-Bahrayn’ which means the co-mingling of two oceans of Hinduism and Islam. In addition, King Ibrahim Adilshah of Bijapur, who was popularly called ‘Jagatguru’ learned Sanskrit and composed poetry in the Kannada language.
Even in Uttar Pradesh (UP), otherwise the hotbed of communal fires, there are several ‘mazars’ and mandirs which are revered and frequented by both the Hindus and the Muslims. The author was able to locate a Hindu temple called Satyar Mandir in Ayodhya where idols of Rama and Krishna have been placed alongside that of Buddha, Mahavira, Christ and Zoroaster and all these idols are then flanked by photographs of Mecca and Medina.
In the state of Andhra Pradesh, the observance of Muharram is an occasion of inter-religious harmony as peoples of all communities are allowed entry in the ‘Ashurkhanas’ and permitted to pray in their own ways. While the Muslims kiss the ‘Alams’ and raise hands in prayer; the Hindus fold their hands and perform ‘puja’ in front of them. In fact, in some of the Hindu localities, the Hindus make their own ‘Alams’ with loudspeakers installed on them. The big difference is that the Hindu Muharram processions look more like Hindu festivals.
Another place of Hindu-Muslim coexistence is the tiny village of Tinthani in the Gulbarga district of Karnataka where a holy shrine is jointly shared by the two communities. While comparing the state of relations between the two communities, a local trader commented, “Look how they fought over whether the Babri Masjid was a temple or a mosque. Here, in Tinthani, one building houses both a mandir and a dargah, and Hindus and Muslims worship together without any dispute.”
Social harmony also prevails between the two communities in the state of Rajasthan, where almost 80 percent of the musicians though Muslim, have retained the Hindu customs, dresses, etc, and interestingly it is these Muslim musicians who perform at the social functions in the Hindu households. Yet another example of composite culture is the Baul community of village singers comprising both the Hindus and the Muslims in Bengal. They believe that God lives in the hearts of the humans and their “salvation lies in a universal love for mankind.” When they are attacked for their humanism by the orthodox, they lament, “Our only fault is that we believe we are first human beings. Being Hindu or Muslim is only incidental.”
Apart from these islands of peace and tranquility; large swathes of India have been polluted by the poison of BJP and other militant Hindu organisations. Consider the state of Maharashtra which serves as the laboratory of Hindutva and has historically been the home of the RSS, Shiv Sena and the killer of Gandhi. The extremist Hindus are trying to obliterate the Hindu-Muslim syncretic legacy by forcibly taking over Muslim shrines and converting them into exclusive centres of Hindu worship. After demolishing Babri Masjid , the Shiv Sena staked claim over the shrine of Haji Malang near Bombay and its leader Bal Thackeray directed his followers to “liberate it;” who dutifully did the deed after ‘discovering’ the Hindu symbols of bell, swastika and trishul as well as the resting place of a Hindu saint Shri Machhindarnath in the complex of Haji Malang.
The peaceful Meo community of Mewat who began to convert to Islam in the twelfth century and having continued to live with several Hindu rituals have been targeted by the Hindu extremists with the backing of the state government as complained by a victim: “Ever since the RSS and the BJP became a powerful political force in the state, more and more Meos have begun to identify themselves as Muslims.” So deep-seated is the hatred of the Hindu bigots that during the 2002 communal riots in the state of Gujrat, they dug up the grave of the 18th century popular Urdu poet Wali Gujrati and placed an idol of Hanuman in it. (p187) Even the Muslims of Bollywood are not spared by the goons of Shiv Sena and BJP. Shiv Sena’s chief Bal Thackeray warned the film producers and studio owners not to employ Muslims and so terrorised were they of possible disruptions of their film screenings at the hands of the Sena armies and the BJP’s youth wing that the management of Naaz cinema while screening film ‘Kishatriya’ put up a poster at the cinema that read: “Kishatriya is being revived with the kind permission of Shri Bala sahib Thackeray and the BJP.” Now, Bal Thackeray had become the new Don of Bombay instead of Dawood Ibrahim. The author also reveals that actor Sanjay Dutt became a victim of a conspiracy between Shiv Sena–BJP and some Bollywood producers and was punished with several jail years just because his father Sunil Dutt as a Congress MP helped the Muslim victims of the communal riots.
The Shiv Sena that terrorises the Indian Muslims by lootings, burnings and killings derives its name from the Hindu warrior Shivaji and not the Hindu god, Shiva. It is an irony of history that Shivaji’s father had a Muslim name Shahji Bhonsle. Why? Because Shivaji’s grandfather named Maloji had no children and when after the blessings of a Muslim saint Shah Sharif of Ahmednagar, he was blessed with two sons, he named them after the saint as Shahji and Sharfoji and also granted a huge tract of land to Shah Sharif as a token of respect. Shivaji’s grandfather was also closely associated with another Muslim saint Sheikh Mohammad and so exalted was the spiritual status of this saint that Samarth Ramdas, who is known as the spiritual guru of Shivaji paid a glowing tribute to Sheikh Mohammad in these words: “Glory to Sheikh Mohammad, you have unfolded the mystery of the universe in such diction and style that it baffles the reason and logic of ordinary mortals… I will carry the sacred dust raised by your feet on my head.” (p55) Moreover, though Shivaji fought many battles against the Muslim rulers yet the saint he often consulted before launching his military campaigns was a Muslim named Sayed Yuqub whereas Shivaji’s father served as a military commander in the army of the Muslim kings of Bijapur. Sadly, such historic indebtedness of Shivaji and his ancestors to the Muslim saints is either deliberately ignored or blatantly refuted by the Hindu nationalists, today, who are bent upon shattering the dream of that India which was livable for all.