Thank you Salim Engineer, I would like to join you in welcoming those who have come to participate in this webinar. As you have pointed out, on account of the corona virus condition there has been a long hiatus between our last meeting and the meeting going on now. I think we are not able to meet face to face hence meeting online but this is the advantage that we are able to meet without incurring travel costs, lodging & boarding charges etc. and it seems that it may become a new norm which may be followed in future also. Since our last meeting the communal division in the country has widened conspicuously, and it is for anyone to see it. Although those who have fought, from the beginning, for bridging this communal divide are saying that this communal divide is getting farther and farther, the same thing is being said by foreign government and agencies interested in our country. I think the divide is perceptible mainly in certain forms like the rights of minority communities, particularly the 200 million muslims, are being violated in a variety of forms and ways. Secondly, their life and liberty is being put in jeopardy making them increasingly feel insecure in their own country. I think then, there is this question of erosion of their religion-based identity. Then, the law and order authorities are being deployed to suppress them when they try to air their grievances or fight against injustice and arbitrariness. This all has become quite evident in the minority community of the role which police is playing in the implementation of some of the legislations that have been adopted recently and which encroach the private domains of the minority communities. I am referring to what is happening in UP and Madhya Pradesh. So, in a variety of ways the communal divide is widening. Let me give an example. In the process of collecting donations and mobilising support for the construction of the Ram temple, there has been kind of pressure resulting in the instances of violence taking place. One obvious thing that I would like to highlight is that this is a deliberate, well planned and concerted effort and the thing which has been on the agenda of the ruling party. There seems to be an understanding as to what the central government would do and the state government ruled by it would support, and what the state government would do and the central government would just condescend without speaking about it. There is also some kind of a collusion with some sections of the media and the think tanks of this country. So, this is a multi-pronged, well planned and concerted effort.
Now, I would like to point out that development, a term which the ruling class is using, is only a varnish to brighten the ugly face of communalism. The fact is that it is a doubt whether the development is really taking place as is being claimed. In fact, it depends on the measuring yardsticks that you use and the perspective with which you view it. But, in the process the communal division is a reality.
There are two purposes behind it. One, it (communalism) is a kind of machinery tool to come to power, remain in power and consolidate themselves in power. That is why you hear the slogan of ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’, ‘Saffron colour flying over all the states’. Two, the point which is of fundamental and more deeper concern, it (communalism) is an attempt to realise the tortured and apparently untenable dream of ‘Hindu Rashta’ in India. I am using the words ‘tortured’ and ‘untenable’ deliberately. ‘Tortured’ in the sense that it is not novel in the Indian conditions and it is ‘untenable’ because so long as India is to remain a pluralistic state which it would remain, there is no way it is going to become a reality. The forces of opposition will continue to spring up and at one stage or the other would come in the way of this idea taking shape.
Now, I would like to point out that development, a term which the ruling class is using, is only a varnish to brighten the ugly face of communalism. The fact is that it is a doubt whether the development is really taking place as is being claimed. In fact, it depends on the measuring yardsticks that you use and the perspective with which you view it. But, in the process the communal division is a reality. As I said earlier it is for all to see and is being seen by a vast number of us in this country and a large number of foreign countries. Even those countries regarding whom we claim to be friends and with whom we have strategic relationships like United States, many of the European Union countries, have pointed out at the events happening in India.
Now, I would like to dwell a little bit on this law of UP, Madhya Pradesh, the so called ‘Prevention of Forceful Conversion’. I think we have very distinguished jurists here and they would give more and authentic information on the subject, but to the best of my understanding, conversion should be a part of a major’s right because it is in accordance with the rights given in the constitution like the right to pursue one’s religion, the right to life and the right to live the way you want. It is also in accordance with the right to expression since this is a powerful means to express yourselves. All these rights are being suppressed. I want to give just you one example from Gandhiji’s life, when he went to Africa for the first time, and was trying to settle in Pretoria and Nettle where he came under the pressure of his Christian friends (who had helped him in settling down in those places) and Muslims (Shaik Abdullah was his employer) to convert to Christianity and Islam respectively. It is interesting to read his autobiography ‘My experiments with truth’, where it is mentioned that he simply said that he would like to study them and subsequently he realised that he has to study his own religion also to understand it. He devoted a great deal of time and came to the conclusion that he should remain in his religion. So, the conversion is not something forbidden or which has to be outrightly rejected. As I said that it is a part of the basic freedoms all of us should enjoy under the Indian constitution.
Now, there are two more points I would like to make. One, in the title of today’s theme it is mentioned that ‘a threat to India’s future’, one could clearly see that in the extreme forms like conflicts and acts of violence that have been taking place recently and are likely to accelerate in future if there is no addressing of the situation. You cannot hold more than 200 million people, which is almost more than the whole population of at least half a dozen countries, under suppression, deny their basic rights as citizens and under a shadow of threat to their lives, which is the ultimate threat an individual can face. In the worst situation it would divide the country or cause violence resulting in de-stabilization and bringing all the development and progress to a halt or a slowdown. The other aspect in manifesting the unfolding of this situation is we can never be a prosperous and advanced country by alienating more than 200 million people. But the 200 million minority today is virtually alienated. One can palpably feel when he observes the situation from the sidelines and while interacting with the members of minority community. Even though the people are working in this situation but it is not the same as utilising the optimum capacity. When a nation cannot utilise its capacity to the optimal extent and when almost 20% of its population lives under threat to its life, liberty, property, heritage, it will remain a place of disharmony, conflict and absence of peace. This is not the condition in which a country can grow, prosper let alone becoming a major country in the world and taking its right place in the community of nations.
I have some so much to say, especially in the context of what happened to Subhash Chandra Bose and we read in today’s newspaper the claim that Subhash Chandra Bose would have been happy to see the situation of today’s India. I have done some study of Subhash Chandra Bose and I was the chairman of people’s committee for celebrating his 100th anniversary and I have got a book published which was released by the then Chief Minister Mr. Jyothi Basu and there is a caption in this book titled ‘Netaji’s conclusion to communal amity and harmony’. I have no time to illustrate that, but I think that very few persons contributed to communal amity in a practical manner as Netaji did and I would like to include Jawaharlal Nehru in that. He was the chairman of the CWC committee which made the first and the most extensive recommendation on Hindu-Muslim unity. Most of it was bodily taken in the constitution documentation subject material. He used a very interesting word, which we generally use in international relations, in the ‘30s for communal harmony. He said that law would not do unless we have a policy of ‘rapprochement’ towards our muslim brothers. By quoting ‘rapprochement’ he meant deliberately taking steps to go near them, be near them, make them feel as honourable citizen of this country and give them the dignity of person and personality. I am saying this on the basis of my own research which I did before writing my paper.
Finally, just one topic to conclude. We have assembled here after such a long time in a situation which is galloping towards widening the division in this country. So, we have to think of concrete action that we may take through our forum. Earlier, we used to knock at the doors of the judiciary at the last resort and we used to get sturdy response from the judiciary but of recent there is a great deal of concern among those who are working in this field, at the attitude the judiciary has taken at such problems. The role that it presumes itself to have when dealing with communal and other similar situations, I think the higher courts today are detruding from grappling with the problem and doing something to prevent the drift towards greater divide in the country. Either by own suo-moto action or in response to the application made to them by various groups on various issues, I think they don’t want to touch the structural and fundamental issues involved in the situation. They want to deal with the law and order problem that may arise during the course of the implication of these legislations/measures.
I think this is matter of great concern and I hope that we will pay attention to that also and I would like to conclude with these remarks. I know I have been speaking for more than what I should have and we have so many other speakers also.