Saturday, 8 September 2012

Indo-Pak moderate majority (PO)

M D Nalapat

In most discourses, it is the extremes that draw the most attention. As has often been pointed out, the majority is usually silent, while a tiny number of people make almost all the noise, thereby giving a false impression of the overall society. As a faith, Muslims have been the worst sufferers of this trend. While the overwhelming majority follow the command of the Holy Qur’an to emulate the Almighty in showing Mercy, Compassion and Beneficence to all. Across India, Muslims have shown that they are Good Samaritanshelping people of all faiths and promoting the moderate values that define civilisation. However, even in a country that has the second-biggest Muslim population on the globe, those in power ignore the overwhelming majority of Muslims who are moderate, and frame policy on the dictates of the few who are not.

In 1986,Rajiv Gandhi introduced a law that in the opinion of this columnist placed Muslim women at a disadvantage in matters of 
divorce, when compared to their sisters of other faiths. The “Shah Bano Law” ( passed to deny an ageing Shah Bano adequate compensation after she was divorced by her husband) sparked off competitive radicalism in the Hindu community, and began a cycle of segregation that most hoped had been laid to permanent rest after the events of 1947 Whether Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Sikh, all are children of the Almighty, and all need to be treated with compassion and respect in order to earn the merit that results in entry into a glorious rather than a cursed afterlife. Several commentators from countries that are members of NATO talk about “Hindu nationalists”, forgetting that a true nationalist is neither Hindu nor Muslim but Indian.

This columnist defines himself as a Secular Nationalist, which is the only true form of love for one’s country and all its people. Those who hate one section cannot be said to love the other, for their narrow-minded vision will make the country hell very soon. The only path to prosperity is through social 
harmony. Countries where there is sectarian tension suffer falls in lifestyle while those with an inclusive vision prosper. Although small, such a broad vision can be seen in tiny Singapore, where Chinese, Indians and Malays live and work together in harmony. Within India, the state of Gujarat has been among the best performers in economic terms, while for the past ten

years, there has not been a single communal riot in the state, the same state that saw an eruption of violence in 2002 that took the lives of two thousand innocents, mainly Muslims.

Ten years later, a judge has sentenced one of the perpetrators to 28 years in jail and another to jail for the duration of his life. Both the convicts are Hindus, and they have been found guilty of atrocities against Muslims Although legal experts are critical of such steep sentences, the fact is that the Judge Yagnik (a Hindu) has set a Gold Standard for the punishment of those guilty of crimes against other communities. For too long, those who have engaged in violence against those of another faith have been given lenient sentences, if they have been punished at all. It is a sad reality that not one of those who killed more than 400 Kashmiri Pundits during 1990 and drove three hundred thousand out of the state have been brought to justice. It is a reality that no important politician has been prosecuted for the killing of four thousand Sikhs in Delhi in 1984,even though they orchestrated the carnage in fury after the assassination of Indira Gandhi on October 31 that year. In contrast, those found guilty of the killings in Gujarat have faced the courts within months of the horrible events of 2002,and many are now in prison as a result.

Unless harsh - and swift - punishment is meted out to those guilty of communal violence, such incidents will grow and pose a risk to social stability. Which is why it is not possible to agree with those who say that a 28-yeat sentence or a sentence that lasts the whole of a convict’s life is excessive. For the punishment fits the crime Last week, this columnist was invited to a live program on the Gujarat verdicts hosted by NDTV. There, he was very moved when he listened to Professor J S Bandukwala, a Muslim educationist who, along with his daughter, suffered assault during the 2002 riots. Professor Bandukwala expressed sympathy for the dependents of the poorer among the dozens who have been jailed for their role in the riots, pointing out that many are poor, and are in danger of starvation now that their breadwinner is in jail. It is this compassion that makes Professor Bandukwala a true believer in the Holy Qur’an, in contrast to those who daily call for bloodshed and vengeance beyond the Rule of Law. However, the fact is that although the overwhelming majority share his moderate views, yet it is the extremists that are listened to and indulged, not the silent and moderate majority. Unless this cycle – of giving too much emphasis to the extremists and thereby encouraging them - be broken, social stability will suffer. Societies where the fringe rules are societies in decline It is in the context of the Gujarat verdict that External Affairs Minister S M Krishna is visiting Pakistan. In India, the overwhelming majority of people seek peace and friendship with Pakistan. They are opposed to war. Although the “hawks” fill the television studios, drowning out other voices, the fact is that it is the “doves” who are in a majority.

To them, it would be an immense tragedy were India and Pakistan to go to war again, thereby placing at risk their common economic future. S M Krishna comes to Pakistan in the knowledge that the people of his country want peace and not war. He knows that similarly, the people of Pakistan similarly want a peaceful future with India, that only a small segment are looking for war. Both Krishna and Hina Rabbani Khar, his attractive and assertive counterpart in Islamabad, know that the people of India and Pakistan want a better life. They want good 
jobs and education. They seek adequate housing and healthcare. Above all, they want the or children to have a better future than they themselves have had. All this needs peace and reconciliation. When Krishna and Rabbani meet over the next 48 hours, hopefully they will remember the Silent Majority and not once again genuflect before the Extremist Fringe.

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