Playing communal card to wreck unity of people

Instead of focusing on the horrifying tragic incident of the brutal killing of the elephant in Kerala, and seeing to it that the guilty are given the strictest punishment, several Right-Wing politicians are playing up the communal card.
Three years back, in the spring of 2017, I’d last visited Kerala’s Malappuram region situated in North Kerala. And as we drove from Calicut towards Tirur, where I was to attend a literary festival, what stood out were refreshing sights to say the least. To put it in a nutshell, it is obvious that the different communities were living on a par. In fact,  when I saw young boys walking along the road in that carefree way with white skull caps on, and then another group of the young walking in the traditional headgear and wear, together with tilaks on their foreheads,  I  asked the cab driver of the ground realities and he smiled and said that in Kerala all communities live on par and that there were no communal elements. But then he’d hastened to add, “North Kerala is all very safe …for everyone.”  
And later during my interactions with the different communities living in North Kerala, several prominent citizens told me,  “All of us,  Hindus and  Muslims and Christians  citizens  together  with  our community leaders are taking precautions so that the Right- Wing communal outfits do not wreck our togetherness …” As they’d detailed,  “till now North Kerala is free from Right-Wing intrusions, but South Kerala has been hit by the communal poisonous venom…We citizens are aware of  the danger,  as  the RSS cadres  have  made considerable intrusions  in South Kerala !”
And as I spoke to several others it got obvious that there were no tensions or divides along the communal lines in the Northern districts of the State. But they’d also stressed that community leaders were extremely vigilant and taking all possible precautions … In fact, at that meet, I met several who’s who of the State and though they were from different faiths but looked and sounded one!  They spoke the same language and dressed the same way …ate the same cuisine. More importantly, was their concern to keep the togetherness intact. They were more than aware of the fascist forces making intrusions and the dangers lurking around. But writ large was their determination to keep the fascists and fascism at bay.
I had met prominent writers who were doing their utmost to reach out in every possible way. In fact, one of the writers I’d met there at that festival was the well -known Malayalam writer KP Ramanunni, who later,  in 2018 dedicated the entire prize amount he received from the Sahitya Akademi Award to Saira Banu, mother of Mohammad Junaid — the 16-year-old, murdered by Hindutva goons inside a train compartment of the train taking him and his siblings towards Haryana’s. Ballabhgarh, a day before the family was all set to celebrate Eid.
Touching and sensitive that Kerala’s famous writer  KP Ramanunni reached out to this Haryana based family of Mohammad Junaid…This itself speaks volumes of the efforts on, to bridge divides and reach out in every possible way.
Nostalgia tightens its hold. Whilst keying in, I’m also reminded of my travels in  Kerala’s Malappuram region in the early  90s, when  I was covering the hundred percent literacy feat of Kerala. …Way back in  1991, when  I traveled to Kerala to cover the literacy movement,  the district medical officer of  Malappuram, Dr. A. Mohammad, had told me that the local volunteers of the State together with the community leaders had brought about a  huge change on the literacy front, “Four earlier attempts to bring literacy amongst the  Muslims failed. Then the Muslim League and the Imams of the masjids cooperated, and so a large number of illiterates came to the sessions. In Islam a lot of importance is given to education yet politicians played havoc and education amongst the  Muslims received low priority. …Now the local volunteers have brought about a big change. Already we can see a big improvement. Today there is a decrease in infant mortality and an increased awareness about   family planning.”
Space constraints come in way of my detailing what blissful images I’d witnessed in 1991;  of the Hindu, Christian and Muslim volunteers reaching out to the disadvantaged, to all those lagging behind on the educational front …in fact, I had focused on this aspect for the features   I’d then written for the  Illustrated Weekly of India.
It’s significant to point out that in Kerala this togetherness of the people from different faiths is one of the ongoing aspects to this State and its people. Whilst on this,  in 2005  I came across this news report in the (Hindustan  Times— October  13,  2005,)  of a  Hindu ritual performed by an  Imam: Churches and mosques in Kerala are vying with each other to perform a  Hindu ritual –  “Vidyarambham ‘, to initiate children into the world of letters on Vijaya Dasami day. A Hindu custom in the past, it’s picked up by others…In Cheraman  Juma Masjid on  Kodungalur, claimed to be the first mosque in the country, 12  children including  4  girls, uttered the first letter of their life sitting in the lap of the Imam of the mosque. All the children were Hindus …’ its   part  of  our great culture, we  are  only fulfilling  our duties.’ mosque  president  VA  Ibrahim said.”
Today, instead of focusing on the horrifying tragic incident of the brutal killing of the elephant in Kerala, and seeing to it that the guilty are given the strictest punishment, several Right- Wing politicians are playing up the communal card. Why?  Why wreck the togetherness of the people of the State!
I do realize that this year – 2020 – is sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar’s birth centenary year.  He was born a hundred years back – on April 7, 1920, in Varanasi/ Benaras, Uttar Pradesh.
But do you know why I have been thinking of Pandit Ravi Shankar in these recent months? Seeing the absolutely deteriorating conditions prevailing around, I’m reminded of what all he’d said …his stark comments.
I had met and interviewed Pandit Ravi Shankar twice. The first time was around the time of his 70th birthday, and as I sat sipping my tea at his Lodhi Estate home, I got so terribly nervous that the entire cup crashed to the carpet of his living room. With that disaster, my nervousness peaked to such an extent that I could barely ask more than the basic, customary questions.
But Panditji had simply smiled and tried his best to make me feel at ease…And it was only after a gap that I’d mustered enough confidence to try and meet him again. This was around early 1993. He’d looked frailer and sad. He’d told me that he’d been left totally devastated by the recent death of his only son Shubo. That was the time he and his second wife Sukanya were planning to shift base from New Delhi to San Diego, California.
He’d detailed, “The mess in the country is painful for me. Even a place like Delhi is becoming unfit for living. With everything else, the pollution here is killing,” he said. His wife Sukanya who’d stood close by had added, “The politicians and pollution have finished the city. We have already bought a Spanish villa in California and now I’m doing it up my way.”
To that he’d added, “For me, the house is a very important place. Since I was 10, I have been traveling, living in hostels, so I value my home. That feeling of warmth, coupled with a comfortable middle-class lifestyle. Nothing gaudy or vulgar. Somehow, I totally dislike the Delhi concept of showing off. A dignified, balanced, and comfortable way of life is what I like.”
He went on to tell me details of the very first house he had built for himself in Benaras. “I don’t know why I decided to build that house in Benaras. Probably because I was born and brought up in that city…and though I’d built it in the early ‘70s, within years I decided to abandon it. All sorts of crude elements had sprung up around me, those decaying values stifled me, so I decided to shift out of Benaras. I’m not a fighter. I’m a musician and I can’t stand vulgar people, besure log.”
In fact, as the couple took me around their Lodhi Estate home what struck all too immediately was the simplicity all around. There wasn’t a trace of any ornate furniture, no porcelain ware, no elaborate bedroom bandobast. In fact, the only room which looked well done up was the music room; with sitars, sur-bahaars, tanpuras neatly placed in stands and the walls of this particular room adorned with prized photographs capturing Panditji with John Lennon, Uday Shankar, Baba Allauddin, Pablo Casals, Mariam Anderson, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.
The maestro’s bedroom had only a double bed and a fax machine in it! As we neared the puja room, he told me, “This isn’t just a puja room but my private corner. This is where I meditate, do riyaz, pray. For me, religion is a very personal thing. I am certainly not ritualistic. In fact, like me, most musicians are broad-minded…When I was 18, I went to live with my ustad, Baba Allauddin, and though he was a devout Muslim, his home in Madhya Pradesh’s Maiher was full of photographs of Kali, Krishna, Christ, Mary…music makes you more tolerant. …I only wish our present-day politicians were more musically-inclined; then there’d be more harmony and not the present-day cacophony!”
I am saddened and shocked to see the systematic way in which civil servant turned activist, Harsh Mander’s name is getting dragged in the Delhi riots/pogrom of 2020. Needless to go into those backgrounders, to the obvious ‘whys’ to the harassment he is facing…
In fact, each time Mander’s books were launched I made it a point to read them and also to interview him because they were /are laced with the ground realities which most of us sit un-aware of because we don’t take the trouble traveling to the conflict and violence-hit zones. But Harsh Mander makes it a point to reach out, to all the victims surviving in the most tragic and painful circumstances …
Mander needn’t have quit the Indian Administrative Service/ IAS, which he did soon after the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 to become a full -time activist. And thereafter, he took to reach out to the pogrom survivors with relief work…in that dedicated and consistent and earnest way. In fact, a number of his book are based on the Gujarat situation. Several others focus on hunger, deprivations, and the gaps and disparities, staring at us …yet we are not reacting to those dark realities of the day!  
He details each one of these realities in a calm, composed, and compassionate way; yet not missing out a single hard-hitting fact. In fact, each time I had interviewed him two factors had always stood out in that ongoing way  – Mander’s compassion and his ability to reach out to the poorest and the most disadvantaged. Also, his fearlessness; that ability to speak out the truth at any cost!
I recall asking him, during the course of an interview, soon after the Gujarat pogrom, 2002 was officially over, whether peace was actually returning to the violence-hit locales and this is what Mander had to say –  “I would describe the situation in Gujarat today to be one of unquiet, counterfeit peace. Authentic peace is founded on justice, security, trust. But there is another kind of peace that one can witness in Gujarat today. This is peace based on extreme fear, resignation, compromise… The minorities are confronted on the one hand with a state that is openly hostile and malevolent to them and is actively subverting the justice systems. On the other, they are dealing with unprecedented social divide and a social and economic boycott in the village after town. …” He had also spoken in an emotional way of the painful realities that the Gujarat pogrom survivors faced – “They are desperately trying to rebuild their lives. Many of them lost their employment, or have been evicted from their lands and homes, because of the economic boycott. This extends even to the shops or small eating establishments or even rickshaws run by minorities. Of the 240 cases of POTA registered by the state, 239 are against Muslims. Nearly half the cases registered after the carnage have already been closed, by an active subversion of FIRs, investigation, and trial. None of the guilty have been brought to book. There is therefore an enormous sense of despair….”
And before each interview ended, Mander would emphasize on the faith/trust he has in the masses of our country. He’d told me that during his travels he’d realized this  “  I witness an upsurge of revulsion against the brutality of Gujarat everywhere I travel. I believe people will reject the dangerous politics of hatred.” And he’d also hit out at the nexus on, between the political and the religious segments. “I do not describe communal leaders, whether Hindu or Muslim, as ‘religious’. In fact, they are pseudo-religious, because no religion preaches hatred and killings. I see political parties, particularly of the right, in close cohorts with pseudo-religious leaders to retain power.”
And this morning as  I went through an earlier published volume on  Faiz  Ahmed  Faiz’s poetry, ‘ The  Best of  Faiz’, translated by  Shiv  K  Kumar and published by  UBSPD, the page that opened all too suddenly, was the one carrying these lines from his verse  – Titled  –  Heart  Attack –
‘Pain so intense that night, my savage  heart  /
wanted to   grapple  with  every  artery /
and drip from every  pore /
and out there, as though in your  courtyard /
each leaf, bathed  in  my  despondent  blood /
began to  look  pale  in the  moonlight /
In my body’s desert  places, it seemed /
As if, all the fibers of  my  wincing  veins, undone /
Began shooting out signals, ceaselessly /
preparations for the departure  of  love’s  caravan/
And when in memory’s fading light /
There emerged somewhere before the eye /
one last  moment  of  your  love’s  kindness /
the pain was so lacerating  that  /
it ventured to  overstep the  moment/
I too willed to hold on to it
But the   heart would not agree…”