A series of bomb blasts tore through the busy markets in Delhi on the 13th of September. They are reprehensible, but lamentably not surprising. There have been more than a dozen gory blasts in major cities, including Delhi in the last three years.
After each such episode, there are many customary statements of condemnation. But after so many times, condemnations sound stale and obligatory. It is time to shake our collective conscience and challenge our hackneyed thinking to develop thoughtful and just solutions.
With the exponential expansion of beneficial technology; the technology of mass killing has also made tremendous gains in the military research labs of the nation sates, ostensibly for defense. The unforeseen blow-back is that terrorists eventually get access to these technologies as well to enhance their ability to kill using remote-triggers and more lethal explosives.
India is home to almost all religions and ethnicities, and has more distinct languages and dialects among its vast multitude than any other country in the world.
The process of welding such diversity into a nation has not been easy. There were language riots in late fifties and early sixties, when the central government tried to impose Hindi as a national language. In spite of the pressure from the Hindi language chauvinists, the government wisely relented. More respect for regional languages and the go slow approach worked. Hindi is now accepted as the national link language. There have been endemic ethnic conflicts between local upper casts and lower casts. The police composed of only upper casts was often partial. The induction of lower casts in the police and administration has some what eased the problem.
Rise of sectarian parties to power
With the increasing literacy, and dwindling secular education, Indians are getting more religiously polarized. This has resulted in the rise of religious-supremacist political parties. So much so that many states elected Hindu chauvinist parties (called Hindutva in Indian parlance) in late 1980s and by 1990s they took power at the central government. In a democracy minority sectarianism, though odious is not lethal. But the majority sectarianism because of the power of votes usually ends up in fascism and destruction of democracy.
Gradually under Hindutva (Hindu sectarianism) leadership the education system has become even more sectarian and the religious divide among the majority Hindus and minority Muslims has become more stark and lethal. A vast majority of Hindus and Muslims are decent law abiding citizens, who have lived with each other harmoniously. They are being polarized by endemic riots, usually engineered just before the elections using fear mongering to garner votes. This has lead to a vicious downward spiral.
Very small religious communities, not affected by sectarianism did not feel the contamination of the society by Hindutva’s incessant propaganda through the governmental agencies. Now even the small Christian community has been targeted by the Hindutva forces, especially in the backward tribal areas where because of evangelical activities many low-cast or castless tribal communities have accepted Christianity.
The birth of terrorism
There were no terroristic bombings in India before 1993. Though the sectarian riots have been on the rise since 1960s, often the sectarian police being the main culprit, it was the demolition of the 16th Century Mosque (Babri Masjid) in December 1992 that lead to the new era of bombing crowded markets.
The demolition was preceded by a slow deliberate 1,000 miles march of Mr. Advani from Gujarat State in western India to the site of the mosque in sleepy little town Ayodhya in UP, a state in Northern Indian. Two months long slow march with fan-fare and speeches full of venom and misquotation of history whipped up Hindu passions that resulted in many local riots. The march was stopped by the secular Chief Minister of UP state. As a result he was defeated in the next election and the new Hindutva party Chief Minister allowed a frenzied mob to take down the large historic Mosque, brick by brick in the full glare of the television. The Indian Prime Minster of a supposed secular party sat in Delhi cloistered in his office offering inane excuses.
In the wake of the demolition of Babri Masjid there were riots in many parts of India. The riots in Mumbai (Bombay) were particularly gruesome because the Police carried out a massacre of Muslim localities. An inquiry commission under Justice Shri Krishna (a devout Hindu) found the local and national Hindutva parties guilty. Just as many other such commission reports, the Shri Krishna commission report was s also shelved and no cases were brought against the politically powerful culprits.
The heightened sectarianism brought the Hindutva party (BJP) to power at the center in Delhi and Mr. Advani, a criminal became the Deputy Prime Minister. “Ayodhya” episode was milked for a decade by whipping up hate through virulent sectarian grafting of feudalistic medieval history on democratic India to weaken and injure the basic democratic ethos. Threatening demolition of many other historic mosques, worked again and Hindutva party (BJP) won in many states including Gujarat.
The pogrom in Gujarat under the Chief Minister, Mr. Modi in which about 2,000 Muslims were by the mob under police protection throwing incendiary bombs from behind the police lines is well documented, and condemned all over the world and all secular Hindus.
Unfortunately as Muslim felt cornered and unprotected by the government, the Muslim polarization gave rise to underground fringe groups that took it upon them-selves to avenge the massacres. As always when small fringe groups take up arms to avenge, they only do more damage by killing other innocent citizens who had no part in violence and further polarize the populace.
After many such bombing, supposedly by the Muslim fringe groups, many Hindu groups attached to the Hindutva Parties have also sprung up. They have been caught at least on two occasions and couple of times the bombers have blown themselves up while constructing crude bombs.
After each set of bomb blast the police habitually accuse the commonly known Muslim fringe groups and arrest local Muslim youth, usually with no evidence. The police often torture them, but the cases are either not brought to the court or they are thrown out. It simply creates more hatred for the police and the government without any tangible positive result. The cycle goes on.
Way back to sanity of civil and just society
The road back to sanity after fanning the flames for decades is never easy. The essential glue that holds a nation together is the sense of belonging. Belonging means a common purpose, rooted in equal opportunity and justice for all. A simple concept, but it becomes exceedingly difficult after it has been violated for years.
Four steps are essential for return to democratic sanity.
1. The government has an essential obligation to bring the culprits of bombing to justice, irrespective of their affiliation or religion, not for the sake of revenge or to avenge the innocent, but for the essential concept of justice.
2. But selective justice is no justice at all. To restore the Muslims and the Christian victims of violence in Orrisa and Gujarat states, the investigative reports of the high powered commissions on the major riots, languishing in archives, should be brought back to the light. Those accused should be brought to the bar of justice, as it was done in the case of the massacre of Sikhs in 1984 in wake if the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
3. Teaching of secular values to the children is essential to nurture pluralistic democracy. Primary and secondary education in all schools should have a strong component of secular education. Indians are inheritors of an ancient multi religious civilization. The values from all religions and philosophies should be included as a positive re-enforcement of multi-religious, multi-cultural ethos. This is the most important aspect of raising a better generation.
4. To sustain the secular education and eventually eliminate sectarianism, the police force, the administration and the judiciary should have adequate representation of all religious and ethnic communities. The excuse that the employment is dependent upon the competitive qualifications is a rouge by sectarian forces. No great intellectual prowess is needed to be a policeman, a city clerk, or a low to mid level administrator. The government can not monitor each small office, but the presence of people of all communities integrated in an office setting impedes discrimination and helps assimilation of citizenry to weld a nation, as has been the proven by the assimilation of the lower casts in the power structure.
Photo: India Gate