In bad faith
Instead of singling out a single religious minority for blame and discrimination in a time of crisis, we as a nation must unite to renew our age-old tradition of religious harmony
Without tradition, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof," is the theme of the old classic film, Fiddler on the Roof. Simply playing the song All is well in India from atop the stage at Howdy Modi and Namaste Trump did no good to the country when the basic values of our Vedic tradition — truthfulness, non-injury, humanism, and rationality, are given a pass in the cacophony of rhetoric, religious bigotry and falsehood. Thus, a prominent newspaper's engineered survey glorifying the PM as a great global leader comes to nought when his government has messed up the economy multiplying human misery; when a delayed lockdown has compounded the problems; when a farcical Rs 20 lakh crore package is being touted as the panacea and importantly, when the United States Commission for International Religious Freedoms, etc. has castigated India for religious disharmony.
Trump is no one's friend, and that his participation in much-hyped Namaste Trump programme was only with an eye on the votes of the Indian diaspora is evident when he ejected India from the GSP that annually allowed duty-free entry for $5.6 billion worth of our exports for years, threatened retaliation if HCQ was not supplied, and now has warned of direct repercussions if India went ahead with the $5 billion missile deal with Russia. Further, even the honour of White House 'following' our PM on Twitter, that began on April 10 after India acceded to his demand for the malaria drug, the Indian PM was 'unfollowed' after three weeks, just the day after the US Commission on International Religious Freedom released its annual report, accusing India of religious intolerance for the way it deals with religious minorities.
The report spoke on how in this majoritarian rule, laws like CAA were enacted to the detriment of minorities and how Muslims are being targeted. It recommended declaring India as 'a country of particular concern' along with other 13 countries, like Pakistan, North Korea, China, etc. And of late, USCIRF has even asked India to release those who were arrested for exercising their democratic rights of protest against CAA.
Notwithstanding the Government's assertion that it is an internal matter, people of the country cannot help but agree with the contents of the report.
Unfortunately, the democratically elected regime, in cohort with their supplicant media, has blatantly deviated from the tenets of secularism enshrined in our Constitution to target minorities. Their stark failures in every field are being concealed under the garb of emotive communalism.
An analysis of the past six years says that the economy has slumped, unemployment and poverty rose to record heights; Oxfam International's Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index ranks India at 147 among 157 countries; Social Mobility Index places us at the bottom of the list; we are at 177 among 180 countries in performance to protect our environment, and rank 140 among 156 nations in World Happiness Report of the UN. Significantly, we have slid by 50 notches in Democratic Traditions to be at 91 among 180 countries. And now, USCIRF places us among the 14 countries of 'particular concern' for religious disharmony.
Yet, even in these days of Coronavirus pandemic, leaders not only threaten vegetable vendors of the minority community but also mislead people by spreading rumours that they pollute them with urine and spit to spread the virus. MP police beat up an advocate sporting a long beard, and later apologise for mistaking him to be a Muslim.
The same media houses that propagated that Tablighi Jamat Muslims were all out to spread the virus, is silent about the fact that over 180 of the 3,500 Hindu devotees from Punjab who visited Nanded around the same time were infected and are tight-lipped about the over many infected employees of Zee News who could become responsible for community spread. While they tried to give a communal colour to the assembly of migrant workers at Bandra railway station to board a train, they are silent about similar, yet repeated, incidents in Gujarat, UP, etc.
The goodness does not appeal to the senses of such media and leaders of our country. In Chennai, a constable stops a poor man to question his movement during the curfew time, only to find that his 9-month pregnant wife was in hospital needing blood. Learning that his blood group matched with that of the woman, he not only rushed along with the man to save the mother and the child but also handed over all the instant reward of Rs 11,000 he received from the department for his humane work, to the poor couple; he was a Muslim and the couple, Hindu. What we need at this point, is compassion and the spirit of 'unity in diversity'.
Similarly, in MP, youths from the minority group helped a man to cremate his mother when the village was scared of doing it during the COVID-19 panic. Recovered Tablighi Jamaatis have been donating blood plasma to save the lives of critically ill patients. Such instances show the fraternal feelings among people of both communities that have existed for ages.
The shameful acts of discrimination against religious minorities have already caught international attention. UN Human Rights Organisation has even intervened in the SC against the CAA. US agencies are becoming increasingly vocal against the recurring instances of religious intolerance and the inaction of the current Indian regime and the patronage extended to extreme Hindu outfits. Several Islamic countries have unequivocally condemned India.
It is not sufficient to mildly react to international criticism by saying 'Virus does not discriminate people based on religion, race, etc.', or 'Muslims may pray during Ramzan for COVID-19 to disappear'. An assertive action through the outright condemnation of violence and malicious campaigns along with exemplary legal action against the bigots and banning such outfits is the need of the hour to unite the country in the fight against the virus and to revive our battered economy.
There is no point in making the entire country clap and light candles, and showering flower petals from planes. It is time to stop playing as the 'Fiddler atop Raisana Hills' and accept the true tenets of our tradition and uplift the spirit of coexistence and harmony.
The writer is a retired IPS officer and a former Member of Public Grievances Commission, Delhi. Views expressed are personal