We have to look at the roots of the communal divide in a historical sense. We have to go back to the classical historical definition of the term communalism, which is so unique to South Asia. Historically, communalism is not religion, religion is not communalism -- communalism is basically the manipulation of religion and of religious symbols for political mobilization. Communalism in that sense is a very modern phrase that we use and we cannot, like Praveen Togadia, use it to mean inter-group conflict.
When we look at what communalism is and why we are not able to grapple with it, sometimes it almost seems that electoral democracy (of course, Pakistan always proves us wrong!) has been the fillip that communalism needs to be able to feed into a majoritarian discourse in India.
The historical contours of this divide make us understand why we are not able to study the (national) movement in an adequate form. Hand-in-hand with the upsurge and revolt against colonialism you started seeing the forces of communalism mobilizing and gathering and gaining strength. In 1905 people would not allow Bengal to be partitioned, and yet in 1947 you had 8 million people displaced and maybe 1-3 million people massacred and that is a figure I’m ashamed to utter because even today the Home ministries of our countries cannot provide us with the exact figure as to how many people lost their lives in the Partition violence.
So what happened in those 42 years [1905 to 1947] to so drastically change things? Forty-two years are both a very long time and not such a long time if you look at history. Ironically, the stories and horrors of partition have been told and re-told in the same decade after the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
1905, remains a very important benchmark because it tells you that common people, Muslims or Hindus, were not saying that we could only be happy if we lived separately, because that's what Partition meant. Then you jump to 1920, Mr. K. M. Munshi, who was one of the ideologues of the Right Wing, a minister in Nehru's cabinet afterwards, writes this book called 'Jai Somnath' and then the mythical Hindu angst [about the Somnath temple] became reality.
Somnath was very integral to Gujarat and Gujarat communalism. Romila's work tells us something very interesting about that whole period because she tells us that till 1843, that is about 13-14 years before the first war of independence in 1857, there was no historical discourse around the angst of the Somnath Temple, there was no discourse at all. The Somnath Temple had been raided 3 dozen times before it was looted by Ghaznavi because it was one of the richest temples of its periods and it always carried wealth and whoever wanted to get a hold over the wealth in the Somnath Temple eyed it and raided it. [Romila Thapar]tells us that till 400 yeas after Ghazni's raiding this Somnath Temple, the Panchkula of the temple -- the Panchkula being a small committee that man the temple, man the area of the temple which consisted of the village people and the pandits, everybody -- gifted a part of the land to an Arab trader, to build a small mosque in the precincts of the temple. Would this have ever happened if there were this huge historical Hindu anger against the raid of Somnath? It was only in 1853 when somebody went to the British Collector with the demand to bring back the gates of Somnath to Somnath to reduce Hindu angst. So somewhere in the British Administration documentation began, letter writing began that if we were to somehow create situations by which you could document feelings of this historical Hindu angst against Muslim invaders, maybe we can stem this uprising that is taking place against us.
Slobodan Milosevic, how did he begin his entire movement that led to the massacre of thousands of Bosnians not so long ago? He began by digging up coffins of persons who had been killed by the Turkish centuries back and he took those coffins in a procession all over his country and bloodshed occurred. What did Praveen Togadia and the BJP ministers in Navin Patnaik's cabinet do on 25th August, 2008 after Swami Lakshmanananda was murdered in Khandamal? The coffin of the swami was taken all over the 220 kms of Khandamal. (I've been to Khandamal four times, it takes you 16 hours to reach it from Bhubeneshwar, nobody wants to go, and believe me if you want to see poverty in the Indian context you have to see the tribes of Khandamal.) 300 villages were gutted and 100 people were killed, who happened to be tribal Christians and dalits. It is the same discourse that in Bangladesh has attacked the properties and lives of the Bangladeshi Hindus; it's a reverse story. If you go to Sri Lanka, in 1953, when the Sri Lankan constitution was written, there were only two members belonging to the Sri Lankan Left who actually said that Tamil should also be included as an official language in Sri Lanka. By excluding Tamil, and privileging Sinhala, the Sinhala Buddhist-Tamil divide was created and the seeds of the civil war that ripped the country apart were created. So exclusion and inegalitarianism is then another manifestation of communalism.
Now one of the ways that we address communalism is we go to court and try and book the perpetrators, as there cannot be peace without justice. But another way that I believe is as critical is through the process of learning or educating.
In the pedagogical approach language becomes a very important way in which you can either be inclusive or exclusive. I'd like to talk a little about Hindi and Urdu. It's very important because I think what has happened to Urdu that side of the border and what has happened to Urdu on this side of the border, I think these are discourses taking place in the area of study of languages that we need to understand when we are constructing curriculum and when we are approaching the entire pedagogical issue of which medium to teach in. Premchand one of my favorite writers, wrote only in the Urdu script because that was the script in which the person speaking Avadi Hindustani wrote. There was no Hindu Muslim divide to Hindi and Urdu, and therefore the aggressive division between Hindi and Urdu after partition, on our side and on the Pakistani side Urdu becoming a completely un-understandable elite language which is not the beautiful Urdu spoken by the people on our side, tells us exactly what can be done when you’re talking about using language as a tool of social exclusion.
Apart from language what are the issues that we deal with when we talk about curriculum, particularly when we talk about social studies and history teaching? Do we like to address issues of conflict in the classroom? Some of us have been saying that without opening up the class for discussions on conflict, sensitively and creatively, we are in fact emotionally damaging children. Today no child remains immune from the impact of electronic media and invariably, images; this media is forming perceptions and even language. So unless we as adults, the teacher that is engaging with children is looking at these areas of personal, social and societal conflict and creatively bringing them into the classroom, I think we are in a way failing our children.
I’ll just give you an example that happened in a classroom [in Mumbai] in 1997. We were creating the course curriculum and we said okay let’s give the children some words in Hindi and Marathi and ask them to write sentences about what they have experienced in the city in the last few weeks [after the Mumbai riots]. So the teachers chose words like eat, leave, come, go and they didn’t choose words like house/neighborhood consciously, since that’s where the problems happened, houses had been burned down.
The children wrote out brutal sentences related to the violence that had taken place. There was a Maharashtrian boy living in Mahim, 14 years old who lost his father because they thought he was Muslim. “When so and so went to Malad, his father did not ‘come’ home.” ‘come’. We used that experiment to convince the teachers that there was a desire and need in the child to be able to in some way communicate this. The birthday of one child saw brutal violence in Bombay, that word birthday hurts the child because she had gone out with her father to the cake shop and in front of the cake shop, she saw a man being slaughtered.
One of the understandings we've had in our educational programme is that when we are studying history and social studies it is extremely important for our children to be able to look at our neighbours to understand the majority/minority divisor across south Asia and to understand the geographical/topographical boundaries that we've created as nation state, the age old historical cultural connections that Tagore’s Kabuliwala gives us about Afghanistan; all these need to be explored with the young in the classroom through the curriculum. Instead of portraying history and historical figures with an open-ended mindset, history, history teaching, syllabus writing, what you retain in textbooks and what you don’t retain in textbooks has all become a method of manipulation one way or another. And I think it is very important as a cultural educationist, as people who want our children to grow up with open minds to look at the area of education, what are children are studying, how are they being taught, what are the languages, what is the content of the syllabus and engage with it. The right way to show up all its fallacies, offers this facility of parent engagement with whatever its limitations.
So therefore I believe that for us to be a society, country, democracy, people the biggest challenge is how do we grapple with notions of equality/non-discrimination, particularly on communal lines -- of course of gender and caste as well -- and match that to the whole business of majoritarian democracy? That is our biggest challenge. We don’t have a representative democracy, we don’t have the right to recall, we have ineffectual application of laws against hate speech and hate writing. I'm as critical of the so-called secular parties as I am of the communal ones because I believe by using secularism only as an electoral drama it has helped in bad-mouthing the word. They have not given life and meaning to the word secularism because secularism means actually governance without discrimination, governance that respects equality, fair play and is unswerving of majority and minority community both.
I believe that if the state had to have a fair negotiation with people and communities, it would encourage democratization within communities themselves. I would like to share with you some work we have done on the constitution assembly debates. The Constitution assembly debates is a very interesting set of documents in 18 volumes that are available with the parliament and they tell us how every single issue that entered our constitution was debated for one and a half years intensively by different minds, minds of the Centre, mind of the Left, minds of the Right, tell how an agreement was reached so in that sense it was an excellent document of consensus building, an important document to read and the only unnatural thing about it, or what happened to it was that the partition took place bang in between.
So, we collectively researched that part of the Constitutional Assembly Debates before the partition, related to majority-minority rights, gender, caste, community and the same things after partition. Was there any difference, did anybody's stance change? Did partition have an impact on the way that people articulated their rights? I must share with you that Article 16 changed, dramatically.
Article 16 is the section that gives us the right to commit affirmative actions for the socio-economically backward sections. It is under this article for instance that the Mandal reservations have taken place; the huge OBC reservations have taken place. There was a sub-committee headed by Sardar Patel and six other members and one of the most interesting discussions was that it had been assumed by everybody that when you talk about socio-economic backwardness, religious minorities are right there because they are from the poorer sections, exactly what the Sachaar Committee told us in 2005.
In the middle of that [discussion] partition happens and then people start saying in this committee that we don't have to spell out religious minorities, everyone understands it. So there is a whole discussion and the only person who speaks very forthrightly is Frank Antony who says “No you’re telling us today that it will be assumed because the leadership today is honest, the leadership today has integrity, but tomorrow it will be assumed that this section is not needed. Please put it in.” Muslim leadership is very defensive because partition has happened, they don't have the courage to argue it out, only Frank Antony on behalf of the Christians is arguing it out and finally the two Muslim leaders in the committee actually do a deal with Sardar Patel. They say “Fine don't put us in Article 16, but don’t touch the personal laws for Muslims.” Which means the women amongst the Muslims become victims of this deal.
According to me, anything that needs to be understood about the pre-partition mobilizations in 1905 and 1947 gets repeated between 1985-86 and right up to today. It is in 1986 for instance that the VHP's three decade long demand for mobilization around the temple of Ayodhya finally gets accepted by the BJP, as part of its national agenda and programme. It is in 1986 that Rajiv Gandhi's government with a huge majority in parliament passes the Muslim Women's Protection of Divorce Act in response to completely retrograde action on the Shah Bano case. First this was done and within two weeks of doing this, the locks of the Ram temple were opened and a 40-year dispute was given life by the ruling party, when it had been a marginal issue.
We saw majority-minority communal politics being replayed in the most cynical way possible and then of course you saw the entire criminal illegal movement for the construction of the Ram temple which was never about the construction of the Ram Temple, it was about demonizing the minority community. And then you had 1992-93 which saw Bombay burn, Ahmedabad burn, Bhopal burn, which saw Jaipur and Hubli burn which had never burned even during the partition violence and wherever Advani's Yatra had gone we know there was a bloody trail behind it or before it.
I also believe that understanding the plight of minorities, particularly in places like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka is very important to be able to understand and deal with communal forces here because the patterns are very similar. To know what an Asma Jahangir or a Pervez Hoodbhoy goes through in Pakistan will really humble us activists who believe they are doing a strong job here because they are doing it not within a democratic framework. I think it is very important to understand what it means for a Sherry Rehman to be number three on the target after two people already being killed for actually voicing their views against the Blasphemy Law. Asma Jahangir used to travel in a separate plane in case there was an attack on her. So these are the risks that activists, intellectuals, lawyers fighting in non-democratic dispensations face and it would do us a lot of humility as Indians who are sometimes pretty self-ponderous of our own democracy and what we are to ourselves in the world, to understand what it means to struggle in such dispensations.
Do you know that Pune has pioneered girls’ education? I’m talking about the school that Savitribai Phule started. But for that movement for women and girls' education, many of you women would not be able to claim education as our own. When Savitribai Phule was targeted when she went to school, who was the person who stood by her? It was her long-standing friend Osman Sheikh and who was the first teacher in her school? It was Fatima Sheikh. You don't have to look around for communal harmony stories; they are there all over because that was the story of interwoven subcontinent's history. It just depends on what you look for and what you pick and what your approach is and the problem is that if you look at history through either the lens of identity power or politics, you tend to undermine it as a rational subject and worse manipulate it as a tool of hate.