Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Twilight of Religious Tolerance

It’s 2.30 am in India and officially Diwali of the year 2015 and I could not find a better moment to pen this down. Diwali, the festival of lights...

The last few weeks, no, actually in the last few years we have witnessed a lot of furore over Hindu-Muslim controversies, love Jihad, and lately religious tolerance.

A couple of weeks back I watched a recital by Zeeshan Ayub of Nazir Akbarabadi’s poem, Diwali. The poem paints a beautiful picture of Deepawali celebrations with sweets and lights from the standpoint of a spectator who loves this festival, who also happens to be the poet, incidentally a Muslim.

6th December 1992, the fateful day when Babri Masjid was demolished in an attempt to reclaim the Ram Janmabhoomi, Ayodhya; that day began the infamous riots across India. I was merely 8 years old at that point, and the only understanding that I had of riots at that point was an indefinite vacation. These vacations though, were unlike any other experienced till that point. We were not allowed to step out of the house due to curfew and witnessed constant terror of the family members throughout.

While house-arrest due to evident terror in itself would be enough to ruin any sense of democracy at an impressionable age, there was more. Every evening around twilight the curfew siren was blown and as if on cue began the recital of “Jai Sri Ram” and “Allah-Hu-Akbar”. And while these recitals were still on, sets of frantic of both religions looted, killed and raped the people of another religion, of which we read in the newspapers next morning…

Twilight, that has been the source of inspiration to many a poets and writers; twilight, which is considered the most romantic hour of the day. To this day, the same twilight brings in the sense of uneasiness and dread that the 8 year old child experienced. To this day, I dread the sound of both “Jai Sri Ram” and “Allah-Hu-Akbar”. And, to this day, I dread men wearing saffron or skull-caps. I find myself averse to any display of religious sentiments irrespective of the intent to be precise.

Babri Masjid was demolished to reclaim the Ram Janmabhoomi. All this, on the secular soils of India; and then we had the face to criticize Taliban for demolishing the Buddhas of Bamiyan. Ayodhya till 1992 had the potential of being made into Jerusalem of India, or better still, Hagia Sophia like Turkey. That act would have reinforced the sense of religious tolerance not what we actually did or are doing now.

As a child, I always pictured a multicultural family with members of different religions and nationalities coming together to celebrate all the festivals of the world. As a grown up today, I just sit and celebrate these festivals by myself and yearn for a world where this would be possible. Although that world keeps receding with each passing day, with each vote won over caste, creed, race and religion. Each day, I wake up to not a secular state but the mockery of secularism.

During the riots in my childhood, I pictured all the gods, Allah, Jesus et al, sitting together in the divine living room clink their glasses of holy Elixir and watch Tom & Jerry together. I still picture them doing that, only they watch live updates from planet earth and cringe with each act of us mortals.

Religious tolerance has become the latest keyword of discussions. Tolerance… the notion itself brings in the sense of putting up with something unpleasant. Why have we come down to the stage where we made something intolerant to then preach tolerance? Why did we make other religions intolerable in the first place?

Watching Zeeshan Ayub recite that poem, I can finally concur with Shah Rukh Khan. We are indeed heading towards the dark ages. The ages that we cannot trace in history as all records were destroyed; the period that would look like a patch of no-man’s land in the pages of history. Oh! To hell with science, technology, education, modernization and globalization!

*Did I just hear the glasses clink?*

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