The verdict of the Supreme Court is out over the disputed land of Ayodhya, sending some into a celebratory mood and others into a morbid mood. Amidst all this, my friend who lives in a mixed community at Nagpur sent me a text message, expressing her panic-stricken state of mind.
The verdict and my friend’s consequent reaction pushed me 27 years back in memory lane, when in 1992, communal riots had devastated the city of Ayodhya. During those critical days, the town I lived in was Hindu-dominated, with only one Muslim family in our immediate neighbourhood. The conflict between some bigots had changed the relationship among the people of the two communities. Imran Chacha, who had been living with his family in the neighbourhood for the last thirty years, had become an alien over night. Ostracised and excommunicated, Chacha and his innocent family were dragging their days under some sort of unspoken fear. Most of the people made their resentment clear on the following festival of Id.
I can vividly recollect the tearful eyes of Farina Apa, the oldest daughter of Chacha, who fearfully landed at our place with a bowl of Sevian and some sweets to present us on the auspicious occasion. With a trembling voice, Farina extended the sweets to my mother, and broke down into a pool of tears. As my mother hugged the sobbing girl, she shared that many of the people in the locality had refused to accept their sweets and Id greetings. Intensely drowned into sobs, Farina anxiously asked my mother if she would do the same. Now the grasp of my mother’s embrace got tighter and consoling the girl, she reiterated the lines of Allama Iqbal “Mazhab nahīñ sikhātā aapas meñ bair rakhnā” (religion never advocates hostility).
Farina’s smile was back, but now my mother had turned furious. Taking Farina, she barged into the houses of all those people who had humiliated the girl. The otherwise reticent mother of mine unleashed her anger and also exhorted the people to suspend their apartheid move. Finally people realised their folly and apologised to Chacha.
Whenever communal harmony is disturbed, many innocents have to pay a heavy price for no fault of theirs. I hope people living in mixed communities not only croon the beautiful lines of Allama Iqbal, but also assimilate the hidden wisdom couched in the lines. Righty said, “If your religion requires you to hate someone, you need a new religion.”
A version of this article appears in print on January 10, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.