A Lesson in Tolerance
“Oh, you can’t trust the Muslims,” a coworker of mine informed me, “They follow their own rules. They act as one. I mean, look at their religion! No morality whatsoever! If you want to have five wives, well, go right ahead. If you want to blow yourself up, just be sure to shout ‘Allahu Akbar’ beforehand.”
He continued: “We Hindus, on the other hand, when can you point to a single instance of violence originating from us? Where can you point to a single Hindu trying to convert someone by force?”
Meekly, (for I knew how hot emotions run during times such as these) I mentioned the Partition Riots that took place in 1947, or the periodic bouts of ‘communal violence’ which seem to crop up every two years or so.
“The communal riots, that’s something totally different!” he barked, “Those are usually started by the other side anyway. Are you saying we shouldn’t defend ourselves? Anyway, can you point to a single Hindu suicide bomber?”
I could not. Yet it seemed pointless to mention at that time the danger of the views he espoused, that by perpetuating the “Us vs. Them” mentality he did damage of a far more insidious sort than quite a lot of suicide bombers together.
I mention this episode because it was so similar in nature to many other conversations I have had with Hindus regarding Hindu-Muslim relations. Perhaps it is a symptom of the unspoken segregation that exists in India that I have not yet had the chance to get a Muslim view on the subject, though I suspect such a conversation would go quite the same, only in favor of their “side”.
Unspoken though it may be, Hindu-Musilm segregation is quite real, and it stands apparent even to a foreigner such as myself. The city in which I stay, Hyderabad, is famous for the peace with which its population lives, despite being an almost fully hybrid city. Hindu temples dot the sidewalks in one district, and merely a few kilometers away one can hear the local Mosque’s ringing call to prayer. Yet one sees very little commingling between Hindus and Muslims. The city is pocked with Hindu or Muslim enclaves, and their residents rarely venture to the other side. And it is an undeniable fact that the Muslim neighborhoods are worse off in almost every respect to the Hindu boroughs. The few Muslim neighborhoods I visited were crowded labyrinths of squeezed-together houses and suffered from a lack of fresh water, lack of access to sewage systems, poor and irregular food delivery and almost no sanitation to speak of, while the neighborhoods I saw with all the ‘modern amenities’ were populated almost exclusively by Hindus.
“India will never solve its problems,” a pessimistic friend of mine once said, “because India will never get along with itself. If you had a stone in the middle of the road and were trying to organize people to help move it to the side, it just wouldn’t happen. One person will say we should move it to the right. The other person will insist on moving it to the left. They’ll form parties over the issue, hold elections, even. Whatever the outcome, no matter how well monitored, the losing side will insist that it had been cheated, that the elections were fraudulent. Then there will be recounts, runoff elections. One faction of the ‘right side of the road’ party will splinter off, saying it is no longer represented by party leadership, and form its own party – say, the ‘further down the road’ coalition which states that the rock should neither be moved to the right nor left. Hindus will insist on taking leadership positions in the moving of the rock, Muslims will howl at the injustice of it all. Perhaps they’ll agitate for their own rock, to move in a fashion they see fit.”
At that point he ran out of examples, but I could continue for him if he wished: “Then, a language controversy would erupt. Marati speakers would insist on writing their language on the rock; Hindi speakers will make the same demands, and so will the Tamils. The lesser represented languages will join together in a coalition which, of course, will subsequently break apart.” And so forth.
This is a parody, but not a very gross one. “In such a country,” my friend concluded, “It’s impossible to believe that anything gets done.”
It is clear, however, that things are getting done, and one need look no further than India’s new crop of billionaires to see it. But one wonders if India will ever move beyond its communal mentality, if it will ever see itself, and its problems, holistically. There is much evidence that this is already happening, however slowly.
On the other hand, I have even heard the overpopulation problem blamed on the Muslims.