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Communal Harmony: A YATRA SADLY IGNORED, by Syed Ali Mujtaba, 19 Oct, 2011 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 19 October 2011

Communal Harmony


By Syed Ali Mujtaba

Much hullabaloo was made of Anna Hazare’s fast against corruption and so also about Narender Modi’s fast for communal harmony. Now it’s LK Advani’s yatra, which is attracting a great deal of attention. But has anyone heard about the communal harmony yatra that concluded in New Delhi on October 16. Guess very few.

It’s unfortunate that such a meaningful and positive development in the country is not being reported by the media, which instead prefers to feed on the staple diet of news that may loosely be called infotainment. It is long well-established that the Indian press is bourgeoisie in character but now what is becoming apparent is the total lack of moral and ethical values in media representation. If this gradual decline goes unabated the designers of national character may be guilty of acts beyond our comprehension.

Let us leave this thought for introspection and talk about this secular yatra that began from the pious town of Ayodhya on October 11 and concluded at the Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin in New Delhi. It was the fourth edition of the yatra and persons from various parts of the country led this march to the national Capital cherishing the ideal of peaceful coexistence. Whether these people were successful in their mission is difficult to profess, but the fact that they strived to bridge the communal divide in our country, is laudable indeed.

The yatra was led by Ayodhya’s famous mahant of Ayodhya Yugal Kishor Shastri who has been tirelessly working for communal harmony in the country. Last year, he took out a similar yatra among various communities from Ayodhya to Sewagram in Wardha. In an interview at an interfaith conference in New Delhi last year Shastri narrated to this writer how he sheltered the fleeing Muslims being chased by the Hindutva goons during the demolition of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992. “I have buried many Muslim bodies with my own hands in that communal madness,” said the inconspicuous mahant, in a whispering tone. To take his mission forward, Shastri also brings out a magazine Ayodhya ki Awaz to promote the values of peace and harmony.

While talking to Shastri, one would wonder how some swamis and mahants become national figures and amass huge wealth and followers in this country, while those who are genuinely godly persons, remain a naked fakir like him. Let us again keep this thought for self introspection.

His communal harmony yatra starting from Ayodhya went to Faizabad, reached Lucknow, then Sitapur, Shahjahanpur, night halt at Moradabad and arrived at Delhi in the morning of October 16, covering a distance of 490 km by road. There were 20 members in this yatra, who were involved in the programmes of mass contact all along the travel route. These included conferences, street plays, press meets and reaching out to the people, especially the youth. The yatra’s aim was to propagate the idea of a common culture heritage among different communities, and that the shared history of living together among these communities is much longer than the momentary phases of conflict and disharmony.

Importantly, the starting point of the yatra was the temple town of Ayodhya, where the Hindu-Muslim conflict over a disputed mosque has sown the seeds of communal hatred in the country. Ayodhya was specifically chosen because it is where five religions: Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Islam and Sikhism have their roots and all have existed side by side.

The city once was an oasis of communal coexistence and there was perfect harmony among its various the communities. Sadly, the raking up of the Ramjanamboohmi issue was a deliberate attempt to destroy this plural culture of Ayodhya, making it a symbol, which has rattled the secular character of the country. Even after over 20 years of that ill-fated event, the seeds of hatred that were sown have poisoned the relationship among the communities to an extent where it is hard break free from that cluttered mindset.

The yatra was thus taken out to combat such preachers of hate and to propagate the idea of shared cultural history. The purpose was clearly to resist the forces of fascism, communalism and untouchability and instead promote the idea of peace, unity and brotherhood. The programmes of mass contact particularly stressed that the country is in the dire need of communal harmony and that development and progress is only possible when an atmosphere of love and harmony is created. How? One answer is--by simply knitting the people together.

The yatra concluded at the hospice of Hazrat Nizamuddin, a towering Sufi saint, whose most popular phrase was: “Do not give me a scissor because it cuts, give me a needle because it stitches.” Later, the yatra members paid tributes to Mahatma Gandhi at the Rajghat. This was followed by a conference on communal harmony at the Gandhi Samriti, where most of the speakers stressed on ways and means to promote communal harmony in India.

Some of the prominent organizations associated with this yatra, included Communalism Combat, Viswa Yuva Sadbhavana Parishad, Asha Parivar, Ayodhya ki Awaz, Milli Gazzete, Sarvdharam Sadbhav Kendra Trust, Confederation of Voluntary Association-Cova, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, Rashtriya Yuva Sangathan, Centre for study of Society and Secularism-CCSS and Centre for Human Rights and Social Welfare. India is perhaps the only country in the world where there is mix of several religious identities existing side by side. There is a general desire among various communities to lead a life of peaceful coexistence eve though attempts have been made regular intervals to break this blissful peace. The resilience of the Indian society has always discarded such narrow outlook and has cherished the ideal that all religion have equal place and their followers must live in perfect harmony.

It won’t be out of context to say that in our country there exist two diametrically opposite forces at work. One, who are working to destroy communal amity and two, those striving relentlessly to bridge this communal divide.  Indeed, the communal harmony yatra was an attempt to isolate the preachers of hate and to promote the idea to live in peace. It was also an effort to initiate the process of interfaith dialogue to resolve all the outstanding issues in a peaceful manner.

Candidly, one must salute those people who have taken such an initiative. Additionally, it would be a service to the nation to highlight such a noble cause. If more and more people join in such initiatives then undeniably this humble beginning may soon become a movement. How soon can we start? ---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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