Fear factor is being drilled into the minds of minorities

Mohammed Wajihuddin
Mohammed Wajihuddin

In the course of her continuing friction with the Centre, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee recently used a slightly changed version of a dialogue from the 1970s’ blockbuster Sholay. Exhorting opposition CMs to raise their voice against an “autocratic Centre”, Banerjee said: “Jo darte hain, so marte hain (those who run scared, are certain to die).”

Berating his mercenaries for chickening out in the face of strong resistance, Sholay’s baddie Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan) delivered the dialogue that has remained with us for decades: Jo dar gaya, samjho mar gaya (Those who get scared are destined to die). If life imitates arts, the dialogue is articulation of man’s weakness. Fear is what keeps many away from even attempting to take on their adversaries. The fear factor has been man’s biggest enemy. It saps the energy, demotivates and discourages individuals and communities. If you are scared of a competitor, you may surrender even before hitting the fighting arena.

It is very unlikely that the powerful will not bully the week. To assert their power, the powerful try to force the week to toe its line. The faint-hearted surrender meekly while the brave fight valiantly. Sometimes clashes need to be avoided if the week have to prolong the fight and tire the powerful enemy out. This is the strategy Mahatma Gandhi adopted when he led the fight against the British colonisers. Non-violence was a mantra that outwitted the wily British even if they were militarily and materially superior to us. Gandhi showed that a mass movement doesn’t need to be violent to achieve goals.

Many seemingly weak and vulnerable may possess steely courage. The fear of the unknown, the hidden hands of invisible enemies cannot deter such individuals from taking initiatives. Such people of grit and confidence don’t let fear of failure make them behave like an ostrich. They stay calm, prefer fight to flight.

Of late I have come across some individuals who rue India’s situation, especially the tightening of screws on the minorities and their institutions. For the latest example, read the Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Amendment Act 2021. Enforced on June 1, 2021, it makes it mandatory for minority schools to appoint principals and teachers through a centralized selection process. In a viral WhatsApp message, Father (Dr) Teles Fernandes, Secretary, Gujarat Education Board of Catholic Institutions (GEBCI), calls this law the last nail in the coffin of minority rights granted under Article 30 (1): “…to establish and administer educational institutions of one’s choice.” So, the Board of Governors at minority-run institutions will become a toothless body as the government’s central recruitment committee will appoint staff in the schools established and run by minorities.

And, since Gujarat is a laboratory for many social experiments in contemporary India, it will be rolled out soon in many other BJP-ruled states.

So, we were talking about some individuals hugely worried about their future in India. A businessman friend recently told me something very unsettling. “I have told my school-going children to study hard and we will try to settle them abroad,” he said. To me, this is absolute escapism. Telling children to take best education from wherever it is possible is laudable but telling them to try and settle down abroad because the situation here is “bad” is behaviour of a faint-hearted and an opportunist. And this mentality is not exclusive to just one community. There are many other well-off parents who want their children to seek greener pastures abroad. But they do so for different reasons.

Which country on the planet is perfectly peaceful? India belongs to everyone who made it their home. By losing faith in the country’s inclusivity, its delightful diversity, we will be ceding ground to the forces that want to paint it in one colour. We are a salad bowl, not a melting pot. Everyone has rights to keep his distinct identity intact and yet he is part of the nation’s rich tapestry. Though efforts are being made to ‘otherise’ and ‘invisibilise’ you, make you feel second class citizens, you must not fall prey to the dangerous scheme.

What will happen if the educated, financially strong section of a community takes flight? It will wreak havoc with the community. It happened during the tumultuous times of the Partition. A segment of the Muslim middle class left for Pakistan, leaving the poor in the community in the lurch. Though Hindu Mahasabha leaders too favoured the idea of a separate state for Hindus and Muslims, the entire blame was put on Muslims for partition.

Journalist Ghazala Wahab, in her immensely readable book “Born A Muslim: Some Truths About Islam In India” writes:”…the idea of a separate homeland for Muslims was first floated by Lala Lajpat Rai who, despite his association with the Hindu Mahasabha, was also a member of the Indian National Congress.” Wahab further writes that Lajpat Rai, in a series of 13 articles published in “The Tribune” in 1924, “introduced his readers to the idea of Hindus and Muslims being different people whose unity was an artificial contract.” To get Swarajya, Rai believed, sacrifices had to be made and one of the sacrifices was partition of Hindu and Muslim states.

For a decade or so after partition, Muslims were made to feel guilty of having divided India even though the majority of them had stayed back here. By staying back, they proved they were better patriots as they chose not to leave India though they had a choice.

Pakistan was not the choice of the nationalist Muslims then. It is not the choice of them now. As for trying to make “comfortable” homes elsewhere, leaving the less-privileged fight their own battles, it will be insult to the sacrifice of the freedom fighters and makers of modern India.

Many of them would echo ‘Didi’ Mamata Banerjee were they to return to India today. And they would say: Jo dar gaya, samjho mar gaya. And they would exhort the masses to stay here and struggle to save the idea of India which is secular, pluralist and multi-cultural.

Mohammed Wajihuddin, a senior journalist, is associated with The Times of India, Mumbai. This piece has been picked up from his blog