The way the Covid-19 contagion has engulfed the world is horrifying. The victim of this virus does not even get to know when and how he has caught the infection. Once it enters the body, it damages the respiratory system so rapidly that some people are not able to bear it and succumb to suffocation.
The history of epidemics that have spread so far in the world is a witness to the fact that sooner or later man has been able to bring them under control. We should be confident that soon the scientists will be able to come up with a cure for Covid-19.
However, what I want to discuss today is more dangerous than the virus. It kills the most fertile part of the body, the brain. Its victim doesn't die, instead talks about killing. I am talking about the deadly mutual hatred being spread in India.
Despite all the painful unrest, the Delhi riots are now a thing of the past, but the battle continues on social media. Never before have I seen such seething hatred. By looking at the fake graphics, concocted stories and stories distinguishing between "you and me", it feels as if there are only insane followers of casteism and communalism in the India that we inhabit. Instead of providing the victims with a healing touch, those 53 people who lost their lives in the tragic riots, the people whose houses or business establishments were burnt and those who were unnecessarily displaced, are being turned into mere commercials. In this fatal noise, the stories of brotherhood, which prove that humanity is not dead yet, are being negated.
Thankfully, during the Babri demolition, the violence after Indira Gandhi's assassination and operation Blue Star, the virtual world did not exist. God knows how many untoward incidents would have taken place had the hate mongers got hold of this weapon back then. Those incidents were more serious than the Delhi riots.
Hatred sells far more than love in this world of virtual reality. As a result, someone writes that his father had a driver of a different religion so he got him sacked. Someone else posts it with another story and someone else with another. The stories are different, but the purpose and intention is the same—divide, divide, and continue dividing the people. That's the reason that such messages appear on dozens of profiles within no time. Besides, it is as if there are some wise people who have opened a shop for free consultancy. I read a message written in very balanced language advising you to invest in companies that are 'halaal'. It's clear. Swords are drawn 'from both sides'.
Our politicians are often accused of reaping political benefits by socially polarising people. But this is a half-truth. If we don't want it to happen, nobody can divide us. However, if we are divided someone or the other will take advantage of it. This argument is countered by a superficial one that we have been divided from the beginning. It's true that we have a long and old tradition of ideological differences, but we used to overcome. How?
In 1932, the famous Pune agreement took place. The Britishers had made arrangements for separate representation of Muslims and Dalits. Gandhi considered it to be against the inherent Indianness, while Ambedkar was in favour of it. Gandhi was in Yeravada jail at that time. Seeing that his logic was not being accepted, he started fasting unto death in the jail. Babasaheb, too, was not ready to budge from his stand. In such a situation, the tilak wearing pundit Madan Mohan Malaviya succeeded in convincing Ambedkar. It's important to note that Ambedkar was against Manuvaad, while Malaviya had staunch faith in Sanatana Dharma, despite a modern outlook. His dress, ethics and the way he carried himself were very traditional. Still, Ambedkar listened to him. For India and Indianness, all these leaders used to unite.
Why only Gandhi and Ambedkar? Pakistan's 'Baba-e-Qaum' Muhammad Ali Jinnah, too, tried to convey in all his speeches from August 1947 to February 1948 that people were free to go to a temple or mosque or any other place of worship. Pakistan belongs to all. Isn't it wonderful? The leading statesmen on both sides of the border were talking in the same language, conveying the same message even after Partition. Unfortunately, Jinnah died because of illness and Gandhi was assassinated by Godse just a few months after Independence. Their followers had the responsibility of taking their ideology forward.
What did they do? All the parties and the leaders at the helm have created a quagmire and are dragging the country and society along with them. Do you want to see yourself, along with your country, being dragged into the quagmire? How can there be any better time to consider this question than the festival of love and brotherhood? Wish you a happy Holi!
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. His Twitter handle is @shekarkahin