It is indeed tragic that social relations, specially in urban areas, have reached dismal levels. The bondage that existed in society has been virtually lost, largely due to bad politics,spewing hatred and jealousy perpetuated by politicians and fringe elements. It is not surprising then that at national level leaders may give great sermons but when it comes down to brass tacks, they are rarely interested to ensure that people in the lowest segments of society, who struggle for existence, are at least assured of a decent and peaceful life.
It is in this connection, the Supreme Court’s recent verdict terming the State ‘impotent’, for failing to rein in hate speeches across the country gains credence as it clearly pointed out that the toxicity could be ended only when politics and religion are segregated from the national discourse. “Every day, fringe elements are making speeches to vilify others, including on TV and other public forums. The problem arises when politicians are mixing politics with religion.The moment politics and religion are segregated, this will come to an end. When politicians stop using religion, all these things will come to a stop”, a bench of Justices K.M. Joseph and D. V. Nagarthana observed, while hearing a contempt petition against various state authorities for failing to register FIRs against those making hate speeches.
The question asked was “Why cannot people of India take a pledge to not vilify other citizens or communities?” And addressed the question “What is tolerance?” To the court, the answer was “itis not putting up with somebody but accepting the differences.” The bench decided to hear the petitions because States are not acting in curbing hate speeches. In an indirect hint to hate speeches, specially aimed at Muslims, the SC further pointed out that such are like a vicious circle. “One person will make it and then and another person will make it. Now these are cracks coming up in the idea of fraternity.There has to be some restraint. Some sort of mechanism has to be developed by the State so that we can curb these kinds of statements”, Justice Nagarathana observed.
While we talk of liberal outlook in our social relations, it has been found that Indians generally stick to their own religious group when it comes to their friends. In a major new Pew Research Center survey of religion across India, Hindus overwhelmingly say that most or all of their close friends are also Hindu. Of course, Hindus make up the majority of the population, and as a result of sheer numbers, may be more likely to interact with fellow Hindus than with people of other religions. But even among Sikhs and Jains, who each form a sliver of the national population, a large majority say their friends come mainly or entirely from their small religious community.
Political analysts believe that our uneven feudal, social structure has kept us separated and we have always been a fractured land. the need to control, dominate – even decimate – the assumed enemy or usurper has remained an active switch. The occasional eruptions disturbing communal harmony since independence were treated as geographically specific and limited periods. Each one was informing us that we are at war with ourselves and unless we address this internal strife, it will consume us. In such a situation, we should not be surprised that hate and anger dictate lives. But this cannot continue for long. The RSS and the BJP are being accused of helping spread this animosity with elan. Moreover, our language is offensive, filled with jabs and attacks. In the name of resisting the offender, we covertly sanction revenge. When governments belonging to our side of the political aisle commit blunders, perpetrate violence, sell our people to major corporations, there is silence.
At the ground level, however, communities are not in conflict. The pew survey found many Hindus (45 percent) say they are fine with having neighbours of all other religions – be they Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist or Jain – but an identical share (45 percent) say they would not be willing to accept followers of at least one of these groups, including more than one-in-three Hindus (36 percent) who do not want a Muslim as a neighbour. Among Jains, a majority (61 percent) say they are unwilling to have neighbours from at least one of these groups, including 54 percent who would not accept a Muslim neighbour, although nearly all Jains (92 percent) said they would be willing to accept a Hindu neighbour.
Delving into the crux of the matter, it may not be wrong to believe that politicians are trying to disturb social relations between communities by highlighting religious issues. Religion, as is generally agreed, is a very personal affair and this should not stand in the way of our social relations. If everybody believed that all paths, propagated by different religions, lead to the same Supreme or as Swami Vivekananda in his famous Chicago address talked of the need for religious unity, much of the animosity that is witnessed today would not be manifest.
Political consciousness may be good in understanding the nature of our polity but bringing religion to the forefront and spreading jealousy and hatred is obviously detrimental to socio-economic growth. Apart from Mahatma Gandhi, who has written extensively on his understanding of Hindu religion and the influence of other faiths, and believed that religion or spirituality must unite mankind, there have been other political leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhai Patel etc. and philosophers like Dr S. Radhakrishnan, all of whom embraced various religious communities. They emphasised the need for communal harmony and building fellow feeling in society.
The need for such harmony is essential in a pluralistic society where people from various religious communities live and work. But unfortunately, society has been polluted by religious rivalry and a fundamentalist attitude, which puts a question mark on the intent of the ruling dispensation. It leads to the moot question, why is it that only the people from the impoverished sections are affected by such actions that lead to violence and communal frenzy. The broader question being asked by sociologists is that unless societal bonds are strengthened, the innate growth of the individual and of the community cannot prosper.
Thus, the present judgment of the apex court should be a sharp warning that religion and religious fundamentalist ideas and beliefs would have to be separated from politics. It is easier said than done as political parties today want votes in the name of religion and religious nationalism, which is disintegrating society and leading to chaos and violence. Those leaders who brag about India’s development and achievement fail to realise that a sectarian approach in a secular state cannot bring in real development. Moreover, those who swear in the name of Mahatma Gandhi should hang their heads in shame as distorting religion and dividing the community cannot keep people happy and build communitarian amity. It is time for the State to act in time. —INFA