A Fretful Delhi
By I.A. Rehman
For someone who has always enjoyed visiting New Delhi to learn something from Indian intellectuals, journalists, rights activists and peace campaigners, a visit this month caused considerable disappointment because practically everybody one met was worried about the direction Indian society was taking.
The idea of going to India at a time of growing tension between the South Asian twins was liked neither by family nor friends. They thought that all Pakistani visitors to India would share the fate of the students who were forced to return.
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That a plane with 150 seats flew from Lahore to Delhi with only six or seven genuine ticket-holders was not a good sign. But PIA must continue flying to Delhi, and this not only for the sake of Indians and other nationals who fly to various destinations via Lahore. Discontinuance of air flights will amount to playing into the troublemakers’ hands.
No Pakistani needs to be afraid of going to India unless he wears a militant organisation’s emblem on his cuff or is determined to raise a chant against Hindutva.
One should have some respect for the Indian authorities. They are probably aware that if gangs of hotheads are allowed to harass Pakistani visitors, eventually other foreigners too will not be safe, and tourism will suffer.
People with sentiments of goodwill on both sides must try to keep the travel lanes between India and Pakistan open. They should also continue to fight for the relaxation of visa restrictions as people-to-people contact will help reduce differences at the state level and enable the two countries to live together in friendship.
Delhi was unusually hot in the first half of May and quite a few things were adding to the people’s discomfort.
The Muslim community was in a mood of sizzling discontent over the case in the Supreme Court challenging talaq-i-salasa (teen talaq). There are three parties to the issue: the government that argues that talaq-i-salasa cannot be accepted as it militates against basic human rights; the ulema who contend that the state cannot interfere with Muslim personal law which they claim is derived from the Sharia; and some Muslim associations who say they are reluctant to follow what they see as a debatable “practice that is not divinely ordained”.
A couple of days before the Supreme Court was to begin hearing the case, the Allahabad High Court gave a decision rejecting any fatwa in favour of ‘instant divorce’ on the ground of its being violative of human rights. What complicates the matter is the fact that the Muslim schools of thought are divided on the issue.
A deputation of Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind called upon Prime Minister Narendra Modi to convey their concerns over the talaq issue and activities of ‘cow defenders’. They gave him a chance to strike a posture of benevolent neutrality in Muslim religious affairs and advise the ulema to find a fair solution themselves. Regarding the activities of cow defenders too, he was offered a chance to pledge legal action against anyone who broke the law.
This pledge Mr Modi cannot afford to forget, for the threat from the vigilante brigades to India is quite serious. They are not only attacking Muslims found transporting cattle from one place to another for various purposes, they are also targeting Hindus engaged in this business.
The Indian authorities should be aware of the fact that vigilantism is a fast-growing and self-propelling monster that will not stop at ferreting out what it sees as desecrators of the holy cow; it will devour many other victims without reason.
The Muslim community is also worried about non-availability of meat, especially beef, in many areas. The issue concerns the livelihood of a fairly large number of people engaged in the meat business. However, there should be a way of convincing the Muslim citizens that eating beef is not a duty enjoined by their faith and that dietary habits can be changed out of respect for fellow citizens’ sentiments, as was sometimes done during the days of Muslim rule in the subcontinent.
Heated debates are going on among political commentators on quite a few aspects of Indian politics. For instance, some of them are saying that the BJP’s stridently communal stand is a continuation of Jawaharlal Nehru’s wrapped-in-subtlety policies. Some other people are feeling uneasy about the judiciary’s attitude to the use of pellet guns in India-held Kashmir.
Secular-minded observers and activists are full of foreboding about the future of the Indian polity. Many of them are convinced that Modi will win the next election. They may be right, because Modi could be defeated only by a backlash from the poor masses who are left out of the country’s economic gains, and that kind of unrest is hardly visible.
Another anxiety of the secularists is caused by the speculation about possible changes in the constitution to make India a Hindu state. Any move in this direction will have repercussions in Pakistan. It could trigger a race between India and Pakistan about increasing the role of religiosity in politics and that will lead both countries to ruin. The creation of anachronistic theocracies will cause dangerous fissures in both societies, strengthen institutions of inquisition, arrest the people’s intellectual advance and sap their capacity to meet the challenges of the age.
The greatest cause of unease in some Indian circles is the fear of a new round of armed conflict with Pakistan. One should like to hope that saner counsel will prevail in both New Delhi and Islamabad. War will not solve any problems, it will further aggravate them. Beside the loss of life and property, people living below the poverty line in both countries will be further impoverished. Perhaps both sides need to be reminded of the futility of ruling out normal relations until their disputes and differences are resolved; they have to resolve to live like friendly neighbours. Only then will it be possible to settle disputes and differences. – Dawn