«ESTHER WAPSTRA Thesis submitted for MA degree Supervisors: Dr. Laurens G. H. Bakker Prof. Paul J. C. L. van der Velde 30 August 2013 COMMUNAL HARMONY ...»
India by claiming Pakistan for themselves. They are untrustworthy because they never show themselves fully, they have their swords ready, their religion is more important than their nation and they are not loyal to India, and they are after Dar-alIslām. There is suspicion against Muslims because of their strange customs like cousin marriage and musalmānī and because of the madrasas, where they allegedly teach children to be jihādīs (warriors fighting for Islam). An image compared to which the voice of Muslims, telling that they “will salute the country that feeds us!
Our religion does not say that we should act against our country/motherland! We would like Hindus, that only our players should win.” seems to be weak.167 Stereotypes still abound. Some people told me that young people have a tendency to be even more fanatic and extreme in their thoughts, but based on the young interviewees I have spoken with it seems that young people are more open towards people from another community, possibly because they have not experienced partition and have not experienced the destruction of Babri masjīd consciously. Yet, the girl who studies Journalism tells me she has never visited Muslims in their home.
It would be interesting to know whether this is also true for other youths, as being in close contact with each other and visiting each other seem to be a basic requirement for stereotypes to disappear. It might be that students and young people more often meet outside than at home (e.g., in the cinema, on the ghāt, etc), whereas older people visit each other at home during weddings, births, and deaths. It might also be that contact between Hindu youth and Muslim youth is less shallow, is more relaxed, and in other or more diverse situations, causing them to have fewer negative attitudes despite not visiting each other.
6.1.3 Protecting harmony in Banaras During three interviews, with Mr. Faisal Banarasi, a teacher in a madrasa, Mr. Rafi Anzaari, the manager of an Islamic school, and Mr. Anees Abdul Khan, a leader of the Gyanvapi mosque, specifically I have discussed what efforts are being undertaken to elevate communal tensions. The madrasa teacher told me that there is system of monthly meetings that are held in the madrasa where anyone who has a problem or complaints can attend and have their problem discussed. These could be anything from government related issues or disputes concerning marriages. Besides, all three told me that they hold regular seminars where people meet, listen to Interview with Mr. Abdullah Jha & Mrs. Shabnam Jha, Kachahari, 22 January 2012. It is a widely used argument that Muslims are disloyal to India because they support Pakistan rather than India, which becomes clear in matches between India and Pakistan. The astrologer remarks, shocked: “In Jammu Kashmir I find so many flags there are written Pakistanis flag. I was, saw by my own eyes!” (Interview with Mr. Narendra Iyengar, Dashashvamedh, 11 January 2012) lectures, and discuss. Regularly smaller meetings are arranged and once in a while there is a bigger meeting where many people gather.
Mr. Faisal Banarasi told about one of the previous meetings where many people participated, some of them a bit educated but most of them uneducated, illiterate Muslims. He had invited Sri Jayendra Saraswati Swāmījī, the Shankarāchārya (Hindu spiritual leader) of the Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham, a math (branch or sect) from Tamil Nadu, thinking it would be very interesting if he would share his ideas with the mass of people. However, it caused some commotion in advance as “that time the Section 114 was implicated here! They did not give permission! DM [District Magistrate] said that it would be an act against the nation!”.168 All the same, Sri Jayendra Saraswati Swāmīji ignored the message and did come. He told the attendees that he is the Shankarāchārya of Bhārat (India) and not the Shankarāchārya for only Hindus. The head recalls: “That left a tremendous impact!
The illiterate persons of the Muslim community were influenced in a great way by his speech!” The head of the madrasa himself seems very impressed by the message of the Shankarāchārya. He remembers that the Shankarāchārya not only mentioned that he is the Shankarāchārya of India and not of a particular religion, but also that Muslims can make use of the programs that are initiated by him. Muslim women who are unable to manage the marriages of their daughters due to the financial problems for example can ask for financial aid. Eventually the DM came to the place where the meeting was held and “could not dare to say that this meeting should not be organized now.”. Next time, in May 2012, he will invite Muftī Maulānā Mukarram Ahmad, who used to be the Shahī Imām of the Jama Masjid Fatehpuri in Delhi.169 Mr. Anees Abdul Khan agrees. In fact they work together regularly. In these meetings they try to deliver the positive message that people should focus more on social issues and keep their religion for themselves. He indicated that these messages are not only spread in the mosque, but also on other occasions, like the festivals. Besides, Mr. Faisal Banarasi and Mr. Anees Abdul Khan are not the only ones working together; they also acknowledge the efforts of ‘their Hindu brothers’ and attend each other’s public meetings. Especially when something has happened (e.g., a bomb blast), they try to convince people that “no religion allows to do such Interview with Mr. Rafi Anzaari, Reori Talab, 24 January 2012. Section 114 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 states that “Whenever any person, who is absent would be liable to be punished as an abettor, is present when the act or offence for which he would be punishable in consequence of the abetment is committed, he shall be deemed to have committed such act or offence” The Shahī Īmām is the Shaykh ul Islām (superior authority) of India activities that can disturb and harm others and destroy the peace, that can threaten and take lives.”.170 Mr. Rafi Anzaari argues that to control people who are provoked, in sensitive situations it is better that people should come from the same community because if Hindus are provoked they can be controlled by secular Hindus and if the Muslims are provoked then they can be controlled by Muslim activists or secular [Muslim] persons. And, those are the people, they decide, the secular, they will be in touch and there shall be regular dialogue between communities.171 Mr. Anees Abdul Khan agrees that leaders from the same community are better equipped to calm people down, but emphasized the role of religious leaders more. In his opinion, Muslim religious leaders know Qurān better and are more able to interpret and explain the situation in the light of Qurān, whereas Hindu religious leaders know their sacred scriptures better and can interpret and explain the situation to their people in terms that they relate to. It is worth mentioning that although the head of the madrasa mentions controlling the masses by secular people from their own community, the examples that he gave earlier in the interview (the Shankarāchārya of the Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham and the the Shahī Īmām of the Jama Masjid Fatehpuri) were both religious leaders. Apparently, he specifically wants to emphasize that leaders come from the same community and not so much that they should be secular. Indeed, this is affirmed later on in the interview when he argues in favor of religious leaders: “... the religious heads of different religions, they are more responsible to make communal harmony because political and socalled social activists, who are there for social better structure but they want to use society for their own use.”.172 It is also noteworthy that apparently, in this regard at least, Mr. Anees Abdul Khan considers the Qurān to be as important to Muslims as the Hindu scriptures for Hindus.
Both agree that it is very important to involve not only Muslims in these meetings, but also Hindus and people from other religious communities like Sikhs, Jains, and Christians. The retired social worker knows about these meetings and affirms that both Hindus and Muslims participate. The Gyanvapi mosque leader remembers how both communities participated in a seminar conducted shortly after the Sankat Interview with Mr. Anees Abdul Khan, Peelee Kothee, 25 January 2012 Interview with Mr. Rafi Anzaari, Reori Talab, 24 January 2012 Ibid.
Mochan bomb blast in 2006. All of the attendees condemned the incident and decided to stay united now and in the future. These common efforts to maintain peace, harmony, and brotherhood have been very successful so far. According to Mr.
Rafi Anzaari the group efforts to maintain peace, involve all parties, and treat people without communal prejudices have resulted in the disappearance of riots for a long time, even though the city has a history of communal riots (see section 3.3.1).
It is striking that both Hindus and Muslims talk about the good relations, whereas seems to be only Hindus who are discussing their negative sentiments towards Muslims and only authorities from the Muslim community who discuss their efforts to maintain peace in Banaras. Unlike the efforts of the Mr. Anees Abdul Khan, the priest of the Vishwanath temple indicates that he has legal case running to claim the temple, his ancestral property, back. Were he really to have the temple back, remove the minarets and dome to reinstate the temple, it would most likely lead to a dramatic eruption of violence.
One person who is often mentioned for his efforts to maintain peace is Sri Wir Whdra Misra, the head priest of the Sankat Mochan temple in Varanasi. He is especially lauded for his actions right after the bomb blast in his temple in 2006, when he had the temple cleaned immediately and commenced the pūjā and ārtī as usual (see also section 3.3.2). When I spoke with him he commented on the situation “I, just I reacted in a very balanced way”, but his balanced reaction which was broadcasted nationally might have contributed to the voluntary strike the next day in which both Hindus and Muslims participated brotherly, showing dismay and condemning the incident. When I asked him whether he feels that he has a special role in maintaining the peace in Banaras, he denied that and said he does not “make any conscious effort” and that “there is no agenda”. He told me that it was not he who initiated contact with Muslim leaders in the aftermath of the bomb explosion: “... it was the media which started bringing the Muslim leaders: I’m meeting you, I meet Batimjī.
So I meet everybody who comes to us. If they invite me I am not there. So that is what happened. But I’m not making an efforts to bring them.”. It confused me a bit, because in an earlier meeting with him he mentioned that he does visit meetings in which communal violence and peace are discussed. But perhaps it is not that much conscious effort, but exemplary behaviour that inspires people. The priest told me that he has intimate Muslim friends and both Hindus and Muslim community respect him a lot. People appreciate his efforts to assimilate with Hindus and Muslims: “And some occasion I say that I have become a Muslim-Hindu.”.
6.2 Experiencing religion together
In the previous section we saw that some people are very negative about people from the other religion and there are many prejudices. However, many interviewees see the relationship between Hindus and Muslims very brightly, have good relationships with people with another religious affinity, and in fact there are many friendships between Hindus and Muslims. We have seen what these good relations and friendships mean in associating with each other. In this section we will look at ways in which people experience their religion together and the extent to which people are accepting of the others’ religion.
While one interviewee claims that Hinduism and Islam are blended into one syncretistic religious culture (see chapter 5) another asserts that the situation might mislead foreigners into thinking a syncretistic Hindu-Muslim culture exists whereas Mr. Abishek Dutta holds that “That is not a culture but a wound! You cannot consider a wound as culture!”.173 One of the indicators for a syncretistic culture could be whether people visit religious structures belonging to religions other than their own.
6.2.1 Visiting one another’s structure A male student told that he goes to the temple even though he is a Muslim. Ms.