June 23, 2021
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'Revenge Or Retaliation Is No Answer..'

...but, warns the Jesuit Priest Director of "Prashant", who has been closely involved in efforts to promote communal harmony in Gujarat, that "only the very naive say that it will not take place"..

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'Revenge Or Retaliation Is No Answer..'

How has Hindutva impacted on ordinary Gujarati Hindus' notions of religion and identity? How would you explain the massive spread of Hindutva in Gujarat?

To presume that there is a massive spread of Hindutva in Gujarat is incorrect. From 1998 onwards, however, the "Hindutva gang" that has taken control of the State and its machinery has been using Gujarat as a laboratory in order to propagate the Hindutva ideology. They have succeeded in polarizing a good section of Hindus in the urban and semi-urban areas, and today a good percentage of Hindus in these areas would actually follow them.

This, however, cannot be said of the rest of the State, which is vastly untouched despite the very aggressive forays made by the Hindutva brigade in the rural areas, very specially among the tribals. One must confess, however, that there has been an impact on the urban and semi-urban Hindus, particularly among the middle-class.

How do you account for the active involvement of Dalits and Tribals in attacks on Muslims in Gujarat?

Yes, some Dalits and some tribals were involved in attacks on Muslims in the recent Gujarat carnage. This, however, was definitely not widespread but only in certain pockets. What the Sangh Parivar was cashing in on was on the unemployment factor, along with recent droughts in the rural areas, to get some Dalit and tribal youth to loot Muslim shops -- just a licence to steal and for arson. The real tragedy will begin now that these tribals and Dalits have tasted "success"-- when they start attacking the real exploiters in the rural areas - who are not Muslims.

Why has the Dalit movement been so weak in Gujarat, in that the Dalits seem to have been so easily co-opted by the Hindutva camp?

Yes, the Dalit movement is weak in Gujarat, particularly because of the lack of proper leadership. There are some NGOs that are actively working with the Dalits, but they are limited both in their reach and in their capacity. What is needed to unite and strengthen the Dalits is a person with the charisma of an Ambedkar who will not merely help them reassert their identity but would help them take their rightful place in society without being manipulated by those who seek to divide and rule.

What has been the reaction of Muslim organisations in Gujarat to the massacres?

In general, many Muslim organisations have responded generously to the victims of carnage. There are reports, however, that the Government and other Sangh Parivar groups have been working overtime with their policy of "divide and rule". It is reported that some Muslim leaders and organisations have been co-opted and there are some who have been even promised (or given) lucrative offers. We hardly hear any talk of revenge, however. The sheer intensity of what has taken place will need the rare courage of a living saint not to seek revenge. Whilst I definitely think that revenge or retaliation is no answer, I think only the very naive say that it will not take place.

The massacres of Muslims in Gujarat comes close on the heels of attacks on Christians by Hindutva elements in the state. How have Christians in Gujarat reacted to the massacres of Muslims ? Is there a feeling that they too could be attacked in the near future?

The Christians in Gujarat have been at the receiving end from these very same Hindutva outfits in 1998 and 1999. In the wake of the attack on the Muslims, the Christian leadership and Church-based organizations have responded with unparalleled heroism. There are individual Christians, however, who are afraid that this may lead to a fresh round of attacks on the Christians. Some have literally abused and criticized the Christian clergy for taking a stand which they feel might threaten them. But that the Christians will be an easy target in Gujarat for the Sangh Parivar goes without saying.

What role do you think inter-faith dialogue can play in combating the challenge of religious fascism in Gujarat today? What forms do you think this dialogue should take?

I think that inter-faith dialogue can play a very important role in combating the challenge of religious fascism in Gujarat today. It is essential however, that we primarily understand what inter-faith dialogue is all about. If one begins from a point of superiority, arrogance or even one-upmanship, there will definitely not be a real dialogue. Whilst every initiative, however pedestrian it may seem, must be welcome, religious leaders must focus on issues after transcending the narrowness and pettiness of "what is their own".

The starting point is always respect for another's beliefs and way of life, provided it is not detrimental to the common good. Ample provision must be made for scholars to research on commonalties among faiths rather than what divides people. That does not mean to say that "differences" among faiths need to be watered down or swept under the carpet. These need to be addressed too but always in a proper forum and at a proper time.

How do you see the future of inter-communal relations unfolding in Gujarat in the near future?

After what has happened in Gujarat, it will take at least a decade for inter-communal relations to unfold. Many of the major cities (and specially Ahmedabad) have become highly polarized. Muslims can no longer live or do business in most areas of the city. Unless the twin fundamentals of security and justice are addressed, there can be little hope for positive inter-communal relations.

Yoginder Sikand is currently engaged in a post-doctoral research at the International Institute for the study of Islam in the modern world, Leiden, the Netherlands. He also edits a website on related issues.

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