‘We Fought Rumour Mongering Post-Communal Violence’

Ashok Kumar, 48, a home guard posted as a bus marshal with Delhi Transport Corporation, took leave from work to go on a peace ride in riot-affected neighbourhood with a Muslim friend

I was unable to sleep for several nights during the time when communal violence was taking place in my neighbourhood (Yamuna Vihar in northeast Delhi). I kept thinking about the people who lost their lives, homes and their livelihoods in the mindless violence. This was particularly heartbreaking for people like me who spent their lives with Muslim neighbours in peace all my life. There can’t be anything more devastating for a city like Delhi where Hindus and Muslims live together for centuries.

I therefore took a day off and accompanied my neighbour Yusuf in a bike ride to the riot-hit localities. For, even after the bloodshed, some people had been indulging in rumor-mongering and this could lead to panic and further hatred among communities.

WATCH: ‘Left With The Clothes We Are Wearing’

This is why I felt it was my duty to be in the riot-hit area and send a message of peace. I stuck a poster of ‘Shantidoot’ on my shirt in the front and back and carried a national flag during the peace ride. As the board exams were postponed due to the violence, we visited some schools first so that the students can see that how communal harmony works and go home with good thoughts.

We spoke to whoever approached us and advised them to help us maintain peace in the city. I have so far gathered support of many people from both the communities. I am also asking for phone numbers of those who are interested in doing the same for the sake of peace in the country.

ALSO READ: ‘We Lost Our Child To Riots, Save Others’

I am planning to call all those interested in spreading a message of peace to ride with me in the entire northeast Delhi with a message of harmony. I will seek permission from the police and administration if required to carry on with such efforts on the streets. As soon as I get permission, I will call all those who are willing to volunteer and will roam the riot-hit localities with the message of peace.

In some of the suggestions I got from the people, one was very important. The residents of the violence-hit areas wanted to raise a community watch so that no such incidents can take place in future. I will not stop until I make sure that people are together against hatred and violence. Only common people like us suffer during such riots and our city gets defamed. I will take off from my job to do my duty for the country.

‘Bloodshed Forced Me To Come Out On Street With A Tricolour’

Mohammad Yusuf, 40, a resident of Yamuna Vihar in riot-hit northeast Delhi, felt devastated after watching the bloodshed and violence on TV channels. He decided to visit the affected localities with a Hindu neighbour to spread the message of peace

Yamuna Vihar is a mixed colony, with Hindus and Muslims living next to one another. We never saw each other from the view of one’s religious identity. The three-day violence on the streets so close our colony left me pained and heartbroken. This was not how we had grown up in our mohalla. I just could not sit at home watching the clashes on TV and feel safe.

I felt just as the rioters, peace-loving locals will also need to come out and counter the violence and stem the ill-feelings and hatred from spreading further among the community. We are Indian citizens first. If one tries to harm a person in his neighbourhood because of his religion, he or she will be ending up harming the fabric of India.

ALSO READ: ‘People Ask Us If We Help Only Hindus…’

I decided to visit the riot-hit areas on my bike with a Tricolour and a message of peace. I was accompanied in this by my neigbour Ashok Kumar, who felt equally revolted on the issue. We felt it as our duty save our home, that is our country, and our foremost challenge was to stop rumor-mongering in the area. Usually, small bit of misinformation and unverified message can fan violence in such times.

I must admit that my family members were a little concerned but our Hindu neighbours assured them that they will be the first to protect me from any untoward incident. I went to schools, areas where violence tool place, shops and houses that were torched and met the victims. People clicked photos with us. Students went home with a message of peace and love. It was a long day but I felt proud. This is what I always wanted to do.

ALSO READ: ‘We Lost Our Child, Save Others’

There is no religion bigger than humanity. We must understand the fact that if we don’t take care of each other, the world will not respect us. It is time for all communities to come together to fight the hate and rumor-mongering. I am worried about the children, they have seen and felt what they weren’t supposed to. They are our future, and our country’s future. Their minds are fragile and impressionable; they must be protected from harbouring hate.

Homeguard Ashok Kumar and Mohd Yusuf

During my visits, I saw many personal losses and tragedies from a close view. It had set in a sense of hopelessness. But we now have to look forward and ensure that this will never happen again, at least not under our watch.

ALSO READ: 1984 To 2020: Riot Machine At Work

I next want to setup a community watch group and invite people from all sections to join it. Such steps can identify the troublemakers and report them in time. For now, however, I am continuing with meeting the victims, listening to them and spread the message of peace. Hatred must not have any space in our society.

‘Glad That Muslims Have Accepted SC Verdict On Ayodhya’

Dheer Shant Das, 50, a katha vachak (religious narrator) at ISKCON in Uttar Pradesh, a temple for Ram at his birthplace holds great value for the practicing Hindu 

At ISKCON, we routinely conducts kathas (religious discourse) both on Lord Krishna as well as Lord Ram. I am deeply attached to the virtues of Ram and Krishna, and therefore I am happy with the Supreme Court verdict on Ram Janmbhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute. The Bench said in its judgement that Babri Masjid was not constructed on vacant land. There was a structure underlying the Babri Masjid which was not an Islamic structure. After a long legal journey, the foundation for a Ram temple at his birthplace has been laid.

I am also happy that by and large our Muslim brothers have also accepted the court’s decision. Many Muslim organisations have in fact welcomed the judgement. They see in the verdict an end to the acrimony between two largest communities of the country.

The birthplace of Ram holds great value for the practising Hindu. Even though Hinduism speaks about both sagun upasana (idol worship) and nirgun upasana (worship of the formless), the former is seen as a stepping stone towards the latter. For the layman, grasping the intellectual concepts of formlessness isn’t an easy task and thus temples and idols are important for the peace of mind of the common man. 

It wouldn’t be wrong to call Ayodhya the kendra bindu (centre point) of the Hindu sentiment. Ram as human incarnationset down the rules or laws for how a state should be efficiently run and taught us that one should have a balanced personality. One should never go and hurt another without reason, but one should not tolerate injustice too.

We read so often about Muslim rulers in the past who destroyed or desecrated Hindu temples and people let go of many temples. And even though I believe the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 was a violent act and unlawful yet, I feel it was an outburst of people who were angry with subsequent governments ignoring the sentiments of the Hindu population. I know human feelings and faith don’t abide by the rules of law, they just exist. I am a Law graduate. And before my spiritual journey began, I had wanted to be a lawyer. Good jurisprudence can differentiate between matters of faith and law.

If we take the story of Ram into consideration, he waged a war on Ravan only as a last resort and then asked his brother Lakshman to sit at Ravan’s feet and seek gyan. Ram would never cross the line or act in rage without a valid cause. Similarly, his followers or bhakts must also imbibe such values and work towards a system that ensures justice for all.

A good politician or party should take care of everyone in the country. It cannot discriminate on the basis of religion. I am not a BJP supporter. But I am happy that there is finally a government that isn’t afraid to take tough call and skirt important issues.

‘Forget Mandir-Masjid, Focus On Issues That Matter’

Mufti Danish Ashrafi Qadri, 29, teaches at a madarsa in Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh. Qadri feels Muslims should let go of the Babri Masjid issue and concentrate on solving real problems

I teach at a madarsa and conduct the namaz at a local masjid. As a mufti, I have read the Quran and Hadees in detail (a 9-year-long study is required) and have legal powers under Islam. Being a Mufti, I can tell you that the Quran says that Allah’s ibadat can be done anywhere. I also subscribe to the thought that God can be found in one’s heart and even though a place of worship is more ‘conducive’ and ‘helpful’ in finding peace, if any place of worship is causing non-peaceful situation, a Muslim should let it go. And therefore, I am okay with the Ayodhya verdict that came out on November 9.

A masjid is also known as Baitullah (the house of Allah). People were asked to come an offer the namaz together because it fostered a feeling of community-bonding and love among people. It is similar to kirtans and kathas in Hinduism. And the word masjid comes from sajda (which means bowing down), a place where you bow down in front of Allah, and let go of your ego, and surrender. I would say people should now leave the Babri Masjid / Ram Janmabhoomi temple issue into the hands of the very God who is at the centre of this issue.

The Quran talks about sabr (patience) and shukr (gratitude). One can be patient only when one has deep faith in God, otherwise it is difficult to be patient. So each moment in life is either an opportunity for sabr or shukr.

Islam focuses a lot on community building. About 1,400 years ago when Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) was blessed with being a messenger of Allah and when Islam started, masjids were meant to build communities. Not only people came together collectively to surrender their egos, masjids also functioned as community halls as well as places of justice where people could bring their problems and the elders and the knowledgeable could help solve them, much like how panchayats function. It was meant to be a place where everyone felt loved and accepted. However, some people who are what I call possessed ‘mazhabi shiddat’ or are under the influence of ego, and very passionately at that, cause problems in the name of mandir or masjid. Someone who has truly felt God becomes peaceful. 

Many people who consider themselves the thekedars of Islam (the protector of Islam) have only known ego, and not really known Allah, or even the Prophet. The word Islam (it contains the word salam or salamat) also means people who convey peace. And many people who wrongly interpret Islam to create non-peaceful situations haven’t truly read the Quran or interpreted it properly. 

In the end, I would just like to say that people, be they followers of any faith, should come together and figure out ways to make the present better rather than bickering about the past. There are so many important issues like pollution control, education, health etc. to be taken care of and we should behave like human beings first. At the end of the day we are all humans. 

Just like the Hindu philosophy of ‘VasudhaivKutumbakam’ (the whole world is one family), Islam also believes in equality and brotherhood. When people offer namaz together or go to perform the Hajj, all differences are removed and people are treated as one. Everyone who goes to Mecca to perform Hajj has to wear similar kind of clothing and has to stand in the same line. So people should behave like humans first with each other, in a humane manner. Islam also says that the best way to set the world right is to set oneself right, and if anyone else is doing wrong as per a person’s perspective, let God handle it.

‘My Name Is Khan, I Can’t Enter A Mosque’

Moved by the idea of Hindu-Muslim brotherhood, Babu Khan, 50, from Baghpat in western Uttar Pradesh, thought he would carry a kaanwar on his shoulder from Haridwar to his hometown on foot, much like Hindu pilgrims. For this act, he received praise and applause along the route but, things turned ugly when Khan reached home. His own community members branded him a kafir and an apostate.   Every year around August, I used to see my Hindu brothers carrying the kaanwar (a wooden pole carrying two water pots on its ends) on their shoulders for several hundreds of kilometer on foot and marveled at their faith. I would often mention this to my friends and relatives too that such dedication is laudable. I also learnt that making theses kaanwars provided livelihood to many a Muslim family in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Since my childhood, I am moved by the idea of Hindu-Muslim brotherhood and wanted to set an example towards this goodwill. So this year, I also decided to join the pilgrim on foot and went to Haridwar in the beginning of the Hindu month of Sawan. However, I decided not to wear any saffron clothing and retained my skull cap and beard to make my point. I collected the holy water of Ganga in my kaanwar, emulating my Hindu co-pilgrims, and began my journey back to my hometown in Baghpat. Throughout my journey back home, I drew applause and the same hospitality provided to my co-pilgrims. At every rest-camp, people would walk over to me and commended my initiative to promote the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb. The approval and appreciation for my act, however, ended once I reached my hometown. Things took an ugly turn. I was physically attacked by own community members and the assailants destroyed my kaanwar. I was called names, some even declared me a kafir, an apostate, who had no place in the vicinity. I was shaken but I held on. I had reached my hometown on Friday. When I reached the local mosque to offer ṣalāt al-jumu’ah (Friday prayers), I was surrounded by a group of irate Muslims who thrashed me and chased me away. They threatened me not to return ever to a mosque. ‘You have maligned our religion… It is better for you to go to a temple and play the bells… sing kirtans…,’ they screamed at me. I had never imagined that my own community members and neighbours will turn against me in such a violent way. More was to follow once I reached home. Another group of angry locals gathered outside my house. They first attacked my house with stones and later some criminal element in the crowd hurled desi bombs. I was terrified and rushed to the local police station after the crowd dispersed. The media too played up the incident and police arrested two persons identified by me and locked them up. However, both of them got bail the very next day and confronted me with new threats. I was assured by the police that they have deputed some personnel in the locality and are keeping a watch. On their assurance, I again went to the mosque today (Monday) but I was disallowed to enter the premises and I was chased away. Have I committed any sin? I feel threatened, my family unsafe and ostracised.]]>