Communal harmony and Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb seem to have been maligned beyond recognition. Disillusionment with both has become so manifest and so obvious that would have been hard to even imagine a few decades ago. People are disillusioned as a certain ideology has played havoc with shared values, known as Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb. Even the people who firmly believed in the Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb seem to have been dappled in the shadows of suspicion about its relevance in today’s India thanks to the incessant poisoning of minds.
There is no denying the fact that for hundreds of years, what kept the nation together was its shared values or communal harmony. It was the glue that had kept the communities together, in love and harmony with each other. It is not that there were no challenges. There were challenges of all sorts, from both inside and outside, however, there was a conscious effort on the part of common people and leadership alike to keep the glue intact and maintain peace, harmony and respect for everyone, despite apparent differences.
As a pluralistic society India has faced a number of challenges. One of the major and alarming challenges is the prevalence of communal violence which is spreading like wild fire creating horror in the minds of innocent people. Over the last six years, the country has seen so much violence in the name of religion and cow protection that is difficult to fathom. According to statistics, more than 113 people have been killed in mob lynching cases from the year 2015 till now, and we all have a faint idea as to how the courts have failed to come to the rescue of the people who have suffered in such cases of mob violence. Similar is the case with Delhi riots 2020 where victims are being projected as perpetrators and being punished for crimes they never committed.
The spectre of communal violence and mob lynching seems to have threatened India’s existence as a pluralistic society. This is not that we didn’t face challenges in this aspect earlier. There were numerous challenges and these challenges were there for quite some times. However these challenges were never institutionalized and didn’t had wide ranging support, let alone the patronage of ruling parties in the past.
The nation that once taught tolerance and non violence to the entire world, seems to have taken a turn for the worse. The country which once boasted of its cultural heritage from the great exponents of non-violence in human civilization -Gautam Budh, Kabir, Nanak and Mahatma Gandhi – is now stricken by pestilence of communal violence, which imperils our socio economic and political milieu.
Yusuf Saeed a documentary filmmaker, who has wide ranging work on communal harmony and shared values tells me that the present state of affair is saddening and disturbing. However, we don’t have any option to give up. “Today we call the world a global village because cultures and ethnicities are meeting with each other more regularly, and its not possible for any country or civilization to preserve a ‘pure’ cultural identity. But this is not a new phenomena – cultural interactions and sharing has been happening since time immemorial as people have been traveling across nations and continents to migrate, do business or seek wisdom etc. That is how our languages, foods, clothing, art and music etc. have so much common and at the same time diverse”.
Saeed goes on to add that “If anyone thinks we need to go back to our ‘original’ or pure culture, it is nonsensical. There is no such thing as a pure or prime culture. Every civilization is made up of combinations and influences from many cultures. If people remained secluded in one place without traveling out, their society would stagnate. India is the best example of cultural interactions and hybridization since it has always been a melting pot of cultures. Because of its tropical climate and fertile land, it has always attracted people from more temperate regions like central Asia, Southeast Asia and Arabia. It has also remained a prominent place on several trade routes of ancient times. Somehow, some historians or propagandists have declared that mingling of cultures is a ‘pollution’ of India’s ancient culture. And they want to take India back to its original ‘Vedic’ period. It is not only an impossible but a futile exercise to look for centuries-old culture”.
He tells me that it is futile to expect or force everyone in a given society to look same or homogeneous. Difference and diversity is the key to a healthy society and progress. Unless we teach our children to respect diversity and difference of opinions, shared cultural values and syncretism can’t survive.
Manish August Bhatt a Delhi based advertisement professional is very passionate about shared values and communal harmony. He says that “Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb is a reality. Our cultures are intricately interwoven, deeply and subtly mixed. Currently, we are in reality denial mode as a people. Willful blindness”. He goes on to add that Gunga-Jamuni tehzeeb is a part of India’s DNA. Indians have lived under the same umbrella irrespective of their faith. A lot has been achieved because of this peaceful co-existence. Sure, there have been periods marked by clashes which left ugly scars on our social history. The efforts by certain quarters for creating fault lines, especially between Hindus and Muslims, have succeeded to some extent, but things do return to an even tenor. I am convinced that this too shall pass.
Zafar Iqbal, An AIIMS alumnus presently based in Washington DC says that the Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb or culture, a distinctive and syncretic Hindu-Muslim culture, is reflected in the fused spiritual connotations and symbols. All communities preserve their own cultural and religious identities while facilitating the shared celebration of festivals, customs, and traditions of all religions. This has been the reason for India’s progress. Let us try to keep our traditions.”.
Priyanka Upadhyaya in a paper in K Warikoo edited volume ‘Religion and Security in South and Central Asia’ says, “The Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb compared the Hindu Muslim harmony and friendship to the holy confluence of India’s major rivers -the Ganga and Yamuna. It assumed a peaceful merging of Hindu and Muslim culture and lifestyle in Benaras as expressed in their friendships, joint festivities and interdependence. As such, the Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb reminded people of the incomparable unison they share across religious communities. This in turn sets a parameter for the people to uphold the religious peace. The metaphor is especially popular in the intellectual discourse as it coincided well with the Nehruvian rhetoric of a composite culture”.
However, people’s faith in the syncretic culture or shared values seems to have dipped given the spate of violence aimed at a particular community over the last several years. It has become all the more manifest thanks to judicial discrimination over the same period. Many Muslim intellectuals I tried to talk, said that it was not the right time to talk about Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb when there was an institutional bias against a particular community and hoodlums who attack and kill Muslims not just go unpunished, they are openly supported by institutions.
This is becoming a common refrain. “It was never really present or practiced in our society. Communal hate was always there, just below the surface. However, thanks to social media and the present regime, people have become comfortable in bringing out hate and communal prejudice into the open discourse. Society can’t be built on fancy notions of Ganga Jamuna Tehzeeb , it’s only justice on which the foundation of an egalitarian society can be laid” says Abul (name changed), a health professional. He is not alone. Many others have expressed similar thoughts in almost similar words. They claim that we should not obfuscate increasing injustice with such ‘phony’ catchphrases like Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb when we have become a land where minorities are openly targeted, discriminated, killed in riots and in mob lynchings while perpetrators, instead of being punished are rewarded and recompensed.
It needs to be emphasized here that the Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb is under unprecedented strain for the past three decades following the demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya and the communal frenzy that engulfed the entire nation. However, since 2014 when the BJP came to power, things have turned particularly threatening for the concept of co-existence and shared values. Hindutva is particularly opposed to slogans like communal harmony and shared values. It is intrinsically opposed to Muslims and Hindus coming together, understanding each other and respecting other’s faith.
The effort to demonize Muslims and make anti-Muslim violence look a normal thing is part of the project to further communal divide in the country. There is no denying that the increased level of anti-Muslim violence through mob lynchings by cow vigilantes and conscious efforts to spread such videos through social media is part of their malicious designs to make such barbarity look common. This demonizing effort is spread in many ways. Sudarshan News’ instigation in the form of UPSC Jihad which accused Muslims of ‘infiltrating’ the civil services for nefarious designs is part of the project that stretches to the extreme. Similar is the case of Republic TV spreading venom against Muslims in the garb of freedom of speech.
In the past we had stellar leaders who firmly believed in coexistence and shared values. When violence erupted in a few Hindu-majority districts of Bihar in October 1946 before the Independence, Pt Jawaharlal Nehru as head of the Interim Government went deep into the rural areas and stayed on for almost two weeks till the violence was quelled. Nehru was accompanied by other leaders including Sardar Patel, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Acharya Kripalani, Jayaprakash Narayan and others and they too stayed with him there. Now the people in power are actually against the very concept of co-existence and Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb.
Our future lies not in division, but unity and shared values are the best hope for the revival of bonhomie among people of different faiths, creeds. Renowned social scientist, Prof. Imtiaz Ahmad, says, “You seem to be overawed by the Sangh. They are not India. The regression is temporary. You and I don’t have to preserve it. It is a living thing. Even the worst of Sanghis follow that culture despite repudiating it”. There is no denying that optimism exuded by Ahmad and many like him is the only way forward. Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb was the glue that kept us together, and the same glue will keep us together in the days to come despite occasional reversals and setbacks.