March issue 2002

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 22 years ago

The Babri mosque was reduced to rubble on December 6, 1992 by the kar sevaks of Ayodhya.  Ten years on, the Ayodhya incident in which 2,000 Indians, mostly Muslims, lost their lives, continues to cast its grisly shadow on India’s political landscape.  And poses the biggest threat yet, to the country’s democratic, secular polity.

The most recent outbreak of violence in the Indian state of Gujarat in which 600 plus Indians, mostly from the minority Muslim community, were murdered, 30 mosques razed to the ground and 30,000 rendered homeless, is a grim reminder of the fact that religious fanaticism is alive and well in India, nurtured by those currently in power.

The violence, according to initial reports, was sparked off by the death of 60 kar sevaks in a train bogey that was set on fire by Muslims, allegedly according to a pre-meditated plan.  Subsequent reports, thanks to some brilliant investigative work by intrepid Indian reporters, told the story of what really happened.

What was to follow was as clear as day.  But like the writing on the walls of the Babri masjid, this too remained unread by vested interests for their own selfish reasons.  Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee described the Ahmedabad carnage as a nation’s  shame, but his chief minister in Gujarat remained unabashedly partisan and helped stoke the fires of communalism further.  His law-enforcement machinery stood by and watched Ahmedabad burn  and, on occasion, joined in the fray.

The situation is calm for now, but a dangerous trend has been set in motion and the current dispensation’s Hindutva agenda may well shatter India’s secular identity.

Pakistan continues to suffer its own religious Frankensteins.

After lying low post September 11, the ghosts of the Zia years have returned to haunt us.  They  are back in the business of ethnic cleansing — by killing fellow Muslims in the name of Islam.

Even as interior minister Moinuddin Haider proudly announced to a group of newsmen in Karachi that 600 sectarian terrorists, including the notorious Riaz Basra, were in government custody and his ministry was planning to crack the whip, a doctor had been gunned down that morning while on his way to the Kidney Centre.  He had given up a lucrative post in the US and returned to serve in his home country only six months back.  A few days later yet another Shia doctor was killed.

Last month, a Shia mosque in Pindi was targeted , killing 10 and injuring 20.  Sectarianism has reared its ugly head again and again, claiming hundreds of innocent lives, but its instigators remain at large, seemingly invisible to the law enforcement agencies of successive governments.  Despite protestations to the contrary, the Musharraf government too has looked the other way.  It continues to take a soft line, despite claims of major crackdowns.

Meanwhile, the barbarism on the streets is matched by another kind of barbarism — that perpetrated in the home.  Hundreds of women have been doused with petrol and burnt alive, disfigured with acid, tortured, tormented, killed by none other than their own husbands.  The statute books are filled with discriminatory anti-women laws, but there is no law to deal with domestic violence.  A chilling reminder of the plight of Pakistani women in the 21st century.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.