Religious festivals in India always had a special flavour, everyone partaking in all joyous occasions. Durga pujas, Ganesh festivals, Navrathri or Deepavali, the festivals for Hindus, were noteworthy for the minorities too. Reciprocally Id and Christmas were celebrated by Hindus as well. Unity in diversity was evident everywhere, be it in the of slurping vermicelli sweets during the Muslim festivals, laddoos and sandesh during Hindu festivals, or munching cakes during Christmas. Everyone looked forward for these occasions to reaffirm the faith in each other and in their larger commitment of fellowship.
Religious festivals now churn the belly with scare, children advised to keep indoors by apprehensive elders, particularly when a Hindu and a Muslim festival overlap and processions are taken out. Government and administration burn midnight oil to ensure peace. Communities are becoming increasingly insulated and uncaring for others.
More and more gods are invoked and celebrated unlike ever before and each new celebration bestowing a sense of belligerence with their devotees. Suddenly everyone is on the edge, ready to take on at the slightest and often mistaken provocation spread out by malicious and criminal elements. These elements are not the conventional rowdies carrying petrol bombs or pelting stones and missiles. They are suave, white collared criminals, armed with a new weapon, fake news; spreading canards through social networking sites like Facebook, WhatsApp and twitter.
A recent classic example is the fake news that a Jain muni was assaulted by a Muslim youth, which resulted in communal clashes in Bengaluru. The founder of the web portal Postcard News, the author of the fake news has been arrested. Raniganj in West Bengal too has seen severe unrest in the days following Ram Navami and news, including videos allegedly uploaded by a Union minister of state is to have further aggravated the situation, resulting in the death of 6 persons. It’s a shame to add fuel to the fire, rather than helping in containment of any flare up by empowered leaders.
Bengal, with a high population of minorities had never any major problems in its harmonious coexistence between communities. What changed the situation suddenly, that we tend to address ourselves as a Hindu first or a Muslim first rather than an Indian first? For a few, polarisation on religious grounds seems to be an easier route to hold sway over the masses, but the damage that it is causing to the society is being ignored for immediate gains.
Ram was an embodiment of righteousness, who lovingly embraced man and animals alike. Where’s the need to brandish swords, Trishul, spears and maces? The wanton display of an intolerant and aggressive face is just not true Hinduism, nor does it fit the ever-tolerant Bengali ethos.
I wish and pray for the return of the days of mutual religious tolerance that is devoid of hate crimes in the name of gods, castes and communities.