Politics Of Religion

Bhagat Singh on Riots

Chaman Lal

Religion based politics is destructive. Europe got rid of it only after separating Relgion from the State. Religion is a matter of personal belief. And the state should not have any interest in the matters of faith! Europe has also gone through internecine war among different sects of Christianity resulting in deaths of lakhs of innocent people during middle ages, as it has happening throughout the world now inside Islamic faith, where Shias, Sunnis, Ahmadiyas and other sects are killing thousands in internecine wars in the name of religious purity! Even in recent Europe, after Yugoslavia's break up, Serbia faced similar religion based internecine killings! India also suffered from the pernicious effects of religion on the society and more during the British colonial regime. Even the national movement against British colonialism had to face the intolerance in the name of religion and 1924 Kohat communal riots were one of the major religion based riots, after which Bhagat Singh wrote in 1927 in 'Kirti' Magazine:
"The condition of 'Bharatvarsha' is indeed pitiable today. The devotees of one religion are sworn enemies of the devotees of another religion. Merely to belong to one religion is now considered enough reason to be the enemy of another religion". (The Religion Oriented Riots and their Solution)

If one looks, at the conditions of India during last one year or so, it will look like as if Bhagat Singh is commenting upon today's India, ironically he uses title for India as 'Bharatvarsh', though his favourite word is Hindustan, as it was popular in pre-1947 India. Punjab after going through turmoil and religion based violence during the eighties, has again been engulfed into religion charged violent atmosphere, when for narrow political gains of votes, Gurmit Singh, self-styled as Ram Rahim Singh, an accused of as many crimes as Asa Ram, who should have been with Asa Ram in jail, but who continues to be not only out, but dictating the terms of even his trials, when thousands of his followers are out on roads to over-awe, during his court appearances with accusations of very serious crimes of murder, rape and mass castration. Forgiving him for his 'religious misconduct' by Sikh preachers with such background of a man, was enough to cause a turmoil in Punjab. And as if it was not enough, the widespread incidents of desecration of religious scripture 'Guru Granth Sahib' (and now of Gita, Ramayna etc. too!) started appearing in media, leading to even police firings and killings of innocent youth, further engulfing Punjab in precarious situation. For one thing one has to be thankful to the fact that as in the case of assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, when it was relieving to know that his assassin was non-Hindu, so in case of present Punjab desecration of scriptures, there is no non-Sikh or Dalit-Sikh mentioned as accused! Otherwise in a volatile atmosphere as it is now, situation could have taken the worse turn! Mischievous elements of various religious outfits try to exploit such situation by indulging in such crimes to cause violence in society. In such religiously charged atmosphere, some people even talk of death sentence for tearing the pages of Guru Granth Sahib or religious scriptures! This makes historian Prof Irfan Habib's observation true that 'India is increasingly becoming mirror image of Pakistan', where for desecration of Quran, death sentence is provided by Zi-ul-Haq's revised of Blasphemy law, already on statue book of India as well. The laws relating to sedition and blasphemy are continuous legacy of British colonialism, which were not scrapped by India, Pakistan and Bangladesh after their independence and now these are causing massive oppression of people by the authorities in these countries.

The manufactured 'cow controversy' by lunatic fringe of Hindutva elements further added fuel to fire, leading to brutal lynching of Akhlaq in Dadri. Earlier during Loksabha elections communal tensions were manufactured to create polarisation in western UP, leading to riots in Muzaffarnagar, for which many present BJP MP's are accused, who benefited from this polarisation in winning the elections. The murder of rationalists like Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M M Kalburgi at the hands of Hindutva fanatics with no tangible action against them, had increased the social tensions to new heights. Even BJP's somewhat liberal element like Sudheender Kulkarni became victim of these communal elements, when he was painted black by Shiv Sena activists in Mumbai, who also forcibly stopped Ghulam Ali show in the city. And Anupam Kher leads a march in Delhi to say that 'there is no intolerance in India', when he cannot stop this even in his own city Mumbai! Writers / artists / scientists protesting against this alarming situation by returning national awards are painted as 'anti-nationals' and traitors by these Hindutva supported elements with no care for even age of these peopleā€”PM Bhargava@87, Nayantara Sehgal@88 and Krishna Sobti@90! Naynatara Sehgal has been abused most by these trolls at social media, more so, for being niece of first Prime Minister of India and also founder President of Sahitya Akademi, whose award she returned. Ironically Nayantara Sehgal's mother-father (Vijaylakshami Pandit and R S Pandit), grandfather (Motilal Nehru), and most importantly uncle Jawaharlal Nehru were all committed nationalists, who all served jail terms or other sufferings during freedom struggle against British colonialism. And she has been subjected to indignities, by those, whose mentors, were in the lap of British colonialism during freedom struggle!

Hindutva elements doing this politics of religion, have pathetic hatred for Jawaharlal Nehru, who as first Prime Minister tried to build a secular and democratic India with emphasis on scientific temper & education. The nation has suffered massively during 1983 Nellie, 1984 Delhi, 1992 Babri Masjid / Bombay, 2002 Gujarat riots, Hashimpura and many more incidents or rather massacres of minorities on religion based politics, whether under the rule of BJP or Congress or other parties. After 2014 massive victory under Narendra Modi, Hindutva fringe elements and RSS like organisations have become emboldened again to create another communal cauldron boiling, which has affected Punjab also, which has suffered massively at the hands of Bhindrawale inspired Khalistani religious elements, as poisonous as Hafiz Saeed like Jehadists or Sanatan Hindu 'purists'! Country is at a crossroads again and Bhagat Singh's wise warnings are anyway refreshing :
"Under these conditions the future of Hindustan seems very bleak. These 'religions' have ruined the country. And one has no idea how long these religious riots will plague Hindustan. These riots have shamed Hindustan in the eyes of the world. And we have seen how everyone is carried on the tide of blind faith". (The Religion Oriented Riots and their Solution)

On the positive side and as a solution, Bhagat Singh refers to Ghadar party ideals :
"In 1914-15 the martyrs separated religion from politics. They believed that religion was an individual's personal matter and no one else should interfere in it. Nor should one let religion push itself into politics because it does not unite everyone or make them work together. That is the reason movements like the Ghadar Party were strong and had a single soul in which the Sikhs were in the forefront for going to the gallows, and even the Hindus and the Muslims didn't lag behind." (The Religion Oriented Riots and their Solution)

Bhagat Singh himself a confirmed atheist thought religion itself to be pernicious for society and hoped that class consciousness among peasantry and working class would get rid of religious consciousness finally. But in present conditions going back to Bhagat Singh's ideas of separating religion from politics and state is a must, to pay real tribute to Kartar Singh Sarabha like Ghadarite heroes on the occasion his martyrdom centenary (16th November 2015). Ironically first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, freedom fighters like Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, Jaiprakash Narain could remain atheists and never visited religious places and ceremonies, even Sharad Yadav like leaders can practise atheism today, apart from left leaders; but the new political heroes like Arvind Kejriwal or Nitish Kumar don't even dare to assert the non-religious character of their constitutional duty as chief minister and try to appease religious bigots by visiting all kinds of religious ceremonies! To fight back the growing religious intolerance and fundamentalism, taking brutish violent form on occasions needs to be fought with the spirit of freedom struggle time's spirit of religious and communal harmony and unity! Would the power holders in states and Centre rise to the occasion and check the tide of rising religious intolerance and violence in Indian society, threatening the very idea of a culturally, religiously and linguistically diverse and harmonious India? Bihar results have shown the path, but it needs to be taken forward!

Vol. 48, No. 30, Jan 31 - Feb 6, 2016