After increasing mob lynchings of Muslims by Hindu vigilantes in Uttar Pradesh, tensions are understandably high and many Muslims in that state are fearful. One Muslim man in Uttar Pradesh recently disguised himself in a burqa while traveling because he was afraid of being accosted.
This type of ugly and intolerant behavior by some people does not represent the character of a country that has been a shining symbol of secularism around the globe.
These current conditions are truly saddening. They must be confronted both for the sake of the good Hindu and Muslim citizens of Uttar Pradesh and the distinctive and honorable “multi-hued” reputation of the state itself.
After a period of silence, Prime Minister Modi has spoken out against the spate of violence against Muslims. He reminded us when he said: “sabka saath, sabka vikas”. This column is written to move beyond PM Modi’s admonition and to call for communal peace and harmony in Uttar Pradesh.
Some may think this call will not be answered. I believe it will because in the past many of India’s greatest leaders have stressed building community through collaboration and cooperation.
For example, consider the teaching of Pandit Malaviya, founder of Banaras Hindu University. He was visionary who saw the world not though religious blinders but through an expansive view of what strong and inclusive faiths can do to unite rather than divide us.
Pandit Malaviya Ji instructed, “India is not a country of the Hindus only. It is a country of the Muslims, the Christians and the Parsees too. The country can gain strength and develop itself only when the people of India live in mutual good will and harmony.” Taking a lesson from him, in order to create an atmosphere of communal peace and harmony, we need to discover our “spiritual common ground.”
That is because spirituality transcends religious, racial and regional boundaries. Spirit is the invisible force that brings us together regardless of our particular pre-dispositions.
PM Modi’s words and the advice of Pandit Malaviya Ji provide the basis for working toward communal peace and harmony in Uttar Pradesh. This can be done not by looking to the heavens and to the gods whom we worship but by looking at the earth and the people and family that we are.
There are many actions that the members of that family can take to move Uttar Pradesh toward communal peace and harmony. In my opinion, the key actors and actions are:
- Religious leaders promoting interfaith dialogue
- Political leaders promoting a framework for unity
- Citizen leaders promoting communication and collaboration
- Role of media in building and promoting an atmosphere of communal peace and harmony
Religious leaders are in a unique position to build bridges, to break down the barriers, to promote dialogue of understanding, and to forge stronger bonds among different faiths. This can be accomplished by bringing followers of different persuasion to have open discussions on controversial topics or issues of importance. These conversations can make and reinforce the point that an attack on one religion is an attack on all religions. When we attack each other, it tears the harmonious fabric of India.
Political leaders have the responsibility to ensure that all laws are fair and enforced uniformly. As importantly, they can take affirmative actions to promote an atmosphere of communal peace and harmony. They need to develop a plan of what can be done to strengthen those bonds that binds all Indians as one family. They need to promote voice for understanding, cooperation, and civility among faiths.
Citizen leaders must come from all fields – business, education, health care to name just a few. They can lead by example, by sponsoring events, and investing in plans and programs that cut across and eliminate racial, religious and socio-economic divides. They can play a vital role in diffusing tensions and helping our youths understand the need for collaboration and communication. They can play a pivotal role by promoting the unique benefits of message of unity by articulating: we are stronger together. And, together, we can help shape a better future for India.
Media should play a key role by providing: information fairly and fully; by investigating sources of stories; and being a centralized communication vehicle for dialogue and discourse on issues and matters of importance. Media needs to be a proactive participant in promoting communal peace and harmony rather than a passive bystander and reporter of current events.
There is much work to do. That work must begin, however, by imagining an atmosphere of communal peace and harmony. Imagining will not make it so but not imagining will make it impossible.
Imagining and making it happen in Uttar Pradesh would set an example for India and the world. Who knows what might come next?
(Frank Islam is an Entrepreneur, civic leader, and thought leader based in Washington, DC area. His web site is Frankislam.com)