National Seminar

on

"Fostering Inter-Community Linkages in India"

(March 28-30, 2003)

 Welcome Address

 by

  Dr. Mohd. Manzoor Alam

Chairman, Institute of Objective Studies, New Delhi

Ladies and gentlemen,

 I have the pleasure to welcome you here to this three-day seminar on 'Fostering Inter-Community Linkages in India'.

Ladies and gentlemen,

 I come here with a heavy heart.  The endless spectacle of columns of smoke and fire rising from bombed Iraqi cities and the formidable scale of death and destruction visiting upon a country already half dead from stringent US-led UN sanctions leaves us with a gnawing sense of hurt and injustice.  We are here to talk about fostering inter-community linkages, and we are aware that the world itself is a macro-community.

 This macro-community had certain rules, traditions and the authority of international law to govern relations between its constituents.  There was the UN Charter, the General Assembly, the Security Council.  Everything has gone up in smoke; the international conventions and covenants have been turned into rubble like the rubble of the bombed Iraqi cities.  Brute force has elbowed out considerations of legitimacy.  Shorn of legitimacy, the macro-community itself has become suspect.  UN estimates say this inferno will consume half a million Iraqi lives.

 Ladies and gentlemen,

 We are meeting in difficult times.  When we narrow our focus down to concentrate our sight on our own country, we see a corresponding reality obtaining here. Here too all considerations of legitimacy and rule-of-law have been jettisoned with contempt.  The state seems to have unilaterally abdicated in favour of the mob.  That, I must admit, is a disconcerting scenario.  The mob has rejected the Constitution, and the state has meekly acquiesced.  It is a dangerous drift.

 The civilisational warp and woof of this great country was painstakingly constructed over centuries of shared lives of diverse communities, each with its own religious, cultural, linguistic and ethnic distinction a multi-hued salad bowl, in contemporary political scientists' language.

 The Constitution stressed the need for a pluralistic society while providing equal freedom and opportunities to each community religious, linguistic and regional.

 This was as it should have been in a country of 28 states and 7 Union Territories, 6 major religions, 18 major languages, 1,600 minor languages and dialects, 6 main ethnic groups,     52 major tribes, 6,400 castes and sub-castes, besides 29 major festivals. Add to that the climatic diversity of a continent and the flora and fauna of two continents.

 Sadly, over that last 54 years or so, there have been too many infarctions.  The trauma of Partition inflicted a blow.  Thereafter the country saw a chain of communal riots.  The latest was the pogrom in Gujarat. According to data presented in Parliament, the report of the Home Ministry and newspaper reports, about 14,000 communal incidents/riots have occurred during 1950-2003.

 The process of identity formation in South Asia and the emergence of communal identities, carefully midwifed by the British Raj, is a familiar subject in the international academia.  The strident posture of Hindutva that we witness today had its seeds in the developments in the second half of the nineteenth century as clearly outlined by some of the finest scholars on the subject like Christoph Jafferlot, John Zavos and Vasudha Dalmia.  We have nearly a dozen scholars in India also whose work is as good as of these people teaching in Western universities.

 From the 19th century British project rose the Hindutva of V.D. Savarkar in the first half of the 20th century to fuel all the divisive, illiberal movements and manifestoes menacing India today.  This is the binary opposite of what India's composite nationalism has stood for all these ages.  This is just the reverse side of everything the Constitution stands for, everything that the social ethos of the country entails.

 Ladies and gentlemen, as I said we are living in difficult times.  Under assault is the notion of a pluralistic, federal, accommodative and composite national identity.  Though unarticulated, it enjoys the tacit approval of an overwhelming majority of the Indian population.  It is based on our centuries-old composite traditions and is enshrined in the country's Constitution.  It has been endorsed by the stalwarts of the Independence movement from 1857 to 1947.  It is also in accordance with humanistic ethos and the prevailing intellectual climate.

 In a pluralistic and multi-cultural society like India, national identity can't be based on a homogenous national character simply because a homogenous national character does not exist in India.  As Lord Bhikhu Parekh, who is amongst us here, once perceptively observed, political or national unity does not require cultural homogeneity and is preserved in a climate of flourishing and self-confident cultural diversity.

 A plural and multi-cultural society needs to strike a balance within a democratic framework, between the conflicting demands of national unity and cultural diversity.  This mission, entails three pre-requisites:

 1.      The state must provide autonomous space in which the various segments of the society can feel secure.

 2.      The Indian Constitution confers citizenship on all sections and segments of the population.  As is obvious, citizenship necessarily entails equal civil and political rights.  The state is obliged to ensure that these rights are enjoyed by all sections of the society in equal measure and that they are not denied in any way.

 3.      The institutions of the state Parliament, government, bureaucracy and police should be widely perceived by all sections of the society as legitimate, fair and just.  If any segment of the society loses faith in the legitimacy of any of these institutions, it reflects adversely on the state.

 The situation obtaining at national and international levels involves genuine misperceptions about Islam and Muslims as well as sustained creation and reinforcement of unflattering Muslim stereotypes by anti-Muslim groups over a long period of time.  As human behaviour is imitative and reciprocal, it has also generated among a section of Muslims an unreasonable stance, and a keen desire to undo this oppressive, unjust, anit-Muslim dispensation in whatever legal or extralegal way possible.  Let us be clear that no unreasonable, extralegal Muslim response can be endorsed.

 But going beyond that, we do realise that Islam does have a tradition of fair play and is ideologically opposed to ideas of racial superiority, superiority on the basis of the accident of birth, and everything else that promotes inequity.  That inclusive, pluralistic framework is still relevant.

 Islam's insistence on all Creation being the family of God is a central idea that has to be taken note of. These lines from Altaf Husain Hali's Musaddas beautifully portray the Islamic world view:

 This was the first teaching of the Book of Guidance {The Qur'an}.

That all humanity is the family of God;

He alone is the friend of the Lord

Who is friendly to the Lord's creations.

What is devotion, religion, faith?

That man should help his brother man.

 We would be discussing in different sessions during next two days India's composite heritage; its composite culture; national integration in the Constitutional framework; India's identity; restoring inter-community linkages: role of the state, civil society and media, separately.  We hope this seminar would help in fostering inter-community linkages in the country.

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