People's movement against hatred

There has been the need to unite against hatred and hate campaigns since decades. However, its urgency is being felt today due to many factors. The then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had asked me to work for Jammu and Kashmir as its governor on April 6, 1998. Soon I received a couple of phone calls from Farooq Abdullah from London asking me to accept the offer. He arranged a meeting with Vajpayee at the PM’s residence on April 14.

However, I politely declined the offer during my meeting with PM Vajpayee at his residence in Delhi. I told him that I was already involved in various social projects. One of them was in Mumbai, where we were working for social cohesion through Mohalla Committees.

I did not feel it proper to carry my image being projected as a bullet-for-bullet police officer and one who was tough with terrorists to Jammu and Kashmir. The situations in Punjab and Kashmir were different, though they had this common context of terrorism.

Some years later, the then Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil had also made a similar offer, which I had humbly declined for the same reasons.

I was convinced that such issues related to hatred could not be solved at the point of a gun. One needed to work peacefully and diligently to build bridges between people. In this context, negative feelings within Kashmir and about Kashmir need to be eliminated. We will have to work anew to end this division in the minds of people.

When I returned from Romania to Mumbai in December 1993, I found just such a disgruntled and alienated community in my city of Mumbai. They had been beaten and bruised by Shiv Sainiks and the police, causing them to lose hope, which is so vital for the mental well-being of the common man. Some friends whom I considered liberal and secular were speaking a communal language. The Mohalla Committee Movement was the concerned citizens’ and dedicated workers’ response to this severe alienation. We worked silently. It brought the communities together for three decades, but I am feeling the tremors of hatred again!

With this background, the ‘India Against Hatred’ people’s movement being launched by filmmaker, social worker Nilesh Navalakha, who is being supported by NGO Sarhad Founder Sanjay Nahar, is very significant and addresses this concern being felt across the country. The movement has blessings of Dalai Lama, who has given his consent to use one of his quotes as the tagline for the ‘India Against Hatred’ movement. The quote goes like this: “The true hero is one who conquers his own anger and hatred.”

The spiritual leader has personally written a letter in this regard to Nahar, which underlines the need to end hatred not only from India but from the entire world through Buddha’s teachings of Ahimsa and Karuna, non-violence and compassion.

I remember here an incident when I had worked as a superintendent of police in Pune back in 1964-65. Dalai Lama was visiting Mumbai, from where he was scheduled for a visit to a town in Maharashtra. He was travelling by train and I had orders from the government to meet him at the Pune railway station. After talking to him, I felt very inspired. Dalai radiated warmth.

In my career of 36 years in the police, I encountered communal hate that led to riots on many an occasion. Religion rules over many aspects of a person’s life, including birth, marriage, death, eating habits, culture and even thinking! Very early in life, a person born into one particular religion is made to think that his or her religion is genuine while all other religions are fake!

If they are educated and use their thinking power, they soon realise that if you do believe in a Creator, then there can be only one Creator who necessarily will have created every human being. That means Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs are all created by the same creator, by whatever name you call it!

If one does not believe in Creation or God, then one will have concluded that religions were made by men as explanations for the unknown. No one knows how we came into being and what really happens after death; how the planets were formed; how the sun, the moon and the stars came to play the roles they now perform; why nature plays ducks and drakes with poor humans.

Hence, humans in different parts of the globe advanced their own explanations for natural phenomena. These explanations differed, bringing into our discourse different interpretations and different religions! A priestly class emerged in each religion embellishing truths and falsehoods alike. The clerics in each religion created a whole stack of ceremonies to be performed at the important stages of life such as birth, puberty, marriage and death. Problems arose when humans began travelling. In the course of their migrations, they believed that the religion of their birth was the only true one while all other explanations of the Unknown were false!

Water gets muddied when beliefs of certain communities harden and they insist that theirs is the only true religion! Inter-religious marriages should not be a cause for frictions, but when one spouse insists that the other should convert to the ‘one, true religion’, their friction is relayed to their respective families and later to their communities!

The Hindu-Muslim animosity in India is as old as the hills. There are many causes for this animosity – historical, cultural and social. The placidity of life based on a rigid caste hierarchy is violently disturbed when Abrahamic religions, propagating proselytization, convert families, even entire villages, to their doctrine of an egalitarian existence. Social tensions immediately shake the old caste order, leading to violent confrontation after the reality sinks in!

Besides the purely religious content inherent causing such tensions, religion has been used from time immemorial for purely political confrontations. This caused wars between groups of people and nations. Marx had dubbed religion as the ‘opium of the people’. He referred to the suppression of peasants through the instrumentality of religion. However, rulers and politicians seeking to protect their vested interests have always appealed to religious beliefs to maintain their stranglehold over the masses.

Our beloved country has been no exception to this! Our present rulers have shown their penchant for using the Muslim minority as a convenient whipping boy to retain power. Communal propaganda has succeeded in a big way to divide votes on the basis of religion! This had not succeeded in earlier elections. Caste had mattered more than religious beliefs. But in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, religious divide did gain traction among the poorer sections in populous states such as UP and Bihar.

The unfortunate fallout of this strategy to capture or retain power is that it also divides the country on communal lines. It strengthens the hold of the Muslim clergy, who like the clergy of other religious persuasions also strive to retain their sway over their flocks creating a beleaguered and alienated community, now counted at 15 percent of the total population. This is a very dangerous trend that will eventually boomerang on our rulers and leave the country weaker to a critical extent.

Divisions, based on caste or creed, are the last thing this country needs at this juncture of our history. To meet the threat of the looming danger from the East, it is imperative that we unite and stand together shoulder to shoulder. A statesman like Modiji must surely appreciate the danger of using communal hatred for electoral gains. He surely knows that permitting such hatred will lead to a deeply divided country. A deeply divided country will not be able to withstand a Chinese assault from land and sea with 15 percent of the populace in a disgruntled frame of mind.

I am glad that my friend of 35 years Sanjay Nahar has joined forces with Nilesh Navalakha to start the ‘India Against Hatred’ campaign from this month (August). Sanjay is a public-spirited citizen who had travelled all the way from Pune to Punjab in 1986 to touch base with me and encouraged me to stand up to the Khalistani terrorists, who wanted to carve a separate state, which if they had succeeded would have emboldened other separatists!

Nahar’s work in militancy-hit Jammu and Kashmir for orphans, children, widows and women, which is bringing the Kashmiris in the mainstream, is very relevant today. Such efforts need to be supported and strengthened.

‘India Against Hatred’ is a non-violent movement, which abides by the law of the land and is not against any particular person or political party. It is an apolitical movement. It will launch campaigns against hatred in a peaceful and non-violent manner. Many lawyers, IT engineers, retired judges, journalists, students and writers will join hands for this cause. One lakh peace soldiers will be trained across the country to tackle hatred situations and people in a peaceful and constitutional manner.

I appeal to people to join the movement to uproot the evil of hatred from our society.

Julio Francis Ribeiro is a retired Indian police officer and a civil servant. Ribeiro titled his autobiography Bullet for Bullet: My Life as a Police Officer