My last post on "Another Communal "Us"vs."Them" Divide in India" got me a response from a muslim friend:
- I flew back to London from Bombay today... as usual I was several kilos over the baggage allowance, but being a serial offender I knew how to negotiate my way through...as I was returning to the checking counter after scanning the extra bag, this girl from ground staff asked to confirm my last name... when I said what it was, she went and whispered in the ear of the guy at the desk "iske boarding pass pe star lagaya kya?" (have you put the "star" on his boarding pass?)
At the desk the guy told me that I would have to go to the "customs facilitation desk" after I complete immigration and before boarding to identify my luggage and answer any questions they might have... I asked "hmm.. why me in particular though, is it some new procedure?" so he got all flustered and mumbled that it was a random check...
...but apparently, in India (or rather... in the the urban, educated, middle-class, "Hindu" India), this is not such a "random check" any more. It is reserved for "the Other".
[the "Hindu" - underlined and bold - is deliberate, since it contrasts with the Hinduism: A Religion that Never Was]
And who is this "Significant Other" - the enemy?
A piece by Namita Devidayal describes this "Significant Other" that haunts the Indian "Hindu" (urban, middle-class, and apprently historically clue-less) psyche:
Excerpts: (do access the original article, if you have time)
- "It would be easy for the optimistic liberal to conclude that Mumbai is still at heart, 'Bombay', a cosmopolitan city devoid of bigotry. The Hindutva parties were relatively muted in their reaction to the train blasts.
Muslim organisations came out and condemned the attacks. And no one burned any buses. But even if the city opted out of the violent route, there is a growing rhetoric of violence that is silently seeping into people's psyche, like chemical waste into the soil, and no one knows when and how its effects will be felt.
The rhetoric is evident in drawing-room discussions, over SMS messages, and in unspoken words and glances. Right after the July 11 blasts, a series of creepy SMSes and e-mails started doing the rounds, posing loaded questions like: "We agree that every Muslim is not a terrorist, but why is every terrorist a Muslim?"
One e-mail bludgeoned its mass-recipients with the same tired cliches about how the minority community is growing exponentially, and will soon out-populate the majority...
...The memory is based as much on imagination as on actual events. For instance, stories about the violence of Partition often become fiercer and fiercer as they get orally transmitted from one generation to the next.... Stereotypes about the 'enemy' get reinforced because they are not based on real encounters or experience...
More and more residential buildings discriminate on the basis of religion, and they can now do so with the sanction of a Supreme Court verdict that permits housing societies to be formed along community lines.
Contrary to the utopian era of Amar Akbar Anthony, that wonderful allegory for religious amity, today it is less likely that your child will have a neighbour or a 'building friend' who is from another community — someone whom he can identify with purely as a playmate, share snacks with, maybe even take him one day to his place of worship...
...Mumbai may not be Ahmedabad, where children from different communities no longer study together, but it is inching its way there... According to Kakar, "In a period of rising social tension, social identity dominates, if it does not entirely replace, personal identity".
Researchers working on a Gender and Space project at PUKAR, an NGO, were horrified by the findings of a series of focus group discussions it has held recently in Mumbai.
Women — from the lofty precinct of Malabar Hill to the smelly bylanes of Dharavi to the neon-lit conclaves of Lokhandwala — were asked to describe what they thought were unsafe areas in the city.
The answers, almost uniformly were: Minority areas. Had they ever been there? No. Did they know anyone who had been there? No. Their reasons for feeling that way? The men have beards and look dangerous and aggressive. Did they think they may be prejudiced? No.
...Only recently in Mumbai, a 'dangerous bearded man' was detained for an unjustifiably long period of time at the international airport. The irony is that he had flown in to attend the funeral of his brother who had died in the train blasts.... He was a victim, not a perpetrator. But stereotypes are beyond reason. They are reductive and create 'us' and 'them' cognitive states.
For instance, cocktail party chatter today raises mind-numbingly simplistic questions: "Why is it that wherever there is conflict, it involves Islam?"
Hardly anyone takes the time to discuss the complex history... Arguments are devoid of political analysis or historical context...."
... A troubling question: Are we - the Indians, not the "Hindus" - losing our Sanjhi Virasat?