In­dia is wast­ing en­ergy on point­less sec­tar­ian fights

The Miracle - - Pakistan/kashmir - By:AM­RIT DHILLON , NEW DELHI Con­trib­uted to The Globe and Mail

You might think that, given the poverty, filth and il­lit­er­acy in the coun­try, In­di­ans spend all their time de­bat­ing how to end those is­sues. You’d be wrong. They pre­fer to waste their en­ergy on fid­dle fad­dle. Af­ter ob­serv­ing re­cent tele­vi­sion and news­pa­per de­bates, you be­gin to think that maybe the coun­try re­mains a by­word for poverty be­cause it just can’t focus its en­er­gies on the re­ally press­ing prob­lems that de­prive In­di­ans of dig­nity and com­fort. Two de­bates have dom­i­nated pub­lic life of late. The first one is over the Taj Ma­hal, a sym­bol of In­dia. A gov­ern­ment book­let list­ing the fa­mous mon­u­ments in the state where the Taj Ma­hal is lo­cated omit­ted to men­tion it. A cry went up from op­po­nents of the rul­ing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which pro­motes a Hindu ethos, that the Taj Ma­hal had been left off the list be­cause it was built by Mus­lim em­peror Shah Ja­han. The gov­ern­ment of Ut­tar Pradesh state later is­sued a clar­i­fi­ca­tion say­ing the Taj Ma­hal had been left out be­cause the book­let out­lined only new projects, not ex­ist­ing tourist at­trac­tions. But it was too late. Heated quar­rels had be­gun. Op­po­nents of the BJP said the Hindu party sim­ply couldn’t stom­ach a Mus­lim mau­soleum be­ing the sym­bol of In­dia when In­dia is a Hindu-ma­jor­ity coun­try. In this inane ex­change, some Hin­dus re­peated a hoary and pre­pos­ter­ous claim that the Taj Ma­hal was not a Mus­lim mon­u­ment at all and that it was orig­i­nally a Hindu tem­ple. This claim is pop­u­lar among some groups of Hin­dus af­flicted by an in­fe­ri­or­ity com­plex. Given the praise they lav­ish on their an­cient civ­i­liza­tion – claim­ing that an­cient Hin­dus in­vented the air­plane, cos­metic surgery, and stem-cell tech­nol­ogy, no less – it is galling that the sym­bol of In­dia through­out the world was built by a Mus­lim. It left you shak­ing your head in dis­be­lief. Some BJP politi­cians have a prob­lem with the Taj Ma­hal, which has put In­dia on the map, be­cause it’s not a Hindu mon­u­ment and there­fore they have to be­lit­tle it. Worse was to come. The sec­ond de­bate flared up on Oct. 9 when the Supreme Court im­posed a ban on the sale of fire­crack­ers on Di­wali. This was to help keep un­be­liev­able pol­lu­tion lev­els in the In­dian cap­i­tal down, but some Hin­dus erupted again. “Why tar­get only Hindu fes­ti­vals? Why does no one ban the Mus­lim sac­ri­fice of a goat dur­ing Eid?” In prime-time tele­vi­sion de­bates, seem­ingly ed­u­cated Hin­dus turned a sim­ple health prob­lem (how to keep a lid on pol­lu­tion) into a sec­tar­ian fight. They played the vic­tim, as though they, the ma­jor­ity, are al­ways be­ing picked on. The ban was turned into an at­tack by the Supreme Court on Hin­duism. As­ton­ish­ing ex­changes oc­curred, with Hin­dus say­ing de­fi­antly that they would, come what may, defy the ban and burst crack­ers on Di­wali. One politi­cian said, “soon they’ll be ban­ning Hindu cre­ma­tions too be­cause the smoke pol­lutes the air.” If a de­bate on the right to breathe can be turned into a Hindu-Mus­lim fight, then any­thing is pos­si­ble. Mean­while, in Ker­ala, a few Hindu women who have con­verted to Is­lam and mar­ried Mus­lim men are be­ing por­trayed by Hindu groups as the vic­tims of a “love ji­had” waged by Mus­lim men who have brain­washed them into for­sak­ing their orig­i­nal faith. It’s a “Mus­lim con­spir­acy” to lure Hindu women away. Ev­ery­thing these days is a Mus­lim con­spir­acy. Other coun­tries also some­times ex­pend en­er­gies on de­bates that might seem less-thanessen­tial to out­siders. The re­cent dif­fer­ences in Amer­ica over re­mov­ing Con­fed­er­ate stat­ues be­cause they sym­bol­ize white supremacy and U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s de­fence of them as “beau­ti­ful,” is one ex­am­ple. But Amer­ica doesn’t have hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple who don’t have a toi­let or a home, or elec­tric­ity. It doesn’t have the high­est num­ber of mal­nour­ished chil­dren in the world. It doesn’t have slums where the poor are forced to live in rat holes that de­hu­man­ize them. In­dia’s prob­lems are vast, ur­gent and life-and-death. If the en­er­gies of those who run the coun­try or those who in­flu­ence pub­lic de­bate are go­ing to be chan­nelled into trivia (hate-filled trivia at that), its name will re­main a syn­onym for poverty. Am­rit Dhillon is a New Delhi-based writer.

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