A small Ahmedabad ini­tia­tive holds out a dif­fer­ent unity model

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - All That Matters -

Even peo­ple who are ma­te­ri­ally worse off now, who are slumped and wor­ried about their prospects, are still re­cep­tive to the mes­sag­ing of re­li­gious supremacy or jin­go­ism. Eco­nomic sen­ti­ment and po­lit­i­cal sen­ti­ment seem to have taken fork­ing paths. Why is that? Be­cause to many peo­ple, there is a holy cause that seems more press­ing than the gov­ern­ment’s eco­nomic record. Un­der its spell, even farm­ers and traders and work­ers and those out of work are not blam­ing the gov­ern­ment for their luck­less­ness; they cheer it on for de­ci­sively in­flict­ing pain on some per­ceived en­emy, or for keep­ing mi­nori­ties cowed.

Ashok Par­mar may have come to the re­al­i­sa­tion that com­mu­nal an­i­mos­ity doesn’t im­prove any­one’s life, but for many oth­ers, eco­nomic de­spair doesn’t dent ma­jori­tar­ian pas­sions. In fact, ma­te­rial frus­tra­tion may even in­crease sup­port for such mass move­ments. It may an­swer a psy­chic need — when one is anx­ious, iso­lated and deprived, a mass move­ment that de­mands loy­alty and sub­mis­sion can pro­vide struc­ture and iden­tity, what Han­nah Arendt called a “band of iron”. Un­able to bear a self-suf­fi­cient ex­is­tence, they merge gladly into a group iden­tity; we see these en­er­gies in many parts of the world to­day. We don’t know what shape these re­ac­tionary move­ments will take, as they roll on, or how their re­cruits can be per­suaded oth­er­wise.

But ei­ther way, the Ekta chap­pal shop is a dif­fer­ent model of peace and sol­i­dar­ity, where unity does not de­mand uni­for mity, where we can be stronger to­gether.

The poet Sea­mus Heaney told a mem­o­rable story about a bus of work­ers in North­ern Ire­land stopped by armed men. They make all the work­ers line up, and or­der the Catholics to step out. The group is mostly Protes­tant, ex­cept for one Catholic, who is ter­ri­fied, pre­par­ing about to step out, when his neigh­bour squeezes his hand to sig­nal: “no don’t worry, we won’t be­tray you, what­ever your faith or party”. The man steps out of the line any­way.

But sud­denly, he is thrown back­wards, alive, as the armed men open fire on ev­ery­body else in the line, be­cause in fact, these gunmen are from the IRA which claims the Catholic side. Heaney writes: “The birth of the fu­ture we de­sire is surely in the con­trac­tion which that ter­ri­fied Catholic felt on the road­side when another hand gripped his hand, not in the gun­fire that fol­lowed, so ab­so­lute and so des­o­late, if also so much a part of the mu­sic of what hap­pens.”

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