Tharoor Line | Don’t allow communalism to make India a war zone

Jashoda Sahu Teli holds a picture of her slain husband Kanhaiya Lal, who was allegedly killed by two Muslim men for supporting BJP's Nupur Sharma for her remarks about the Prophet Mohammed. Photo: Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP

The horrific news from Udaipur this week of the beheading of a tailor, Kanhaiya Lal, by two Muslim youth, who then posted the grisly video of their crime on social media in the style of the ISIS-Daesh terrorists, shook the nation. Whatever the degree of polarisation in our toxic communal discourse of late, no one had imagined that such a crime could occur in India, and that too on communal grounds – the murdered tailor’s only sin, it seems, was to support the now suspended BJP spokeswoman Nupur Sharma on Facebook.

The incident raises a number of concerns that must be addressed, and some principles that must be reiterated. First and foremost, the murderers must be unreservedly condemned. There is no room for bigotry and violence in our society, whether motivated by fanaticism or sheer hatred. Nor does the excuse that their religious beliefs were offended mean anything – your right to be offended does not included the right to assault another human being, let alone to take his life. No provocation, however irresponsible the statement by the errant spokeswoman might have been, justifies any killing whatsoever. On this principle there can and must be no compromise in a civilized society.

The accused in the Udaipur case. Photo: Manorama Online

For this reason, the criminals must be given exemplary punishment. Equally important, it seems unlikely that they acted alone, or spontaneously, given the modus operandi of the crime, the uploading and posting of the video and their planned escape to another city, where they were arrested. This requires a thorough investigation into who instigated this action and whether there is an extreme radical cell operating that instructed or guided the killers. Any such elements must be tracked down and halted in their tracks without delay. If they could order one beheading today, another could follow next week. Our nation cannot afford to be complacent about such dangers any more.

Thirdly, the incident is a wake-up call for all who have allowed communal passions to be inflamed in the tinderbox that is Indian society. Communal polarization has served the narrow political interests of some parties, but the toxin it has spread in our society threatens our collective safety. No political interest is greater than the national interest. And the national interest requires calm, peace and communal harmony, not increasingly crazed expressions of hatred and bigotry. The great strength of our society for millennia has been that we respected different ways of being, living and worshipping. To turn away from that tradition and to judge others because of their faith, appearance or community – and worse still to assault others for those reasons, whether verbally or physically – is to betray the essentials of Indianness. In turn, it invites retribution, equally misguided, which incites calls for revenge, and before we know it, we find ourselves in a renewed spiral of violence and destruction. We cannot afford that.

What India needs today is development and economic growth, increased prosperity and jobs for its people. These, in turn, require social harmony, societal cohesion and peace. Those are the conditions that attract investors and trading partners; no one wants to invest in a war zone.

No Indian wants to live in a war zone either. We most stop this madness before our nation becomes one.

Don't forget Tibet

Last week I had the opportunity to attend, and address, a global conference in Washington of Parliamentarians on Tibet. Twenty-six countries were represented there, along with some eighty delegates from the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile. I was struck by the seriousness and depth of the discussions, which featured both MPs and experts. In the session I spoke at, Prof Michael van Walt van Praag and Prof Hong-Shing Lau convincingly exploded the Chinese claims that Tibet had always been a part of China.

Panaji: Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama addresses on "Todayâ  s Relevance of Indiaâ  s Ancient Knowledge" at the 25th anniversarycelebrations of Goa Institute of Management (GIM), in Panaji on Aug 8, 2018. (Photo: IANS)
Dalai Lama. Photo: IANS

Prof Lau presented extensive research on hundreds of pages of documents and materials going back centuries to demonstrate that even the Ming and Qing Empires, in their official records, showed that the Chinse considered Tibet a foreign country. Of course, this debate is largely academic now, since even the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile, and the Dalai Lama himself, are not seeking Tibetan independence from China, but merely cultural autonomy and recognition for the distinct identity of the Tibetan people.

Still, the quality and depth of the presentations, and the widespread sympathy the Tibetan cause has elicited from parliamentarians as far afield as Canada, El Salvador and France, was inspiring to see

I was equally struck, though, by the complete absence of media interest in the event or its deliberations. Not one national or international newspaper or press agency, let alone television channel, was covering the proceedings. Whether this was because the Tibetans did not make enough of an effort to invite the press, or whether the world has become indifferent to their plight and the media doesn’t believe there is a Tibetan “story” worth covering any more, the parliamentarians’ conference passed without a single media outlet of any consequence reporting on the event.

Tibetan plateau
Tibetan Plateau. Image source: IANS

The Tibetan tragedy might be old news for some, but it is a tragedy that lingers on, in the tales of refugees scattered around the world and persistent reports of human rights violations by the Chinese occupying forces. But as the old line goes, if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, has the tree fallen? If Tibetans try to raise the world’s conscience about their plight but no media wishes to hear them, do the Tibetans matter anymore?

At a time when China is pushing us on the northern frontiers and has taken the lives of twenty of our jawans, it is time to ask, why don’t we in India, at least, show we care about Tibet? Surely the days of constantly appeasing Chinese sensitivities should now give way to a more assertive policy? Shouldn’t we start playing the Tibet card? Why not invite the Tibetans to hold their next Parliamentarians conference in India?

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