Disclaimer: The views expressed in this open letter are the writers’ own personal views.
Basit Jamal is repurposing the power of religion to be a solution rather than a roadblock to conflicts that have already seen millions die the world over. He works with students from Schools, Colleges, Madarsas, and worshippers in the Mosques. He also promotes interfaith dialogue as a means to better understand the other. Thousands of young people who were seeing "kill your enemy" as the solution are now creating a demand for turning "enemies into friends". He is promoting a definition of “Leader” as someone who has the skill of turning enemies into friends. Basit Jamal is the founder of “Brotherhood of Humanity Trust” and is also an Ashoka Fellow.
To my fellow liberals, I speak as Jahnavi.
What a freak show we are going through, with each day’s wild event being wilder than the last. Every morning that we wake yet another stupendous headline is waiting, each more gutting than the last.
The Ayodhya-dispute ran wild on headlines for a couple of days, then the JNU-fees hike protests took over. Soon after, there were the election scandals and power changed hands faster than we could blink and remember who belonged to which party. And this past week, NRC and CAB have been bloodying the headlines, with news of liberal students protesting the unconstitutionality of these bills, burning cities and gut-wrenching riots with no consensus on who to blame for the bloodshed.
The Bolti Bandh team has been sorted out by social media algorithms to be urban, bleeding-heart liberals and we have only seen headlines confirming our individual, personal fears of a fast-turning-fascist state and unconstitutional behaviour giving birth to a fiercely communal India.
Personally, I haven’t quite gotten access or known how to look for the other side of headlines - even to satiate my curiosity of how their statements could possibly justify the circus that India is currently. I and we, have stayed somewhat obsessed and complacently so, with the traditional left-right divide or the traditional, Hindu-Muslim divide; painfully obvious and gaping faultlines to notice.
All liberals think the same, and all conservatives, the same. All Hindu traditionalists, the same and all suffering Muslims, the same. And the news (as it should, in many ways) has been so caught up in trying to catch up with the sheer circus that the country is, it has held on complacently to these obvious fault lines as well.
But why is this a problem?
Because we’re more divided than we recognize or admit, and an irretrievably fragmented citizenry is a surefire way to ensure this circus will be everlasting and lap us up in its flames before we know it.
Soon after the Ayodhya verdict came out, I had several conversations with people about their take on it and one of the most common opinions was: this is distracting us from deeper, more real problems. Interestingly, that’s happening to us again. By reinforcing the traditional camps opposing each other, the media - unwittingly, perhaps - is allowing hidden divides to stay hidden by keeping us distracted from digging inward to find them. By forcing our attention to stay on the gaping, glaring disagreements that have always traditionally been mainstream - we have been kept from listening to our own. And as we scream into the night that we oppose what is happening to our country, sometimes what we are asking for in exchange is different and contradictory. We only happen to have a common enemy.
Take, for example, the CAB riots now. I have been incredibly puzzled at the disjointed nature of the voices opposing the bill; in Assam, they don’t want immigration at regardless of whether the bill is discriminatory to Muslims or not and out here in the mainland, we want Muslims to be included in the bill if anything. If anyone is to win against the common enemy, who should?
All this is to ask the question, what can you and I do now? Unless we are being dragged out by a policeman this very moment, forcing ourselves to focus on nothing but survival, we must slow down. Even if the news won’t. We must deliberate and ask more focused questions without allowing anger, desperation and assumptions to cloud us into a half-baked fight. Hopefully, the riots will end soon, in less than a week perhaps. We can’t let them disappear then from our questions as soon as they disappear from the headlines. The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act was amended earlier this year, in August to rule that even individuals could be marked as terrorists and be treated to criminal interrogation without due process. We, our headlines, were in an uproar about this for a week or two and then the media buzz quietened down as if to make way for newer horrors. Newer horrors before we have even heard all the voices trying to be heard in the older ones.
So what we need to do right now and we consume liberal headlines and panic more each day, is breathe and ask more questions. Especially to people who haven’t spoken to you yet, even if they are standing by your side and you assume you know what they have to say. What we need to is ensure we are creating the space and pausing time for every voice to be heard, so we don’t go deepening the cracks of divides we don’t even know exist until one fine day, as yet another distracting event hits us, we find the floor under has to have already crumbled.
To start this off, I’d like to share with you a voice that struck me as wildly unexpected, talking about an issue that isn’t hot anymore but remains pertinent in the larger scheme of things.
In the words of A Muslim activist and influencer who supports the Ayodhya verdict. In the words of Basit Jamal:
I have been speaking to a lot of people in the Muslim community; young and old, about their opinion on the Ayodhya Verdict. And while many are against the judgement, I find that most 'everyday-Muslims', stand by the judgement. The question to ask here is: do common media-narratives or some individual or organization really represent the common Muslim? In my experience and those I have been speaking with, both Hindus and Muslims, we don't think the verdict really affects our daily lives. The conflict was between forces that don’t, in actuality, represent us.
Sharia law contains a provision for a mosque to be moved. Even before the verdict was released, there were members of the Muslim community saying, that if the land in Ayodhya is such a bone of contention and there have been so many riots because of it, so many lives lost; given there is a provision in Sharia law to shift it, why don’t we simply move the mosque? These rational, critical thinking Muslims were criticized by some and praised by others. The critics said that these people are not true to their faith and don’t understand the present society, while those who praised said that these are the ones who really understood their faith and are in sync with the reality.
When I heard the verdict, I thought to myself: Look at the light and not the darkness. If a thief steals Rs. 2,77,000 from me and his family came to me and gave me Rs. 500,000, wouldn’t I be happy about it? That is what has happened here. The land in Ayodhya is 2.77 acres and in exchange 5 acres of land will be provided elsewhere. A friend of mine, who is unhappy with the judgement asked me, “What if someone demolished your house in South Delhi, and gave you a house somewhere on the outskirts? Would you be happy about that?” I replied saying if I had a small apartment in Defence Colony, and there were fights over it every day for decades, and then I got a duplex in another part of Defence Colony itself, where we could live in peace, yes, I would be happy. If I start focussing on the dark aspects of the judgment I will make myself unhappy, so I focus on the bright side.
You know, when my older son takes away a toy from my younger son in play, and the two are fighting over it, I give my younger son a better, more engaging toy, and they stop fighting, and are happy with their own toys. With the Ayodhya verdict, we can also say that the Supreme Court has essentially, played parent to the two parties fighting.
Some people I spoke to think the ideal judgement would be for the land to be shared by both Muslims and Hindus. But when there are emotionally charged up people on both sides fighting over a common piece of land, and we lock them inside the same land; it would have (and only has, as we have seen) intensified the conflict.
For me at least this is not Muslims “losing”. This is not a loss. It is only a loss if we make this an ego battle. If we don’t make it about one side winning and the other losing, then the verdict is about both religious communities getting a place to gather their own people and pray. It is a conflict that had continued for too long, finally ending and peace prevailing. I hope no more politics happens on this issue.
Some people say that it wasn’t Justice. I asked myself, why do we need Justice? The idea of justice is with the aim of maintaining order. Thus order is more important than Justice. I truly believe the purpose of justice is to maintain order and peace in society, sometimes (not always) it does it by declaring one party right and the other wrong. However, the SC verdict has chosen not to do what it generally does to maintain order and peace. An example of such a method is there in Islamic tradition and it says that if a husband and wife are fighting, even if one has to lie to stop the fight, that’s good. In common situations, lying is not justice, truth is. However, justice can be sacrificed to stop fighting for truth is order and peace. I stand for order and peace more than I stand for ‘justice for the sake of justice’. So even if one was to believe that the SC verdict is wrong in granting land for the temple, let him stop for the sake of order and harmony.
I believe my value of unconditional love above all else comes from my inherent nature, just from being human. Friendship, peace, harmony are the values we are born with. We are not born with jealousy, enmity, hatred. If we ask any one, even the angriest person, “What’s better, war or peace? Friendship or enmity” They are going to say peace and friendship is better. If you ask anyone, “Would you like to live in a harmonious society?”, no one is going to say "no". That’s why to inspire violence and enmity, extremists have needed narratives that rely fundamentally on manipulation and brainwashing. They have to do all this hard work to get people to go against their inherent nature of love to instead, become haters. So, I just try to remember my true nature as a human being to love and live in harmony with everyone around me by taking on values of patience and forgiveness every time I am wronged.