Gujarat: Preventing another Northern Ireland

A crowd of 200 gathered to watch the live telecast of the India-Australia test series in a remote village near Bhavnagar in Gujarat. As Parthiv Patel, a Gujarati from Ahmedabad smashed the Australian bowling around, the crowd roared “Amaro dikro”(our boy). There was a feeling of pride that a son of Gujarat was representing India and playing well. There wasn’t a similar celebration the next day when Baroda native, Irfan Pathan shook up the Australian batting line-up. After all, Pathan, the son of a muezzin, isn’t a Gujarati, but a Muslim.

The post-Godhra riots in Gujarat have destroyed the fragile harmony that existed in Gujarat. While Gujarat prides itself on being the state of Mahatma Gandhi, the champion of peace, there has always been a degree of resentment between the Hindus and Muslims in the state. Every Gujarati child is told how Mahmud of Ghazni raided the Somanth temple on numerous occasions. Muslim children in Gujarat look upon Arab raiders as heroes. The hatred is built up from the grass root levels.

Gujarat has literally been divided on communal lines since the 2002 riots. Hindus and Muslims live in separate colonies and even separate parts of towns. These Ghettos have turned the land of Gandhi into the land of Godse (Gandhi’s assassin). Hindus and Muslims don’t even study in the same schools anymore. The scene is very reminiscent of Northern Ireland, where centuries-old hatred lives on between Catholics and Protestants.

“We are very proud of what happened in 2002” says Mohit Patel (name changed). “After all the Muslims needed to be taught a lesson” The rape of women, foeticides and burning of old people, were all “means to an end.” A Bombay-based advertising agency was forced to withdraw a television commercial of a popular table salt, which showed an honest Muslim taxi driver. They were told that the product would never sell in Gujarat and would be boycotted if the advertisement was shown in Gujarat. The two communities even live in separate villages. They boycott each other’s shops, vehicles and businesses. All this is happening with the blessings of the ruling political party, which is using the common people of Gujarat as pawns for dubious political objectives.

As much as the two communities in Gujarat would like to deny it, they have common ancestors. Hindus in Gujarat are as much “a progeny of Bin Qasim and Babur” as Muslims are. The communities are very much of the same ethnic stock. They speak the same language and have a culture that is almost the same, barring food habits. The sooner the people of the state realise that they are being manipulated for the dubious political ambitions of the men in power, the better. In the not so distant past, every house in Gujarat had a framed photo of Mahatma Gandhi in the living room. It’s Gandhi’s message of peace and brotherhood that the Gujaratis need to take as the word of God.

There’s a silver lining in every cloud. “We are a business minded people and money counts more for us than anything else” exclaimed Ravi Mehta, a resident of Surat in Southern Gujarat. For the economy to grow and business to boom, Gujarat needs trust, understanding and respect between all its communities. Commerce and industry, the backbone of Gujarat, can bring the people back together.

The Gandhians (many claim to be so in Gujarat) need to take the initiative in bringing the people together. If the community leaders can meet on a regular basis, confidence will be built. Hindus and Muslims are the right and left hand of Gujarat. This is the time to shed the excess baggage of the past 500 hundred years and work together for a better India. After all, like the Gujaratis say, “Aa paisa ni waath che”(it’s a question of money).