By Tariq Engineer, Ahmedabad Mirror
Harsh Mander, who is now a social activist, will be embarking on what he calls “Our Karwan e Mohabbat” (Caravan of love, atonement and solidarity) on September 4. He plans to visit the families who have suffered such attacks in Assam, Jharkhand, Western UP, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and possibly Karnataka. The journey will be split into three phases, with the final phase ending in Porbander, the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi, on Gandhi’s birthday, October 2. He also plans to visit the Sikh widow’s colony in Delhi in order to acknowledge “an older history”of violence as well Mirror spoke to Mander about the need for him to embark on this journey and what he hopes to accomplish by doing so. Edited excerpts:
What was the motivation behind the idea? What sparked it?
I don’t think I am alone in feeling worried about where our country is going. There is a growing sense of fear among large segments of our people and a a climate of hate is getting normalised. One might argue that communal violence has been around right from partition onwards, but this is something different. I think that communal violence, however bad it is, is bound by geography and time. It happens at a particular location at a particular time. But what lynching has done is to communicate a sense that people of targetted communities are not safe anywhere: in their homes, in public spaces, on their travels, at work, nowhere. And that sense has settled into their hearts and souls and it is terrible.
That’s one part. The other part is that I find a substantial silence from those who are not targetted, the silence of the majority. So a call of solidarity to the minority communities that have been targeted, and to the Dalits, and a call of conscience to the majority community, the Hindus, to say that at times like these we, cannot remain silent. The larger idea is radical love. Radical love is love that requires courage in very hostile times, best exemplified by Mahatma Gandhi in the last months of his life. Radical love is intensely political in its aspiration. So with that spirit, we can fight the hate. It cannot be fought any other way. That’s why a Caravan of Love.
Did you consider any other ideas?
I think this is not the only thing that is required. There was this wonderful campaign across #NotinMyName which was carried out across the country. I think we will do more specific things also, such as helping the families of those who were lynched, both in terms of support system and with legal action. Also, there is an attempt by supporters to say that these are just stray incidents. But we can demonstrate that they are not by much stronger documentation. So, we are trying — meaning friends and other comrades — to come together and contribute in different ways.
One last thing that we are thinking about is to try and encourage a creation of Aman committees in as many districts in the country as we can. They will be people you can reach out to. Gopal Krishna Gandhi wrote a beautiful piece, saying once we partitioned the country, now we are seeing a partition of the mind. How do you fight a partition of the mind except through reaching out to the hearts and minds? And you have to find innovative ways of doing it. This is just one part of a larger list of things that need to be done.
What do you hope to accomplish through this — is to get more people involved in countering what is happening?
Absolutely. It has to begin by acknowledging and caring. And then, acting. The silence can mean many things. It can mean fear. It can mean indifference. And it can actually mean supporting the actions of hate. So we need people to interrogate their own hearts about whether one can remain bystanders any longer. I want people to think about Fraternity, which is written into our constitution. What does that really mean? It means we belong to each other. It doesn’t matter what you eat or how you worship, we are all bound together in sisterhood and brotherhood. And also communicate to the minority communities that there are many of us who care.
Whom do you expect to join you on this journey?
I think two kinds of people most of all. One whom I am calling the chroniclers; people who will tell the story. It shouldn’t be just me telling the story. When I went to Junaid’s house, it left me quite broken inside for a long time, having witnessed what hate does to people’s lives. The chronicling of this through writers, people who will photograph, shoot videos, people who will write poetry. The second part is after we meet the families and in a sense seek their forgiveness, we will try to evaluate what their needs are and make arrangements for justice.
We also want to have a peace meeting in which we invite people from all the communities in that local area. I am also looking for artists, singers and poets who will also talk about love. These are the two kinds of people I am hoping will join — chroniclers and cultural community members. It is not a crowd-gathering thing. It is more about reaching out to a larger audience through this yatra.
You are attempting to crowdfund Rs 20 lakh for the Karwan. What happens if you don’t meet your target by the time you start?
I don’t think very hard about that because you will get paralysed. We are trying to do this as modestly as possible and we hope to create an initial fund to start supporting the families we will be visiting. We are visiting at least two families per state and we want to create a fund for legal work etc. If it doesn’t happen, we will keep trying. But we will go ahead.
Do you think there is a silent groundswell of support for something like this?
To tell you the truth, I had believed and hoped that there would be much greater public response to what is happening that we observe visibly. The great contrast is with the United States. I never thought a day would come when we would compare ourselves unfavourably with the American people. You had the Muslim ban [in America] and within hours, people were there at the airport raising slogans and we are all together.
One slogan even said “we are all Muslims now”. We had film actors, lawyers, people from every walk of life. You had people visiting their Muslim neighbours and saying, ‘don’t feel insecure and worried’. I am not seeing that happening in India. That’s what worries me. You can fight the mob; you can fight the governments; you can fight the political parties, but here we have to first fight with ourselves.
Is there some sort of way of evaluating the impact of this journey? What would success look like?
I am not sure. I am not expecting any spectacular success. I just feel that in the battle of the mind, in the partition of the mind, if we can make some breaches there. But it will be very hard to see how effective and how many breaches. So I am not sure how we will evaluate it. I am not hopeful that we will have spectacular success either. It is going to be a long battle. There are reservoirs of division between us that I never suspected existed.
Do you hope that on this journey, you will get a sense of how the country is today?
I do. And that’s why not just me, but I am really hoping there will be 10 or 20 sensitive people who will observe, watch and report. I hope this chronicle is one that lays bare what we have become as a society to the rest of us and then let us start asking questions. I went to Junaid’s and Pehlu Khan’s house and there is so much fear. They just don’t know how to lead their lives now. I have handled many riots and you don’t see that generalised sense of fear after a riot as you see now.
(The article was published on Ahmedabad Mirror)