An open letter to the Sadhus in Palghar

Mohammed Wajihuddin

Mohammed Wajihuddin

Dear Sadhus,
I know you will never be able to read this letter. For, the lynch mob that ferociously attacked you and the driver of the vehicle you were travelling in rained lathi blows with an intention to kill. And kill they did. Hopefully they will pay for the despicable crime they have committed

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I am an ordinary Indian. And, like any other ordinary Indian, I grew up respecting Sadhus, Sufis, Saints, Holy men and women. We were taught that Sadhus and Sufis deserve extra love and care because they are the ones who have renounced comforts, seek no worldly power and carry no animosities against anyone. Since they are not engaged in a profitable profession, they live off people’s support.

The Palghar episode is worrying also because it shows the unfathomable depth of insanity our society has descended to. How did none from 100 odd- mob try to check the antecedents of the hapless victims? How did nobody try to verify that they were Sadhus and not thieves out to lift children? And if they were already in the custody of cops, where did the mob get strength from to snatch them from the police and give instant death? How did the cops become so helpless as to allow the bloodthirsty mob to kill the three men?

Perhaps the mob took strength from the past. They guessed it too would pass off as yet another mob lynching case. All those who believe in justice and supremacy of law also believe that the murder of innocents in cold blood will continue to haunt the perpetrators. As an Urdu poet would say:
Jo chup rahegi zuban-e-khanjar
Lahoo pukarega aasteen ka
(If the sword of tongue is tight lipped, the bloodstains on the clothes will speak out).

What is equally condemnable is the attempt to communalise the unfortunate incident. The habitual hate brigade and mongers of hatred threw caution to the winds when they took to social media with their poisonous posts. Killing of any innocent, anywhere is sad and condemnable. But here it involved murder of two Sadhus. In the times that we live in, rumour mongers could have led us to a huge communal conflagration. Fortunately, they didn’t succeed as the administration scotched the rumour in the nick of time, clarifying that there was no communal angle to it.

After the hate mongers failed to link the blood thirsty lynch mob to Muslim community, they are now trying to present the crime as the handiwork of some Christians. “While the government of Maharashtra has been making statements that there was no communal angle to the incident and even the police investigations have mentioned this, it is shocking that elements who are trying to destroy the nation are today blaming the Christian community of being complicit in the lynching,” protested Abraham Mathai, president, Indian Christian Voice and former vice-chairman, Maharashtra State Minorities Commission.

In recent weeks there have been two occasions when quick response of the state government saved the incident from spiraling out as a communal flashpoint. Apart from the Palghar mob lynching case, it is sudden assembly of migrant workers near Bandra railway station that shook us recently. On April 14, hundreds of migrant workers assembled outside the railway station near a mosque in Bandra west. A rumour had it that some special trains would carry stuck migrants later that day to UP, Bihar, Bengal and other states. Hundreds assembled. Some hyperactive channels, throwing the basic principle in journalism of checking the facts before going public, began finding a Masjid connection in Bandra unrest. The Masjid had nothing to do with this sudden assembly of the crowd on the road. A trustee of the mosque told me that the mosque allowed the police officers to use its loudspeakers to calm down the restive crowd. Instead of highlighting this gesture of the mosque management, some extra-nationalist channels tried to fan communal fire. A senior journalist friend from a major Hindi news channel called me to check if I knew anyone among the trustees of the Bandra mosque to confirm that no message to assemble at the location had gone out from the mosque. Mercifully that channel didn’t try to find any Masjid “connection” in the migrants’ unrest. How insensitive they become when they report “sensitive” issues?

It’s the poet Bashir Badr who so succinctly observed:
Log toot jate hain ek ghar banane mein
Tum taras nahin khate bastiyan jalaane mein
(People get broken in building a house/You take no pity in burning down neighborhoods).

Sometimes I am aghast at the alacrity and impunity with which some media persons give communal spin to events. When we are fighting a global pandemic and need to stay together, there are some habitual hate mongers masquerading as media persons who try to find a communal angle in an event when there is none. These so-called journalists, the self-appointed “conscience keepers” of the nation don’t flinch from targeting vulnerable groups. These purveyors of half-truths and malicious contents think they are above the law. They don’t think for a moment that the dangerous games they play will weaken our social fabric built on centuries of shared living.
India is great because of its diversity. It is a great civilisation because tolerance has been its policy and co-existence at the core of its heart.
The other day I heard a UAE royal invoking Mahatma Gandhi to explain her reply to the Islamophobic tweets by some Indians living and working in the Gulf. Our PM Narendra Modi was right when he passionately pointed out that coronavirus doesn’t discriminate and we together shall fight and defeat this pandemic.

I never saw Gandhi but my grandfather did. Gandhi is relevant because he is a paragon of peace, a man of immense compassion, an enduring example of a man who died for communal amity. When both India and Pakistan were busy preparing to celebrate the bloodbath-marked Independence and what the poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz called in anguish Yeh daagh daagh ujala, yeh shabgazida sahar (This tattered raiment of darkness, this sputtering of dawn) in August 1947, Gandhi was dousing flames of communal riots in Noakhali and Calcutta. M J Akbar in his latest book Gandhi’s Hinduism: The Struggle Against Jinnah’s Islam records how Gandhi refused to be part of the pageant planned in Delhi to welcome the new dawn and chose, instead, to be in Calcutta to promote Hindu-Muslim unity. From Patna, writes Akbar, Gandhi headed to Calcutta by the night train on 8 August. On the way, he wrote a message for those who would occupy high positions of power within a week, signed in Devnagari and Bengali. Gandhi’s message read: “I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in double doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man you may have seen, and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj from the hungry and spiritually starving millions?”

Gandhi’s words are relevant today. When I see millions of desperate daily wagers and migrant workers struggling to survive the strains due to lockdown, I wonder if we have lived up to Gandhi’s evocative words.

To me Gandhi was a sacred soul to whom Winston Churchill once derisively called “naked fakir.” Gandhi would have been deeply hurt at the murder of innocents, including Sadhus, at the hands of lynch mob. Gandhi who fell victim to fanaticism would have mourned the senseless killing of Sadhus in Palghar.

Mohammed Wajihuddin, a senior journalist, is associated with The Times of India, Mumbai. This piece has been picked up from his blog.

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