When I was a Judge in Allahabad High Court a criminal appeal came before me in which some Muslim boys had been convicted by the trial Court for gang raping a young Dalit Hindu girl.
In Uttar Pradesh (which is the largest State in India of about 200 million people) Muslims are about 18% of the total population, but in that particular village in U.P. where this incident happened 90% people were Muslims, and only about 10% Hindus, most of them being dalits (or low caste Hindus).
I upheld the conviction, and observed that a hallmark of a civilized society is the protection it gives to minorities. It is the solemn duty of every person belonging to the majority community in a particular area to see to it that the minorities in that area live with dignity and respect. In that particular case it was the duty of the Muslims of that village (who were 90% in that village) to ensure that the Hindus could live with respect, but instead of doing so the accused had gang raped a dalit girl. Hence they deserved harsh punishment.
I also observed in the same judgment that had the Hindus been the majority in the village it would have been their duty to see that Muslims or Christian (or any other minority in the village) could live with dignity, and if in such a village some Hindus committed a similar crime they would also be given harsh punishment.
The judgment assumes importance in view of the growing intolerance in many parts of the Indian subcontinent. The treatment to North East people in many parts of India, to Muslims in Gujarat, the terror created in the tiny Hindu and other minorities in Pakistan, are a disgrace to all of us. It shows that we are not really civilized.
Thomas Jefferson in his book ‘Notes on Virginia’ writes “It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg”.
The spirit of tolerance is particularly important in our sub continent which has such tremendous diversity----- so many religions (and so many sects in these religions), so many castes, languages, ethnic groups etc.
In my earlier article ‘Ecrasez L’infame’ I said that the ill treatment by many of us of the North East Indians is a disgrace. The atrocities on Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 and on Sikhs in 1984 are a disgrace. Similarly, the ill treatment of minorities in Pakistan (whether Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Ahmadis, Shias or any other minority) is a disgrace, and invites Voltaire’s famous comment: Ecrasez L’ infame (Crush the Infamy).
In my article ‘What is India’ I said that India is a country of immigrants (like North America) whose 92-93% population today are not the original inhabitants but descendants of immigrants who migrated into India because people migrate from uncomfortable places to comfortable places. India was a paradise for agricultural societies because it has level land, fertile soil, plenty of water for irrigation, etc unlike countries like Afghanistan which are rocky, cold, covered with snow for several months in a year, and hence very uncomfortable. Hence for thousands of year people kept coming into India, mainly from the North West. This comment is also true of Pakistan, and it explains the tremendous diversity in our sub continent, because each group of immigrants brought in their own language, religion, customs, etc.
As the great Urdu poet Firaq Gorakhpuri wrote:
“Sar Zameen-e-Hind par aqwaam-e-Alam ke Firaq
Qafile guzarte gaye, Hindustan banta gaya”
The only policy therefore which can work in our sub continent is secularism, and giving equal respect to all communities, religious, lingual, regional or racial. This was the policy of the great Emperor Akbar who gave equal respect to all communities.
Secularism does not mean that one cannot practice one’s religion. It means that religion is a private affair, unconnected with the State (which will have no religion) and everyone has the freedom to practice one’s own religion without harassment or coercion from anyone. But in my opinion secularism means something more than merely accepting the rights of others to practice their own religion. It also means that minorities will be entitled to lead a life of dignity and respect, and it is the duty of the majority to ensure this. Hence every incident of ill treatment of minorities in India or Pakistan is a disgrace to the majority people there who have failed in their solemn duty of protecting minorities.
Published in The Express Tribune On August 23,2012