Green and saffron: The colours of division in India

Published April 16, 2015
The process of communalisation worsened after the 2002 Gujarat carnage, and this one is surely its most blatant, extreme expression. —Photo courtesy of the Indian Express
The process of communalisation worsened after the 2002 Gujarat carnage, and this one is surely its most blatant, extreme expression. —Photo courtesy of the Indian Express

As per the report from Ahmedabad (12th April 2015), the uniform at the Shahpur School – where most of the students are Hindus – is saffron and the color of uniform in Dani Limda school – where almost all the students are Muslims – the color is green.

This is absolutely shocking. One knew that the 'ghettoisation' of Muslims in Ahmedabad is probably the worst case in the country, but for things to go this far is simply unbelievable.

The process of communalisation worsened after the 2002 Gujarat carnage, and this one is surely its most blatant, extreme expression.

While the communities prefer to stay in the localities frequented by their likes, the situation in most north Indian metros, and to some extent, in smaller towns also, is frightening when it comes to the segregation of communities.

In Ahmedabad, particularly post-2002 carnage, the majority of nearly 12 per cent of the Muslim population has been forced to live in the Juhapura and Shah Alam areas, both predominantly Muslim areas. Irrespective of their socio-economic profile, Muslims are not permitted to buy houses in mixed localities. The banks don’t extend their credit card facilities in these areas, neither do food outlets deliver pizzas etc.

In India, the phenomenon of ghettoisation of the Muslim community has run in parallel with and as an aftermath of communal violence.

Once violence occurs in a particular city, not only is that particular city affected very severely but the fallout is seen in other cities as well. Places like Mumbai, Bhagalpur, Jamshedpur and Muzzafarnagar in particular are vulnerable to suffering tensions and ghettoisation following communal violence of larger degrees.

In cities like Delhi, too, this phenomenon is clearly discernible to the extent that even the Muslim faculty members of the JNU – the prestigious university tagged as a 'liberal' institution – also prefer to live in the Muslim majority areas.

The builders in major cities make it a point to not sell housing units to members of the minority community. I know of a faculty member of the prestigious Tata Institute of Social Sciences Mumbai being denied a house because of his religion.

Mumbai is probably the most cosmopolitan city with great cultural diversity. But even here, the famous film star and social activist Shabana Azmi was denied a house in a mixed locality, as was actor Emran Hashmi.

There is a long chain of phenomena leading to such situations, where religion becomes the central marker of one’s identity, overtaking national identity, before even the right to housing of one’s choice is practically ruled out.

These unwritten rules are a part of social practices.

As it happens, we are currently in the middle of a debate featuring the phenomenon of ghettoisation: There is talk of making separate colonies for Kashmiri Pandits in the Kashmir Valley.

This plan is being opposed by different quarters as it is bound to lead to a ghetto-like situation for the Pandits. The Kashmiriyat culture – the core point of Muslim-Hindu amity in the valley – has already been undermined due to the strife raging in the valley for over two decades. On top of that, such a scheme from the government will further enhance the divisiveness in the state.

How do we deal with a situation where divisiveness created by communal politics is ruling the roost?

On a visit to Singapore, I saw the massive housing colonies in different residential clusters. I was told that within these housing complexes, there is a quota system of the allotment of housing units in the same complex along ethnic lines. Different ethnic groups, Malays, Chinese and Tamils have been allotted certain percentages according to their proportion in the population.

This encourages different groups to interact with each other on various occasions and promotes amity between them.

So what do we do in the face of a situation where schools are choosing uniforms according to the religion of the children, and how come the percentage of children is overwhelmingly Muslim or Hindu in particular areas?

This is all due to physical segregation, plain and dangerous; and is contrary to the spirit of communal harmony and the values ingrained in the Indian Constitution – the spirit of fraternity.

The myths, prejudices and stereotyping in notions regarding the ‘other community’ have to be countered, not consolidated, as these very stereotypes become springboards for communal violence; which in turn paves the way for segregation and ghettoisation, leading to further ‘cultural demarcation’ – the way these two schools show.

What sort of a society should we expect for our future generations with such schisms entering our education system? These divides, physical and emotional, are detrimental to the unity of the entire nation.

I remember after watching V. Shantarams’ 1956 classic Parosi (neighbour), I left the theatre with moist eyes, wondering whether Hindus and Muslims could ever live like that again; whether the composite culture which India inherited had any chance of survival in the prevalent divisive political scenario.

Does it?

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