Next month the activist will travel hundreds of kilometres to seek collective forgiveness for our sins of omission and commission. Will you be joining him?
– Karawan e Mohabbat – beginning with Nellie in Assam on September 2 and ending at Porbandar on Oct 2
Who are we? Are we a nation of bigots ready to murder at the slightest provocation? There is an idiom in Punjabi that roughly translates into ‘If you want to make a hundred monkeys fight, show them one banana’. Are we those monkeys? Are we at the mercy of hatred-filled WhatsApp forwards? Are we slaves to narratives such as x religion did hateful things to y religion 200 years ago, and now 200 years later you must carry the burden of this ridiculous hate? Who are we to each other? What does our patriotism mean? Is it more than territorial boundaries? Do we mean something to each other?
We are Indians. We are fellow citizens. Ham Watan. Why do we cheer an Indian victory at a sporting event? Why do our eyes light up when we see a fellow Indian in a foreign country? Is our relationship with each other so fragile that politicians with well-oiled and well-funded propaganda machineries are easily able to incite us against each other? Is it as easy to incite two Germans against each other? Is it as easy to incite fellow citizens of other countries who belong to different religions? Do we really believe that this country only belongs to one religion? What does the Indian heart look like? Are we petty and malicious? Why is it that so many of us keep looking on quietly when mobs murder innocents – sometimes on highways, sometimes inside trains, sometimes by dragging them out of their houses? Do the incidents of people driving by, ignoring cries of wounded/ raped people on the road symbolise who we are? Is religion, gender and caste-based violence an integral part of our national identity? Who are we going to become? What will honest accounts of history tell our children about us? I don’t have answers to these questions.
Harsh Mander is a sixty-two-year old man who has spent his life working with survivors of mass violence, homeless people and street children. He is going to undertake a journey starting in Assam on September 4 through Jharkhand, Karnataka, Western UP, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Delhi. He says he wants to meet families of those who were lynched, seek collective forgiveness, and form aman-committees, which will support those families and work to generally generate a sense of fraternity and love in those neighbourhoods. He also says that this journey is a call of conscience to Indians at large. He has invited everyone to join him. Many people have committed that they will. They are calling this journey Karawan-e-Mohabbat (Caravan of Love). An appeal he has written sharing his reasons, seeking support and funds for the journey contains the following excerpt:
“We need to interrogate the reasons for our silences, for our failures to speak out, and to intervene, when murderous hate is unleashed on innocent lives. We need our conscience to ache. We need it to be burdened intolerably.”
What are the reasons for our silences? Many people believe that there is a deliberate campaign underway to frighten the minorities – caste and religious. To terrify them with lynchings, as large-scale riots gather far too much attention and institutional interference. To reduce them to secondclass citizens. When my grandchildren ask me if my conscience ached and felt an intolerable burden when innocents were being murdered, what will my answer be? If and when this climate of fear reaches its dreadful but inevitable climax, will I wonder what I was doing when this monster was slowly but surely creeping on us? Will we ask why we didn’t realise what was happening? I have asked many questions in this article. I want to find answers to some of them. I want to ensure that there doesn’t come a day when I have to ask myself – what did I do? I want to ensure I am able to say, I stood up for India and Indians. This is what my ham-watans meant to me. I want to find out who we are, who we are to each other and what we are going to become. For this reason alone I am going to join Harsh Mander on this journey. I hope to see you with us. Will you come?