In Balasore, Communal Propaganda Also Got Derailed

Attempts to communalise the tragic accident failed. There is reason to believe that a majority of Indian masses do not harbour hatred for people of other religions.

Within a few hours of the horrendous Balasore rail accident of June 2, a vain attempt was made with the help of social media to communalise the tragedy by pointing out the apparent existence of a ‘mosque’ near the accident site. Even the occurrence of the mishap, on a Friday, was linked to the Muslims, who gather to offer Juma prayer in the afternoon.

But it soon emerged that the structure near the mishap site was actually a temple and not a mosque. As if that was not enough, attempts were made to highlight that the accident was in fact a result of a conspiracy in which “Muslim railway personnel” were involved. Fake news was spread that a Muslim employee of the railways was arrested.

But this is not the first time in recent years that mosques have been demonised and a needle of suspicion has been pointed towards the Muslim community. No doubt, the communal forces have politically succeeded by whipping up anti-Muslim sentiment.

Yet, at the same time, a big question arises: Do average Hindus, especially the subalterns among them, really nurse so much hatred against the Muslim places of worship?

Perhaps not. Even after the demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992 and the demonisation of the Nizamuddin Mosque (the markaz of the Tablighi Jamaat) in Delhi immediately after the March 24, 2020 coronavirus lockdown – and many other such instances – a large number of Hindus, especially women, have high respect for places of worship of Muslims. They are often seen paying obeisance to mosques or mazars that they come across.

Committee members enter Nizamuddin Markaz after its reopening, to offer prayers during Shab-e-Barat in New Delhi, Thursday, March 17, 2022. Photo: PTI/ Shahbaz Khan

My experience

After the first lockdown was lifted three summers ago, I made it a point to pay a visit to the nearby mosque as throughout the preceding weeks, the media was full of stories that the Tablighi Jamaat played a role in spreading COVID-19. As if that was not enough, false claims were also migrant workers congregated near the Bandra railway station because of an announcement made by a mosque.

Because of these developments, I planned to visit a mosque the very day the lockdown restrictions on places of worship were eased. As I have a vision problem (and now even a heart patient), I seldom step out of my rented flat. Yet, I decided to accompany my son to go to the masjid in Patna (where I live) to offer maghrib namaz, which is the prayer offered just after sunset. Among other things, the purpose was certainly to gauge the mood outside the four walls of my house as it was for the first time after several months that the common people got an opportunity to interact with others.

What happened after the namaz was over came as a surprise to me. As my son and I were coming out of the masjid, a woman approached us. “Maulana saheb kahan hain? (Where is the imam of the mosque?)” she asked.

My son whispered in my ear that she was carrying a glass of water for dum karwana hai – a sort of exorcism. For this, the imam would recite some Quranic verses before the glass of water which would then be given to the person who needs to be exorcised.

My son added that she is a Hindu woman. I instructed him to usher her into the mosque as the imam was still there. I stood at the gate and pondered for a few moments. Why this Hindu woman has come here on the very first day after the lifting of restrictions? Was she really waiting all these days for the mosque to open? Do the Hindus still have so strong faith in the imam of the masjid, notwithstanding so much media propaganda?

As ours is a mixed locality – Muslims mostly are concentrated around the masjid – there are temples too at some distance. Probably, the Hindu woman might have gone to mandirs too. But she came here as well.

These thoughts come to me even now. Perhaps the officially-backed propaganda had not worked so effectively.

Representative image. Photo: Shruti Jain

Philanthropy has no boundary

I was reminded about what had happened only a few days before. A Muslim gentleman living only a stone’s throw distance from this mosque decided to help the poor by distributing some cash or basic necessities as the lockdown had rendered them jobless. Soon, a large number of people, both Muslims and Hindus, gathered to collect them. He had to abandon this exercise after a few minutes because of overcrowding and the people were not maintaining ‘social distance’.

At the peak of the lockdown, the common masses – cutting across the religious lines – gathered outside mosques, temples, churches and gurudwaras all over India to collect food, medicine, and other relief materials. In metros, lakhs of migrant labours were fed by philanthropists of different faiths and beliefs.

Not only that, after Eid and Juma congregations, a large number of beggars – both Muslims and Hindus – would line up outside the masjids or Eidgahs. No one would pelt stones at them or raise toxic slogans there.

None of the self-appointed champions of religion would attempt to separate them. The term ‘begging jihad’ is yet to be coined by television anchors. While the educated and affluent lot are working overtime to divide society in the name of religion, the poor and illiterate or semi-literate masses are reacting more maturely.

And it is the better off who sometimes succeed in using the youths belonging to poor and lower income groups as cannon fodder to achieve their own political ends. Sooner or later, they will have to realise their limitations. Balasore has shown it.