Tuesday , 19 March 2019

Breaking concrete, damaging ties

Frederick Noronha

There is this story I heard which helped me to deal with a number of nasty situations. It is the story of the Buddha and an apple. Or rather how to deal with an insult.

It is said the Buddha was walking through a village. An angry, rude young man came up and insulted him. The Buddha did not get upset and showed no sign of hurt. What he told the young man was, “If you gift someone an apple, and that person doesn’t accept it, to whom does the gift belong?”

The surprised young man replied: “It would belong to me, because I bought the gift.” Replied the Buddha: “That is correct. It is exactly the same with anger. If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the anger falls back on you. You are the only one who becomes unhappy. All you have done is hurt yourself.”

In the last week, the damage caused to religious structures in parts of Goa is quite a similar case. The jury is out on who was responsible and what were the motives. (Officialdom has its own take on this, even as this column was being written.) But clearly this was a case of attempting to provoke enmity. To build hostility, animosity, antagonism, friction, antipathy, animus, feuds, conflicts and discord.

In times where manipulating the religious sentiments of people for political purpose is a game that many sides play, it is easy to understand why such activities occur. It would be unfair to jump to conclusions. Even if we know that official investigations can sometimes go awry, the question to be asked is: Does this matter at all? How much importance needs to be given to such issues? Should we actually oblige those who want to provoke and divide, and fall for whatever is their game?

Cases of religious conflict, in our times, are often masked by claims and counter-claims. Even something as blatant as a communal riot, where the victims might be largely from one side, is always shrouded with allegations of why such actions might actually have been justified. Anti-Muslim pogroms will be justified by pointing to anti-Sikh riots, and I guess this is supposed to level itself out, because differing political parties were in power in each case!

The fact of the matter is that almost every side can play politics over such issue. One successful ideology wants to build up majoritarianism, and to build up successful numbers it needs to create an image of The Enemy. Another ideology will act as if it is the protector of all those facing the heat, whatever its own flaws and record.

A third trend is where you see each of the above blaming the other. The fourth is where a scapegoat is caught, and the whole issue is confused beyond recognition. Someone wants to show someone else their place. Or maybe, someone wants to exaggerate the threat perception, gang up politically, and make things look worse than what they currently are. In this world of permutations and combinations, just about anything is possible.

To my mind, despite what is often claimed, Goa has seen a lot of low (or not-so-low) intra-religious conflict. This is true of both the pre-1961 era (which is much talked about) and post-1961 (less often discussed).

Post-1961 politics of Goa has sometimes been described as India’s first democratic revolution. But, the fact is that even the first elections of 1963 saw a sound thrashing for Nehru’s Congress for no other reason than local politicians deciding to play the game of dividing voters on the basis of religion and caste. Remember, this was even before this trend actually caught on in much of the rest of the country.

In colonial times, the religious politics of early centuries of Portuguese rule, in the post-Medieval times, are aptly described in history. Salazar’s own manipulation of religion is also fairly well documented. (But I do not agree that all of Portuguese rule can be reduced to a period of religious intolerance. Lisbon had its Republican Revolutions, its staunchly anti-clerical phases, its abolutions of the religious orders, and even its Marques de Pombals.)

In fact, after so many centuries (and recent decades) of religion and politics being mixed here, Goa is a good example of why everyone loses when the State plays favourites. Only a handful gain, while the rest are taken or a ride.

A former legislator cynically suggested on his Facebook wall some time back — that anyone arrested for the crime would probably be from a minority background, or mentally unsound. Whatever the case, even if a case is made that there was zero politics in the case, the response to this issue is a comment on the different strands of politics in today’s Goa.

There are other aspects too. One can understand the press wanting to keep up with an emotive case. But the term desecration and the large headlines does make the problem seem far, far more serious than it actually is. The term desecration, widely used by the media, has its own connotations in online encyclopaedias and religious dictionaries. Why give the oxygen of publicity to those whose intent is to spark bitterness?

“Turning the other cheek” is a phrase in Christian doctrine, that refers to responding to injury without revenge. Online, you can find interesting interpretations of what this means, the Christian anarchist interpretation, the nonviolent resistance interpretation, and even a metaphysical interpretations. All said it doesn’t make sense to get provoked when someone wants you to. A diverse society which is constantly negotiating its ability to live together, and often quite successfully, needs to build more understanding within itself.

A fair demand might be that regardless of which religious group is affected, if the State is unable to bring the culprits to book (and this does not mean just nabbing an easy scapegoat), then it should be responsible for restoring the monuments to their original shape.

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