The most important election since independence

Mari Marcel Thekaekara reflects on the Easter Sunday massacre in Sri Lanka and provides a glimpse of a more hopeful future in India as voting in the country’s general election begins.

Women wait to cast their votes at a polling station during the third phase of general election on the outskirts of Pune, India, April 23, 2019. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

We, in India, are, facing the most important election since independence in 1947.

The very idea of India is under threat. Journalists have been murdered and suppressed. Minorities threatened, beaten and lynched. The fabric of our democracy is being torn to shreds. The current regime is accused of wanting to change the Indian constitution, one of the finest on this earth, from a text where the principles of freedom, democracy and secularism are firmly enshrined to a new conception of the nation where Hindu fundamentalism and totalitarianism reign supreme.

More than at any time before, while we wait anxiously for the final election results on 23 May, it seems important, no, imperative, to take refuge in sanity and goodness, and hope that this can counteract the hatred and violence engulfing our land.

Memories of the Sri Lankan massacre on Easter Sunday are fresh. The horror of it, so soon after the New Zealand killings makes our minds go blank. I received the following poem via WhatsApp, written in honour of the victims:

A million hearts are grieving
In the land of the brightest Sun,
Yet, the faint thump of a rhythm of a heartbeat
Screams ‘Rise up! There's a lot to be done.’

And while that beat still beats in us
We will not give up the fight,
The fight that a thousand warriors fought
To quell darkness with peace and light.

This land is NEVER to be divided.
This land is NEVER to be burned.
This land is NEVER to be terrorized.
Let this be heard across the world.

For every attempt to tear us apart
Will be a waste, will be in vain,
‘Cause in this home that we call Sri Lanka
We are all one, and all the same.

Our churches have been ravaged,
Hundreds of innocents slain,
We weep as one community,
Our tears know no religion, only pain.

This pain will only fuel us
To unite as one strong voice,
The voice of a peace loving nation
Drowning out the Extremists' noise.

Watch how we all rally together,
Casting caste and creed aside,
This land of harmonious Humans 
Will tame any threatening tide.

          – Dii the Doodler

If similar messages encouraging peace go out, rather than calls for vengeance, perhaps it’ll make ours a saner world?

Interfaith futures

At home, in India, where hatred and violence is being peddled deliberately and strategically, a story published in The Print caught my eye. One of Modi’s BJP party’s central campaign promises is to build a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya, north India, where the Babri Masjid mosque was demolished in 1992. But this heart-warming story, from West Bengal, the state of my birth, offers a different picture of the future.

A Ram temple has been built by Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians. The people of Pandaveshwar, a village in Bengal, wanted to send out a different message: ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbukam’, the world is one family. The concept epitomises the essence of authentic Hindu spirituality as preached by its most revered saints.

Brahmin priests blessed the gathering of over 5000 locals to the sound of Shiva mantras in the background. Muslim residents handed out sweets to everyone as their contribution to the celebration. Bengalis have always prided themselves as being secular, progressive and literary.

Muslims contributed 10,000 bricks for the Ram temple while Christians and Sikhs joined hands to help in the construction.

Apparently locals decided to build this interfaith collaborative temple to counter the hatefest being propagated by aggressive BJP propaganda, which had seen a few Hindu-Muslim flare-ups.

Once the decision was taken, the village launched a crowdsourcing campaign, Locals from all religions responded. Kamaljeet Singh, a local Sikh leader, headed an effort to spread awareness about religious tolerance and acceptance of other faiths.

A year earlier, a nasty Hindu-Muslim clash led to the murder of a 16-year-old lad, the son of a Muslim priest. Maulana Imdadullah Rasheedi issued a unique fatwa against further violence to avenge his son’s killing. He threatened to leave the village if further violence took place. He begged for peace among the communities. His plea was respected. ‘Consensus was in the hands of people not politicians,’ another leader said.

Therein, I suspect, lies the crux of the matter.

It certainly gave me food for thought at this point of time when so much of our world seems in crisis and despair. Hope must lurk around the corner even at our darkest times.