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Time to Act


The Hindustan Times, Jul. 30, 2005

Photo: Khushwant Singh

Were these acts of criminality condemned by the religious leaders of their communities?

You read about the terrorists blowing themselves up and killing dozens of others against whom they had no grievances. This happened recently in London. You read about a woman being gang-raped to avenge some wrong done by her kinsmen and the rapists being exonerated in the name of tribal custom. This happened some time back to Mukhtar Mai in Pakistan. You read about the married woman, with no children and who was raped by her father-in-law, being punished for 'allowing' herself to be raped. This happened to Imrana in a village in U.P. a couple of months ago. You read about mass killings of members of a minority community in order to avenge for alleged killings of a few members of their own community exonerated by the powers-that-be. This happened in Gujarat a few years ago. You read about criminal caste discrimination practiced in villages and no one is doing anything about it.

This happens everyday across our country. You read about bombers being paid large sums of money to kill themselves at the same time as their intended victims. This happened a few months ago when the police picked up some Babbar Khalsa activists hired as killers.

Were these acts of criminality condemned by the religious leaders of their communities?

The answer is a resounding no.

No fatwas were pronounced by the Darul-Uloom or the Imam Sahib of Jama Masjid against Muslim terrorists or rapists. No Shankaracharya, jagadguru, swami, godman or godwoman castigated Hindu killers of innocent Muslims. No jathedars of the Akal Takht issued hukumnamas against Sikh suicide squads or against perpetrators of vile caste discrimination still being practiced by Jat Sikhs on Mazhabis (scheduled caste Sikhs). Go to any Sikh village and you will find Mazhabis living on the outskirts with their own wells and gurdwaras. If one elopes with a Jat girl, his life is not worth six months' life insurance. What Salman Rushdie said about the Darul-Uloom is equally true about the jathedars of the Akal Takht, sants and acharyas.

While the world has moved on, they have remained stuck where they were centuries ago. I have a few suggestions for rectifying these anomalies. The state should take an active interest in the functioning and governance of single-community schools like madrasas, gurukuls and those run by taksals. They are breeding grounds of religious bigotry which make their wards turn into killers. It should also look into the functioning of village and caste panchayats. It is these fudd-duddies, sitting on their charpoys, who meddle in the lives of the young who dare to defy caste or family traditions. All it needs is to make it obligatory for them to have a local government official present at their deliberations to tell them how far they can go, and what they should not or cannot do. These steps are easy to implement. The time to do so is now.