I am an Indian and I strongly condemn the attack on Ali Hassan Raza
The attack was an outcome of fanaticism from those who never understood religious groupings with an open mind.
There is an ancient Hindu saying, ‘vasudhaiv kutumbakam’, which means that the entire world is one family. This saying needs to be revisited, keeping in mind recent events that have taken place in our subcontinent. Sure, there may be antagonism between countries at a political level but that is no justification for attacking innocent civilians on the basis of their nationality, or for that matter, their race, religion or the likes.
We, Indians and Pakistanis, undoubtedly have a lot in common with each other. We are ethnically the same, we speak the same languages, have similar attire and cuisine and have a long, common history. We appreciate each other’s music and cinema.
Indians and Pakistanis make the best of friends when settled overseas, or even as fellow students in foreign universities. My own school in New Delhi had an exchange programme with the Lahore Grammar School, and in the process of these exchanges, many students from both the schools developed close friendships and stayed in touch with each other.
My economics teacher, who visited Lahore during the course of the exchange programme, recalled being in tears when her stay there had come to an end, and I know for a fact that the Pakistani teachers and students who visited our school had a great time too. The law college I graduated from, which is in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, India, hosts mock courts competition in which teams from Pakistan have participated and have had a wonderful experience.
Ali Hassan Raza is 24-years-old, just like I am. I too stayed away from my home in New Delhi for five years, from the period of 2007 to 2012, while pursuing my law degree in Gandhinagar; here, we didn’t have many students of other nationalities but we did have students belonging from different religious backgrounds, linguistic denominations and regions in India. Some of my closest friends from college happen to be Muslims and Christians, and we never felt any difference between us, even on occasions like the series of terrorist attacks in the neighbouring city of Ahmadabad, by Muslim extremists on July 26, 2008, the 26/11 Mumbai attacks or the anti-Christian violence by Hindu extremists in the provinces of Orissa and Karnataka in the same year.
It is not as though these incidents never cropped up in our conversations; they did, but we discussed them in a civil and humane way. A Muslim friend of mine, from the province of Rajasthan, shared with me how, shortly after the demolition of the Babri Masjid by Hindu extremists, his father had an encounter with Jihadist terrorists (Jihadism is not to be conflated with the true Islamic concept of Jihad) in a mosque, who had tried to recruit him in their organisation. The attempt, however, went in vain.
The horrific attack on Ali was an outcome of prejudice, an outcome of fanaticism, from those who have never bothered to understand the supposedly belligerent religious groupings or nationalities with an open mind. Other than Hindu rightists, I have also encountered fanatical Indian nationalists who are strongly tolerant when it comes to Indian Muslims but have a xenophobic attitude towards Pakistan.
However, one should not assume that only a Pakistani could have been a victim of such an attack in India; the attacks on Biharis and Uttar Pardeshis in India’s commercial capital, Mumbai, by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) goons are a testimony to that. The party has a sizable number of Marathi Muslim leaders and supporters, who are assertive about their Marathi identity. Religion is not always the basis of antagonism. There are frequent clashes between the Sindhis and Muhajirs (both Muslims) in Karachi, and there has been an incident of an attack on Baloch Muslim students by fellow students of their own university in Pakistan.
Ali has acknowledged that he never faced any discrimination based on his religion or nationality from the university authorities or from fellow students. Indeed, the incident reflects a serious security lapse, given that any outsider could enter the hostel premises and thrash any student. While this was apparently a hate crime based on nationality and/or religion, such a security lapse reflects the possibility of many other crimes.
It is heartening to know that Ali’s fellow students, who were Indians, came to his rescue when he called out for help, but by then the attackers had left. Incidents like these should not allow us, Indians and Pakistanis, to become victims of hatred for each other, and should strengthen our resolve to work for peace and fight the prejudice that leads people, irrespective of nationality, to engage in such actions. Not every Pakistani visiting or staying in India becomes a victim of such a hate crime.
It may be tempting to ascribe this attack to the announcement of exit poll results that day, showing Narendra Modi as India’s emerging prime minister but correlation doesn’t always imply causation. It is important for Pakistani friends to understand that while the minority of ultra-rightist Hindus always vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in any case, Modi’s electoral victory at the national level this time has largely been possible by way of his trying to shed off the image of being a fanatic and his showcasing commitment to India’s religious pluralism.
His development credentials helped him win by such a big margin, given that the ruling Congress-led government had become terribly unpopular for a variety of reasons, including corruption and inflation. A coalition of regional parties was seen as potentially unstable, given the past record, and the newly emerged Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had not experienced enough to run a national government, other than many people being disappointed with them for resigning from office from the provincial government in Delhi after just 49 days.
Also, it is noteworthy that in many parts of India, many Muslims also voted for the BJP. In fact, Modi, as chief minister of Gujarat, took action against some members of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), a fanatical Hindu rightist outfit who had vandalised an art gallery in Ahmedabad displaying paintings by Pakistani artists in 2013.
Let’s hope justice is done soon in this much more serious case as well.