Skip to main content

Divisive, communal politics? Community kitchens reveal social fabric 'still intact'

By Supriya Joshi, Vishal Kumar, Sandeep Pandey*

India is one the most religiously and ethnically diverse nations of the world. It has a syncretic culture and people have learned to live together respecting each other's beliefs. However, in the recent past, communal politics has been used extensively for mobilizing voters. This has led to extreme communal polarisation and caused sufficient damage by sowing the seeds of distrust between Hindu and Muslim communities.
Visible changes like increasing ghettoisation of Muslims have taken place. Practice of people participating in each other's religious festivals is withering away.
Since 2009, there have been at least 254 incidents of hate crimes motivated by religious hatred, as per data by the Citizen’s Religious Hate Crime Watch, an India Spend’s initiative. This has resulted in the death of over 90 people and around 600 injuries. What is striking about this data is that 90% of these hate crimes have occurred since 2014, when Modi led Bhartiya Janata Party government has been at the Centre.
The novel coronavirus like an 'x-ray' has revealed 'fractures in the fragile skeleton of the societies we have built', according to the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Microscopic virus knows no religion, caste, class, gender, ethnicity or any other kind of sect. It treats the rich and the poor alike.
However, India was one of the only countries where covid had a religion. There have been many instances in the beginning covered by mainstream media on violence and discrimination against Muslims, due to many fake videos that were circulated on WhatsApp showing Muslim men intentionally trying to spread the corona virus.
However, working for relief during the coronavirus crisis lockdown period was a very reassuring experience from the point of view of communal harmony in society. Communal and divisive politics has not yet damaged the social fabric. We observed that the integration of different caste and religious communities at the ground level is still intact and quite vibrant. Socialist Party (India) ran 23 community kitchens in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, about half of them being in Lucknow.
Uzma was the kitchen coordinator in Dubagga, Lucknow and when she needed somebody to make rotis, a youth named Sandeep came forward. Similarly, another Muslim woman Gudiya was coordinating a kitchen in Madiyaon area of Lucknow. She received help in cooking from Ram Janki and her sons who used to live in front of her house.
Gudiya used to store all the raw material in Ram Janki's house as her own house was a temporary shelter. Ram Janki although would give full time in cooking at Gudiya's place and feeding others but would herself not eat there in spite of lot of convincing by others. Her sons however would eat at Gudiya's place.
Zeenat was running another kitchen in Dubagga and although initially faced difficulty in attracting kids from a Scheduled Caste stonecutter community but was eventually able to convince them to come, even though she would not allow the elders from their community to touch her cooking utensils. When Ramzan started she handed over her kitchen to Asha who ran it from her temporary shelter.
Santosh Thakur and Shanu Abdul Jabbar, both clothes traders, were running a kitchen in Thakurganj jointly and are now invovled in disbursing Rs. 5,000 interest free loans to small entrepreneurs to rebuild their livelihoods. Muslim women from Ujariyaon village, in heart of Gomti Nagar, who were recently at the forefront of anti-Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens movement, initiated a kitchen for migrant labourers from Nepal, all Hindus.
A SC stonecutter woman Guddi was running a kitchen in her village Deviganj-Hardoiya about 20 km outside Lucknow and she would give raw material from her kitchen to some Muslim families in need who were not willing to sit and eat with the stonecutter community. In spite of little differeneces as mentioned an overall bonhomie was visible everywhere among people. They were wanting to help each other, irrespective of religious beliefs, in a time of crisis.

Working for relief during coronavirus crisis lockdown period was very reassuring from the point of view of communal harmony in society

Amit Maurya ran a food service on Lucknow-Ayodhya highway for migrant workers coming from all over India and headed towards eastern UP and Bihar. He has renovated an old temple in his village by collecting a donation of Rs. 5 lakhs and will now be running a Gurudwara kind of langar from the temple as a year round food security programme. The langar committee of this temple is headed by a Muslim, Fakire Ali.
Another langar has already started in a Ram Janki temple in Ayodhya where the committee is headed by Danish Ahmed and has few members from the Dalit community. This temple is also the site where a Sarva Dharma Sadbhav Kendra is proposed to be developed as a ‘first of its kind’ multi faith harmony centre.
The trust to build this centre itself has Faisal Khan of Khudai Khidmatgar from Delhi, a Dalit scholar Harinarayan Thakur from Bihar and a transgender Reshma from Patna as members. This temple would stand as a shining example of India's multiculturalism and pluralism. The mahant of this temple Acharya Yugal Kishore Shashtri has been to jail several times because of this steadfast opposition to politics of communalism.
For the community kitchen program of the SP(I), over 70% of the donors were Hindus but none of them had any issues with over 60% of our beneficiaries being Muslims. Similarly, in our latest Micro-credits programme, around 75% of the beneficiaries are Muslims, while 55% of our donors are Hindus.
Qamar Jahan Bano, a strong and passionate woman in Varanasi had assisted in deliveries of 5 Muslim and 6 Hindu women during the lockdown. She was instrumental in ensuring that dry ration kits were distributed only to the most needy across several villages in the outskirts of Varanasi, irrespective of their religious affiliations.
Quoting her: 'I work with diverse communities. Though I am born in a Muslim household, it does not mean that I only notice the plight of the Muslim community. I am a human being first, and all humans are equal. Though there are differences in religious beliefs, everyone is made of the same mitti by one master and I will continue to look at everyone through the lens of humanity till my last breath.’
Such community led response gives us hope during these tough times that people of different religious beliefs can peacefully co-exist and come together to support each other. The reality is different from what the conversative right wing would like us to believe. It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.
In the middle of the pandemic, we saw one of the greatest protests in the oldest democracies for the 'Black Lives Matter' movement, which reminds of the struggle of the common people against the politics of division. The corona pandemic has made it crystal clear that the only way humanity can be saved is by overcoming our differences as a society in terms of caste, religion or colour. Decentralised relief efforts were more successful in reaching the needy than the massive mega centralised programmes of the government.
---
*Supriya Joshi and Vishal Kumar coordinated the relief efforts of Socialist Party (India) during lockdown and work with a think tank in Delhi and an environmental non-profit, respectively. Magsaysay award winning social activist, Sandeep Pandey is Vice President of SP(I)

Comments

TRENDING

Nobel laureates join international figures, seek release of Bhima Koregaon accused activists

Nobel laureates Olga Tokarczuk,  Wole Soyinka Counterview Desk  As many as 57 top international personalities, including Nobel laureates, academics, human rights defenders, lawyers cultural personalities, and members of Parliament of European countries, have urged the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India to ensure immediate release of human rights defenders in India “into safe conditions”.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Top ex-Gujarat babu tells Modi: Not yoga but solar system is our biggest source of energy

By Rajiv Shah  An email alert to Counterview from a top ex-IAS bureaucrat, termed as Gujarat’s turnaround man for revamping loss-making state public sector undertakings (PSUs), has sought to take a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remark on the Yoga day – that the ancient Indian exercise provides an “infinite solutions” within ourselves, offering “the biggest source of energy in the universe.”

Hunger, lack of food security behind India's 'slip' in UN's sustainable development rank

By Dr Gian Singh*  According to a report released by the United Nations on June 6, 2021, India's ranking of achieving Sustainable Development based on the 17 Social Development Goals (SDGs) set by the 193 countries in the 2003 agenda, which was 115th last year, has slipped to 117th position this year. India ranks not only the lowest among the BRICS countries -- Brazil, the Russian Federation, India, China, and South Africa but also below the four South Asian countries -- Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

Collapse of healthcare system? Why 90% of Covid patients treated at home survived

By Bobby Ramakant, Sandeep Pandey* Well known Hindustani classical singer Padma Vibhu shan Channulal Mishra, chosen as one of the proposers of Narendra Modi in Lok Sabha elections, lost his wife and elder daughter to Covid in private hospitals in Varanasi. Younger daughter has accused Medwin Hospital of charging Rs 1.5 lakh for treatement of her sister and not being able to explain the cause of death. Pandit Channulal Mishra has asked for a probe into his daughter’s death from the Chief Minister. The family has also asked for the CCTV footage of the ward where deceased daughter was admitted for a week.

Rooted in mistrust? Covid-19’s march into rural India is a very different ball game

By Sudhir Katiyar* As the Covid-19 virus penetrates rural India, the rural communities are responding very differently from their urban counterparts who rushed to the hospitals. The rural communities are avoiding the public health facilities and any mention of the disease. The note argues that this supposedly irrational response is based on a deep-seated mistrust of the state by the rural communities. It can not be resolved with routine Information, Education and Communication (IEC) measures suggested in the Government of India SOP for tackling Covid-19 in rural areas.

Courageous, in-depth attempt to confirm common spiritual values of Christ, Buddha

By RB Sreekumar, IPS*  All religions, both theistic and atheistic designed conceptual and practical architecture, for holistic and comprehensive elevation and enlightenment of humanity. PK Vijayan, in his novel “Nirvana of Jesus Christ” (Notion Press, 2020) through creative imagination portrayed personality evolution of the two progenitors of God-centric and sagaciously logical major religions – Jesus Christ of Christianity and Gautama Buddha of Buddhism.

Why hasn't Govt of India responded to US critique of freedom of religion under Modi?

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ* About two weeks ago, on May 12, 2021, the US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken released in Washington the ‘2020 International Religious Freedom Report.’ This official annual report of the US Government details the status of religious freedom in nearly 200 foreign countries and territories and describes US actions to support religious freedom worldwide. Mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, this report highlights the fact that ‘religious freedom is both a core American value and a universal human right’.

Covid fear? Cremation rituals gone upside down, Dalits asked to do Brahminical rituals

By Abhay Jain, Sandeep Pandey*  As Covid consumes human life in a very conspicuous way we are confronted with additional problem of disposing of human corpses. Cremation grounds are lit with continuous pyres, graveyards are running out of land and now Ganga has become a mass grave potentially polluting its water.