On February 5, 2018, Hansraj Ahir, the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs informed the Parliament that in 2017, 111 people were killed and 2,384 others were injured in 822 communal incidents in the country – the highest in the last three years. In 2016, communal violence took the lives of 86 people, while in 2015, 97 people died due to the communal uproar.
Do these numbers and all the worrisome statistics paint Indians as communal? In my opinion, the answer is a straight no. Although different political parties instigate tensions between diverse religions, castes, creeds for their own vested interests, the Indian territory can never be painted by a single communal color.
The pictures coming from the annual meeting of the Srimanta Sankardeva Sangha (SSS), a religious organization based in Assam, tell us why peace, harmony, brotherhood, etc. are still the topmost priorities in many parts of this beautiful country.
Sankardeva Sangha was established in the 1930s with the objectives of abandoning ritual impurity, the abolition of untouchability, the creation of equal rights for men of all castes and the cementing of good-will between the peoples of the hills and the plains. The organisation was purely based on the monotheistic religion (ek nam dharma) popularized by the great Vaishnav saint, Srimanta Sankardeva, during the 14th and the 15th century.
Today, the Sangha claims to be the biggest religious organisation in south-east Asia. Each year, an annual meeting is held where the followers of Sankardeva gather at one place to discuss the various aspects of Vaisnavism as preached by Sankardeva. In 2015, our Prime Minister was also the chief guest in their annual gathering.
The 87th yearly meeting of the Sangha is being held at Ahom Pathar, Dergaon, in Golaghat district, from February 7, 2018. Here, almost 10 lakh devotees have gathered to recite and chant hari naam. An interesting fact about this event is the spontaneous participation of Muslim people from nearby places. Students from the local madrasa schools are giving their all for the successful completion of the event, while an entire Muslim village took the responsibility to make a welcoming gate near the main entrance. Also, the singing of zikir (spiritual chants) by Muslim women in the midst of a Vaishnavite event is truly a gem to see in the modern era. Furthermore, people from other religions such as Sikhism, Christianity and Buddhism have also participated in the event in many different ways. All of this makes the the conclave a place of attraction even for foreign nationals.
The Sangha has also given a respectable position to Ismail Hussain (a noted scholar of Sankardeva’s work) in their diaspora. Daily Assamese newspapers have also been flooded by articles covering this event. It is really fascinating to observe that many of these articles have been contributed by Muslim intellectuals in Assam. There are a plethora of other stories regarding this annual event where religious harmony outshines communal enmity.
Unfortunately, there are hundreds of fake news that are being circulated daily on WhatsApp and other such media. In my opinion, there are two features of such news items:
1. Often, they are completely baseless.
2. They are provocative in nature.
Sadly enough, as Indians, we are often not made aware of news that highlight the harmonious and peace-loving nature – all because of a few sold-out journalists and some unnecessarily-provocative articles.
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