Dussehra once used to be celebrated without any thought to religious or socio-economic differences

One couldn’t have ever imagined that our daily existence would be reduced to today’s sad state of affairs where communally provocative violent moves and tactics hold sway. All out in the open

(left) March in Udapi, (right) Dussehra celebration
(left) March in Udapi, (right) Dussehra celebration

Humra Quraishi

This Dussehra, I sat engrossed in nostalgia. Memories took me back to the Jhansi of the late 1960s, where my engineer father was posted overseeing the construction of dams. Year after year, we sat watching the festive build-up for Dussehra celebrations, in the sprawling housing complex we lived in.

On the central lawns, huge pandals were set up and rehearsals carried on right till midnight. No scare, either way. Muslims sat together with Hindus and watched and even participated. Our Muslim cook and the peons, Hindus from the Kumaon and Garhwal belt, would crack jokes even along religious lines but it was innocent humour. Nah, no threats, no arrests, or detentions! It was togetherness and bonding of the spontaneous sorts. Till date, those beautiful memories and images are there with me, all too intact and precious. 

One couldn’t have ever imagined that our daily existence would be reduced to today’s sad state of affairs where communally provocative violent moves and tactics hold sway. All out in the open.

The latest took place just a few days ago. On Gandhi Jayanti, a particular Hindutva outfit took out a rally in Karnataka’s Udipi. It was a rally where men were seen carrying swords, chanting slogans in support of the ‘Hindu Rashtra’.

News reports have also stated that elected representatives like Udupi MLA Raghupathi Bhat were seen at the rally, chanting in support of the ‘Hindu Rashtra’. All this happened with the police around! There was no stopping or even halting this rally. 

Seems ‘all’s okay’ if a Hindutva outfit or Hindutva men indulge in blatantly communal tactics! And we sit like mute spectators. Where are we heading in the midst of these communal moves blatantly unleashed on us, day after day? The question haunts now more than ever.  

Why don’t we realise that the only way forward for us is our togetherness? We have got to be united. In fact, this brings me to write that today the 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' seems our only hope, to save ourselves, our future generations and our country. Let us walk together. Let us march together. Let us be together. 

Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay: An amazing personality 

Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay had passed away on October 29, 1988, but till date she is remembered as the woman who stood up for equality and rights of the citizens. I’ve read and reviewed Kamaladevi’s memoir, ‘Inner Recesses Outer Spaces’ which provides a first-hand glimpse into her extraordinary life and times and her observations on the various aspects –From the role of Muslims in the freedom movement to the challenges of being a prisoner to the post-Partition plight of refugees and also her immense work related to the revival of indigenous handicraft, handloom and other arts. Her observations on the women’s movement are clear and concise. 

Strong, independent and daring – these are the qualities that perhaps best define her personality. In fact, when Mahatma Gandhi announced the Satyagraha movement in 1930, she was one of the only two women chosen for inclusion in the frontline unit of seven volunteers at Bombay (Mumbai) who marched to the beachfront to boil seawater and make salt.

Later, in a startling move, Kamaladevi marched to the High Court and asked the magistrate present whether he would be interested in buying the ‘Freedom Salt’ she had just prepared! 

Although she used to interact with several leaders associated with the freedom struggle, including Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Mahatma Gandhi figures the most in her writing. She highlights how everyone in those days was trying to understand his philosophy of non-violence: "Impatiently, we looked to Gandhiji for a sign, but none seemed visible. We had not yet grasped his uncanny capacity to gauge a situation accurately, and the ability to act at the proper psychological hour. … Though we fretted, we knew that when the hour came, he would strike and strike hard and one day it would be the final stroke." 

In addition, she has highlighted his aversion for security ‘bandobast’. To quote her : ‘The past few weeks before it [his assassination], one had been persistently hearing of threats to the Mahatma… then the bomb explosion. Still it did not carry reality. Who would want to kill one who was an embodiment of love and compassion? … When it happened many blamed the victim himself, for he sternly forbade any security measures. …For him his life was not worth it if it was to be guarded by weapons. If such a moment came, it meant it was time for him to go. He could live only if he could serve and his service was welcomed… What a different world we live in now. The public today is universally suspected. The more important a public function the more ferocious the display of weapons….’ 

Significantly, Kamaladevi has been among the handful of commentators who focused on the significant contributions made by the Muslim community, including women, in the Independence movement. She wrote: 'The picturesque Begum Hazrat Mahal played an active part in the 1857 war by personally leading her troops into the battle.' 

 The more modern times are reflected in the following lines: ‘In the early days of the Civil Disobedience movement under Gandhiji, a body of Muslim theologians was founded called Jamiat-ul-Ulema-I-Hind to get all Muslim religious leaders to fight the British. …When the Satyagraha movement was launched in 1930, the Jamiat was amongst the earliest to take the plunge, followed by the Ahrar Party of Punjab, the Shia Political Conference, the Khudai Khidmatgar of the North West Frontier…’ 

Her recollections of the days she spent in prison are also of significance. She describes life in confinement: ‘A prison brings out the worst in people is a common phrase much bandied out. No doubt confinement within a limited space has its own exasperations apart from discomforts; its capacity of irritation is limitless… Here we are placed in a heterogeneous group drawn from hundreds of homes, diverse communities with different habits, speaking babble of tongues… Prison to me was a trial in other ways. I am not a gregarious animal and it is a great trial to live for months on end in small crowds. …It’s is not surprising that one’s outlook gets cramped, sense of values distorted and people are inclined to be irritated over trifles, which are exaggerated …’ 

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