Tale of a Hindu woman dying in a mosque and buried in a Muslim graveyard
Exhuming the body and cremating it involved agonising legal processes, recalls Sujata Anandan. Instead the Hindu family was allowed to conduct Hindu rituals at the graveyard
A family maid, working for us for at least three generations, recently breathed her last in the premises of a mosque. She was Hindu but, as she told us once, she had a Muslim friend who had introduced her to the mosque and she found peace within its precincts whenever she was troubled. Which was quite often, considering she did not get along with her daughter-in-law and escaped domestic strife by simply disappearing from her son’s home and returning days later when things had cooled down.
Which is why when she did not return home after the latest quarrel, no one was worried too much.
They launched a frantic search only when a month passed without news of her even from other relatives whose homes she would frequent at such times. When her son finally discovered her body had been reported by the mosque authorities to the cops and they had buried her, he was not surprised.
As a widow, she wore no bindi or kumkum or even bangles on her wrists, her saree was draped as much in a Hindu as a Muslim style, if there is any difference in styles between various groups. Of course, when her son discovered she was buried instead of cremated, there was a lot of agonising about her last rites.
Exhuming her body and cremating her would have been a very traumatic legal process. So, under advice by the police, he decided to let her rest in peace. But he sought permission to conduct some Hindu last rites at her graveside and here is where my hope in the nation was rekindled. He was allowed to do so by all the authorities without any of the obstructions or objections I had expected and I believe my maid's soul was satisfied every which way, abandoned by none of the gods she believed in, finding peace in her last moments within a mosque and later her son offering tarpan by a riverside.
This is my India. Not that India where a pair of teenagers walking home after a friend’s birthday party are seized and acted upon for a supposedly double crime – romancing each other and allegedly converting because the boy was Muslim and the girl a Hindu.
If I were either the girl or the boy, I would have thought I could have walked home with whoever I liked without anyone even giving me a second look. If I was either of them interested in eating pizza (what is it about bigots and pizzas- why do they hate it so much?), I would have thought in my India I could eat whatever I liked, wherever I liked, even if they were samosas stuffed with meat or roasted chicken in a wine sauce!
My India is not that India where a group of rowdies breaks down a temple in the premises of a college set up by a trust belonging to another religion as happened last week in Baghpat in Uttar Pradesh where a Digambar Jain trust was building a temple to Shrutdevi. A group of ABVP activists objected saying the temple should be of Saraswati and not Shrutdevi. In my India, I would think I would have the right to pray to any god or goddess, even if it be Allah or Jesus Christ or Mother Mary without having someone dictate my faith in divine powers.
My India is certainly not the place where a high ranking police official ridicules Christmas greetings sent to him by fellow Hindus because, as a devout Hindu, I love Christmas too and can never get enough of the fairy lights, the Christmas trees, the decorations on it, the gifts under it, the star atop it, the rum-soaked cakes (I really desperately surfed the Internet this year to locate the nearest bakery for them), the wine, the X'mas cheer and, of course, Santa Claus - even if I know the guy is the portly old uncle from next door posing as one for the children who know no better.
And my India is certainly not one where an elected chief minister swearing by the Constitution threatens the ‘mafia’ (to be identified by him and his men) with dire consequences for defying him and promises to bury them so deep down in the earth that they will never be discovered!
India has become worse than the wild, wild west or the Chicago of gangsters in the 1930s. But at least in the US some rule of law prevailed even amidst all those gangsters and gunfights. In India when the top government authorities themselves enact discriminatory laws and threaten to wipe those romancing their paramours or wishing to follow another God, off the face of the earth, there can be nothing but doom and darkness in a land still known by its ahimsa and pacifism as propagated by Gautam Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi.
It has also been a land of singular unity in its rich diversity. But now left to these dark forces, I am convinced while they seized a Muslim boy for walking with a Dalit girl, soon they will be seizing a Dalit boy for merely talking to a Brahmin girl. While they are trying to render Muslims as second-class citizens today, tomorrow they will seize upon other Indic religions – as they have already described Sikh farmers as Khalistanis and tried to stop the setting up of a temple to a goddess of knowledge in the Jain pantheon.
They already hate Buddha because of the conversions of many Dalits to neo-Buddhism that had placed these formerly deprived sections out of the reach of and exploitation by the upper castes. And once they have beaten every other community to pulp , we will see the resumption of the Shaivite and Vaishnavite wars of the past centuries with each group warring with the other and destroying each other’s temples.
The thought is not too farfetched considering the Bajrang Dal this year already threatened Hindus if they were caught at Christmas celebrations and the ABVP tried to break down a temple to a goddess of knowledge by another name.
I do not like this India of uniformity. It is its diversity which had always been the great adventure for its citizens – the discovery of new people, newer traditions, new gods and goddesses, the spoiling for choice that makes life so interesting and liveable.
I want my old India back. I want the return of the India where a Hindu woman can find peace in a mosque and her son can perform Hindu rituals by her grave.