Masks must be shed, and mutual respect for identities should stay - Hindustan Times
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Masks must be shed, and mutual respect for identities should stay

Feb 05, 2024 08:09 AM IST

It is worth noting that no PM has yet greeted the nation with a Ram-Ram or a Sat Shri Akal outside of Parliament.

Did you hear Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi’s statement outside Parliament on the opening day of the Budget session? He began and ended it by saying, “Ram-Ram”. Following this, President Droupadi Murmu highlighted the Ram temple in her address to the joint session of Parliament. Is the party running the central government planning to run the election campaign in the name of Ram?

PM Modi's statement outside Parliament on the opening day of the Budget session began and ended by saying, “Ram-Ram”. (ANI) PREMIUM
PM Modi's statement outside Parliament on the opening day of the Budget session began and ended by saying, “Ram-Ram”. (ANI)

I am not inclined to think so. But check the interim budget finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented the day after the presidential address. It contained no populist measure. The PM is quite confident of returning to power in New Delhi. So, let me keep today’s conversation focused on the PM’s “Ram-Ram”.

Those familiar with rural north India know that no other salutation is more commonly used. Until four decades ago, no one had any problem with this. To explain this, I’d like to share an experience from my childhood.

There was only one Muslim household in our village, and its head was Aladdin Khan saheb. He greeted everyone else in the village with a Ram-Ram. Was there any social pressure on him to do so? None at all. For generations, in the tradition to which he belonged, Ram-Ram represented the emotional force of the average man. Religious divides and sects played no role in this. My father, too, had told us to greet Aladdin saheb with an adaab.

Let me also remind you that soldiers in some units of the Indian Army still greet their superiors with a Ram-Ram. Religion and sect are never a hurdle in this. A specific incident comes to mind here. Following the 1971 war, India detained about 90,000 Pakistani soldiers and officers. During their detention a senior Pakistani army officer asked an Indian soldier, a Muslim, why he was saluting his officers with Ram-Ram. “You should say “As-salāmu alaykum”,” he advised. The Indian soldier told him it was the regiment’s tradition, and that everyone in the regiment was proud of it. “There are no restrictions on what I can say and to whom after work,” the soldier added.

His response startled the Pakistani officer and fellow soldiers.

I’m not sure if the Pakistani commanders realised that despite our identical DNA and history, politics had split them from us. They were the children of those who supported the Partition on religious grounds, while Indian soldiers were children of those who refused to abandon their homeland and values despite having the opportunity. Since Pakistan was founded on religious principles, religious impulses have dictated attitudes there. India chose the path of equality for all religions and has moved forward despite its differences. As a result, India and Pakistan have vastly different economic and social conditions.

After reading the stories about Aladdin saheb and the anonymous soldier, some of you may conclude that minorities have to change their behaviour in a society dominated by Hindus. It may be true in Pakistan. Many of the Hindu minority there, name their children such that the name does not reveal their Hindu identity. But this is not true in India. We live together and influence one another. In the late 1970s, my cousin was married off to an engineer. When this cousin and her husband visited us the first time, this brother-in-law used to greet us every morning with an adaab because he was educated at Aligarh Muslim University. Nobody thought of this as something unnatural.

Don’t you think that innocence is fading?

That’s why I brought up the 1980s at the beginning of the article. During this time, the “Ram Janmabhoomi Mukti Andolan” was launched. The violence and damage that transpired during that fight could have been avoided if the politicians had just followed through on their oath by turning it over to the law and courts. This was not accomplished. We attempted to convert faith into vote bank politics, which had negative consequences.

This rapidly rising alienation can only be stopped if we identify the true meaning of the masks on our faces and decide how to proceed. This is exactly what Narendra Modi is doing. He understands that sham does not benefit anyone. What’s the harm in respecting another person’s identity while keeping one’s own? It is worth noting that no PM has yet greeted the nation with a Ram-Ram or a Sat Shri Akal outside of Parliament. Modi accomplished numerous things for the first time after assuming power. This expression is the next episode in this series.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal.

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