Thursday, August 14, 2008

Appropriateness or Inappropriateness of Religious Processions: A Discussion

Open Space in collaboration with the NGO Saajhi Duniya organised a discussion at the premises of Saajhi Duniya on Thursday, 14th August, 2008, on the "Appropriateness or Inappropriateness of Religious Processions", at which the documentary film Usi Shahjahanpur Mein (In That Very Shahjahanpur), 2004, was screened as a stimulus for discussion. The film was based on a procession taken out in Shahjahanpur on the occasion of a festival every year at which a particular community is insulted and verbally hurt. It is a known fact that religious processions in India tend to provoke violence.

While most of the participants in the discussion called for a complete ban on religious processions, a scion of the royal family of Awadh, Nawab Jafar Mir Abdullah greatly objected to the idea, and said that the processions only needed to be better regulated and organised. He saw the processions as great traditions which ought to be kept alive.

It is worthwhile to draw attention to what Sudhir Kakar has pointed out in his The Colors of Violence: Cultural Identities, Religion and Conflict (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1996, pp. 44-46) : of the worst riots of post-independence India, the 1969 riot in Ahmedabad, was set off by a Muslim vegetable seller who hit a cow which had stopped at its stand for a munch. Fisticuffs with the Hindu cowherd followed and the treatment of the cow (which was not seriously injured), greatly magnified out of all proportion, spread through the city and touched off further incidents. The rioting continued in various parts of Gujarat for some ten days.

...Processions at Muharram for the Muslims and Dussehra (and increasingly Ganesh Chaturthi) for the Hindus are almost a certain recipe for violence when they are preceded by a period of tension between the communities and when a precipitating incident has just occured.

The screening of the documentary-film and the discussion that followed was preceded by the recitation of a line from an Urdu poem written by Anwar Nadeem:

भीड़ की बात में बात ही कुछ थी, जोश ही जोश था, शोर ही शोर था, शोर के नाम पर बात रही थी खुशी , मिल रहा था सुकून, जी रहा था वतन!!

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