By Shahid Memon

The Culture of Protests in India is not new. In fact, we owe our very existence to non-violent protests against the British. Protests are an inherent part of our Democracy. To protest is our constitutional right as well, but when we forget our constitutional duty to protest peacefully then these protests become a threat to the nation.

Unfortunately we have a long history of violent protests by people belonging to different communities and religious groups.

A glimpse of some of the major protests in the recent past.

  • The violent protests after the publication of a book by James Lynn on Shivaji Maharaj.
  • The violent protests on the release of the film “Padmavat” for allegedly hurting the sentiments of the Rajputs.
  • The aggressive protests over the film “Tandav” for hurting the religious sentiments of Hindus.
  • The violent protests leading to withdrawing and pulping of the book “The Hindus” by Wendy Doniger for portraying God Shiva erotically and causing blasphemy.

Violent and destructive protests have taken place even against Supreme Court judgements.

  • The Sabarimala protests in Kerala against the Supreme Court verdict setting the entire state on fire and paralysing normal life.
  • The deadly Jallikattu protests in Tamil Nadu over the ban imposed on the sport (Man and Bullfight) by the Supreme Court.
  • The violent and destructive protests by Schedule Castes, Schedule Tribes and Dalits all over the country against the Supreme Court judgement, regarding the amendment of SC/ST Act.
  • The devastating protests on Cauvery River water sharing in Karnataka and then in Tamil Nadu against the Supreme Court verdict.
  • The Pro-Khalistani and Anti-Khalistani protests.
  • The constant and continuous protests by the Gorkhaland Movement, resulting in unprecedented bloodshed.
  • The Gujjar agitation in Rajasthan.
  • The Patidar protest in Gujarat.
  • The Pro-Mandal and Anti-Mandal protests across India.
  • The mammoth Maratha Quota protests in Maharashtra.
  • The anti-reservation protests in the whole of India.
  • The recent bloody and destructive Agniveer protests having spread like wildfire across the entire country.

All the above protests have resulted in violence, bloodshed and destruction of public property on a large scale. Even policemen were killed and police vehicles burnt.

Of late, the Muslims too have not remained far behind in the matter of protests.

Though the entire community has demonstrated exemplary patience and tolerance in the face of constant and recurrent provocation with regards to Hijab, Azaan, Halal, boycott of business, Open calls for genocide, Provocative slogans and Benjo music in front of mosques, Bulldozer tyranny, FIRs demanding compensation and imprisonment of the victims and the ongoing hostile and belligerent attempts to convert thousands of Masjids into Temples.

The blasphemy and disrespect towards the revered personality of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ  was too much to stomach, probably the last straw on the camel‘s back. But all this in no way justifies the spontaneous and haphazard protests which led to violence.

Whether it is the D.J. Halli protest in Bangalore or now the very recent protests, across the country over derogatory remarks on the Prophet by Nupur Sharma. These types of protests are simply wrong.

The protests have to be organised, peaceful and within the framework of the Constitution. Violence during the protests can never be justified. At the same time the fact cannot be denied that the bulldozer tyranny and the double standards applied while dealing with the protests is also totally wrong and unacceptable. Applying two yardsticks to judge the same crime is a travesty of justice. The high-handedness of the police and the administration during these protests speaks volumes.

Nevertheless, there is a need to understand that a Muslim’s love  for the Prophet ﷺ is unimaginable and indisputable. The Tsunami of protests and condemnation worldwide is an irrefutable proof of love for the Prophet.

The Udaipur killing is a barbaric act and a heinous crime which deserves to be condemned by one and all. There is no room for justification of violence in Islam or for that matter any religion. The culprit should be tried and meted out with exemplary punishment according to the law of the land.

The teachings of the Qur’ān and the entire life of the Prophet testifies that patience and tolerance, mercy and forgiveness were the hallmark of his character.

The exemplary patience and tolerance exhibited by the Prophet and his followers, even in the face of extreme provocation and the consistent efforts in maintaining and strengthening Peace is documented in history.

Provocation is definitely wrong but responding to provocation with violence is doubly wrong. Tragically there are black sheep in every community. Radicalisation to whichever religion it may belong, has no place in the society. Such elements should be blacklisted, rebuked and ostracised. Swami Vivekananda has rightly said, “We may not doubt the sincerity of a fanatic but often he has the irresponsibility of a lunatic. The fanatic is the greatest enemy of mankind.” This applies to all religions.

At the same time let us understand that freedom of speech is very precious and indispensable in every society. But it has its own limitations. Freedom of speech cannot be left unbridled to hurt religious sentiments and create disturbance and disharmony in the society.

It is rightly said, “My right to swing my arms stops where the other person’s nose begins.” The need of the hour is to frame laws, treating blasphemy and insult to religious personalities as an offence deserving punishment.

Religious heads, social workers, the learned and educated and the civil society has a great role to play. Awareness has to be created to make the masses understand that provocation is always with an ulterior motive. Responding to provocation with violence is always counter-productive and ultimately benefits the provocateurs  to fulfil their agenda. The elected representatives and the administration have an important role to play in creating an atmosphere of peace and harmony.

Not allowing grievances to linger and turn into festering wounds, avoiding injustice, discrimination and partisanship and promoting consultation, discussion and dialogue will definitely be helpful in averting and aborting protests.

Forming Mohalla level peace committees in mixed localities and sensitive areas in the city, with the help of administration and the police in Mumbai after Babri Masjid riots is worth emulating. Successful and fruitful experiments by the then Police Commissioner Julio Ribeiro and later Satish Sahney are also worth consideration.

Enlightened religious scholars from all communities can play a significant role to douse the fire of hatred and make efforts to maintain peace. Preaching the gospel of love and brotherhood and promotion of moral values which are the crux and essence of all the religions is a pressing priority. Hatred is temporary and short-lived. Love is permanent and divine. Love is the cry of the human soul. Fortunately a majority of the people in our country are Peace Loving.

Coming closer to each other, staying connected, interacting and working together to resolve the common problems afflicting the society is a natural way to foster peace and harmony leading the nation to progress, prosperity and development and helping us to become Vishwa Guru to the world in the true sense.

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