Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

Coexistence and Conflict: Hindu Muslim Relations in India

Hindu-Muslim tension in India today. (thebigdurian/Flickr)

Hindu-Muslim tension in India today. (thebigdurian/Flickr)

QUESTION

I am Canadian, but I live in New York. I recently spent some time in India…in a relatively mellow and seemingly benign town…but I kept coming up against anti-Muslim comments amongst Hindus that I was meeting, because mostly I was spending time with Hindus. I was thinking about what you said about too much opinion and not enough information, and I’m concerned about issues of bias, and I am wondering if you recommend any sources of information.

SHABANA AZMI

Bias and prejudice are built into the atmosphere around us, and attempts are now being made by groups that are working at the school level to make certain that these prejudices do not become the form of an organized community. It is very interesting that biases exist for communities. I have seen that people say things like, “My neighbor is a Muslim but she is really nice. The rest of them are bad.”

QUESTION

Thank you very much for giving this last question to me. I am from Karachi, Pakistan. You talked about building a stronger South Asia. Given that I am asking you this question. Myself as a Pakistani, and you being an Indian, what message would you like to send to us so that we can work to improve the situation that are two countries are faced with? Because just saying that there is a cross-border terrorism taking place-granted that it is hard to accept but I do accept it-but what can we do to work to better that situation?

SHABANA AZMI

I think that you have an advantage because you are out of the country and you are here, so you have a perspective that you can discuss with the people back home. Plus within this country, the opportunity given to you, particularly as students, to recognize that excesses are created on both sides. See when Partition happened Muslims went away to Pakistan because there was this atmosphere of fear created that they would not be safe in India. And there was also sort of the idea of building a country on the basis of a religious identity. Then when the Babri Masjid demolishment happened Pakistan was ecstatic, because Pakistan could say, “see we told you that you would not be safe there.” And yet we have to see that when Bangladesh happened, the Indians were ecstatic because they said that religion cannot be the basis of identity, and if that had happened Bangladesh would never have happened. So of course there are all these factors constantly occurring, but we have to make certain that this discussion does not effect what we do personally. The way we can do that is by recognizing that our strength is in coming together in the people to people dialogue. In saying that we want to come together, it does not mean that we usurp our rights to criticize what is wrong whether it is happening in this country or that country. You still have to forge friendships and consciously make bridges rather than taking on the prejudices of what is happening in the countries back home. And I think that the youth have an extremely important role to play in that. And the first thing that I can suggest is just to start participating in cultural dialogues that are taking place because that is the basis of everything. I have said for a long time that we really need to start making films, co-productions with India and Pakistan…that would really help us.

VISHAKA DESAI

On that note, that perfect note, I want to say what a fabulous evening it has been. (applause) Thank you so much. And please join us now for a reception in the back of the room and also please join us next week for the third part in the Citigroup Series on Asian Women Leaders.