Opinion | Love, now a revolutionary idea
Hate is easy, love takes work
It’s almost exactly one year since the husband forwarded me an email titled simply, Mohabbat Ka Safar (journey of love). “As a response to the rising darkness of hate violence and lynching in India today, we propose as a large collaborative civil society initiative to undertake a month-long journey visiting families of those who lost loved ones to hate lynching…. It will be a journey for sharing pain, for atonement and for love," human rights activist Harsh Mander wrote in the email that pierced my heart.
Mander’s email was the genesis of Karwan-e-Mohabbat (karwanemohabbat.in), and after that first journey—when an amorphous group of activists, journalists, entrepreneurs, a band of singing Jesuits, an ethics professor, lawyers, a scientist and others hopped on and off a ride through eight states—the Karwan kept going. It will be 18 journeys and one year next month. A book about the early days of the Karwan is now available for pre-order on Amazon.
Mander has told India’s saddest stories for decades now and his biggest gift to many of us last year was to underline something simple: We must respond to the hate against our fellow citizens.
Travelling to grief-stricken strangers’ houses, saying sorry and spreading love was an idea that didn’t resonate with everyone. “I’m not in favour of the Karwan," one friend messaged, saying that while she appreciated the intent, it seemed like the Karwan would just make a spectacle of families which had suffered a horrible loss. The Karwan also offers legal help to all the families it meets.
“So you’re an activist now?" one editor asked me after the first journey. Nope, just a reporter who tells stories of Indians under attack and a columnist who has rediscovered the power of love, I thought. Many people supported the Karwan, though they didn’t want to be publicly associated with it for fear of being seen as against the state. In 2018, spreading love is a revolutionary idea.
This past year, I’ve understood the power of reaching out. The Karwan made me a friend of anyone who upheld the 1970s Films Division Tree Of Unity idea of an integrated India—maybe because, at first at least, it seemed like we were in a minority.
I did a jig for every news story that reminded us about this nation’s syncretic past and present—from the Kashmiri Muslim carpet makers who have always featured Hindu goddesses in their work to the church in Karnataka that is also a temple.
In the age of everyday bigotry, my heroes were redefined to include anyone who identified themselves publicly as being on the side of love and justice. I cheered when Sikh police officer Gagandeep Singh said he was just “doing his duty" when he saved a Muslim boy from being attacked by an angry mob—on more than one Karwan trip we saw police officers who had been complicit in bovine-linked crimes. Or when Mariam Khatoon, the widow of coal trader Alimuddin Ansari who was brutally murdered by a mob in Jharkhand last year, told Mander she only wanted justice, not revenge.
I’m now a fan of the few actors who don’t let Twitter trolls curb their free speech, politicians who say they are against hate, all the former civil servants and retired military men who write plaintive letters to the prime minister asking him to curb the hate and the Carnatic music vocalist who regularly points out in his writing that the majority community has never been under threat.
I share the painstaking fact-checks from entrepreneurs who have made combating hate with data and facts their main business. I love the iftaar-for-all initiatives and especially the group of Muslim women who for two years have opened their homes to strangers for interfaith iftaars. Here’s to more citizen initiatives such as #notinmyname and Open a Door, a West Bengal campaign that fights housing discrimination against Muslims.
I feel a pang every time a filmmaker is brave enough to make a political film that questions our toddler brand of multiplex patriotism. In his new film Mulk, Anubhav Sinha tells a powerful story about the tragedy of seeing Indians through the lens of Us and Them, and re-emphasizes what some of us seem to have forgotten—Muslims already picked between religion and country in 1947. As the protagonist Ali Mohammad asks at one point, “Who gave him the right to welcome me in my own home?"
In A Billion Colour Story, an award-winning film now available on Netflix, I cried for protagonist Imran Aziz, a struggling film-maker in an interfaith marriage whose view moves from “This is India and nothing is going to touch it" to “I have to accept that this is not the country I used to love. There’s no poetry any more."
I doff my hat to interfaith couples who by default are warriors in this modern-day battle. As if it’s not enough they fight the petty prejudices of their families, they must now take on the new moral guardians of our country. Their love must survive forcible separations, mob attacks and prolonged legal battles. They may not know it but they are one big reason the idea of India will survive.
A thought about the power of love by American playwright Tennessee Williams, quoted on my favourite online cultural newsletter Brain Pickings, has lingered: “We are saved only by love—love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love." Hate is easy, love takes work.
Priya Ramani shares what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable. She tweets at @priyaramani
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