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Communal harmony, a way of life rather than an issue
Altaf uncle never thought that my grandmother did not have the right to beat him. It all came naturally – a very simple and pure mother-son relationship based on faith and love. To me, therefore, all these talks on communal harmony are utter sham.
MAINTENANCE OF communal harmony has become a major challenge to reckon with today. Textbooks devote an entire chapter on the issue; politicians, spiritual gurus repeatedly stress on communal harmony; seminars conferences are organised, talk shows held in the media to address the issue. These debates and discussions have only aggravated the problem and worsened matters.
Maintining communal harmony was never posed as a problem to me when I was a child. I recall a particular incident, which has become very significant as I have grown up and which I would like to share with my readers. I had come to spend my winter vacation with my grandmother at Kharagpur. I enjoyed her company and was very attached to her. This was in 1977 when I was in class II. The political atmosphere of West Bengal was tense because of the Naxalite movement.
One night as I was sleeping with my grandma there was a hard, frantic knock at the door. Someone was frantically calling my grandmother to open the door. She immediately moved towards the door and without further thought she opened it. In front of her stood Altaf uncle, who was not only known to us but was also one of my maternal uncle’s best friends .He had a blood stained knife in one hand and his white kurta was splashed with blood all over. Stunned, but with a worried look on her face she asked, ‘What happened?’ Altaf fell at her feet and requested her to give her shelter for the night as he had nowhere to go and the police was following him. Anytime they would be around .Without further thought, my grandmother pulled him inside, took him to the storeroom and hid him inside a huge drum meant for storing rice for the joint family. Without a word she took a bundle of clothes and dumped them on the drum so that there was no room for suspicion. She then silently took me beside her and went off to sleep or perhaps pretended to sleep.
At around 3 am, we heard the police jeep at our gate. My uncles got up, shocked to see police early in the morning. My grandmother warned me not to open my mouth. I sat quietly on the bed. The police were indeed looking out for Altaf uncle. They searched all the houses in the locality and they wanted to search ours too. My grandmother did not protest, but the tension reflected on her face, which perhaps only I could understand. The police saw each room including the storeroom and returned to the drawing room without even an inch of suspicion. ‘Fools,’ I said to myself and proudly got down from the bed and stood beside my grandmother. The police apologised to my grandmother and thanked her and the other family members for their cooperation and went away.
As my uncles looked on, my grandmother went to the storeroom and took out Altaf uncle from the drum. My uncles and aunts stood there dumbfounded. Altaf was shivering and was extremely nervous. My granny gave him a glass of water before he could narrate his story. He had a fight with one of his partners and in a rage murdered him in broad daylight somewhere in a village near Midnapur. My grandmother took a stick from a corner of the room and started hitting him for the wrong act .He apologised to her and promised her that he will never involve himself anymore in such deeds. My grandmother believed him and he kept his word to this day. She kept him with us for two months until matters settled down.
I asked my grandmother, “Why did you lie to the police? Altaf uncle is a murderer. He should have been handed over to the police. And what if the police suspected the drum? You would have been in trouble?”
She replied lovingly, “Telling a lie is certainly not good. But if one lie can save a person or do good to him that lie is not considered a lie. Moreover if someone comes to you for help or for asking shelter it is your duty to protect that person. Under no circumstances could I hand him over to the police. It was the duty of the police to find him out. I did not stop the police from searching my house. Everyone should do their duties according to their dharma. This is what Shri Krishna says in the Gita. The question of police being suspicious does not arise as God helps those who have faith in him.” She sounded confident –a confidence that grew not from education or western rationalist thinking but out of sheer faith in god. I still wonder how this is possible!
Today, with all the modern education that I have, I try to reinterpret the event in modern parlance- my grandmother was a Hindu, Altaf was a Muslim. A Hindu protected a Muslim since his crime was an accident and my Hindu grandmother felt that he needed to be given another chance. How great is my grandmother! What a fine example of Hindu-Muslim unity and communal harmony! 
Unfortunately this was not the way we perceived the incident at that time. I was never told that Altaf was a Muslim and that my grandmother did a great job of helping a Muslim. Altaf uncle never thought that my grandmother did not have the right to beat him. It all came naturally –a very simple and pure mother-son relationship based on faith and love. To me, therefore, all these talks on communal harmony are utter sham. Nothing productive is going to happen unless we stress on value education right from the school level.
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