"God has no religion" believed Mahatma Gandhi who lived in a country that has been the nurturing ground for several religions since time immemorial. This unique feature of our country, followers of different religions co-existing, is our strength and our weakness, a paradox that has been proven time and again on various occasions.
An attack from any foreign country would bring us all together, but a minor domestic skirmish can annihilate relationships of many years within seconds - a reflection of our complex social fabric. In August last year, the entire nation witnessed two such incidences of communal clashes, one in the far flung district of Kishtwar in Jammu and Kashmir and another in Muzzafarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, causing unwanted bloodshed. Beyond the visible penalties are invisible scars that mar the age-old traditions which have prevailed steadily among both communities so far.
Yet even in these tough times, there are people from both Hindu and Muslim communities continuing to invest efforts in sustaining the communal harmony and discarding the concept of polarization usually expected after such riots. Such examples become even more inspirational when they come from remote hamlets of Jammu and Kashmir, a land burdened with tragic memories and simmering anguish.
In 2011, the people of people of Jammu and Kashmir had gone to the panchayat election with enthusiasm, expecting change through devolution of panchayat powers and functions. But it was not to be. Their hopes have been dashed by the State Government's incremental devolution policy. Despite these shortcomings, in many Panchayats, there are lessons for political and urban society alike.
"Our families (both Hindu and Muslim) have always shared a cordial bond. In the melee of 1947, my grandparents saved the lives of our Muslim brethren and our entire family retains the similar respect for them till date," shares a humble Naranjan Singh Katoch, Sarpanch of Panchal -B Panchayat, Block Ramsoo in Tehsil Banihal.
In these villages, life has stayed above the politics of elections as the magnitude of mutual respect is immense. This makes it difficult for vested interests to take root, or for miscreants to divide and polarize village life. In fact, the harmonious relationships being shared by these two communities become even more evident during the sensitive election periods.
Arshad Hussain, elected second time as the Sarpanch of Village Danesar, Tehsil Nowshera in Rajouri District, explains how they share an age-old relationship. "I take care of them like my family - irrespective of the religion they follow and in return, they treat me with the same love and care. In 2008, during the land-row agitation, recognizing that it involved the sentiments of my Hindu brothers, I took the onus of leading the protest in my village. And, a year ago, when my shop was burnt down due to a short circuit, I was glad to see each one of them standing by my side collecting an amount of one lakh rupees to rebuild my shop. This is our strength," shares Arshad with great pride.
What brings these villagers together is also the fact that the socio-economic landscape of rural Jammu is different from rural areas in the rest of the country. This is primarily because of the land reforms that took place particularly in the 1950's in the state,pruning the economic extremes and changing the situation in rural J and K from "land ownership of few and agricultural engagement of others" to one of "land ownership to all and engagement of all".
It also redefined agrarian life andthe texture of inter-community relation. As Nazir Hussain of Village BhattaninRamban District put it, "Dehat me har kissi ko ek dusre ki madad ki zarurat hoti hai aur yeh aman aur pyar bi lata hai."(Everyone in the village requires each other's help and assistance; this evokes love and harmony among all).
"We work together on many instances through Kumer - a community act of working together, primarily during the time of sowing, harvesting and in situations where there is a requirement of group work," informs Abdul Rahim Sohail of Panchayat Bhattan of District Ramban, explaining that these, like many others, are examples of those noticeable institutions of agrarian society which create and shape the inter-community relation in rural areas.
Often tagged as traditional and backward, these villages have manifested the true sense of democracy. These elected Sarpanchs are not the exemplar of split voting as they all are in minority in their respective panchayats but have won the elections with a sweeping majority, clearly receiving the whole-hearted approval of the major community.
Sohail, Naranjan and Arshad are not the only cases as there are many villages tucked away in remote locations nurturing communal harmony, upsetting the commonly talked of and acknowledged phenomenon of polarization. These villages of Jammu are the visible icons of secular polity, representing those who believe in it and respect the opinion of the voters. Should others continue to hold on to their ego instead of learning from them?. Dr. Sandeep Singh (ANI)