“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
8th of December 1992. The day is etched in memory like it was yesterday. I remember the feeling of fear in the pit of my stomach. My mum was praying, offering promises of thanksgiving to God if my dad and brother returned home alive.
Two days ago on the 6th of December, the Babri Masjid an ancient mosque in North India had been demolished by fanatics who wanted in its place a temple of Ram. After a day of quiet, Bombay (later renamed Mumbai) erupted in violence. My brother, a student of Engineering at one the country’s most prestigious colleges had an exam on the 8th of December 1992. News was trickling in of bloodshed on the streets, violent mobs on rampage burning buses and vehicles, attacking neighbourhoods. Yet, my brother chose to go to college for fear of a failed mark on his otherwise impeccable score. He was the hope of the family towards ensuring our upward mobility. My dad accompanied him while we waited at home.
They walked, my dad and brother for 20 kilometers (around 12 miles) to college and back (the exam had been cancelled but there was no way to have communicated the decision to the students) hiding from mobs out to kill. We waited at home in fear, hoping, praying, placing our trust in God. Phone lines had been disconnected to avoid the spread of rumours. My brother and father returned with stories of ghastliness in the streets and we heaved a sigh of relief that they were home, safe.
The city lived in fear for many days after the riots. For weeks, people hardly slept at night. The men folk kept night vigil against the violent mobs out to burn and loot neighbourhoods. Women kept water on the boil and chilli powder close at hand in case of an attack. Everyone irrespective of their religious identity feared for their lives.
In terms of numbers, the riots claimed 900 lives, mostly Muslim. Neighbours looted and killed those they had grown up with, had been friends with. Apart from lives lost, the riots killed the trust and friendships among people of different communities. The sense of insecurity and mistrust drove Muslims out of Hindu neighbourhoods they had been living in for generations and Hindus out of Muslim neighbourhoods. As a result, after the riots were over, Mumbai ended up as a divided, ghettoized city.
Living in a ghetto means limited interaction with people from a community other than your own. It is a fertile ground for misconceptions and stereotypes to flourish in the absence of interaction with the other who is painted an enemy. And it is especially hard on women because ghettos need consolidation of identity and women become burdened with the task of safeguarding the same. Women's mobility, their dress, their aspirations are all controlled in ghettos where the community honour is above everything else.
Mumbai has not had another riot since ’93 but the country has had many such, often prior to elections with the aim of creating an atmosphere of hate and otherness and consolidating votes. Each riot, even when in another part of the Country serves as a reminder of that day in 1992. This memory has shaped my life choices. The work I do on peace and justice. I draw inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s quote; “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” I believe love is not easy. It takes courage to love but it is liberating to love and that is the only way humanity will survive.
Fortunately, India, a country diverse in terms of ethnicity, languages, religion, has a Constitution committed to Secularism and and Equality among all citizens. This diversity needs strengthening and protection.
We need to learn to trust each other, relate to each other as humans with empathy which will be possible if we know each other. We need to create safe spaces for interaction to dispel stereotypes and the hateful propaganda fed to us in order to divide and rule.
It was this belief which guided the formation of Parcham, an organization with the vision of a Just and Equal Society, Respectful of Diversity, Celebrating Difference and Interdependence.
Parcham is a small volunteer driven organization which works in in Muslim ghettos using football to get Muslims and non Muslims to play together in the same team. As teammates they learn to work together, understand each other and build friendships in place of animosity.
Our very first tournament was named after two powerful women Savitri Bai and Fatima Bi, who inspite of their religious difference, worked together towards the common cause of women’s empowerment. This is the sentiment and message we want the girls to take back with them. Since the first tournament in 2016, where 100 girls participated, we have had a number of tournaments, reaching out to close to 600 adolescent girls with our message of celebrating friendships and building peace.
The youth are our hope towards a more inclusive and respectful world where we will be able to celebrate difference. I believe someday we will all be able to Rise Above Hate and heal the world with Kindness and Empathy.