In Nayantara Sahgal’s “This Time of Morning” (review later), there is an episode (p 247- 250) where one of the characters recollects the first time he had seen the British’s Divide and Rule policy in action, in the context of religion.
To summarise, towards the end of 1919, a Swami Satyanand, who had a reputation for his protests and fiery speeches against the British, and was a hero figure in all communities, once began a speech on the steps of the Juma Mosque in Allahabad. He said he had chosen the location because he wanted to emphasise that the name of the faith didn’t matter. With the mullah standing behind him, he began to speak of the messages in the Bhagvad Gita as a rapt crowd listened. The policemen arrived suddenly, and even as the Swami kept saying that the police were ‘our’ brothers and the crowd should stand still, he was attacked, finally collapsing beneath the arch. The mullah wept as he was carried inside, and later, when he came out to announce that the swami was dead.
The next day, the English dailies carried the news that the Swami had died at the Juma Mosque and insinuated that the Swami had deliberately tried to incite the Muslim community and had died as a result. It also chose to emphasise that mutual seclusion was the only way to peace among the communities, and this was what the government was trying to do. The regional dailies were warned against carrying the news at all. And though Muslims and Hindus joined the procession which ended with the Swami’s pyre being lit by the mullah, none of the dailies covered it.
The book is a work of fiction though historical figures also play minor roles. But many incidents and scenarios are based on real events, and the above incident seems highly possible. It made me realise that the only perspective we can derive of the events that happened then are from newspaper reports and in some cases, journals/books written by people who lived then. But the latter is not so easy to find, and we mostly rely on the former.
I read this book during the time that Mr.Sibal was making his infamous censorship statements, and the internet began its #outrage. (Yes, I did 2) The above episode gave me a glimpse of what the internet has achieved in terms of documenting data and what we, and the generations to follow, would be missing out, if censorship came to life. Thankfully, even George W Bush has said “You can’t put democracy and freedom back into a box”
until next time, Jaise Har Ek Baat Pe Democracy Me Lagne Lag Gaya Ban