On February 28, 2002, the city of Ahmedabad witnessed extreme violence as over 150 Muslims were murdered and the city’s old quarters were set ablaze. In the following days the Indian Army maintained peace and control in the city. This incident was seen as retaliation for previous day’s incineration of 58 Hindus traveling by train through the town of Ayodhya. The history of this tangled conflict is long and complex. The beginning of the deterioration of the relationship between these two groups into violence is when a large mob of Hindus demolished a mosque in 1992 in Ayodhya, a Hindu holy town. For the past two decades there have been feelings of extreme loss, fear, and anger dividing these communities.
This past July, Ahmedabad was once again overcome with violence as seventeen blasts echoed throughout the city in less than an hour. Fifteen people were killed. According to the media an Islamist group claimed responsibility, no arrests have been made. These blasts in Ahmedabad were followed in the next few months with blasts in Bangalore and Delhi. As citizens in Ahmedabad and over India call for peace, many fear it has become a game of revenge.
I am currently enrolled in a course taught by former Indian President, Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam, called Globalizing and Resurgent India Through Innovative Transformation. The course is based off of his book, India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium. In this work he lays out ten pillars as a strategy for development. One pillar visualizes an India “that is prosperous, healthy, secure, devoid of terrorism, peaceful, and happy”. This pillar turned out to be one of the most difficult pillars that the class has addressed. The other steps towards development include issues such as economic growth, education, health, access to water, improved infrastructure, etc. While those pose great challenges within themselves, eradicating terrorism cannot be solved with a new policy, improved implementation mechanisms or increased funding.
To look at the issue of terrorism, especially in Ahmedabad, the class decided to invite leaders from a Hindu fundamentalist group and a Muslim fundamentalist group to come and speak to us about what they see as issues, concerns and a way forward. The idea behind the class was to create a forum for dialogue and questions, in an attempt to understand another point of view and hopefully eliminating misconceptions that exist. Upon receiving the invitation both groups were eager for the opportunity to have an open dialogue with the students here at IIMA.
The class began with a member of each group giving an overview of their position for ten minutes. After each side had finished the floor was open for questions. As the afternoon went on there were obvious moments of tension between students and some of the presenters. With such a sensitive topic it is impossible to think of intensity not rising.
One of the main topics of discussion was the youth of India and how to ensure they do not feel ostracized for coming from one religion or another. Education was raised by both groups as one of the best ways to move towards an inclusive future. During this discussion on education there was unity among everyone in the room on the goal of improving India’s education system. The dialogue was not focused on one group or another, but Indian society as a whole and the urgent need to increase capacity and quality education for the youth of the country. While there were conflicting ideas on the best path to take, the common goal of basic education remained constant.
At the end of the class my professor closed by discussing the importance of opening dialogue between parties. Obviously one class period will not change the situation, but my professor’s hope is that it is a small step toward improving dialogue. It was not a class about policy or quantitative analysis, it was simply a group of people listening and working towards the difficult task of opening one’s mind to ideas that appear to conflict with their own. All parties involved closed stressing their hope for peace and friendship.