Revisiting the Founding Fathers

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The news today is brimming with rampant violence against minorities around the world. Particularly in India and Pakistan where events like a dairy farmer accused of being a cow smuggler and beaten to death by cow vigilante, the massacre of Christian minorities in Pakistan on Easter Sunday, taking the lives of over seventy innocent people, a Muslim bodybuilder beaten to death in India and a Hindu girl slapped for sipping tea with a Muslim person have become increasingly common occurrences.

The religious vigilantism is not only subsuming the moral and intellectual principles the founding fathers of India and Pakistan emphasised but also hurting the global statue of growing economies like India. In light of these events, the importance of  discovering and understanding the ideas that the founding fathers of both nations so strongly adhered too is critical. So that through the act of reasoning about history, we all can begin to detest communal violence in the way the founding fathers of India and Pakistan had done.

The Founding Fathers

Undoubtedly, there were many figures central to the making of modern India and Pakistan. I would be remiss to accredit everything to only two individuals. Nevertheless, two men specifically infused the hearts of millions with their spirit for freedom like no others. Therefore,  they are regarded as the father of their respective nations, India and Pakistan. Formally, they were born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Mohammed Ali Jinnah, but fondly people call them Bapu (father) and Quaid-e-Azam (the great leader). Jinnah and Gandhi are tremendously important, foundational figures for our nations, but their overriding importance for us is not their obvious historical significance in their countries’ national stories; rather, it lies in their understanding in their struggles, not always successful, to help people realize the moral high ground and the importance of respecting minority rights.

Today, the successor nation states of India and Pakistan have begun to ask a quite curious question: Why does Jinnah matter? and Why does Gandhi matter? For many Indians and Pakistanis they have become obsolete. The representations of Jinnah and Gandhi most readily found are the ones on the five thousand rupee and two thousand rupee notes in Pakistan and India. They are immortalized figures but unfortunately, that leads them to be blamed for every crisis, past and present. The distorted perceptions about Jinnah and Gandhi are used to encourage communal tensions. As mob lynching and vigilante justice become increasingly prevalent in India and Pakistan, it is time the citizens of these nations ask themselves,--- Why the founding fathers matter?

Both Jinnah and Gandhi were staunch believers in protecting the rights of minorities. Take for example, Gandhi’s decision to fast until death during the massacre of Muslims in Delhi and Sikhs in the Punjab region during the riots in 1948. One of his main motivations was to stop the inhumane treatment and savage killings taking place in the subcontinent. Also, he demanded that the mosque in Mehrauli, the shrine of Qutubuddin, that had been seized should be returned to the Muslim community. Gandhi famously proclaimed, Swaraj (freedom) was like a bed with four pillars and the first one signified Hindu-Muslim harmony. It was critical for Gandhi to build-bridges with the Indian minority Muslim population."I believed even at [a] tender age that...it did not matter if I made no special effort to cultivate friendship with Hindus, but I must make friends with at least a few muslims" he said in 1942.

Similarly, Jinnah confronted a mob of Muslims who were attacking Hindus during partition and declared himself “protector general of the Hindus”. In his famous speech to the constituent assembly on the eve of Independence, Jinnah emphasised, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed -- that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”Undoubtedly, it is a reassuring feeling to recall such principled men, since such bravery among leaders has become a rare occurrence. Today, politicians benefit heavily from negating the importance of the founding fathers.

Despite the effort of intolerant groups that espouse a struggle between the minority and the majority, an examination of the founding father’ vision allows us to understand that even insurmountable differences can be bridged through understanding, finding common ground and, rediscovering the humanity within us all.  In order to forge ahead harmoniously in the seventh decade of our independence, we must re-discover compassion for minorities that our founding fathers exemplified. We must learn in our respective countries also to treat minorities with respect.  

(A different version of this blog is posted on Huffpost and Al Bilad English Daily)