The memory of 26/11 is difficult to erase for anyone who has grown up in Mumbai. I was a student in Hyderabad, India, when that terrible series of terror attacks shook my city in 2008. My friends from Mumbai and I huddled in front of a television screen at a beloved teacher’s home. We watched restlessly, unable to make sense of why the streets were strewn with dead bodies. Not knowing what to do, since we were so far away, we sought solace in each other, and endless tears.
This year, on the anniversary of 26/11, I was invited to attend a cultural programme titled ‘Unity in Diversity: Together We Remember 26/11’ held in honour of civilians and cops who lost their lives during those attacks. Many of these people died while offering help and support to others. To me, this aspect seems rather crucial – remembering not the horror alone, but acts of courage and compassion by people when their own lives were at stake. I hope that people in the audience who’ve been orgasming at the thought of an India-Pakistan war felt suitably warned about the humanitarian crises that such a possibility might bring in its wake.
One of the grouses that non-practitioners and non-believers have towards religions is that they codify and perpetuate patriarchy
It was clear that the organisers – the Public Concern for Governance Trust – were not keen on a mournful, teary-eyed tribute. They wanted that evening at the National Centre for Performing Arts in Nariman Point to be a celebration of life. They had music and dance, colour and spectacle, punctuated with speeches. My favourite performances were the group songs by children from Anjuman-e-Islam Girls School and Victoria Memorial School for the Blind. Yes, I know that caricaturing children as ‘beacons of peace’ and ‘flowers of hope’ is a bit over-done, given that children do show a tremendous capacity for violence as well. However, if you were at the event, I am sure that you too would have been moved by their beautiful singing. I was particularly struck by a line from the song ‘Itni Shakti Humein Dena Daata’, which said, “Bair ho na kisi ka kisi se/ Bhaavna mann mein badle ki ho na.” (May we hold enmity towards no one/ May our hearts have no room for revenge.)
The speeches delivered, and a short video screened during the programme, emphasised inter-faith dialogue. It featured religious leaders representing Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism and Judaism, talking about the shared values of all faiths, and the need to cultivate an appreciation for religious diversity. While this is a welcome step, I could not help noticing that all the spokespersons were men. One of the grouses that non-practitioners and non-believers have towards religions is that they codify and perpetuate patriarchy. That criticism cannot be wished away. It is valid, and must be engaged with.
Also, inter-faith dialogue must make space for practitioners and believers, as well as those who identify as atheist or agnostic or as none of the said categories, to freely discuss what they find uncomfortable or unacceptable in the religions they’ve inherited, adopted or rejected. Dialogue can and must be respectful. Its core intention is to learn, communicate and build relationships. Debate, on the other hand, is just about proving your point; however pointless it might be.
Chintan Girish Modi is our Mumbai-based columnist who loves ajrak and alubukhaaray ki chatni. He tweets at @chintan_connect