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The Faith-full

Shefali Oza

By now, you must have heard about the Hindu-Muslim rioting in India. As of Sunday afternoon, an estimated 500 people have been killed in five days of conflict. Ahmadabad, Gujarat is making a name for itself. Last year it was in the news because of the devastating Gujarat earthquake, this year because it is the center of what is said to be the worst religious violence India has seen in a decade.

For me, this news has a more personal relevance. Both of my parents and their families are from Ahmadabad. I have lived there for about three years of my life, between the year I lived there at the age of three to the several summers I spent there as a child. It is my home in India. Granted, the fighting is occurring in the “downtown” areas of Ahmadabad, far from where my relatives live. My cousin says things are normal where they are. But it is still difficult to think of any part of the city I once beheld in peace as the center of such an unnecessary conflict.

The present crisis began last week when a group of Muslim citizens in Godhra set fire to a train containing Hindu activists returning from Ayodhya. Fifty-eight people were killed. In retaliation, Hindus began rioting, burning the shops, cars, and homes of Muslims. The death toll increased almost eight-fold.

There is more blame and accusation to go around than I care to even contemplate. Hindus say they are retaliating for the violence the Muslims started. Muslims say their violence was sparked by the Hindus’ persistence in building a temple where a mosque once was. Hindus say the mosque replaced a temple located at the birthplace of the Hindu god Rama. These accusations led to the riots ten years ago when a thousand people were killed.

Yes, I am Hindu. No, that does not matter. Not in this case, or any other case involving choosing sides for religious violence. Violence is violence. Adding the term religious in front of it is no justification. Rather, it is a contradiction. The same religious texts these rioters claim to believe in and apparently value more than another human’s life are the ones that condemn violence and revenge.

Those who are truly religious will not be the ones taking to the streets with cans of kerosene, nor will they support those in the streets. Those who use religion as an excuse to cause commotion cannot possibly have understood what their holy books tell them.

I will never understand why a group of Muslims decided it was in their best interest to set a train car full of people on fire. But I will also never understand how so many Hindus could justify committing the same or worse crimes in the name of revenge. What is the difference between those who committed the first crime, and those who committed the next? The latter can claim it is retaliation -- revenge for the awful crimes the first group committed.

But how is this justified? The crimes are the same: murder is murder. And soon, I am sure, both sides will be “avenging” the wrongs caused by the other. How many will have to die before this thirst for blood is satiated? Will they feel any better about losing their loved ones after they have caused the loss of someone else’s loved one? Is their definition of justice the distribution of pain from oneself to others? Their logic seems to be, “I feel pain so you must too.” Personally, I have not lost a loved one in such a way, so you may say I have no right to judge their feelings. I, however, am not condemning their emotions. Their anger is natural. I am condemning any illegal actions in response to these emotions.

But here is the greatest irony. Most of the rioters are not victims’ family members. They are not the ones who have felt a personal loss from a cruel crime. They are young men, often “hooligans,” who have decided that violence in the name of revenge is their calling for the day. Want even more irony? These young men are not killing those responsible for the original crimes. They are killing innocent civilians who were once next-door neighbors, their teachers, shop owners. I suppose the fact they are of the other religion justifies their death?

There was no reason for the initial violence other than wrongdoing. However, the emotional justifications for such violent revenge are not only logically incorrect but also morally wrong. These crimes of revenge would have stopped already had it not been for the support these rioters received from people who are normally saddened by and against violence. But involving religion adds a near mystical quality to the fighting. Why, these noble young men are fighting in the name of God, for what is right -- don’t you see?

Sorry, I must have missed that chapter in the Bhagavad-Gita that recommends I kill innocent people if I have some anger and desire for revenge burning inside me. Please, do point this chapter out once you find it. I always love learning more about my religion.

Don’t get me wrong. I think both sides are completely unjustified in their acts of violence. I condemn the initial crime. I condemn the Hindu retaliation. I am sure that unless something truly wonderful occurs, the rioting will again escalate. And then I will continue to condemn every action of retaliation. I am embarrassed to see people manipulate the name of religion to carry out their own twisted justice.

I have grown up knowing about these conflicts. If you are raised in an Indian family, it is difficult not to know about the Hindu-Muslim clashes -- the formation of Pakistan, the India-Pakistan Wars, Kashmir, the terrible militant fighting on the borders. All of this is a part of India’s past and present.

I have not lived through the riots in India, but almost all of the adults I know have seen such riots. I, too, feel a passionate anger at the death of an innocent person. Any innocent person. My anger and sorrow enters from both sides. Death is not acceptable if the dead is of another religion. Call me naÏve, uninformed, or just plain ignorant if you want. But I will never support killing an innocent for any reason. No matter how justified the anger is, the violence is never appropriate. There is no such thing as killing for a religious reason.

It’s a good thing we don’t put as much emphasis on something like hair color as we do in religion, or else maybe all the brunettes/blondes/redheads would be dead by now. Pick your least favorite hair color and ATTACK!