Library of India

‘Who will be left to live peacefully ever after?’: 10 conversations on communalism by Asghar Wajahat

Translated by Rakhshanda Jalil, ten piercing conversations on hate, riots and religious discrimination.

~ 1 ~

“Gurudev, are the Muslims of this country outsiders?”

“Yes, Hariram, they are outsiders.”

“Where did they come from?”

“They came from Arabia, from Iran, from Turkestan.”

“But where do they belong now?”

“They are Indian citizens now.”

“Which languages do they speak?”

“Indian languages.”

“Their customs and life styles resemble the people of which lands?”

“The people of India.”

“Then how are they outsiders, Gurudev?”

“Because their religion is a foreign religion.”

“Where did Buddhism spring from?”

“From India.”

“Then should all the Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Burmese Buddhists migrate to India?”

“No, no, Hariram! What would the Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Burmese do in India?”

“Then why should the Indian Muslims go to Arabia, Iran or Turkestan?”


~ 2 ~

“Hindus and Muslims can never live together.”

“Why not, Gurudev?”

“There are far too many differences between the two.”

“Such as?”

“Their language is different from ours.”

“Muslims don’t speak Hindi, Kashmiri, Sindhi, Gujrati, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Oriya, Bangla, etc...Do they only speak Urdu?”

“No, no...the difference is not of language; our religions are different.”

“Do you mean people of different faiths cannot live in one country?”

“Yes, India belongs to Hindus and Hindus alone.”

“Then we must get rid of all the Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Jews.”

“Yes, we must throw them all out.”

“Then who will remain in this country?”

“Only Hindus shall live here ... live peacefully ever after.”

“The way only Muslims live in Pakistan and live in peace.”


~ 3 ~

“You must hate Muslims, my child.”

“Why, Gurudev?”

“Because they are cruel, illiterate and dirty.”

“I understand, Gurudev. You mean one must hate cruel, illiterate and dirty people.”

“No, no. Well, actually, one should hate the Muslims because they are extremely religious.”

“I shall hate all extremely religious people.”

“No, no. You have not understood...we should hate the Muslims because they once ruled over us.”

“Then we must hate the Christians too.”

“No, no. The principal reason to hate Muslims is because they caused the partition of our country.”

“Then we must also hate those who divided our country.”

“Yes, yes. Absolutely, we must hate those who divided our country.”

“And what should we do with those who divide our countrymen?”


~ 4 ~

“Gurudev, what sort of people die in communal riots?”

“All sorts of important religious leaders, pandits and maulvis, big-time capitalists and moneylenders, officials and bureaucrats – these are the people who get hurt in communal riots.”

“And who are the people who do not get killed?”

“Ordinary people, workers, craftsmen, rickshaw-pullers, vendors, office-goers – these are the people who are never killed in riots.”

“Then, Gurudev, why is it that riots still take place?”

“Elementary, my child...the ordinary man has no interest whatsoever in stopping communal riots.”

“And the “big” people?”

“They, poor things, try their best to put an end to these riots. The pandits and maulvis give speeches to root out communalism. Politicians try their darndest to stop all riots from ever taking place. Moneylenders and capitalists give generous donations to stop rioting. Government officials too put in all they have to stop riots.”

“How come the riots still don’t stop?”

“That is the eternal mystery, my child. If ever you unravel it, you too will perish in a riot.”


~ 5 ~

“Gurudev, why is it that the culprits behind communal riots are never punished by the law?”

“That is the greatness of our system, my child.”

“How, Gurudev?”

“Our courts understand the sentiments of those who have killed in communal riots.”

“What do they understand?”

“Child, those who die in communal riots go straight to heaven, don’t they?”

“Yes, they do.”

“Who is responsible for sending them to heaven?”

“Those who have killed them.”

“Absolutely correct! You see, my child, our legal system is not so utterly without shame that it will hang those who oblige others.”


~ 6 ~

“Gurudev, how can riots be stopped forever?”

“Child, the whole nation cannot answer this question for you. Not even the president or the prime minister, the entire cabinet of ministers, the intelligentsia – no one has the answer.”

“Gurudev, man has reached the moon, conquered the universe, everything that was impossible till yesterday has become possible today. Why can’t we entrust our scientists with the task of finding out how communal riots can be eradicated forever?”

“Child, scientists were put on the job but they said this was a religious issue.”

“Were the religious people then put on the job?”

“Yes, they were, but they said this was a social issue.”

“What did the sociologists have to say?”

“They said it was a political issue.”

“So what did the politicians say?”

“They said it was a non-issue.”


~ 7 ~

“Gurudev, is the prime minister ultimately responsible for communal riots in this country?”

“No.”

“The chief ministers, then?”

“No.”

“The home minister?”

“No.”

“Well, is it the members of parliament or legislators?”

“No.”

“It must be the bureaucrats and police?”

“No.”

“Then who is responsible for communal riots?”

“The janata.”

“Meaning...?”

“Meaning, we are responsible.”

“Meaning...?”

“Meaning, no one is responsible.”


~ 8 ~

“Gurudev, do Muslims produce more children than others?”

“Yes, my child, they do nothing but make more marriages and produce more children.”

“But, Gurudev, why do the Muslims have so many children?”

“Someone who has children of his own could tell you that...I have been an ascetic all my life.”


~ 9 ~

“Gurudev, are all Muslims terrorists?”

“Yes, my child. They do all manner of violent acts, breaking and destroying things.”

“Why do they do that, Gurudev?”

“Because violence is in their blood, my child.”

“Why is violence in their blood, Gurudev?”

“Must be the will of Bhagwan ji; He must have put it inside them.”

“But the Muslims do not believe in Bhagwan ji; they believe in Allah.”

“Then it must be the will of Allah.”

“But we don’t believe in Allah.”

“Never mind, then...it must be our will.”


~ 10 ~

“Gurudev, are all Muslims traitors?”

“Yes, my child, they are making our country hollow from inside.”

“How, Gurudev?”

“They do not pay income tax.”

“How, Gurudev?”

“Tell me, where do you normally see Jumman?”

“At the rickshaw stand.”

“Where do you see Bafati?”

“In the crowd of daily wagers squatting beside the road.”

“What does Khairati do, Hariram?”

“He sells blood, Gurudev.”

“And what does Rahmatun do?”

“He makes bidis.”

“Now tell me, have you ever seen them at the Income Tax Office?”

“I have never been to the Income Tax Office, Gurudev.”


Asghar Wajahat is a Hindi scholar, fiction writer, novelist, playwright, an independent documentary filmmaker and a television scriptwriter. His best-known works include Saat Aasmaan, Jis Lahore Nai Dekhya, and O Jamyai Nai, Kaisee Lagi Lagaee.


Rakhshanda Jalil is a writer, literary critic and translator. Her most recent work is Liking Progress, Loving Change: A Literary History of the Progressive Writers’ Movement in Urdu.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.