India craves for the healing touch in the epidemic of hate
On 5 September 2023, when I casually picked up a newspaper (Inquilab Urdu daily), I was stunned. On the bottom-right of the very first page, there was a heart-wrenching news story of a woman brutally murdering a 5-year-old child. Why did Sunita Devi beat 5-year-old Ankush to death? Because the neighbour’s child had urinated outside her home! Yes, you read that right. The child had committed the unpardonable crime of making water outside Sunita’s home and thus he had to be punished. So she duly punished him – by beating him mercilessly, by kicking him in his abdomen repeatedly, and by slamming him to the ground.
We cannot brush aside this as a crime committed in rage, can we? As the commotion was going on, Dainik Bhaskar reports, someone informed the police… police arrived at the scene and talked to both the families, yet after their departure Sunita started beating the poor thing again. Maybe the intention was to teach the miserable child a lesson for life. Unfortunately, her ‘noble’ intentions could not materialise as the very life was sucked out of the poor child who succumbed to his injuries in a hospital.
This is just a single and raw manifestation of an emotion that seems to have engulfed the whole planet. From where do we generate such hate? Let’s discuss.
The tug of war within
In the realm of human emotions, there exists an intricate interplay between positivity and negativity. Perhaps this is the best example of a zero-sum game. When we are devoid of positive emotions, our emotional spectrum narrows and, we suffer from the hegemony of negative emotions. To put it simply, in the absence of love, contentment, gratitude, joy, hope, compassion, empathy, serenity, and elation we find ourselves more susceptible to the corrosive influence of hatred, discontent, ingratitude, sadness, despair, indifference, apathy, anxiety, and dejection which can gradually seep into, not only our thoughts and actions but also, to the very root of our character and being.
In this selfish, materialistic and hate-filled world, this is the healing touch – magical yet practical – that we all crave for. If only Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is truly followed by the humanity!
Today, we have progressed a lot technologically but poverty is still a global challenge. And if we talk in terms of emotional wealth and well-being then perhaps we are all equally poor. Be it a developed, developing, or underdeveloped country; be it a democracy or an autocracy; from government quarters to the opulent abodes of the wealthy, to the humble huts of the poor – it appears that everywhere the hate reigns supreme.
At the individual and familial level, this hate manifests itself in erosion of empathy and understanding, in strained relationships, and in domestic violence, etc. At national and global scale, this hate manifests itself in hate speech, discriminative policies, arbitrary laws, social exclusion, mob lynching, inhumane sanctions, and horrific wars, etc.
In India, since the colonial period, the perpetuation of hate-for-the-other at the individual and collective level has had long-lasting consequences. Since Independence it has manifested itself in several riots and communal tensions; Hindutva terrorism too has taken its toll on the national psyche, it has cost India the life of M.K. Gandhi, no less; contemporary phenomena of mob lynching and disseminating the videos of these lynchings far and wide through social media is a new low. A grudging condemnation (by the individuals); the criminal act of looking-the-other-way (by the society); and half-hearted efforts to chastise this hatemongering (by the state) only encourages hate and begets more hatemongers.
The curious case of Hindu scriptures
The political, and beyond that, colonial basis of this hate is obvious. The question is: does this hate have any scriptural basis as well?
A simple and well-meaning answer can be No.
There are several verses in the Rig Veda extoling peace, love, and unity. Moreover, the idea of unity is exaggeratingly emphasised and goes well beyond the rational principle of the unity of mankind to the mythical plane of the unity of being. Ishavasya Upanishad (Verse 6) says, “Who sees everything in his Atman and his Atman in everything, by that he feels no revulsion.” Unlike Rig Veda, and Upanishad literature that followed, Atharva Veda (3: 30) is less philosophical and more direct in its approach when it states: “Freedom from hate I bring to you, concord and unanimity. Love one another as the cow loveth the calf that she hath borne.”
Even epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata, despite revolving around the theme of war, can be interpreted positively. For e.g. despite grave injustice that resulted in so many ordeals, Rama’s forgiveness and compassion toward his stepmother Kaikeyi underscores his exemplary character that does not cave in before negative emotions of hate and revenge. It also highlights the transformative power of forgiveness. (See Ayodhya Kanda and Uttara Kand in Valmiki Ramayana)
Moreover, Rama’s attempts to peacefully negotiate with Ravana before the battle emphasise the fact that neither war nor the desire to punish was important in itself. The value lies only in following Dharma and striving for the cause of truth and justice. (See Yuddha Kanda in Valmiki Ramayana) Likewise, in Mahabharata characters like Yudhishthira, Arjuna, and Krishna rise above personal animosities and act with a sense of duty. In Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 16), Krishna describes scores of negative emotions like hate, anger and arrogance that lead to suffering and suggests cultivating virtues like kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.
But in spite of these philosophical dictums of the Vedas and the Upanishads and exalted teachings of the epics mentioned above, a dark age so dawned that the hate system – more commonly known as caste system – entrenched itself in the soul and soil of the Indian subcontinent. It was in this age that Dharma Shastras were composed, Manusmriti being the most contested one. It would be farfetched to argue that the text of Manusmriti is responsible for the complex and toxic caste system that prevailed in ancient India, nevertheless it can be submitted almost with certainty that it reflects the contemporary thought and social reality and reinforced and cemented the exploitative caste system for the ages to come.
Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ teachings leave no scope for hatred in any human heart as it’s impossible to hate in absence of suspicion and ill will and in presence of love, care and goodwill.
A cursory glance at the text and teachings leaves an impartial reader wondering whether the values of love, compassion, and the unity of mankind could be more blatantly snubbed and more egregiously trampled upon. Read a few rules to be amused at the criminal genius of those who have put together this system of exploitation for ages.
Following are some of the injunctions from Manusmriti, imagine being a Sudra/Chandala in times when these injunctions were not remnants of an ancient manuscript but code of ethics and letter of the law:
- Let (the first part of) a Brahmana’s name (denote something) auspicious, a Kshatriya’s be connected with power, and a Vaisya’s with wealth, but a Sudra’s (express something) contemptible. (Manusmriti 2: 31)
- (The king) should order … a Sudra to serve the twice-born castes. (Manusmriti 8: 410)
- …a Sudra, whether bought or unbought, he may be compelled to do servile work; for he was created by the Self-existent (Svayambhu) to be the slave of a Brahmana. (Manusmriti 8: 413)
- A Sudra, though emancipated by his master, is not released from servitude; since that is innate in him, who can set him free from it? (Manusmriti 8: 414)
- No collection of wealth must be made by a Sudra, even though he be able (to do it); for a Sudra who has acquired wealth, gives pain to Brahmanas. (Manusmriti 10: 129)
- Having killed a cat, an ichneumon, a blue jay, a frog, a dog, an iguana, an owl, or a crow, he shall perform the penance for the murder of a Sudra. (Manusmriti 11: 132)
- The kingdom of that monarch, who looks on while a Sudra settles the law, will sink (low), like a cow in a morass. (Manusmriti 8: 21)
- That kingdom where Sudras are very numerous… soon entirely perishes, afflicted by famine and disease. (Manusmriti 8: 22)
- …the dwellings of Chandalas and Svapakas shall be outside the village, they must be made Apapatras (i.e. not allowed to use vessels for food), and their wealth (shall be) dogs and donkeys. Their dress (shall be) the garments of the dead, (they shall eat) their food from broken dishes, black iron (shall be) their ornaments, and they must always wander from place to place. A man who fulfils a religious duty, shall not seek intercourse with them; their transactions (shall be) among themselves, and their marriages with their equals. Their food shall be given to them by others (than an Aryan giver) in a broken dish; at night they shall not walk about in villages and in towns. By day they may go about for the purpose of their work, distinguished by marks at the king’s command, and they shall carry out the corpses (of persons) who have no relatives; that is a settled rule. By the king’s order they shall always execute the criminals, in accordance with the law, and they shall take for themselves the clothes, the beds, and the ornaments of (such) criminals. (Manusmriti 10: 51-56)
Let’s see, in the following verses, the value of man determined by his birth and the consequent discrimination in the laws:
- One fourth (of the penance) for the murder of a Brahmana is prescribed (as expiation) for (intentionally) killing a Kshatriya, one-eighth for killing a Vaisya; know that it is one-sixteenth for killing a virtuous Sudra. But if a Brahmana unintentionally kills a Kshatriya, he shall give, in order to purify himself, one thousand cows and a bull; Or he may perform the penance prescribed for the murderer of a Brahmana during three years, controlling himself, wearing his hair in braids, staying far away from the village, and dwelling at the root of a tree. A Brahmana who has slain a virtuous Vaisya, shall perform the same penance during one year, or he may give one hundred cows and one (bull). He who has slain a Sudra, shall perform that whole penance during six months, or he may also give ten white cows and one bull to a Brahmana. Having killed a cat, an ichneumon, a blue jay, a frog, a dog, an iguana, an owl, or a crow, he shall perform the penance for the murder of a Sudra; (Manusmriti 11: 127-132)
- A Kshatriya, having defamed a Brahmana, shall be fined one hundred (panas); a Vaisya one hundred and fifty or two hundred; a Sudra shall suffer corporal punishment. (Manusmriti 8: 267)
- A Brahmana shall be fined fifty (panas) for defaming a Kshatriya; in (the case of) a Vaisya the fine shall be twenty-five (panas); in (the case of) a Sudra twelve. (Manusmriti 8: 268)
- A once-born man (a Sudra), who insults a twice-born man with gross invective, shall have his tongue cut out; for he is of low origin. If he mentions the names and castes (gati) of the (twice-born) with contumely, an iron nail, ten fingers long, shall be thrust red-hot into his mouth. If he arrogantly teaches Brahmanas their duty, the king shall cause hot oil to be poured into his mouth and into his ears. (Manusmriti 8: 270-272)
All of this because here the cardinal principle of the social structure is birth-based discrimination, to put it more pretentiously: It is better (to discharge) one’s own (appointed) duty incompletely than to perform completely that of another (Manusmriti 10: 97)
Now, imagine being a woman when the expectations were as sadistic and laws as twisted as below:
- If a wife, proud of the greatness of her relatives or (her own) excellence, violates the duty which she owes to her lord, the king shall cause her to be devoured by dogs in a place frequented by many. (Manusmriti 8: 371)
- By a girl, by a young woman, or even by an aged one, nothing must be done independently, even in her own house. In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; a woman must never be independent. (Manusmriti 5: 147-148)
- Though destitute of virtue, or seeking pleasure (elsewhere), or devoid of good qualities, (yet) a husband must be constantly worshipped as a god by a faithful wife. (Manusmriti 5: 154)
- A wife, a son, and a slave, these three are declared to have no property; the wealth which they earn is (acquired) for him to whom they belong. (Manusmriti 8: 416)
- A Chandala, a village pig, a cock, a dog, a menstruating woman, and a eunuch must not look at the Brahmanas while they eat. (Manusmriti 3: 239)
You would say why we are contemplating such gory details of a bygone age, and worse imagining ourselves within it… but what if this past becomes our present and this imagination transcends into reality?
Subhashini Ali, in her article “The Laws of Manu and What They Would Mean for Citizens of the Hindu Rashtra” (The Wire, 10 Nov 2020), argues that in Manusmriti killing a cow is a grievous crime and is given equivalence to the rape on one hand and murder of a Vaisya, Kshatriya, Shudra, and a woman on the other.
“The crime of killing a cow, however,” she emphasises, “elicits greater punishment than for these murders. In this context, the lynching of Muslims accused of eating cow meat or killing cows or even being engaged in cow trading, can be directly linked to belief in the Manusmriti.”
She further argues, “The complete immunity enjoyed by Brahmins is unambiguously stated at the very end of chapter 11, Penances, in shloka 162: “Even if he has slaughtered these three worlds and even if he has eaten food of anyone at all, no sin taints a Brahmin who retains the Rig Veda in his memory…” (The actual reference is 11: 262)
Such was the overall impact of this system based on self-blame and self-loathing on one hand (especially by those who are on the lower rung of the caste order) and mutual hatred on the other hand that in Ramayana, through later interpolations as opined by many scholars, there is an incident where Rama beheaded Shambuka (a Shudra) with his sword for practicing asceticism, engaging in severe penance and performing tapas in violation of his caste dharma. (See Uttara Kanda in Valmiki Ramayana)
No wonder that Gandhi was always for dousing the fires of hate and strongly opposed the fuelling the same for political purposes, recognising that while such a strategy might achieve some short-term political goals, it would inevitably lead to long-term disasters.
Syed Mahmood, his comrade in the struggle for freedom, quoted Gandhi to the effect that if partition were to occur along religious lines, the devastation would not spare Hindus either. Hatred directed at Muslims would not remain confined to the Muslim community; it could escalate into caste-based, language-based and based-on-nothing animosities in India. (See Mulaqaten by Dr. Syed Abdul Bari pp. 36-37)
Perhaps India today is living the worst nightmares of Gandhi where ideals of those who killed him are being imposed with impunity and the currency of hatred is circulating in every nook and corner of this country without any fear of demonetisation.
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and the magic of practical positivity
To combat the pervasive force of hatred, we must consciously strive to fill ourselves with a repertoire of positive emotions. Love, compassion, forgiveness, and kindness are among the essential emotions that can counteract the toxic grip of hate.
As far as information is concerned, we all know this for a fact. The challenge lies in practically sowing the seeds of positivity in our hearts and rooting out the weeds of hate and all kinds of negativity. The practicality needs to be highlighted here because many a time lofty but impractical ideals succeed in driving us into awestruck silence but fail to actually inspire us into imbibing the wisdom within our character and lives.
If someone preaches complete disdain for ownership of property or uniform income for all or absolute pacifism (for e.g. disbanding of a country’s army) etc. then we can marvel at the flight of philosophical musings but cannot believe in their applicability as potential solutions to real problems even in our wildest dreams.
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was the epitome of sublime virtues and morality, and yet the ideals preached and practiced by him can be imbibed and inculcated in our daily lives only if we are ready to work hard and sincerely upon ourselves. In other words, these ideals do not seem like distant stars that can only be our destination in fantasies but like Mount Everest or K2 – challenging yet attainable peaks with sufficient effort and dedication.
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, during his farewell pilgrimage to Makkah is reported to have repeatedly expounded, “All mankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; a white has no superiority over a black, nor does a black have any superiority over a white; none have superiority over another except by piety and good action.” (Musnad Ahmad)
To invoke an Urdu proverb, this doctrine of common lineage of all humankind alone pulls the earth from beneath every fortress of discrimination built meticulously by the one or the other architect of oppression. But mere preaching was not enough, and hence the entire life of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is a practical testimony of actual application of this ideal creed in the society.
If you do not believe me then witness the status of Hazrat Bilal Habshi in the Muslim society; look at the marriages of Hazrat Zaid bin Haritha and Hazrat Julaybib; and the appointments of Hazrat Zaid and Hazrat Usama bin Zaid as commanders; read about the punishment given to Hazrat Fatima bint Aswad (for theft) and the stern language of the Prophet for those who wished for leniency:
When it came to law, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ would uphold equality before law and ensure justice; he would not relent and would tolerate no double standards.
“O people, those who have gone before you were destroyed, because if any one of high rank committed theft among them, they spared him; and if anyone of low rank committed theft, they inflicted the prescribed punishment upon him. By Allah, if Fatima, daughter of Muhammad, were to steal, I would have her hand cut off.” (Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim)
Hence, when it came to law, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ would uphold equality before law and ensure justice; he would not relent and would tolerate no double standards.
But in other aspects of life, his motto was, “Kindness is not to be found in anything but that it adds to its beauty and it is not withdrawn from anything but it makes it defective.” (Sahih Muslim) Again, this was not only an ideal preached but also a value practiced. Prophet Muhammadﷺ was renowned for his kindness and gentleness.
At this moment, I am not enumerating instances of his charity, which often came at the expense of his own needs. My focus is on those occasions when a person’s behaviour makes practicing kindness a true challenge. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ consistently emerged triumphant in such testing circumstances. His gentleness for the Jewish lender who came two-three days before the stipulated time and harshly demanded the payment of his debt can be cited as an example. The lender abused him and his family and when a companion protested then Prophet Muhammad ﷺ took the side of the Jewish lender and paid him some extra.
This was not a one-off incident. Hadith literature is brimming with several such instances of the Prophet dispensing such ‘undeserved’ kindness; let me mention just one more from Sahih Bukhari. A man demanded his debts from the Prophet in a rude manner. Companions of the Prophet would have liked to intervene but the Prophet said, “Leave him, no doubt, for he (the creditor) has the right to demand it. Buy a camel and give it to him.” They said, “The camel that is available is older (i.e. more valuable) than the camel that’s due to him.” Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “Buy it and give it to him, for the best among you are those who repay their debts handsomely.”
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ’s teachings like the following leave no scope for hatred in any human heart as it’s impossible to hate in absence of suspicion and ill will and in presence of love, care and goodwill:
Beware of suspicion, for suspicion is the worst of false tales; and do not look for the others’ faults and do not spy, and do not be jealous of one another, and do not desert (cut your relation with) one another, and do not hate one another; and O Allah’s worshipers! Be brothers (as Allah has ordered you!) (Sahih Bukhari)
Anybody who believes in Allah and the Last Day should not harm his neighbour, and anybody who believes in Allah and the Last Day should entertain his guest generously and anybody who believes in Allah and the Last Day should talk what is good or keep quiet. (i.e. abstain from all kinds of evil and dirty talk). (Sahih Bukhari)
None of you [truly] believes until he loves for his brother that which he loves for himself. (Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim)
Lastly, I would like to discuss Prophet Muhammadﷺ’s emphasis upon forgiveness. He said, “The strong is not the one who overcomes the people by his strength, but the strong is the one who controls himself while in anger.” (Sahih Bukhari) He not only preached this sublime ideal but made forgiveness a way of life. At Taif, he forgave those who had hurled abuses and threw stones at him. After the Conquest of Makkah, he forgave those who had tortured him and his companions for 13 long years; subsequently waged wars that resulted in painful casualties… in short, he absolved those who had left no oppressing technique unemployed to dismantle his vision and obstruct his mission, and that too at a time when he had all the powers to avenge every single wrong doing. Truly, hate and forgiveness cannot dwell in the same heart.
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ not only preached forgiveness but made it a way of life. At Taif, he forgave those who had hurled abuses and threw stones at him.
Amidst this discussion on hatred and how to respond with kindness and forgiveness, one particular incident in the Prophetic life seems notably pertinent, especially in context of the distressing incident that initiated this article.
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, along with his companions, was sitting in the Masjid when a Bedouin came and after some time started urinating in a corner. Such desecration of a place of worship! In the Mosque of Madina! In the very presence of the Last Prophet of the Almighty! The man did deserve to be taught a lesson. People shouted: stop, stop… and rushed to reprimand him but the Prophet ordered, “Don’t interrupt him; leave him alone.” When he finished urinating, the Prophet called him and explained to him: “These mosques are not the places meant for urine and filth, but are only for the remembrance of Allah, prayer and the recitation of the Qur’ān,” then the Prophet asked to pour a large vessel of water over the place where the Bedouin has passed urine. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ then said to his companions, “You have been sent to make things easy (for the people) and you have not been sent to make things difficult for them.” (Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, and Sunan Ibn Majah)
In this selfish, materialistic and hate-filled world, this is the healing touch – magical yet practical – that we all crave for. If only Prophet Muhammad ﷺ – the benefactor of humanity – is truly followed by the humanity!
[The writer is Director In-Charge, Indian Institute of Islamic Studies and Research, New Delhi]