The collective Indian conscience often remembers Gujarat only for the communal tensions that simmer and often explode beyond control. What gets forgotten is the fact that historically, like all port areas, it has been a place where diverse cultures, religions and ways of life have thrived together, drawing on one another.
So why then has its recent history witnessed so much bloodshed in the name of religion? Was it just the politics of divide and rule?
Community Correspondent Neeru Rathod uncovers another facet to Gujarat today that speaks volumes of that somewhat lost communal harmony.
To witness this unity, equality and peace Sayla block in Surendranagar district of Gujarat is the place to be. Here, the Muharram celebrations, an important day for the Muslim community, see people from all faiths come together.
Muharram is marks the anniversary of the Battle of Karbala when Imam Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and a Shia Imam, was killed by the forces of the second Umayyad caliph Yazid I. The mourning reaches its climax on the tenth day, known as Ashura, on which the forces of Yazid killed the 72 individuals who fought, including Imam Hussain, his family and supporters. One form of mourning is the theatrical re-enactment of the Battle of Karbala. Popularly called taziya or taziyeh, these are performed by theatrical groups who specialize in the procession of taziya.
In Sayla, the Hindu community participates in the remembrance of the sacrifices and martyrdom of Saint Imam Hussain with equal devotion, humility and faith and enjoy being a part of the Tazia procession. While filming, Neeru was overwhelmed by the faith among the devotees, Hindus and Muslims alike.
There is a mutual belief among devotees of all religions here, that if they pass under the replica of Saint Imam's tomb, they will remain healthy throughout the year.
"There is only one god. All these other distinctions are new but I believe that there is only supreme protector for everyone" says Induben, a resident of Sayla who participates in the procession every year. Many of her friends agree.
Belief is an entity that can forge strong bonds but in the hands of manipulative individuals, it can eat away at a community. In the tussle between saffron and green, Gujarat and India have turned red too often now. These reminders, that peace exists and is possible are what need to be branded into our collective conscience.
Avijit Adhikary is a journalist with nearly 8000 days of field experience till date. In the past two decades, he has witnessed the ebb and flow of the media industry in India, with ripples felt in his region too. This includes the rise of digital media, the decline of print...