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Communalism is a threat to democracy

CSSS’s Journey for Peace, Justice, Democracy and Secularism
The Centre for Study of Society and Secularism and its staff has been humbled by the National Communal Harmony Award announced on the eve of Republic Day in the year 2014 by the National Foundation for Communal Harmony. We accept the prestigious Award with all humility and with resolve to work even harder to promote communal harmony. The Award comes as recognition of CSSS’s work to promote communal harmony in our country with all its diversity in terms of religion, culture, language, customs, traditions, regions and caste.

We wish our Late Chairperson Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer was alive. It is his hard work in establishing the Centre that has been recognized by the Award. He sweated and toiled to establish the Centre, guided it, and led from the front. His tremendous energy, tireless efforts, his leadership and marvelous foresight contributed to the Centre right from the beginning 20 years ago. The foundations of the Centre were laid by him much before it was formally established – his pioneering study of communal conflicts in India right from the first major post partition communal riot in Jabalpur in 1961. Every violent communal conflict thereafter warranted his attention and study. However, he did not stop after understanding the causes of communal conflicts in India. He tirelessly established Insani Biradari in the 1970s, persuaded prominent secular minded cultural activists and notable citizens to speak up against communalism, among them being Balraj Sahani who, on Dr. Engineer’s request, cancelled his hard earned holidays to Kashmir and campaigned for peace along with Dr. Engineer after devastating riots in Bhiwandi in the year 1984. Along with Shabana Azmi he organized peace march from Delhi to Meerut, and several peace marches thereafter. After the series of communal riots in the Northern and Western India, Dr. Engineer proceeded to establish Ekta – Committee for Communal Amity, with Trade Unions, Human Rights Organisations and other peoples movement constituting the platform. He would organize workshops to create peace cadres and dispel the myth that communalism was rooted in religion. He would argue that communalism is rooted in political ideology. After the 1992-93 riots, Dr. Engineer wrote his fact finding report – Bombay’s Shame and called a meeting of secular intellectuals from all over India to think about the response and the Centre was born. The DNA of CSSS ever since has been academic as well as activism for activities to promote better understanding between various communities and promote pluralism and diversity.

We at CSSS always understood that communalism was a threat to democracy and the rich diversity of India. Communalism is also threat to the democratic movements and struggles of the marginalized sections of the society for equality and their rightful share in development. Communal forces strengthen and justify and complement social hierarchies with a discourse of hierarchically structured political rights based on birth and regions like caste, gender, place of birth, location of holy land etc.

Ordinary and toiling Indians – the artisans, workers, peasants, service class have learnt to live with diversity since centuries. In fact they consider diversity as blessing. It is the elite of various communities which seek to defend their feudal privileges and feel threatened by discourse of equality. Ideology of communal nationalism is then constructed to create authoritarian state that privileges the elite of one community over the other and on the marginalized sections of one’s own community.

CSSS has now completed 20 years. During these 20 years, CSSS was helped and supported by its donors, a wide network of activists, ever eager to participate in its workshops and sharpen their perspectives with regards communal conflicts and thereafter work as peace workers, promoting harmonious relations between diverse communities, equipped with knowledge to dispel myths and prejudices against minorities. This web of peace cadres helps us monitor the communal situation in most affected states of India. Internships and fellowships help us support a tiny number of dedicated peace workers who then constitute steel structure for All India Secular Forum, a platform for organizations working for peace and secularism throughout India. AISF exists in 13 states in India and undertakes protest campaigns against communal politics and advocacy for peace, communal harmony, democracy and secularism.

Wide circulation of fortnightly Secular Perspective, Secular Action Network edited by our Chairperson Dr. Ram Puniyani, articles of Dr. Puniyani, all of which are much awaited by many are crucial tools to create counter discourse on equal rights as citizens and culture of human rights. The social media like Facebook, WhatsApp and other platforms too help us keep in touch with our workshop participants and activists and keep up the flow of information to the peace workers. Compiling e-list of enthusiastic readers of the articles posted through CSSS network helps us reach thousands.

Culture is another arena where we have entered thanks to our sister organizations like Kabeera (Mumbai), Lok Kala Manch (Ahmedabad). Partnering with these organizations, we are trying to reach to a wider and uninitiated audience nurturing popular beliefs about the “other”, helping them critically examine and question their beliefs.

We are reaching out to the children in a slum in Mumbai in order to inculcate values of love and accepting those who are different than themselves and their community with equal love and respect. The children through series of theatre games are becoming more confident, learning through critical thinking and through playing games. They have even given cultural performances.

We have organized over 200 workshops to sensitize police in Mumbai, Nasik, Haryana, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Meerut, Varanasi, and several other towns.

Sensitizing journalists and teachers is another priority area for CSSS and we have organized several workshops with the target audience.

Research and publications, including quarterly journal – Indian Journal of Secularism help us reach various sections of society.

Yet there is a long long way to go and the members of the Executive Council and CSSS will not rest till we marginalize and neutralize communal forces and communal ideologies. We would work even more hard and achieve the dream of our founder Chairperson – To grow to be a leading and effective institution that is able to nurture values of pluralism and pursuit of knowledge and truth, and culture of peace. He used to remind us of three Ds – Diversity, Dialogue and Democracy.

Our DNA is thank tank and activism to promote communal harmony and we solemnly resolve to maintain this unique feature of CSSS along with flexible approach.

This Journey of CSSS would have been impossible without all the stake holders and supporters and fellow travelers – the donors and financial contributors, the Executive Council with its able leadership and guidance, its staff that has worked as a team and worked hard, the peace workers, including the interns and the fellows who form the steel frame of All India Secular Forum, the state coordinators of All India Secular Forum and member organizations who halve always helped CSSS organize its activities in various states; the well wishers of CSSS who have always stood with the CSSS during its trying times and times of crisis and finally the movement for justice and peace, the victims of communal conflicts, that inspire us to go on in spite of all the hardships.

May justice and peace be achieved soon.

Irfan Engineer, Director, and the staff of CSSS

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