In 1995, the famous Indian filmmaker Saeed Mirza made a film called Naseem. Set in Agra, a city in Uttar Pradesh, between June and December 1992, it depicts the preparation for the demolition of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya by right-wing Hindu organizations, led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The main character of the film asks his grandfather why he did not go to Pakistan at the time of the partition. He says, “Your grandmother loved the neem tree in the back yard.” Amid the partition riots of 1947, when thousands of Muslims were massacred in India, as were Sikhs and Hindus in Pakistan, Naseem’s grandmother was so emotionally connected to the neem tree, mother earth, that ‘she would rather take the risk of being killed than leave.
One hundred and twenty-five miles from Agra, Delhi, my father, Haneef Hashmi, also refused to go to Pakistan during the riots. He was a student leader, a freedom fighter and had spent years in British prison. He refused to leave India, despite an attack on his family, because he believed in the idea of a democratic and diverse secular country, which was formed not on the basis of religion but on the principles of fraternity, equality and justice.
The most important things I learned during my childhood were compassion, love and, later, rationality. My parents loved to make the vegetable garden, planting all kinds of fruit trees in the small garden of our house. When a snake ate our chickens, we all cried for hours.
Years later, in the 1990s, hate campaigns resumed across India. Today, when I am asked what story my body wants to share with the world, there is only one answer I can give: the story of capturing the spirit. For me, the most important part of the body is the mind: not the eyes, not the ears, not the nose, not the vagina, not the chest. If minds are controlled and polluted, then everything else can be destroyed.
After India achieved freedom in 1947, people taught their children the meaning of love, peace, living together, learning, nation building and working for progress . But those who opposed the idea of a diverse and peaceful India continued to spread hatred, targeting and altering sections of society on the basis of caste, religion, region, sexuality , telling lies a hundred times until they seem to be the truth. Today, they have taken power; they captured the minds of a large part of the population and filled them with hatred.
My mind, the most important part of my body, is restless. It is in mourning. And he wonders when the people of my beloved country will relearn compassion and how to love others again.
Shabnam Hashmi is a social activist and human rights activist