Noted human rights activist from Karachi, Pakistan, Arif Aajakia, who gets his surname from his ancestral village of Ajak in Gujarat, is on a heavy dose of Hindu epic Bhagavad Gita. Known as the divine song, the Gita narrates the dialogue on a battlefield between a mortal Arjun, engulfed by doubts and fears, with Lord Krishna, who acts as his charioteer and guide.
Enraptured by the Gita, Aajakia is balancing his time between his core work of making videos on international relations for the common man, with understanding the Gita and its message on human rights, status of women, conducting oneself on earth and relations between man and God.
In an exclusive interview to India Narrative, Aajaia says: "It was in 1994 that I first went to the UN and came to know about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I was impressed with it. Then about five years back I read the Gita which reminded me about the UN Charter. The Gita urges you to respect the planet—its environment and food systems. I was left in awe that such exalted thoughts were said 5,000 years back".
Excerpts from the interview:
A sombre Arif Aajakia reflects upon his life in a west London district (Photo: Rahul Kumar)
What else about the Gita has influenced you?
Aajakia: The Gita does not restrict you to pray to a certain God. Since then, I have begun to hold discussions with friends who have read the Gita. I soon realised that even atheists have been granted rights in Hinduism. You cannot question Gods in other religions. But here in Hinduism, Arjun is holding a debate with Lord Krishna.
The questions that Islam did not answer, I found in the Gita. I also saw that equality and respect has been granted to women. Jahan Ram Khade hain, wahin Sita khadi hain. Krishna ke saath Radha milengi. Shivaji ke saaath Parvati hoti hain (Lord Ram is always standing with Sita. Lord Krishna is found with Radha and Lord Shiva is shown with Parvati.) Other religions do not accord the same status to women and Goddesses".
Lately, I have become a Ram Bhakht. The messages from Lord Ram are extraordinary. From any point of view, Ram's messages to friends, brothers and bhakts (faithfuls) have deep meanings.
I also noticed that there is no messaging about Dalits in the Sanatan Dharma. Casteism and discrimination is not mentioned in the Hindu religion or texts. I did not find ‘othering' in the Hindu texts.
You recently visited India. What are your first impressions about the country and its people?
Aajakia: I recently visited my ancestral village—Aajak, in Gujarat. When people came to know that I was coming, they waited for me. People wanted me to visit the local masjid. I told them that I will only visit a masjid which has not been built after destroying a temple. After they assured me that the Aajak masjid is not built over a temple, I visited the masjid where my father and grandfather had prayed before the Partition of India. I also visited the local temple where the priest and the local people gave me a warm welcome.
I find that India in real life and in villages is very different from India that is portrayed on social media. Also, during my one-month visit I found people at peace. I did not come across people fighting with each other on the streets. I visited 13 cities and found quiet. In Karachi, you will witness two fights in one hour.
I also went to Junagarh from where many Muslims had left for Pakistan during the Partition. The ones who stayed back remain in touch with the conditions in Pakistan and thank themselves that they did not migrate to Pakistan.
During my India visit, I went to a place called Bantwa which has 17 mosques. Out of a population of 20,000 people just a few hundred people are Muslims yet they have 17 mosques. The Memon community, to which I belong, used to live here but most Memons left for Pakistan. More than 70 years later, the properties belonging to the Memons have not been taken over by the Hindus. My own house still had its lock intact on the front door after all these years. This is a reflection of the liberal and unselfish nature of the Hindus who did not covet the property left behind by the Muslims.
What do you have to say about the violence in India that started with stone-throwing at Hindu festivals?
Aajakia: There is no civil war in India despite the riots and arson, but it certainly is a dream for many who want a civil war to engulf the country. Both Pakistan and China would want a civil war in India. The stone throwing during Hindu festivals was pre-planned. Stones had been stored on the roof-tops of masjids in advance. This violates what Prophet Mohammed had said, ‘that the masjid should be used for namaz, nothing else’.
Recently, even at the al-Aqsa masjid in Jerusalem, stones had been stored in sacks. Young men standing guard over the sacks of stones were wearing shoes inside the mosque.
With so much going on in the world, India seems to be under pressure from different quarters—the West, Islamic nations and certain ideologies...?
Aajakia: India is rising. It has the potential. People know that India will rise again because no invader could control it for long.
But India is everywhere—in Quadrilateral Security-I with the US, Japan and Australia, but also in Quadrilateral Security-II with the US, Israel and the UAE. There is a demand for India everywhere. Nations do not trust China any longer and only India is the country that can stand up to China.
Narendra Modi is pursuing the right policies—strengthening communications, building transport links, setting up airports, all of which are creating value not just for the rich but for all sections of the society.
With other policies like aatmanirbhar Bharat and defence manufacturing plants being set up in the country, India is on the right path. Even during the pandemic, India's image rose as it not only manufactured vaccines but also sent it to poor nations.
We recently saw another attack on the Sikhs in Kabul. Why is there no outrage against attacks on minorities in Afghanistan and Pakistan?
Aajakia: The biggest reason is that India is poor in lobbying.
Once Pakistan was partitioned in the 1971 war, it realised it would never win a conventional war against India. It decided to push up propaganda and non-conventional means of warfare by launching Operation Tupac to destabilise Kashmir and convert it into an exclusive Muslim region by communal violence.
Across the world you will see a strong anti-India agenda.
- A recent conference by an American professor was about dismantling Hinduism—an unnecessary attack on the Hindus.
- Similarly, somebody called Gurpatwant Singh Pannu gave a call for a referendum and it caught the attention of people. Before this call, he was an unknown entity. But after the call against India, he has become a darling of the Pakistani intelligence services.
- There are anti-India speeches in the US and Canada parliaments just because Pakistan has been lobbying hard with the politicians there.
All these activities need a lot of money. Pakistan is pumping in money endlessly against India. But the Government of India will not do this because it says such activities are below its dignity.
I will give you another example.
At the UN conferences on human rights in Geneva, Pakistan will bring in bus-loads of hired people from Italy, Belgium, Germany and other countries. It will ensure that there is accommodation, food and transport for the hired protestors. In Geneva—a city of just over two lakh people, you will find a pro-Khalistan rally with 20 Sikhs and 200 Pakistanis. All will be shouting anti-India slogans because they have been paid to do so.
The UN recently marked a day against Islamophobia. Do you agree with that?
Aarif: The whole issue of Islamophobia is a concocted issue. Out of nearly 190-odd UN members, 57 are Islamic countries, so how can there be an irrational fear of Islam. Islamophobia is a tool to keep the Muslims happy. It is a tool of appeasement by the Western countries to keep Muslims under control.