Since Muharram has started, I may mention an incident connected with it.
Once in the reign of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Avadh, the capital of which was Lucknow, Muharram and Holi fell on the same day. Muharram is an occasion of ghami or sorrow (for Imam Husain, grandson of the Prophet and his 72 followers who were killed in the battle of Karbala by the forces of the tyrant Yazid) while Holi is an occasion of celebration (the festival of colours, marking the beginning of spring).
The Hindus of Lucknow decided not to celebrate Holi that year out of respect for the sentiments of their Muslim brothers and sisters, who were in grief.
The Nawab took out the tazia from the Bada Imambada in Lucknow in a procession and buried it in Karbala, a site in Lucknow with the same name as the place where Imam Husain was martyred. Having done so, he asked why people were not playing Holi. After being told the reason, the Nawab said that since our Hindu brethren have respected the sentiments of the Muslims, it is also the duty of the Muslims to respect the sentiments of Hindus, and declared that Holi must be played the same day. He was the first to start playing Holi and it was played all over Avadh by both Hindus and Muslims, although it was also Muharram.
In fact, there were no communal riots in India up to 1857. Hindus and Muslims lived like brothers and sisters in harmony, helping each other in times of need. Hindus used to take part in Eid and Muharram, and Muslims in Holi and Diwali. The communal virus was injected into our body politic by the British after suppressing the Sepoy Mutiny, in which Hindus and Muslims fought together against the British. The British rulers knew that they could control India only by the policy of divide and rule.
As India is a country of great diversity, a country of immigrants like North America (about 92-93 per cent of today's Indians are descendants of immigrants), it is absolutely essential that all communities and sects, whether religious, lingual, ethnic or regional, must be given equal respect if we wish to keep our country united and take it on the path of progress. This was the policy of our great Emperors Ashok and Akbar who gave equal respect to all.
Justice Markandey Katju retired from the Supreme Court in 2011
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author's and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of THE WEEK