India at 60:Time To Ponder Hindu-Muslim Relations
Syed Ali Mujtaba
On August 15, 2007, India celebrates its 60th year of Independence. The day also marks the beginning of the centenary celebrations of India’s first war of Independence in 1857. These two events undoubtedly have a symbiotic relationship as far as national independence is concerned, but it also throws open a challenging question about Hindu- Muslim relationship that has drifted apart during the course of ninety years of history.
Why the two prominent communities of India, the Hindus and Muslims in 1857 joined hands in the carnival of rebellion (Gadhar) and formed a united front to dislodge a colonial authority? Why this spirit of freedom was missing just 90 years after that event? What dramatically happened in the interim period that Hindus and Muslims became thirsty for each others blood? Why some Muslims refused to live in a united India? Why those Muslims who preferred India as their motherland been subjected to all kind of hardships. Why even after sixty years after independence, the social relationship between the two communities has not improved to the level of 1857.
As we see even sixty years after independence India remains a theatre of Hindu–Muslim communal conflict. On one hand, our country is making great strides in different spheres of activities, on the other; the immitigable social tensions mocks at our national growth. The nation has totally failed to weave the complex mosaic of social diversity into a national unity.
As Indians we owe a collective responsibility to search our souls and seek answers to some very uncomfortable questions. Have we tabulated how many lives have been perished in the Hindu- Muslim communal conflict since our Independence? How much property has been destroyed in this orchestrated communal madness? Has any one received any compensation for the loss of life and property? Has any one been punished for such hate crimes? Why Muslims are becoming poorer in their own motherland? Is there any deliberate design going on to supplant Muslim’s income and wealth, intellect and wisdom and reduce them as unequal citizen of the country?
As a nation at sixty we have to ponder over theses quries and ask ourselves; do we want to continue the way Hindu- Muslim relationship has been panning out since Independence or we need to do something radically different to create an arena of social harmony and peaceful co existence in the country.
The genesis of the Hindu- Muslim communal divide lies in the advent of the ballot box democracy in the early 20th century. Ever since power came to be defined in terms simple majorities, the unities that were earlier formed on the basis of class and economic criterion came to be redefined in terms in communal terms. In an effort to capture wealth, power and position, religion came handy to orchestrate the process of political mobilization. The communities that united on class lines in 1857 started drifting apart because the politics of the day compelled them to unite in order to gain political and economic clout. As a result the common history of peaceful coexistence was given a go by and those followed different faith become adversaries in this game of self aggrandisement.
In the run up to the national independence, during the course of two decades of political negotiations, there had been any number of opportunities to plug the growing chasm between the Hindu and the Muslim community of India. However, the leadership of the day betrayed its own people for their own political power and position and left the communal rigmarole unsorted till the end. This resulted in the Partition of the country.
After independence, we see this divide has further been accentuating. The periodic eruption of communal riots is a testimony to this fact. The political mobilization continues to be in religious lines and the citizens are being reduced to being vote banks because they belong to certain caste and religion. The political and economic competition among them adds up this phenomenon. In the last sixty years, there is hardly any attempt being made to arrest this growing divide. On the contrary we witness every effort is on to accentuate such feelings.
The nation at sixty needs to ponder how to improve the Hindu-Muslim relations and to my mind, the foremost thing that should be done is to combat the campaign that redefines nationalism in terms of religious majority. This diabolical campaign is the key to the acrimonious Hindu –Muslim relationship. This is also one of the main reasons for nurturing separatists’ tendencies among the Muslims in India. To arrest this cynical design, a blitzkrieg campaign should be launched that “India does not belong to Hindus alone.” This will instil minorities’ faith in the Indian nationhood and silence million mutinies growing in them.
The fall out of the jingoistic religious nationalism also unstitches the wound of Partition of India. As a nation we owe a collective responsibility to heal the Partition wounds of the subcontinent. The key to this is to stop hate mongering and build a peaceful relationship with Pakistan. We have seen whenever relations between India and Pakistan have improved; there has been a corresponding improvement in the relationship between the Hindus and Muslims in the country. So improving relationship with Pakistan is one of the many ways to bridge the communal divide in the country.
The other way to create Hindu-Muslim harmony is to stop the dangerous trend of political mobilization on communal lines. The election commission has to asses and monitor the role pf political parties who are inflaming the electorates on the basis of religion. Freedom of expression does not means a license to abuse other community and any one who tries to do so should be given exemplary punishment. There should be no tolerance shown towards character like Tagodias, Thakreys, Bhartis, Modis and Bhukharies who are openly perpetrating hate among communities. The conspiracy of silence towards them on our part would tend to endorse their narcissist ideology.
Then, the political parties should give adequate representation to the people belonging to Muslim community and nurture their leaders in their organization. This would not only build faith of the Muslims in the Indian democracy but also improve social relationship between the two communities.
It is alleged that the minorities in India are denied basic citizenship rights. This discrimination is being felt at different levels; getting admission in schools, finding jobs, finding housing and many other spheres of social activities. There is urgent need for the Non Governmental Organisation and secular citizens to step in and launch a campaign for equal citizenship rights. This will help erasing the real or imagined misperception among minorities and help promote social and national unity
There is need for administrative commitment at the governmental level to stop the eruption of the communal riots in the country. The government should be firm that any one playing with life and liberty of the people of the nation would be given exemplary punishment. There should not be any room for thinking that while the perpetrators of the 1993 Mumbai blasts are sent to the gallows; those who were party to the destruction of the Babari Masjid and the subsequent Mumbai communal riots are left to roam free because they belong to the Hindu community. Such double standards breeds alienation among the minorities and should be alleyed by giving punishment whoever is a criminal.
The Sachar Commission report has graphically brought out the plight of the Indian Muslim community. It has held successive governments and the entire social system responsible for this sorry state of affairs. The Commission has recommended certain specific policies and programmes for the upliftment of the Muslim community and the government has to make efforts to effectively implement its recommendations.
The Sachar commission has also suggested that apart from the government's initiative, it’s the responsibility of the private sector to accommodate the members belonging to the minority community in the growing economy of India. The Hindu community has to realise the futility of discriminating the Muslims on the religious ground and should provide them economic cushion to integrate them in the society. Such thinking would go a long way in instilling confidence to the minority community in the Indian dream that’ dawned since the economic liberalisation of the country.
The role of the NGOs in bridging the communal gap is also very seminal. The NGOs should make efforts to develop secular platforms where inter- faith communities could interact. They should create opportunities where Hindu- Muslims can meet, alley mistrust and forge real friendship. This could be done, by promoting secular and national festivals on par with religious festivals. August 15, January 26, March 2 can be converted as days of national festivals to propagate the idea of national peace and social harmony.
Last but not the least, there is a great deal of responsibilities that lies on the Indian Muslim community as well. They should shun their minority complex and detest seeing every thing as religious discrimination. They should not fall prey to the vote bank politics and should support parties on the basis of the work done for their development.
A true Muslim is a paragon of virtues. In our country, there has been a tradition when ever dispute crop up between the two parties belonging to the Hindu community, a Muslim is brought to solve such dispute. This is because both parties have faith in this person because his decisions will be just since he is answerable to his deeds after his death. Unfortunately, Indian Muslims have been falling short of the standards set by their forefathers in this country. There is urgent need on their part to do some soul searching and make efforts to do their best for promoting religious harmony in the country. India at sixty needs to rejoice and ponder at the same time…
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai, India. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org