Representative Image (Source: @UdayMahurkar/Twitter)
A recent comment by US President Donald Trump calling Kashmir a religious issue between Hindus and Muslims drew ire from the Indian intellectuals.
The assumption is that the recognition of any Hindu-Muslim problem (any problem where Hindus aren’t the perpetrators) lends credence to the two nation theory.
As we shall discuss later, this assumption stems from a soft bigotry against Indian Muslims. However, a result of this assumption is India’s ostrich-like behaviour towards geopolitical realities.
Pakistan’s failure to keep together its East Pakistani (now Bangladeshi) brothers, continued sectarian conflicts, poor economic development, failure of democracy etc do reflect the failure of the two-nation theory on which the Islamic republic was founded.
However, that the two-nation theory has failed doesn’t mean it’s dead and India no longer needs to deal with it.
In the aftermath of abrogation of special status of Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan unleashed a new storm of Hindu hatred, an issue that remains unaddressed by India or any other country in the world.
India has traditionally shied away from speaking up against persecution of Indic communities despite being the only nation in the world with a Hindu-majority, and having the moral strength of an tolerant ancient civilisation that welcomed and accepted Abrahamic religions coming to its shores.
Hindus continue to face discrimination in different countries based on their religious identity. Whether it is Muslims targeting Hindus in Malaysia, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, or Christians targeting them in Fiji, United States, Trinidad and Tobago, India failed to confront Hindu persecution directly.
Today there are 15 nations that officially identify themselves as Christian states. Many others have state churches. The list includes Argentina, Iceland, Denmark, England, and Greece. In most of the developed world, Christianity is the religion of the majority and Church continues to play important role. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation with its stated goal to preserve Islamic social and economic values has 57 member-states. Religious institutions continue to influence foreign policy decisions in these countries.
On the other hand, India is the only country in the world with majority Hindu population and the highest population of Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and other indigenous faiths in the world. Yet, India failed to speak up for Indic communities facing persecution across the world, much less formulating a stable asylum/refugee policy for the victims.
While these were the cases where India wasn’t in direct conflict with the countries where the persecution happened, what is surprising is that even when directly confronted by a country that openly proclaims Hindu hatred as the motivating force of its foreign policy posture and rubs it in India’s face, India still chooses to play deaf and dumb.
Call a spade a spade
If India wants the world to take its charge of Pakistan as the mother of terrorism seriously, it has to stop not seeing the forest for the trees, and directly address the long history of Hindu hatred in the subcontinent that fuels Pakistan’s attitude towards India.
Pakistan has never shied away from declaring its motivations. Its Kashmir rhetoric is filled with radical Islamic idioms and historical massacre and genocide of Hindus.
Unless India exposes the deep-seated Hindu hatred that drives Pakistan’s use of terrorism to the extend of self-harm, the world will continue to take it not-so-seriously.
If not exposed for its genocidal ultimate goal of annihilation of the Dar-al-Harb, the bastion of polytheists, by Ghazwa-e-Hind, and establishment of a glorious Islamic nation by subjugation of Hindus, terrorism by Pakistan will be seen by the world as yet another political instrument that even United States used against USSR.
India needs to directly address the driving ideology of Pakistan, and expose the Madrassa-terrorist-government-army nexus that is behind Pakistan’s open call for Jihad against ‘Hindu India’.
The Madrassas provide the social base, government the political front, army and terrorists the chief executor of the Islamist ideology. Across the border, the ideology manifests as cross-border terrorism. Within its borders, Pakistan has institutionalised and normalised terrorising its non-Muslim citizens.
Minor Hindu, Sikh girls are routinely abducted, forcibly converted to Islam, and married off to older men, and all this happens with the blessings of powerful Muslims clerics while Pakistan government at best is the mute spectator.
It is nothing short of appalling that despite having borne the brunt of Partition, India has chosen to ignore the plight of Indic communities in Pakistan. That the civilisational homeland of these people fails to raise voice for them only tells the world how dispensable and cheap Hindu lives are.
The root of the problem
The reason India has consistently failed in protecting Indic communities globally is the flawed secularism model it has adopted domestically.
Charity begins at home, and if India cannot address its own history of centuries of Hindu persecution and chooses to simply purge it from all textbooks, what right does it have to question the same in other countries?
Successive Indian governments’ failure to raise the issue of Hindu persecution is premised over the assumption that Indian Muslims would take an exception to it. Such thinking, propagated and promoted by Congress party, loomed large in all its policies.
India’s foreign relations with Israel were a no-starter for the same reason – that the Congress party believed that Indian Muslims would punish it in elections for courting Israel (This was subsequently proven baseless by a research into Indian Muslims’ voting behaviour).
Only yesterday, Tahir Mahmood, former member of Law Commission wrote an article in Indian Express detailing how the Law Commission of India, while preparing several reports on Hindu and Christian personal law, never touched the subject of Muslim personal law. The reason, author gives, in the words of Congress leader Mani Shankar Iyer, “What faith will the minorities have in the pronouncements of an all-Hindu Law Commission?” (Confessions of a Secular Fundamentalist, 2004).
Mahmood further states that even when the Commission was was 50 per cent Muslim, the community still did not have “faith” in it.
Regarding his work on the subject as a member of the commission, Mehmood says: Three of the four reports written by me for the commission were criticised by Muslim clerics for their indirect “adverse effect” on the community’s supposedly sacrosanct law and my learned chairman shied away, for fear of a “backlash”, from endorsing my fourth report, seen as directly touching the Muslim law.
While the Constitution of India provided for a legal framework for a multicultural nation, neither the national leadership was able to heal the wounds of Partition, nor it was able to build a fair and acceptable social compact between Hindus and Muslims.
While India rejected Muslim League’s leadership as communal, it continued to appease and promote Muslim regressive and communal elements in India, in effect maintaining their primacy in the community.
Similarly, India rejected two-nation theory on paper, but continued with Muslim League’s assumption that Islam and politics can never be separate for Muslims, and therefore, any integration process has to be led by the clerics, who are the sole legitimate voice of the community.
India’s silence on the plight of Hindus worldwide is also premised on the bigoted notion that Indian Muslims cannot stand up for their Hindu brethren anywhere in the world, if the atrocities committed are in the name of Islam.
The soft bigotry of low expectations towards Indian Muslims, that they cannot accept historical Hindu persecution as wrong since it was done in the name of Islam not only denies the opportunity to the Hindu community to heal and get past it, but also creates an atmosphere of confusion and distrust.
What is the new social compact that will avert another Partition-like event? What are the terms of engagement of Hindus and Muslims in India – what are the common minimum expectations that each side considers fair, accepts, and fulfils in order to co-exist and integrate? All these questions remain unanswered.
Those who are too quick to answer “Constitution of India” should remember that, one, Constitution is an extremely complex, jargon-filled text produced by the elites, which cannot substitute for a broad-based social understanding. To this day, its percolation in common people’s lives remains low; second, even the Constitution of India left the matter of secularism quite ambiguous; and third, Constitution itself is an organic document supposed to evolve with society, not a top-down divine word set in stone that automatically begets people’s allegiance.
The communist thought that dominated India after independence believed in historical materialism. The expectation was that fast economic progress will wean people off the ‘opium’ of the religion, and automatically solve the problem of communalism. Meanwhile, the bedrock of ancient Indian tradition of tolerance for diverse faiths was expected to hold everything together.
Therefore, extra-attention was paid to Hindu communalism, while Muslim communalism was ignored. State historian Bipan Chandra devotes two chapter of his book India after Independence to communalism, and not a single paragraph is devoted to exploring Muslim communalism, a pattern replicated by many scholars.
Here again, the bigotry was at play. The assumption was that any question raised on Muslim communalism can only lead to another partition, as any question, even remotely pointed towards Islam, will not be entertained by the Muslims.
Muslims were deemed incapable of agreeing to equal terms, while Hindus were morally bound to accede special treatment to minorities- and holding together this scheme was the threat of partition, a clearly unsustainable arrangement.
Hinduism, which was open, decentralised and plural, saw increasing interference of state, so much so that all the major Hindu temples today are under control of the government, while taxpayers’ money is used to fund Islamic education in Madrassas and other minority educational institutions.
Flawed model of secularism
The catch lies in the western model of secularism whose framework was imposed mindlessly in India.
In the west, Church was an organised, centralised, hierarchical institution that had traditionally played an important role in politics.
The model of secularism in the west is the result of tussle between the two competing institutions- Church and the political leadership which ultimately ended in both agreeing to not interfere in each others’ affairs. Church could continue its activity unbarred in the private domain while the government would keep itself restricted to law and order.
The above model of secularism was, by design, biased towards more organised, centralised and monotheistic Abrahamic faiths. India’s constitution-makers should have taken into consideration its own history before adopting it.
Indian constitution not only provided the minority religious institutions a free hand in continuing the religious notions and practices historically used against Hindus but also directed the state to subsidise the same through taxpayers’ money!
On the other hand, Hinduism was increasingly brought under state-control. The Constitution of India justified state-interference for social reform among Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists, but provides no such provision for Muslims and Christians.
Today, casteism embedded in Idli-Dosa can be discussed but the plight of Muslim women suffering Female Genital Mutilation remains a non-issue. The constitutional principles of equality and dignity that the honourable Supreme Court of India can invoke in Sabarimala case cannot be invoked in the case of Triple Talaq, instead the court turns to Quran and Islamic jurisprudence.
Recently, during Ayodhya Ram temple case hearing, Justice Chandrachud said that while Musilms cannot pray to anyone else but Allah, Hinduism says whatever you worship ultimately reaches the same one power. Hinduism in that sense is different, Hindus can worship in a place where Namaz is offered.
Therefore, many thought that the statement implied that the structure should be a mosque instead of a temple, because Hindus can go in a mosque and pray while Muslims cannot go to temple and do the same.
Above examples make it starkly clear that Indic religions were punished for tolerance, decentralisation and openness, while recalcitrance on religious issues was rewarded.
In line with this approach, old rhetoric and idioms of Hindu persecution – the hatred against polytheists and idol – worshippers continues unabashedly, and in fact, is widely perceived as a right protected by the Constitution.
Islamic preacher Zakir Naik, who is banned from giving public speeches even in Muslim-majority nation of Malaysia, used to spew hateful and ignorant claims against Hindus on national television with impunity.
Christian missionaries continue to openly ridicule Hindu scriptures and deities, and as recently as last November, a prominent Christian priest of Tamil Nadu asked his flock to “punch Hindus in the face”, that there is “no such thing as Hinduism”. The pastor said the Christian will get forgiveness from God later if they beat up Hindus and make them bleed.
As if this wasn’t enough, purging out the history of Hindu persecution also meant that anti-Hindu prejudices continued to be a part of the school textbook. The narrative of the bigoted conquerors, that Hindus were so fallen and backward that they deserved to be killed, if not justified, was silently accepted by the textbooks.
The model of secularism adopted by Indian state, therefore, thoroughly poisoned the social fabric of India. The wounds of the past weren’t allowed to heal, and the same rhetoric filled with Hindu-hate continued. While Partition was over, the concepts and principles that caused Partition were well alive, and even thrived with state support.
Hindus increasingly felt like they were in a hostage-situation, if they didn’t behave as expected, if they didn’t agree to terms that were perceived as unfair and insensitive to their history, the esteemed guests in the country, the erstwhile ruling class (or their allies) will secede, carving out a portion of India for themselves.
Meanwhile, communists who touted themselves as the conscience keepers of the not-sufficiently-communist government of India, had themselves turned to identity politics. This closed all the possibilities of healing and conciliation, a significant price of which was paid by the minorities themselves.
Paradigmatic shift is needed
India has an opportunity today for course correction. It is high time that the country starts a broad based conversation on historical Hindu persecution and continued prejudice and hatred against polytheists and idol-worshippers.
The acknowledgement of Hindu persecution will lead to healing, which in turn will lead to forgiveness. This will prepare the ground for a stable social compact.
Both Hindus and Muslims today are ready and willing to get past the past, towards a better future. Now it is up to the political and academic elites, if they can gather the moral-intellectual courage required to acknowledge and move ahead of their past mistakes.
As Rajeev Bhargava has said:
The relevant question is not whether or not to forgive but rather under what conditions is forgiveness appropriate. And the answer is: only when it restores the self-respect of victims. And when can that happen? Only when perpetrators publicly acknowledge their wrongdoing, distance themselves from the wrongful act, and join victims in condemning their own past actions.