India’s Communal Gamble


What sells best in India? You are mistaken if your answer is other than ‘religion.’ Posters, blowups and stickers depicting religious motifs aimed at stirring up your imagination, mean  a big business in the right direction. Now the sticker doing its round is the one showing the proposed temple to be built at Ayodhya – the place where a 460 year old mosque was pulled down by Hindu zealots. Markets in Delhi and Agra are replete with replicas of the Taj Mahal with the ‘trishul’ (the Hindu trident of divinity) at the pinnacle, replacing the original Islamic crescent on the top of the dome.

The scepter of religion in India has assumed such vitality that under the cover of religion one is at liberty to pull down a monument, erect a monument, set a family ablaze and to indulge in variety of activities antipodal to social living. Co-existence, tolerance and harmony, the hallmark of Indian tradition seems to be unwittingly trampled and destroyed in the name of a modern state that opted to be secular.

While the rest of Asia, rather the world, heads towards glorious free trade market, India dithers between the socialist uncertainties of the 50s and a Hindu militancy dating back to myths and mythology. Never before has there been such a market for Hindu hocus-pocus and saffron clad holy men as now, and nothing is likely to feed that appetite so much as the public breakdown and humiliation of the ideal of secular democracy. 

Forty seven years of  free, democratic and secular India has done little to uphold secularism. Since Independence, not a single year has passed without witnessing widespread Hindu – Muslim violence. Most of the industrially developed Muslim zones like Aligarh, Moradabad, Varanasi, Meerut, Hyderabad and others went aflame at one time or the other. Worse still is the allegation that the police plays a partisan role in further annihilating Muslims. Some years back New York Times carried a special report highlighting extracts from transcripts of Bombay police radio conversation that clearly revealed police participation in arson against the Muslims.

The Muslims are simply terrorized, a frustrated lot burning in anger and despair. The people who once ruled India, now appear to be sinking into a low level with no grip over economic, political or media powers. Dilip Padgaonkar, the editor of Times of India had once remarked that if the situation continues to prevail, soon Muslims will be holding the Quran in one hand and the Klashinkov in the other. Except for Kashmir, militancy among Muslims has not yet crept in but the rhetoric of Hindu brigade seems to be provoking. Hindu leaders have asserted time and again, their pride in Hindu culture and its imposition on everyone living in India. The consequences and reverberations are not confined within the territories of India but it takes into its ambit the neighbouring countries as well. The Hindu extremists have done their best to focus on Muslims as aliens and antagonistic and thus a destructive force. 

Historical Misgivings

History is never far from the surface in contemporary India. Wrong deduction from history and culture is being spread to fan communal hatred. On one hand, according to Marx, India was only an appendage of the British empire. He tells us that India is no nation and it has no history. She is ‘the predestined prey of conquest . .  Indian society has no history at all, atleast no known history. What we call its history, is but the history of successive intruders.’ On the other hand the Hindu fundamentalists use the mythical god, Ram a warrior king whose exploits are illustrated in the Ramayana (the epic) exemplifying the manipulation of Hinduism for political purposes. However, it cannot be denied that for millennium, the religion has been electic, embracing and flexible. It was astonishingly resilient during the Muslim invasions for centuries. Unlike Islam, Hinduism is a not a coherent faith at all but it is a heterogeneous in the extreme. The term ‘Hinduism ‘ is applied to a welter of sects and tradition both great and small, which vary considerably from region to region. There is no single text or historical figure on which Hindus can focus.

The caretakers of Hindu fundamentalism have painted the six centuries of Muslim rule in India as a period of barbarism, temple destruction and oppression on Hindus. Facts have been underplayed or overplayed to make history suit one’s purpose. Muslims have painted Emperor Aurangzeb as a hero while the Hindus have discounted him as a villain and a narrow minded bigot. Historians do not miss any opportunity to mention the destruction of temples at the hands of Aurangzeb but they deliberately ignore the continuation of grants to temples and even the construction of new temples. The Muslim rule and its contributions in the socio-political and economic spheres have been dumped to make way for phoney accusations that widens the Hindu-Muslim gulf further. It cannot be denied that the caste- ridden Hindu society was overnight transformed into a cosmopolitan character with the influx of Muslims. Likewise each sphere of Indian life was influenced if not changed. Indo-Islamic architecture, as the word itself suggests is a unique experience in itself. The Muslims too did not remain unchanged. Indian culture was bound to influence them and no king or courtier was an exception. Had it been a religion based history, no Muslim ruler would have fought or displaced his brother ruler but all major battles of Indian history were fought between Muslims. History books are unmindful of such facts and few mention that on the whole, Muslims were sensitive to their Hindu compatriots. It is not a well known fact that from the start Babur, the first Mughal emperor abolished cow slaughter and it continued upto the last Mughal emperor in 1857 as a gesture of goodwill towards the Hindus. It is equally true that temples were demolished but it was purely a medieval phenomenon where it was a set practice to raze the opponent’s shrine to proclaim sovereignty. ‘History is replete with such examples and did the non-Muslim rulers themselves spare the temples ?

Harshavardhana the seventh century, Hindu ruler, even had a special officer to ‘uproot the gods’ in temples during the battles with his feudatories. 

Monumental disgrace 

Public toilets in Delhi now make use of green tiles. Public buses display an array of stickers aimed at outright challanges and humiliation heaped at the minority. Similar slogans of hatred and communal hayperbole can be seen scribbled on monuments as far as Jaisalmer deserts where hardly a soul survives in the vicinity. Medieval tombs lie desecrated and a good number of Islamic monuments are being dismembered to make way for Hindu institutions. Way back in 1967, June 27 to be precise, the entire area of Ramakrishnapuram Sector V in New Delhi was sealed off under the command of different magistrates and police officers. Around 300 labours were deployed to clear off the mosques and graveyards in the soonest possible time in order to make way for the construction project. Local protest proved futile. Section 295, 296 296a and 297 of the Indian Penal Code remained silent spectators and even the efforts by the late President, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed (the Minister of Wakf), did nothing to save the situation. 

I am not referring to the recent demolition of the Ayodhya mosque that was simply a part of the on-going process under the secular garb of the nation. Had India been sincere about its secular constitution, the mosque would never had been demolished. And even on demolition it would been rebuilt but on the contrary the site has been open to the Hindus for worship.

Today there is hardly any Islamic monument in India, from Taj Mahal to a totally unknown tomb that’s not a subject of controversy between the two communities and why muslims alone ? Bodhgaya, the most sacred place for the Buddhists have been forcibly occupied by the Hindus. There is no denial of the fact that several Muslim monuments were based on Hindu structures but still further it cannot be disproved that an equally good number of these structures were erected by pulling down the members of the Buddhist buildings. Nawab Ziauddin, in a paper to Arachaeoligical Survey of Delhi, had rightly pointed out -‘No strong proof can be adduced except the builder were to rise from the dead and attest his own work on oath.’

Tourists who visited Delhi a decade ago will be surprised today to find a 30 ton granite statue being imposed on Mehrauli, the first of the seven cities of Delhi, which is akin to a landscape strewn with relics of Muslim centuries of Indian history. Those who have roamed about the area of the famous Qutb Minar will attest to a graceful remnant of an old stonework that stood on the high ground now called Ahimsa Sthal. It was a gateway to something which is no longer there – two circular bastions flanking it on both sides, made the gate impressive when first seen from a distance. Archaeologists believe that the gateway was to the hunting lodge of Sultan Altamash, the second Muslim ruler of India (1211-36). 

The gateway of Altamash’s hunting lodge was deliberately pulled down stone by stone, to make way for 11.5 metre high pink granite statue of Mahavira. For sometime the Mahavira statue co-existed with and was in fact dominated by Altamash’s gateway. It looked very odd indeed. The statue was initially installed facing the west, like the gate. All that was a part of the modus operadi of the designers of Ahimsa Sthal. They soon started dismantling Atamash’s bastions and the gate from the rear. The gate finally disappeared and then Mahavira’s statue was turned at a right angle, to face north. 

Parallel to the statue on an elevated platform lies a tomb with its grave ripped apart. Forts, mosques, gateways, tombs built by medieval rulers suffer a common ailment “erection of a pseudo construction,” if not a full fledged temple in close vicinity to the structure. Even a secular structure like the Charminar has a mini temple attached to it. 

Not content with the utter disregard for monuments, the Hindu fanatics are trying to change the place names like Lucknow, Allahabad, Mughalsarai and so on. 

Appeasement Myth 

Those who champion the cause of Hinduism are steeped in misconceptions like Muslims are outnumbering Hindus, polygamy is rampant among Muslims, a pampered minority, Muslims are less patriotic, and so on. 

Stark statistics reveal, altogether, a different scenario. The Muslim birth rate is marginally higher than that of the Hindus. Contrary to clinched perceptions, the Muslim is less likely than the Hindu to taking more than one wife. Had the community been pampered, wouldn’t it have been reflected in its socio economic status; Latest census figures place the Muslim population at 12% but it is surprising that Muslim representation in the armed forces and public sector undertakings is in no way proportionate with their population ratio. On account of being educationally deficient they found it difficult to enter the civil services but the minority finds no place even in class IV jobs ! There isn’t a single industrial house which figures among the country’s top 100.

With the passage of time it is now getting more and more difficult to be a Muslim without being in some way less equal than other citizens. The notion stems from the belief that they owe allegiance to Pakistan and consequently are suspected of treachery to India. The most commonly quoted example is the cricket scenario, where Muslims are looked down upon for cheering Pakistan. But can it be ignored that the Hindu community is no less happy with Pakistan’s defeat ? It is linked to psychology rather than fact which cannot be adequately substantiated.

Muslims in India face triple jeopardy – first at the hands of his own co-religionists, religious opponents and then the police. If a prominent Muslim figure is approached by a fellow Muslim for the redress of a wrong the supplicant is straightaway turned out due to the fear of accusation of partisanship. Muslim organisations and business houses, in order to demonstrate their secular circle prefer to employ more Hindus rather than Muslims. During communal riots, the Muslim plea has always been for the removal of the police from the scene so that their suffering are not added further. In some places, riots are checked within hours while other places continue to burn for weeks inspite of the presence of the Defence Minister !!

The communal divide gets a fresh spur each time when a wrong committed in India is linked to Pakistan. A blast in India and the immediate accusation is towards Pakistan. Destruction of a temple in India is a problem of India and India alone, asserts the government and the same yardstick should be applied to refrain from asking the neighbours to prevent the temple destruction. All beef eaters in India are termed as Pakistanis. If one is really serious about beef, we should stop the export of beef in the first place and secondly, check the adulteration of vegetable oil with beef tallow and moreover be concerned about the abandoned cows.

If we are not able to check the communal menace, we are at fault, our administration is at fault. Trying to find a scapegoat is a political trickery. The need for personal endeavour to redress wrongs has arisen unfortunately from the state’s unwillingness and inability to do this.

Political Will 

It is erroneous to blame or hold the BJP or any other political party responsible for the destruction of the medieval mosque and fanning the flames of communalism. Within 30 months of Independence, the barely used Babri mosque had been violated by a Hindu mob which installed idols in what they insisted was the birth place of their god, Ram. Thereafter the building was locked and put under guard, while Muslim and Hindu groups engaged in endless litigation about ownership.

The position became worse in 1986 when the Rajiv Gandhi government (Congress) ordered the temple to be reopened in order to get political expediency, although the matter was pending adjudication. The current crisis has been compounded by the Congress government’s flawed tactics and its half hearted punitive action. 

The BJP took up the temple cause and pleaded for the temple construction by replacing the mosque. It worked like a dream and it took a mad turn on December 6, 1992 when the mosque was demolished right before the custodians of law. The central government blamed the state government and vice versa.  The government remained a silent spectator so long the mosque was being demolished. Communal clashes followed and the partisan role of the government and the police became an established fact. The culprits and conspirators were at large, exchanging the stones of the mosque as a momento and it was only to pacify the people that some leaders were detained summarily. 

The Congress and BJP worked hand in glove. The voice of liberation for Hindu sites like Ayodhya, Mathura, Varanasi is not an overnight BJP or VHP demand. It had been renting the air since long and once it was the diabolical deed of the Congress leaders who championed the cause and dedicated it to the VHP. It cannot be ignored that major riots and carnages in independent India have taken place mostly under Congress regimes in various states.

The resilience of Indian political culture has survived and absorbed many crises in the past and refuted many sceptics in the past but now the question on the forefront is “should we still discount the recent events as a cyclic spin of violence or is it a fresh chapter in the prelude of new escalations?”

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