Indians must defeat all those elements that promote and thrive on religious hatred
Though many Hindus and Muslims in India are today infected by the virus of communalism, the fact is that before 1857 there was no communal feeling at all in most Indians. There were, no doubt, some differences between Hindus and Muslims, but there was no animosity. Hindus used to join Muslims in celebrating Eid, Muslims used to join Hindus in celebrating Holi and Diwali, and they lived together like brothers and sisters.
How is it that around 150 years later, suspicion, if not animosity, has developed between the two major religious communities on our subcontinent? Today, Muslims in India find it difficult to get a house on rent from Hindus. When a bomb blast takes place in India the police, incapable of catching the real culprits (because they have no training in scientific investigation), ‘solve’ the crime by arresting half-a-dozen Muslims. Most of them are ultimately found innocent in a court of law, but after spending many years in jail.
This has resulted in tremendous alienation among Muslims in India. In Pakistan, things are even worse for the minorities who often live in a state of terror, scared of extremists and religious bigots.
1857 is the watershed year in the history of communal relations in India. Before 1857, there was no communal problem, no communal riot. It is true there were differences between Hindus and Muslims, but then there are differences even between two sons or daughters of the same father. Hindus and Muslims lived peacefully, and invariably helped each other in times of difficulty.
No doubt, Muslims who invaded India broke a lot of temples. But their descendants, who became local Muslim rulers, almost all fostered communal harmony. This they did in their own interest, because the vast majority of their subjects were Hindus. They knew that if they broke Hindu temples, there would be turbulence and riots, which no ruler wants. Hence almost all the Muslim rulers in India promoted communal harmony — the Mughals, the Nawabs of Awadh, Murshidabad or Arcot, Tipu Sultan or the Nizam of Hyderabad.
In 1857, the First Indian War of Independence broke out, in which Hindus and Muslims jointly fought against the British. After suppressing the revolt, the British decided that the only way to control India was to divide and rule. Thus, the Secretary of State for India, Sir Charles Wood, in a letter to the Viceroy, Lord Elgin, in 1862 wrote, “We have maintained our power in India by playing off one community against the other and we must continue to do so. Do all you can, therefore, to prevent all having a common feeling.”
Divide and rule
In a letter dated January 14, 1887, Secretary of State Viscount Cross wrote to Governor General Dufferin: “This division of religious feeling is greatly to our advantage and I look forward for some good as a result of your Committee of Inquiry on Indian Education and on teaching material.”
George Hamilton, Secretary of State for India wrote to Curzon, the Governor General: “I think the real danger to our rule in India … is the gradual adoption and extension of Western ideas … and if we could break educated Indians into two sections [Hindus and Muslims] … we should, by such a division, strengthen our position against the subtle and continuous attack which the spread of education must make upon our system of government. We should so plan education textbooks that the differences between the two communities are further enhanced.”
Thus, after 1857, a deliberate policy was started of generating hatred between Hindus and Muslims. This was done in a number of ways.
Religious leaders bribed to speak against the other community: The English Collector would secretly call the Panditji, and give him money to speak against Muslims, and similarly he would secretly call the Maulvi and pay him money to speak against Hindus.
History books distorted to generate communal hatred: As already mentioned, it is true that the initial Muslim invaders broke a lot of Hindu temples. However, their descendants (like Akbar, who was the descendant of the invader Babur) who were local Muslims rulers, far from breaking temples, regularly gave grants to Hindu temples, organised Ram Lilas and participated in Holi and Diwali (like the Nawabs of Awadh, Murshidabad and Arcot). This second part of our history, namely, that the descendants of the Muslim invaders, almost all, promoted communal harmony, has been totally suppressed from our history books. Our children are only taught that Mahmud of Ghazni broke the Somnath Temple, but they are not taught that the Mughal emperors, Tipu Sultan, etc., used to give grants to Hindu temples and celebrate Hindu festivals (see online ‘History in the Service of Imperialism’ by B.N. Pande).
Communal riots deliberately instigated: All communal riots began after 1857; there was none before that year. Agent provocateurs deliberately instigated religious hatred in a variety of ways e.g., by playing music before a mosque at prayer time, or breaking Hindu idols.
This poison was systematically injected by the British rulers into our body politic year after year, decade after decade, until it resulted in the Partition of 1947. We still have nefarious elements that promote and thrive on religious hatred.
Whenever a bomb blast takes place, many television news channels start saying that an email or SMS has been received claiming that the Indian Mujahideen, the Jaish-e-Muhammad, or the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al- Islamia has owned responsibility. Now an email or an SMS message can be sent by any mischievous person, but by showing this on TV and the next day in print a subtle impression is created in Hindu minds that all Muslims are terrorists who throw bombs (when the truth is that 99 per cent of all communities are peace loving and good).
During the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi agitation, a section of the media (particularly the Hindi print media) became kar sevaks.
Panic in Bangalore
Recently, SMS messages were sent to northeast Indians living in Bangalore and other cities stating that they had killed Muslims in Assam and so they had better get out of Bangalore otherwise they would be massacred. This created panic. When the Muslims of Bangalore came to know of this mischief, they organised a feast for the northeast Indians and told them that someone had played mischief, and that Muslims are not against the people from the northeast.
It is time Indians saw through this nefarious game of certain vested interests. India is a country of great diversity, and so the only path to unity and prosperity is equal respect for all communities and sections of society. This was the path shown by our great Emperor Akbar (who, along with Ashoka, was in my opinion the greatest ruler the world has ever seen), who gave equal respect to all communities (see online my judgment Hinsa Virodhak Sangh Vs. Mirzapur Moti Kuresh Jamat).
When India became independent in 1947, religious passions were inflamed. There must have been tremendous pressure on Pandit Nehru and his colleagues to declare India a Hindu state, since Pakistan had declared itself an Islamic state. It was the greatness of our leaders that they kept a cool head and said India would not be a Hindu state but would be a secular state. That is why, relatively speaking, India is much better off in every way as compared to our neighbour.
Secularism does not mean that one cannot practise one’s religion. Secularism means that religion is a private affair unconnected with the state, which will have no religion. In my opinion, secularism is the only policy which can hold our country together and take it to the path of prosperity.
(Markandey Katju is a retired judge of the Supreme Court and Chairperson of the Press Council of India)