Comment

A Hindu-Muslim dialogue without conditions

In what has been widely perceived as a gesture of conciliation towards Muslims, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat said in a recent speech that Hindus lynching minorities for cow slaughter were acting against Hindutva, and those asserting that Muslims have no place in India were not Hindus. He also tried to allay Muslim fears about the bleak future of Islam in India saying the religion was not in danger, and asked Muslims to help the RSS in making the country a world leader (vishwaguru) on the basis of the fact that all Indians, being the descendants of common ancestors from the last 40,000 years, have the same DNA.

The viewpoints

Muslim opinion makers either brushed off Mr. Bhagwat’s remarks as “mere rhetoric” because “RSS leaders often spoke with a forked tongue”, or tried to mollify him by saying that “if there is someone who can initiate perestroika in the RSS, it is Bhagwat” because, “in a gradual manner he has been trying to change the Sangh’s attitude towards Muslims”.

 

If the untenability of the first viewpoint is based on a dismissive distrust of the RSS, the second amounts to nothing more than complaisant backslapping. Such facile responses, to say the least, exude an attitude that is not conducive to a genuine Hindu-Muslim dialogue the RSS chief hopes to initiate.

To his credit, the RSS chief spoke with an open mind and wanted the mistrust (avishwaas) between Hindus and Muslims to be understood and dispelled in an atmosphere of forthright outspokenness (khari khari baat ko jaisa hai waisa samajna). However, communal unity (ekta) through such a dialogue was possible only if Muslims acknowledge India as their motherland; accept its traditions and culture (parampara, sanskriti), and honour their common ancestors (samaan purvaj).

Mr. Bhagwat virtually rendered these three prerequisites a sine quo non for establishing one’s Indianness with the condescending summation: baaqi hamaare yahaan sab swatantrata hai (there is freedom for everything else in our land).

 

A melding

This attempt to meld Indianness and Hinduness together is eerily similar to V.D. Savarkar’s credo which defines a Hindu as one who regards the entire subcontinent as his fatherland (pitrubhu); descended of Hindu parents, and considers this land holy (punyabhu). For Savarkar these three conditions signified a common nation (rashtra), a common race (jati) and a common culture (sanskriti), respectively, and together they form the foundation on which Hindutva rests.

Several assertions of Mr. Bhagwat reflected this attitude. For instance, his full statement on cow vigilantism was Hindustan Hindu Rashtra hai, gaumata pujya hai; lekin lynching karne waale yeh Hindutva ke khilaf jaarahe hain (India is a Hindu nation, the cow is worthy of worship; but the lynchers are going against Hindutva).

 

He also quoted the RSS founder K.B. Hedgewar as stating that Hindus were wrong in blaming the British and the Muslims for their pitiable state (durwasta) because, despite being the owners (maalik) of their country, and their large numbers, if Hindus could be reduced to such a state then there must be some shortcoming (kami) in them that needs to be addressed.

This, Mr. Bhagwat said, is how the RSS conceptualises the situation and therefore, in its view the minorities are not the reason for the miserable condition of the Hindus in a Hindu country (Hinduon ke desh mein).

Portraiture of India

Had the Muslim commentators listened to Mr. Bhagwat’s 34-minute speech made in Ghaziabad — instead of relying on selective versions of it publicised by the media — they would perhaps have challenged, in the spirit of the candidness he suggested, the portraiture of India as indigenously Hindu with a non-native Muslim population.

 

Nonetheless, was Mr. Bhagwat trying to say that Muslims, even if they are “our own brethren” (hamaare apne bhai) now, are outsiders?

But he did want the people to know that Islam’s entry into India was aggressive (woh aakramakon se saath aaya), but even so, all those who came to our land are still here coexisting peacefully (hamaare yahaan jojo aaya hai woh aaj bhi maujood hai).

Islam in the subcontinent

Mr. Bhagwat should have known that Islam in the subcontinent predates the forays of invaders such as Mahmud of Ghazni, Muhammad Ghori, and Muhammad bin Qasim who captured Sindh and Multan from Raja Dahir around 711 CE. It was around 630 CE that Islamised Arab merchants started arriving in the coastal regions of Konkan-Gujarat and Malabar in continuation of the trade links they had with India from pre-Islamic times. The cordiality of this transactive relationship was such that it resulted in the spread of Islamic culture and religion in India.

Thus, most Indian Muslims today are the descendants of the locals who converted to Islam and, therefore, they have always considered India their motherland and respected it traditions, culture, and diversity. The ultimate proof of this patriotism was demonstrated when they chose India over Pakistan after Partition.

 

But it would be unfair to expect this loyalism to be rooted in the subliminal recognition of an autochthonous Indian race that magnanimously “accommodated” them. For there is no evidence to show that such a race existed in India, nor are the Muslims aliens.

Researcher Tony Joseph, in his engrossing book Early Indians: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From and subsequent articles, has shown that Indians are a multi-source civilisation who draw their cultural impulses, traditions and practices from a variety of heredities and migration histories. He calls the earliest direct ancestors of people living in India today, the ‘First Indians’. They were the descendants of the Out of Africa (OoA) migrants who arrived here about 65,000 years ago. The First Indians were later joined by Zagrosian herders from Iran with whom they formed the Harappan civilisation.

 

After 2000 BCE came the Aryans, the Austroasiatic and Tibeto-Burman-language speakers, and, much later, the Greeks, the Jews, the Huns, the Sakas, the Parsis, the Syrians, the Mughals, the Portuguese, the British, the Siddis — all of whom left small marks all over the subcontinent.

In short, says Mr. Joseph, almost all the population groups of India carry 50-65% of their ancestry from the First Indians, no matter where in the caste hierarchy they stand, what language they speak, which region they inhabit or what religion they belong to.

This being the truth, India cannot be spoken of in terms of Hinduon ka desh (Hindu country) or Musalmaanon ka desh (Muslim country). It belongs equally to all communities living here, and as pointed out by the RSS chief himself, India being a democracy cannot countenance the dominance of Hindus or Muslims.

Likewise, any Hindu-Muslim dialogue must be unconditional and take place in an atmosphere of peace and harmony. In Mr. Bhagwat’s own words: Darke maare ekta hona nahin hai (Let there not be unity out of fear).

A. Faizur Rahman is the Secretary-General of the Islamic Forum for the Promotion of Moderate Thought. E-mail: themoderates2020@gmail.com


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Printable version | Sep 23, 2021 12:04:11 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/a-hindu-muslim-dialogue-without-conditions/article35640528.ece

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