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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 38

Book Review: ’The Hindu-Muslim Divide : A Fresh Look by Amrik Singh’

Sunday 9 September 2007



The Hindu-Muslim Divide : A Fresh Look by Amrik Singh; Vitasta Publishing Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi; 2007; pp. XIV+238; Rs 345.

It is ironic that around the time we are celebrating 60 years of India’s independence, the subject under discussion here is the Hindu-Muslim divide, instead of it being harmony between members of different communities in our free country. But one has to face the facts and hence this discourse.

The author of the book under review, Dr Amrik Singh, starts it with a painful note: “As generally recognised, the Hindu-Muslim divide has existed in India for about thousand years. The partition of India into India and Pakistan in 1947 was the latest instalment in this longstanding dispute.” (p. 3) But soon he sounds a note of optimism: “But one thing is clear that, despite signals to the contrary, the two warring communities are nearer an understanding with each other than ever before.” No convincing reason is provided for the optimistic note, and the author goes further and adds that the situation is likely to change in about half a century or more (what a satisfying thought!), even though it is stated: “In these matters, no one can be precise.”

It is not very easy to agree with the author’s assertion about the thousand year old Hindu-Muslim divide. For, India is known for its composite culture, and quite a good part of the last thousand years have been known to be marked by considerable harmony with some aberrations. But aberrations are at times unavoidable and even the intra-community conflicts and divisive trends have been there in the concerned groups. When the Pakistani leader, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, during the more fanatic phase of his political life (something the author makes a reference to) had talked about a thousand year war, his bravado had the future in mind.

One would, in fact, like to go back to much older times, than the last thousand years. It may be pointed out that composite culture had been the feature of India even before the beginning of the first century AD. The contributing influences all these years had been the teachings of Gautam Buddha, the Vedic and Vedantic ideals of tolerance and spiritual values, the disarming qualities of the Sufi value and the noble sentiments of the Bhakti movement, and, more recently, the thoughts of personalities like Swami Vivekananda, Maulana Azad, Altaf Husain Hali and those believing in secular ideals among other factors.

While the commingling of Sufi and Bhakti ideals is an extremely cherished heritage of the past, the state of confrontation, in recent times, one has to admit, between the campaign of Tableegh and Shuddhi (mentioned by the author while stating the effort of Hinduism for ‘semitisation’) (p. 132) is a tragic episode in our saga of composite culture : like a bad dream one would perhaps like to forget.

EVEN without agreeing fully with the basic statement of the author with regard to a thousand year old divide one would like to praise him for covering the subject of Hindu-Muslim divide in a very comprehensive manner particularly in the recent past. Dr Amrik Singh has covered the entire ground by recounting how the spirit of mutual understanding and conciliation gave way to conflict between the Muslims and Hindus. Much discussion is available about the factors responsible for this conflict leading to the partition of the country along with its independence, the roles of leaders of the two communities during those traumatic years and, indeed, the shape this conflict has taken in today’s India.

The book is in the form of notes on different subjects relevant to its theme, probably written at different points of time. But it contains a wealth of information on the nature and cause of the divide—the machinations of the British rulers, the folly of partition, the practice of separate electorates, and even the complexities of adult franchise and a joint electorate, the polarisation between the two communities, the present concept of Hindutva and many other factors that the author has painstakingly gone into.
The author has laid great emphasis on the need for pluralism and for a policy “in the direction of reducing the Hindu-Muslim divide and work towards what has been described as pluralism,” as he puts it.

Dr Amrik Singh has given some very perceptive opinions of acknowledged experts on Hinduism and Islam, some approvingly while others with his note of critique. Consider the quote from the eminent historian, Prof. M. Habib (whom he describes as the “tallest historian of medieval India”):

A Hindu feels it is his duty to dislike those whom he has been taught to consider the enemies of his religion and his ancestors; the Muslim, lured into the false belief that he was once a member of a ruling race, feels insufferably wronged by being relegated to the status of a minority community. Fools both! Even if the Muslims eight centuries ago were as bad as they were painted, would there be any sense in holding the present generation responsible for their deeds? It is but an imaginative tie that joins the modern Hindu with Harshvardhana or Asoka, or the modern Muslim with Shahabuddin or Mahmud.

“That these words were written several years after the partition makes them even more relevant than they would have been otherwise,” says Dr Amrik Singh and every rightly. (p. 200) Members of both the communities can gain from introspecting in the light of the late historians’ observation.

At another place, the author quotes Girilal Jain who, according to him, “apart from being a leading journalist, was a keen student of Hinduism”:
Unlike the Muslims, the Hindus do not possess a vision of the future, which is rooted in the past for a variety of reasons, one of them being that, unlike the Muslims, they have not been able to invent a golden age which can be located in any kind of history and that they cannot invent one. While, they would, if challenged, vaguely own up all Indian history up to the beginning of the Muslim invasions of north India in the 11th century, they do not identify themselves with any particular period. Indeed, they have little sense of history. So how can they have a golden age and how can a people without such a sense engage in revivalism? What can they seek to revive?
Hinduism is an arbitrary imposition on a highly variegated civilisation, which is truly oceanic in its range. Such a civilisation cannot be enclosed in a narrow doctrine. It cannot have a central doctrine because in its majestic sweep it takes up all that comes its way and adapts it to its over-widening purpose, rejecting finally what is wholly alien and cannot be accommodated at all. Attempts have been made to build embankments around this ocean-like reality to give it a shape and definition. But these have not succeeded. The spirit of India has refused to be contained. To put it differently, Hinduism has refused to be organised. By the same token, it has refused to be communalised.
(p. 135)

Amrik Singh reacts to Jain’s stipulations: “While it is true that Hinduism has refused to be organised and it has refused to be communalised, how is it that today we witness what Nehru once described as ‘non-Muslim aggression among Muslims’?” The author says that this phrase of Nehru occurs in one of his letters addressed to the Chief Ministers after the police action in Hyderabad.

IN the context of the Hindutva philosophy, it would be relevant to consider the following quote from the late K.R. Malkani who became known as the Editor of the RSS mouthpiece, Organiser, and an ideologue of the Bharatiya Janata Party:

The Muslim Indian should realise that Hinduism is not a religion, but a culture. That he is Muslim by religion but Hindu by culture. Let Indonesia with its Muslim religion and native Hindu culture be the model for the Muslim in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. (p. 138)

Malkani’s prescription is not possible, says Amrik Singh, either in terms of physical or political considerations or in terms of their historical evolution. “While Hinduism has a hoary tradition behind it, the pre-Islamic traditions in Indonesia are not even clearly defined.”

Incidentally, at the time of writing this review a mammoth gathering of Muslim men and women with hijab (about 100,000) including scholars and religious leaders from different parts of the world, is deliberating in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, in search of ways to establish a single Muslim government in the Islamic world (on the ideals of Khilafat-e-Islamia) largely at the initiative of a group of Indonesian Muslims. But that is another story that needs to be considered in its own context.

The author feels that the effort to remove the present divide has largely to be on the part of the Congress party. The removal of the divide is linked with economic and political development of the country. He says, “The Congress—currently in power—owes it to the Muslims to bring them at par with others and thereafter involve them in the process of development, both economic and political. The Congress also has the further obligation to help the Muslims to draw abreast of others socially.” (p. 191)

The author says that in seeking to separate from India, they (the Muslims) followed a path which culminated in the partition of India in 1947. In the ultimate analysis that was a mistake, which Jinnah and those who followed him had made. “Since the kind of Islamic future that the Muslims of the subcontinent had aspired for themselves is running into problem, sooner or later the thinking of the Muslim world will make them learn from experience and come to terms with the changed reality. But when? It is difficult to answer this question,” the author says.

The author is of the view that the solution to the Hindu-Muslim divide is linked, to a great extent, with the normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan. The problem in India cannot be isolated from the problem in Pakistan. The triumph of fundamentalism will be bad for Indian Muslims as well. An end to confrontation would help remove the divide in India, he says.

What, according to the author, is the prospect of the Hindu-Muslim divide disappearing?—one may ask. He talks very enthusiastically of an Indian version of globalisation. This globalisation is the result of a “new mix of policies”, that are going to help all Indians including Muslims.

He states:
What has made it easier for India to adjust to the changing world relatively more easily is partly because Hinduism is more adjustable to the logic of the contemporary idea of development. If India succeeds in this experiment, as seems to be happening, the Indian Muslims too can before long, become a part of this experiment. Currently, they are somewhat estranged from the mainstream.
(p. 225)

Dr Amrik Singh would want the Indian Government to push ahead vigorously with the spread of education and the Indian Muslims to give evidence of some “political initiative” and “political maturity”.

According to the author, the confrontation with the United States now “ partly coming in the way of the Islamic world breaking with her past”. If the US were not so confrontationist, he says, things in the Islamic world would to some extent start changing, “sooner than is happening at the moment”. According to him, India’s role in this context is “positive, if not also praiseworthy”. And, India’s version of globalisation can prompt others, even those in the Islamic world, to move in that direction.

Dr Amrik Singh feels that if what is stated above happens, the “Hindu-Muslim divide in India will gradually weaken”. More than that, he says, this would give rise to “a new era in world history in more than one sense”. What happens in India, according to him, would be of considerable historical significance. “Indeed, it can also prove to be a development of a wider economic and cultural significance.”

The reviewer, a veteran journalist who worked for several years in Mainstream, currently edits the periodical Alpjan.

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