India: How Amity Turned Into Animosity

It’s a time of crisis for the Muslim community in India. A test of their resilience and fortitude. The moral strength of a nation lies in adherence to its convictions and creed however hostile the circumstances may be.

The historical matrix of Indo-Islamic relationship is well-documented and preserved in the annals of heritage and culture. The arrival of Muslims in India fourteen hundred years ago and their social assimilation in the Indian society was a cultural shift of vital significance. It started a wave of socio-communal interfertilization of thoughts and ideas which resulted in the creation of an environment of mutual trust and acceptance. This was the genesis of a common culture that transcended differences of class, ethnicity, linguistic character, the weltansicht and other personal preferences of the people. A social climate of peaceful coexistence was emerging. Reciprocity of love, concern and respect among people grew to such an extent that all distinctions of being ‘native born’ and ‘alien’ were quickly erased.

The chronicles of Indian history post-Muslim arrival depict Indian nation as a polity invested with a variety of social customs and popular manners. The communal life in India became a rich blend of values and customs of living. The milieu that thus emerged was characterised with attitudes of charity and a sense of shared destiny and aspirations. A climate of fraternity and amity ruled. There was a shared pride in each other’s festivities and a shared grief in one another’s loss. Community gatherings were events where remote and disparate groups mingled with each other without reservation or scepticism.

The sanity that kept the nation as unified entity prevailed well into the 20th century. It was around the second decade of the 20th century when the British control of India’s administration had begun to relent, that the incipient Hindu nationalistic feelings started gaining steam. Voices that clamoured for Hindu revanchism let alone revivalism became increasingly strident and vehement. Obduracy of right-wing organisations like RSS and Hindu Mahasabha became more and more pronounced. A wedge of suspicion and distrust was driven into what until then had been a cohesive social texture despite the British policy of divide-and-rule launched after the 1857 failed revolution. The socio-cultural equations that had thus far obtained, began to slip into oblivion. Hindu-Muslim relationships that had after a long coexistence mellowed into mutual gentleness and dignity began to sour. What modes of correspondence between people were once mutually accepted and unresented began to crack and crumble. Cheerfulness that had been the distinctive element of social behaviour vanished and what followed in its place was aggressive hostility and revulsion. This was the beginning of entrenchment of Hindutvadi forces in our society. The consequences were not what one would cherish. There was pessimism and hopelessness in the Muslim community. The dynamics of India’s culturally diverse and pluralistic identity had radically changed.

There were continual eruptions of communal disputes and strife since late 19th century. Often the reasons for such antagonistic engagements were pathetically flimsy and inconsequential. Riots could be triggered by fake rumours or for petty and trivial reasons. Minor disagreement even in community street games would degenerate into fierce conflicts. The rise of right-wing militant groups in the country became the bane of our peace. Militantly-inclined groups carrying three-pronged sceptres known as trishuls became a common environment of hatred and hostility. Occasions of public entertainments, jamborees and popular festivities were looked at with suspicion and often attacked. Ideas such as peace, trust, charity, sympathy and humane concerns were supplanted by stubborn antagonism, enmity, discord and contention. Everyday affairs were being driven by outbursts of violent xenophobia.

As this Hindu nationalistic frenzy rose to uncompromising radical levels, a wave of zealot fanaticism grew in equal measure. Devotees of Hindu nationalism acquired a dimension of rash impetuosity and implacability. They claimed that Indian heritage was of Vedic provenance and was enshrined in Hindu scriptures. They even started making usurpative claims on historical monuments and edifices of the Muslim era. A host of Hindu academics began weaving stories of Hindu glory and pride that totally undermined the achievements of Muslim rulers. Taj Mahal, they claimed, was originally a Hindu palace or temple. The Red Fort, Jama Masjid were, they asserted, Hindu structures. Several other mosques became historical controversies. The claim was that they had been built on the ruins of Hindu temples and must, therefore, be rebuilt as temples. Despite being of such dubious accuracy and historical untenability, these claims became Hindutva fakelore. Muslim educational institutions that were the main centres of learning for the community came to be suspected as places breeding “terrorism”. Anything related to Islam and Muslims became anathema to the saffronised community.

Communal prejudice spread far and wide and intensified the wave of Hindutvadi acharnement of vengeance. Atrocities were wreaked on Muslims without much reason or legitimate cause. Hindu-Muslim amity of the past now acquired an adversarial slant. The discourse of obdurate Hindu nationalism became increasingly bellicose. In the face of all this malignity Muslims remained composed and unprovoked. Their faith in the Indian constitution and judiciary remained unshaken. Their pride and hope in being Indians sustained them through adversity and tribulation.

Now that Hindu nationalist forces have taken total control of the country under Modi regime and its policy of wilily undermining democratic institutions and the rule of law, a feeling of pessimism is eroding Muslim confidence and faith in Indian institutions. Their very existential identity is being threatened. Their past glory is being continually submerged into malicious oblivion.

It’s a time of crisis for the Muslim community in India. A test of their resilience and fortitude. The moral strength of a nation lies in adherence to its convictions and creed however hostile the circumstances may be. The task is indeed formidable and daunting but we must persevere and stay firm. We need to shake off miserabilism and admit that communal strife always leads to misery and grievous devastation. Our focus should be at the new dawn that will eventually emerge and proclaim the triumph of human essence.

—Syed H. Hashmi is a retired Professor of English, an Associate of IATEFL, UK. He now lives in Bangalore.