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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 16, April 10, 2010

The Idea of Minority

Saturday 10 April 2010, by C B Muthamma

People will recall that some years ago the Shiv Sena first caught the news headlines with its campaign against “Madrasis”, that is, South Indians living in Mumbai. A few years later this campaign faded out and was replaced by a campaign against non-Maharattas. It was as if Maharashtra was a sovereign country, indepen-dent of the contributions to its growth and importance by businessmen, scientists, adminis-trators and others from all over the country. In recent years the Shiv Sena has targeted the Muslims. But every so often there is a campaign against people from other parts of India—the Biharis, or UP-wallas, poor people who migrate to Mumbai and other big cities in search of work. These helpless people have been attacked and demands made that they should not be allowed entry into Maharashtra. The only constant factor in all these campaigns was a capacity for hatred.

And now all over India, we have a concerted attack against the Muslims and Christians, to depict them as aliens who do not have full rights in this country. The anti-Muslim sentiment pre-dates independence, though those who held these views were a small minority themselves, and had not acquired the high profile they have today, though one of them did succeed in assassinating Gandhiji. Over a decade ago we we had a publicity-seeking dramatic ratha yatra which carefully chose its points of departure and arrival in such a way as to depict Hindus and Muslims in confrontation. The ratha yatra started from the Somnath temple, the original of which was destroyed by a Muslim invader, and went on to the Babri Masjid which, it was claimed, was standing on the land where Lord Rama was born, and where originally a temple was stated to have existed. Later a massive gathering of Hindus was organised from different parts of the country and predictably the Babri Masjid was destroyed, while the organisers of the ratha yatra and the gathering at the Babri Masjid stood and watched, undoubtedly with a sense of having accomplished something important. Since then, the proposal for a temple to Lord Rama to be built on the spot has been the central point in the hate-Muslims campaign. Those who propagate this campaign are not impressed by the view expressed by some historians that the present Ayodhya might not have been the original Ayodhya and that there is no proof that there was a temple there; the leaders of the movement do not register the fact that it is not possible to say at this point of time whether Lord Rama was born in that identical spot or a few yards away; and that in any case there are several temples to Lord Rama in Ayodhya each of which claims to be on the very spot of his birth.

History and fact are of no consequence to those who are driven by an irrational and visceral hatred, like the hatred of the Pakistani leadership for India. This hatred is destroying that country in may ways. The leaders of Pakistan are consumed by a hatred that blinds them to their own welfare. Their prime concern is to destroy India because they have to somehow justify their two-nation theory, which would be at risk if a secular India can make progress and be strong and prosperous, and especially if the Muslims of secular India are better off than the Muslims of this “Land of the Pure” Muslims, created by partition. Their fostering of Muslim extremism, their huge defence budget that leaves very little scope for development, their attempt to build a Talibanised Afghanistan in order to give Pakistan a “strategic depth” in its confron-tation with India, its sustained programme of teaching distorted history to generations of Pakistanis with a view to make them hate India in a region which before independence was not partitionist in its outlook—especially the Frontier Province with Frontier Gandhi Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and his Khudai Khidmatgars—all these are part of the scheme.

Pakistan refuses to trade with India, and prefers to pay much higher prices for goods from distant sources or smuggled Indian goods. It is a country where an ethos of hatred has been steadily built over the years. First they attacked and drove out Hindus and Sikhs; then they started looking for other targets, and focused on the Ahmadiyas who had considered themselves Muslims, and whose leader, Sir Mohammad Zafrullah Khan, had been one of the most prominent partitionists. They were attacked and denounced and declared a non-Muslim minority. One of the most eminent scientists of Pakistan, Dr Abdus Salam, an Ahmadiya, had to live in exile. After the Ahmadiyas, the next target of the numerically superior Sunnis was the Shia community. A fierce conflict has gone on between the two groups. Those Hindus bigots in India who seek to sow hatred against fellow Indians of whatever group, or against India’s neighbours, are taking India on the same road to disaster.

Pakistan has not achieved its aim of making India disintegrate. On the contrary, its incapacity to accept diversity has already broken up Pakistan and established a separate Bangladesh. If Pakistan has not been able to make India disintegrate there is only one reason—that this can only be brought about by India itself. Whether it disintegrates or grows strong and prosperous depends on India itself. The people of India have had no difficulty in accepting diversities—they positively rejoice in their diversities. They have felt as one, and this essentially is what made it possible for India to unite, and not split into hundreds of principalities under the various princely states that we had at independence. It will be recalled that when the Hindu Dewan of Travancore State had a vision of making Travan-core an independent country, the people of that State—the Hindus, Muslims and Christians, all of them strong elements in that State—rejected the idea outright and opted to become part of India. Even Goa, with its strong Christian element, waged its own war against the Portuguese, until the Indian armed forces settled the issue. The surest way to defeat the Pakistani designs against India is to build a strong, united, secular India in which all, including the Muslims, do better than the Muslims of Pakistan.

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So why is this country now darkened by the fog of a national culture of hatred, so alien to the temper of our people, and which is being assiduously cultivated by a small, misguided minority of Hindu bigots, who are trying to destroy the sanity of India? Are we going to blow up the Taj Mahal because it is a Muslim monument? That is only a visible symbol of Muslim contributions to the history and culture of this country. The independence movement, in which the self-styled Hindu organisations took no part, had a large number of illustrious Muslim names—Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Abbas Tyabji, Maulana Azad, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai and a host of others. It is not to be forgotten that with partition and its horrors still fresh in their minds, the Muslim majority of Kashmir chose to accede to India. We should ask ourselves what independent India has done to justify their choice. Militancy only started several decades later. Is Muslim-bashing in India the best way to reassure and pacify the Muslim population of Kashmir?

Even contemporary India is full of names of Muslims who have brought name and fame to the country in every field: Dr Abdul Kalam, the rocket scientist who has done so much for our defence sciences; M.F. Hussain, the internationally known painter; classical musicians like Bismillah Khan, Vilayat Khan, and Amjad Ali Khan; the Dagar family who have kept alive a deeply spiritual tradition of music which had its origins in temple music; popular musicians like A.R. Rehman; Azim Premji, who heads one of our best information technology establishments; many of our leading film stars; unique theatre personalities like Habib Tanvir and poets, writers, journalists and sportspersons. People will still remember the superlative TV serial Mahabharata, the script for which was written by a Muslim, Rahi Masoom Raza. If any of these people had been in Gujarat during the recent state-inspired pogram against the the Muslims, would they have been killed? Is it any different if hundreds and thousands of innocent Gujarati Muslims, who considered themselves Indians, were killed in a most horrific way? Are there many Hindus in this country who would like to be considered murderers? If some of them support and rejoice in such murder by others, does it make them better people? It is within the memory of people still alive that Gandhiji went to South Africa to defend the Muslims—the issue of whether they were Muslims or Hindus never arose—they were Indians who needed help.

As for the Christian minority, the extremist Hindus do not even try to match the hundreds of excellent educational and medical institutions they run, or the work done by Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity for the dying destitutes. If the Hindus object to the conversion of Hindus to Islam or Christianity, they should ask themselves why it is that SCs and STs become Christian or Muslim—it is not long ago that five untouchables were murdered in cold blood as they were found skinning a dead cow; and there are reports of SC people being made to eat excreta and drink urine, as punishment for presuming to be equal to others. Every so often there are reports of entire communities of SCs being wiped out of existence by the militias of caste Hindus.

Hatred seems to come more easily to some kinds of Indians than friendship: Thanks to fights over river waters, the Tamils and Kannadigas are in confrontation with each other—and a few years ago we even had leaders in Karnataka who incited the normally gentle and peacable Kannadigas to attack Tamils in the State. The fact is that in this country all are minorities. This is the reason for people voting as caste groups rather on the merit of the candidate. Every caste sees itself not as Hindus, but as a minority struggling to defend its rights.

This is because in all these decades of independence, the state has not succeeded in wiping out the deprivation of various kinds—there is massive poverty and illiteracy, and unemployment; and all the deprived groups are in rivalry with each other. After fiftyfive years of independence we have only made a country that everybody tries to get out of. The Hindu bigots have no solution for the real problems of this country—poverty, lack of opportunity, and the general lack of hope not only for the masses of underprivileged but even for the middle and upper classes who go abroad to seek not only better opportunities but a better quality of life—peace and law and order, some degree of personal security and opportunities for their children.

India is known as a land of diversity. In other words, we can call it a land of minorities. The Andhras or Bengalis are minorities against the rest, the Brahmins or Dravidas are minorities against the rest. It is our diversity, our capacity to accept those different from ourselves, that is the foundation of our democracy. We have many problems, and the people have to brace them-selves to overcome them. But if we destroy our diversity and reject each other and fight each other, we will only succeed in destroying this country.

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