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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 40 New Delhi September 22, 2018

India in Peril

Tuesday 25 September 2018, by Samit Kar

The word ‘Dharma’ emerged from the Sanskrit term ‘dhri’ meaning the beholder of something. The concept ‘something’ is very elastic in nature. For example, the term beholder might include many apparently trivial bearings like wearing a ring, an ear ring, an emblem on the forehead, parts of body, wearing garments of a specific colour and pursuing a particular identity of consiousness and desire. Across the world, there have been fissures and discontent among many sects like the Tamils and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, the Catholics and Protestants in Syria and several countries of the world, the Jews and Muslims in Israel, the Blacks and Whites in the United States and racial and ethnic conflicts in various parts of Europe, especially in different countries of East Europe. In Australia, there is always a tension between the aboriginals and the new settlers many of whom had migrated from Britain and few West European countries. Despite these incessant strains in the main-stream culture of different countries essentially on the basis of ethnic, cultural and religious identities, India is perhaps the only country which got bifurcated in 1947 and then trifurcated in 1971 leading to the birth of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh from the wonder that used to be known as the Indian subcontinent.

The partition of India is a sequeal to the politics of Divide and Rule by the British Raj. The alien rule did have a valid reason to divide the huge majority of Indian population to hold their sway over the huge Indian landmass. But the interpretation regarding the cause of partition of India in these lines was essentially a fallout of the diction presented by a group of colonial historians. The Hindus, by dint of their progressive culture, lenient behaviour and amicability, were able to befriend the British rulers and soon began to enjoy enough trust compared to the Muslims who were more aggressive and daunting in character and nature. The British rulers, since their early days under the tutelage of Job Charnock, were able to meet resistance from the Muslims to annex power in India. Soon they had to engage themselves in repeated wars and tussles culminating in the Battle of Plassey in 1757. This year happens to be the real watershed in the 190-year British rule in India. Naturally, the animosity of the Britishers towards the Muslim rulers and the Muslim population in general was far more compared to the Hindu Bengalis in the early days of their rule in India.

The estranged relationship between the British rulers and Muslims catalysed the proximity of the Hindu Bengalis to the foreigners. Many Britishers became trusted friends of some scholarly and cultured families of Hindu Bengalis. In due course, this friendship became a major landmark in the history of social reform and educational reform in India. Great British and European personalities were able to come in contact with well-known Bengalis like Prince Dwarkanath Tagore, Raja Rammohan Roy, Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidya-sagar and others. Their illuminating role inspired many like Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, David Hare, William Jones, John Drinkwater Bethune and others who joined hands with these great Indians to transform our nation into modern India. All of these great Indians were essentially Hindu Bengalis. However, some of them did raise their strong protest against the evils of Hinduism and became associated with several sects of Hinduism like the Brahmo Samaj and later, the Ramakrishna Mission Movement.

It is a historically testified argument that in the making of modern India in the entire 19th century Bengal, the role of the Bengali Muslims could hardly be traced. It is due to their economic, cultural and educational backwardness that they could not be a part of the mainstream to join the bandwagon in the making of modern India. This is, no doubt, a saga of sadness in the history of India. Who knows, it might also be a ploy of a section of colonial historians to undermine the role of the Muslims in the making of modern India to foment communal tension to champion the cause of the British rule! In the mainstream social discourse, the contribution of the Hindu Bengalis was always hailed and everybody knows, great nationalist leaders like Gopal Krishna Gokhale used to say ‘what Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow’.

The contribution of Bengal and the Hindu Bengalis became synonymous. This parallel between Bengal and the Hindu Bengalis became significant in all walks of life like the Zamindari system, income distribution, property structure, educational system, status hierarchy and even in the Congress party which was formed on December 28, 1885. The bonhomie between the Britishers and Hindu Bengalis dealt a lethal blow on the long history of wonderful Hindu-Muslim amity since time immemorial. Soon the Muslims found themselves to be second-grade citizens in their motherland leading to the permanent partition in the minds of the Hindus and Bengalis long before the political partition of India taking place in 1947. It is indeed mischievous on the part of some social commentators to describe the partition of Bengal happening in 1905 as a by-product of the British rulers’ policy of Divide and Rule. Almost the entire Muslim community, led by the Nawab of then Dacca, had raised a very strong demand before the Britishers to create East Bengal as the homeland of the Muslims. How many historians have aired their opinion in this direction instead of parroting the hackneyed bogey of the heinous British policy? How many Muslims had joined the anti-partition movements like the Swadeshi and Boycott Movement? How many elite Bengali Muslims had joined Tagore in his famous procession on the day of partition of Bengal from Nimtolla Ghat to Nakhoda Masjid in central Calcutta?

The colonial rule had been a great strain in the course of nation-building of our country. They did make some mark in the attainment of modernity of our motherland. But the homo-geneity in the minds of the Indians got bifurcated for ever. The partition of India on religious lines is the outcome of the bifurcation of the minds of the Indians. The proliferation of a multi-party system in the electoral game of post-indepen-dence India had made the communal tension very alarming. The Hindus happen to be the undisputed numerically major social grouping in India. But a section of savy politicians had been politicking with the sensitive communal issue in order to gain narrow political mileage. India is boastful to become the world’s sixth biggest economy with a very low per capita income figure. Almost 98 per cent of the national wealth is controlled by two per cent of the Indian population. The colonial rule has permanently taken away the word ’patriotism’ from the dictionaries available in India. Civil society, right thinking parliamentarians and intelligentsia have to think and work in unison whether a suitable law can be enacted to sue a person who plays with fire while dividing the Hindus and Muslims for narrow gains. Otherwise, the future of our beloved motherland will be bound to be in peril. When poverty in India is so endemic, why can’t we wage a united battle against this scourge without resorting to this divisive game?

The author was in the Sociology Faculty of the Presidency College, Kolkata.

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