Peace in South Asia | By Brig Muhammad Asif (R)


Peace in South Asia

HINDU-Muslim animosity is deep-rooted.It dates back to the conquest of India by Muslims of Arab, Central Asian and Afghan origin.

Starting from Muhammad Bin Qasim’s conquest of parts of the western India in the early 8th century, India was invaded/ruled by the Muslim conquerors till the middle of the 19th century.

Ahmad Shah Durrani was the last Muslim conqueror, who captured India in the mid-18th century.

According to the historians Muslim invaders, (from Mahmud Ghaznavi, who invaded north-western India for seventeen times from 997 AD to 1030 to Durrani) aroused the religious sentiments of their troops to fire and “sword into the land of infidels”.

India witnessed unprecedented progress and modernization during the British Raj that spanned from the mid-18th century to the partition of India in 1947.

British social and political reforms from the late 18th century contributed towards widening the Hindu-Muslim rift engrained in religion.

Willing acceptance of the British political system and culture as well as acquisition of modern education, including English language provided Hindus and other religious communities with boundless opportunities for progress in every field of life.

While Muslims decided to remain aloof from educational opportunities and English language.Resultantly, Muslims became the most backward community in India.

The Muslim clerics, belonging to the revivalist schools of thoughts, also reinforced Muslims’ rejection of the modern education and English language.

In the aftermath of the 1857 rebellion, the British came to regard Muslims as a distinct religious community.

Religion became an important factor in defining Indian communities over all other signifiers of identity, such as ethnic, racial linguistic, cultural affinities.

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, an enlightened Muslim social reformer of the late 19th century sought to alter British perception about Muslim disloyalty.

He urged his co-religionists to focus on educational advancement and avoid joining the Indian National Congress.

The political thoughts of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan paved the way for the emergence of “Two-Nation Theory”.

He believed that unless the Muslims were on a par with other Indian communities in the educational, economic and political fields, they would always remain under the dominance of Hindu majority in a secular democratic political system.

The decade of the 1920s witnessed unprecedented deterioration in relations between Hindus and Muslims.

The Muslim masses were mobilised by the Khilafat Movement, demanding the reinstatement of the Caliphate in Turkey.

Mahatma Gandhi decided to support the Khilafat Movement to ensure that Hindus-Muslims remained united after the independence of India.

When Gandhi withdrew his support due to outbreak of violence, the charged Muslims, feeling they had been betrayed, turned against Hindus.

The first major incident of religious violence took place in August 1921.A cycle of inter-communal violence throughout India followed for several years.

The outbreak of the Hindu-Muslim riot in 1923 facilitated Dr Hedgewar, a radical Hindu nationalist, to incite and organise Hindus against Muslims.

He held that cultural and religious heritage of Hindus should be the basis of Indian nationhood.

He founded Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1925 with an aim to transform India into a Hindu state.RSS upholds the ideology of Hindutva ( which implies “Hindustan for Hindus”.

The secular Indian secular social scientists consider RSS a fascist movement that aims at establishing the hegemony of regimented Hindu majority in the entire South Asian region.

The rise of radical Hindu radicalism, compelled the All India Muslim League (AIML) leaders, like Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who was known as the “Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity”, to reevaluate the chances of peaceful co-existence of Hindus and Muslims after the independence of India.

Due to unrelenting attitude of All India Congress, which claimed to be the representative of all religious communities, to address the genuine apprehensions of Muslims, AIML was constrained to subscribe to Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s Two-Nation Theory.

A separate homeland was conceived to be the only viable solution to address political and economic issues of the majority of Indian Muslims.

In his book; “Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence” Jaswant Singh, former Indian External Affairs Minister and founding member of the Bharatiya Janata Party, has pointed out that the real flaw in Indo-Pak relations is: “For, along with several others there is one central difficulty that India, Pakistan, Bangladesh face: our ‘past’ has, in reality never gone into the ‘past’, it continues to reinvent itself, constantly becoming our ‘present’, thus preventing us from escaping the imprisonment of memories.

To this we have to find an answer, who else can or will? If the Indians continue to vote in power the radical Hindu nationalists, like Narendra Modi, a fulltime member of RSS, the peoples of the subcontinent will never be able to escape from their past.

Moreover, the past memories will continue to haunt the peoples of Indo-Pak unless the foolhardy dreamers of the Akhand Bharat (a utopian dream propagated by RSS) reconcile with the partition of India as an irrevocable reality.

The RSS has not yet reconciled with the creation and existence of Pakistan as an independent state, because the reunification of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh into a single state, governed by religious traditions of Hinduism, continues to be RSS ideological basis.

The ashes of Nathuram Vinayak Godse, a member of RSS, who assassinated Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi) for acceding to Muslims’ demands for the partition of India, are still preserved in an urn to be poured into the River Indus, once the goal of Akhand Bharat is achieved.

Without purging the seeds of mistrust between the two major religious communities, peace and prosperity would continue to be an elusive dream for the people of this region.

The peoples of Indo-Pak may be followers of different religions and ideologies, but what a vast majority of them have in common (linguistic, cultural, racial and ethnic affinities), is by no means less powerful binding force to enable them to coexist, peacefully.

—The writer is contributing columnist based in Islamabad.


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