When Sheikh Mujibur Rehman was released from a Pakistani prison and put on a flight to London, I left New Delhi for Dhaka to be there when he sets foot on Bangladesh soil as Father of the Nation. On arrival in Dhaka, a stranger approached me with a request for help to get to India. He was born in Jamshedpur in Bihar. At the time of Partition, he migrated to Pakistan. He did well as journalist in an Urdu paper of Dhaka. On the birth of Bangladesh, the Urdu paper closed down. Since migrants from Bihar were pro-Pakistan, the Bangladeshis viewed them with suspicion. They ended up in refugee camps. He had come out of a camp, risking his life, to meet me.
‘Shouldn’t you be going to Pakistan?’ I asked. I thought that was the right thing for him to do as a citizen of Pakistan. ‘You can say that,’ he said. ‘Twenty-five years ago I decided to become a Pakistani. I came here and remained here, telling myself this is my country. Now I have become an alien here. If I go to West Pakistan, what is the guarantee that the same thing will not happen there. After all, I don’t belong there either.’ His mother and brothers were living in Jamshedpur at the time. He believed he would be safe there.
When ‘Mathrubhumi’ correspondent VK Madhavan Kutty reached Dhaka, he located Rahim, a Malayalee businessman. Rahim invited me to his house along with Madhavan Kutty. There we met another Malayalee, Nizamuddin. Rahim, of Thalasseri, and Nizamuddin, of Kollam, were customs officials in Madras at the time of Partition. As Muslims in Indian government service they had the opportunity to opt for either of the two countries. Knowing that once the Hindus above them were out of the way they could move up fast, both opted for Pakistan. All those who went from Bengal and adjoining provinces belonged to the East Pakistan cadre and those from the other provinces of India to the West Pakistan cadre. To qualify for a special allowance, Rahim and Nizamuddin, who belonged to the West Pakistan cadre, opted to work in East Pakistan. Thus they reached Dhaka. Rahim later resigned the job and took up the agency of a typewriter company. Along with a professor of Dhaka University, he developed a Bengali typewriter. That earned him a special place in Bengali cultural circles. Nizamuddin became the Secretary of the Dhaka Club. The club was a favourite haunt of high-ranking army officers. As a friend of Pakistani military officers, he became persona non grata to Bengalis. Fearing for his life, he took shelter in Rahim’s house with his family.
While we were talking in Rahim’s drawing room, Nizamuddin’s daughter walked into the room. Unmindful of the presence of strangers, she went up to her father and said, ‘Daddy, let us go to Kollam’ Quivering behind closed doors and pondering about her uncertain future, that girl, who was a student of the Dhaka Medical College, the one place that struck her as safe was Kollam, which she had visited once or twice.
The sad characters in these real-life stories were people who went with their co-religionists when the country was divided on the basis of religion. Suddenly they became aliens in the land which they had thought of as home for many years. They were still amidst co-religionists. When language became more important than religion, as people who speak a different language they became aliens. How weak is the base on which the sense of identity that we cherish in our minds stands!
Throughout history, all over the world, people have become alienated in this manner. In the recent past we saw neighbours killing each other in parts of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. This is a story which has repeated itself in our own subcontinent several times. Often such a situation is created by circumstances beyond our control. But it can also happen as a result of the work of interested parties with evil motives. Whether under the pressure of circumstances or due to conscious efforts, often religion and politics become partners in the process. When the two are mixed, we get a dangerous mixture.
The terrorist activities that occur in India from time to time cannot be seen in isolation from such activities elsewhere in the world. However, they have a different social and political background. Also, they have roots that run deep in history. There is evidence to show that there was a long ideological struggle in this subcontinent between the Buddhist-Jain stream that saw all human beings as one and the Vedic stream that sought to put human beings in different compartments. According to the widely held current belief, 10 or 12 centuries ago, a movement led by Sankaracharya exterminated Buddhism, which was already on the decline, and established Hindu supremacy. History texts tell you that Sankaracharya was born at Kaladi in Kerala and that he lived from 788 to 820 AD. These are the findings given towards the end of the 19th century by the then Dewan of Mysore, Sesha Iyer, in response to a request from the Sankara Mutt at Sringeri to help settle the prevailing differences of opinion on the Acharya’s birthplace and period. Sesha Iyer, who hailed from Kerala, reached his conclusions relying upon the heroic tales by Sankaracharya’s disciples and the traditions of Namboodiri Brahmins of Kerala. Since he showed a sense of realism that was lacking in the Acharya’s followers, historians accepted his findings. It is worth recalling here that Indians were not aware of Emperor Asoka until the 19th century and of the Indus Valley civilization until the 20th century.
Although precise information is not available, it is certain that the Indian subcontinent witnessed some major changes during the period when Sankaracharya’s influence is believed to have held sway. One of them was the unification of the many systems of belief and streams of thought that prevailed here in the name of Hindu religion. Al Barouni, the Muslim scholar, who was here in the early part of the 11th century, used the same term ‘Hindu’ to denote the people and their beliefs. Through Persian and Arabic
that word reached Europe. Thus all the people of India became followers of the Hindu religion, which does not find mention in any ancient work of the land. The impression that Sankaracharya’s work strengthened the society deserves close scrutiny. Forces which arrived subsequently from outside were able to establish supremacy probably because the divisions created by the caste system had weakened the society. Today, the freedom that was granted to Christianity, Judaism and Islam in Kerala is cited as proof of the liberal attitude of the Hindus and the secular traditions of the land. But these religions must have arrived when the region was under Buddhist-Jain influence.
We often accuse the British of using the ‘divide and rule’ strategy. The truth is that since the society was divided even before they arrived, there was no need for them to divide. The system of modern education, which the British introduced, could have helped the Hindus and the Muslims, who were following separate systems, to evolve into a unified community. But the two groups did not take to the new system at the same time. By the time the Muslims were ready to take to English education, the advanced sections of the Hindus had already established a firm grip on the colonial administrative machinery.
Gandhiji had recognized the need to bring together the Indians, who were standing on different levels, while working in South Africa. He took up the issue of restoration of the Caliph, raised by a section of the Muslims, in the belief that it will help unite the country against the British and bring the Muslims close to the Congress movement. It probably did more harm than good. It strengthened the conservative elements of Muslim society and in course of time distanced liberals like MA Jinnah and MC Chagla from the Congress movement.
Jinnah was already a front-ranking young leader of the Congress when Gandhi returned from South Africa. In 10 years, Gandhi captured the Congress. Jinnah, who was gradually thrown behind during this period, could find only one reason for his defeat: Gandhi was a Hindu. On his part, Gandhi saw not Jinnah, but Maulana Mohammed Ali, as the leader who could bring the Muslims close to the Congress. When the Muslim League was formed, Jinnah did not show any great interest in it. When Chaudhuri Rahmat Ali put forward the concept of Pakistan, he saw it as a mad idea. On leaving the Congress, he withdrew from national politics and moved to England. He returned later at the invitation of the League to fulfil the historic mission of becoming the founder of Pakistan. He argued that Hindus and Muslims are different nations. He countered the argument that both shared the same history by pointing out that ‘our heroes are different’. He added, ‘Our dress, language, food are all different.’
People on either side of the international borders consider Jinnah as the father of the two-nation theory. But even before him, VD Savarkar, the freedom fighter and exponent of Hindutva politics, had outlined the idea that Hindus and Muslims constitute separate nations. Today, Savarkar’s portrait along with Gandhiki’s in Parliament House. The circumstances in which the Congress, which had rejected the two-nation theory from the outset, and Gandhi, who had said ‘Over my dead body’, gave their nod to the formation of Pakistan are yet to be evaluated truthfully. Many have suggested that the generation of Jawaharlal Nehru, which was getting on in age, was in a hurry to assume power. But what became decisive was Jinnah’s thereat of a civil war in case the British left without conceding Pakistan. Echoing Churchill’s World War II speech, he said, ‘We will fight in every village, we will fight in every street’. The massacre on the Direct Action Day, observed in response to his exhortation, showed that the threat could not be lightly dismissed. As soon as Pakistan became a reality, Jinnah declared that the Hindus and the Muslims would be equal citizens there. But it was too late by then. The communal division that he had promoted with a political motive inevitably made Pakistan a Muslim state. Although India chose the path of secularism, the Hindutva forces did not give up the two-nation theory. They used the cloak of cultural nationalism to hide the communalism behind the Hindu state demand. The civil war that the Congress wished to avert did not go away. It has raised its heads many times in the form of India-Pakistan wars or Hindu-Muslim clashes. The truth is that the Congress and the other secular parties are not able to deal with communalism effectively at the political level even now. Their approach generally is to make temporary accommodations with it. All parties are always ready to make a compromise with communalism if they think it will help them in the elections. This circumstance imparts strength and courage to communal forces.
India now faces challenge from communal forces at two levels. On one side are external organizations working in the country directly or through proxies. On the other are local organizations. The activities of the former are immediately recognizable as terrorism. Those of the latter are often treated as mere law and order problems. Basically both are equally dangerous for the existence of a modern, secular and democratic society. The Kashmir issue, which has been there from the early days of Independence, creates a situation favourable for the activities of external forces. In a sense, it is a remainder of Partition. Pakistan, created on the basis of the theory that Muslims constitute a separate nation, cannot easily reconcile itself to a situation where a Muslim majority region is not part of it. Equally India, which rejects that theory, cannot accept the argument that it must become part of Pakistan merely because Muslims are in a majority there. Like other disputed territories on international borders, Kashmir’s place will ultimately be decided on the basis of the relative strength of the countries concerned. Kashmir was quiet when the war that resulted in the separation of Bangladesh left Pakistan weak. It became a scene of trouble again as a result of developments within the country and outside.
When we look at the history of communal conflicts outside Kashmir, we find local reasons behind most of them. An individual or group with a grievance incites communal feelings as reaction or reprisal and that leads to violence. After the Sangh Parivar demolished the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya one and a half decades ago, to be precise, on December 6, 1992, a big change occurred. That event was neither local nor incidental. The Parivar organizations had sent volunteers to pull down the mosque after raising the communal temperature through a nationwide campaign, raising the demand for a Rama temple. The event evoked strong protests within the country and outside. Following it, the Centre dismissed the State governments which were under the control of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Except in one State, the party was not able to come back to power in the elections that followed. This shows that the action was not acceptable to the majority of Hindus. Howsoever attractive the idea of a temple at the place said to be Rama’s birthplace may be, how can any good person, whatever be his religion, agree to the destruction of another place of worship?
In the action against Bhindranwale and his associates who had taken shelter in the Golden Temple, the Akal Takht, where they were camping, was destroyed. The entry of soldiers into the temple and the demolition of the structure saddened and angered the Sikhs. The psychological impact of that event could be seen in those days on the face of a Sikh living in the remotest part of the country. Babri Masjid may mot mean as much to the Muslim as the Golden Temple does to the Sikh, but the impact of the Ayodhya event on the Muslim mind was comparable to that of the Amritsar event on the Sikh mind. Both events questioned the identity of the concerned people. One prompted the Sikhs and the other prompted the Muslims to ask themselves whether they are in fact equal citizens.
There are reasons to believe that some of the recent acts of violence in the country are part of a series that began with the Sangh Parivar’s demolition of Babri Masjid. But there are also reasons to doubt whether Muslim terrorists are in fact responsible for all the acts the authorities have attributed to them. The Central government was not able to convince a High Court judge that the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) was engaged in terrorist activities. The government has now approached the Supreme Court against the judge’s decision.
As many as 137 persons were killed in the explosions that rocked Mumbai on July 11, 2006. In the charge-sheet filed in the court, the police had said that some Pakistanis were among those responsible for the blasts. Now, after two years, the police says they were the work of former SIMI activists from Azamgarh district of Uttar Pradesh. The evidence linking SIMI and Azamgarh with violence is the contribution of the Gujarat police. There is political influence on the police in most States. But no police is perhaps as contaminated as that Gujarat. It has the tradition of having implicated even a judge in a false case. It was the Supreme Court’s intervention that saved him. Instances of the police bumping off persons in custody and announcing that they died in encounters have occurred in many States including Kerala. In some States there are police officers who are known as encounter specialists. There have been allegations that some of them even work as hired killers. An IPS officer, who was a favourite of the Chief Minister, is now on trial in for shooting Sohrabuddin and his wife after the Gujarat police took them into custody. The way the police in that State handled the Godhra incident and the ethnic riots that followed invited adverse references from the National Human Rights Commission. The Supreme Court ordered transfer of riot cases to courts outside Gujarat. Information that has come to light through the Tehelka investigations show that a very dangerous politician-police nexus exists in that State. Without large-scale purification, it is not possible to expect satisfactory performance from the Gujarat police, which is contaminated by communal poison.
It was after the Delhi police picked up the Gujarat police’s SIMI-Azamgarh theory that the dubious Jamia Nagar encounter took place. The media also played a role in that development. The police staged the Jamia Nagar programme and improved its image at a time when it was under constant attack for not apprehending those responsible for the serial explosions. There were complaints about the Union Home Minister too. Shivraj Patil could not ignore them since the Congress is in power in Delhi State. The Delhi police decided to follow the Gujarat police even before the police in BJP-ruled Rajasthan did. Often, the media has also joined, knowingly or otherwise, the Sangh Parivar strategy of wholesale alienation of the country’s Muslims. Danger is to be expected when television channels with their eyes on ratings and the political parties with their eyes on elections come together.
The chain reaction to the Babri Masjid episode helps us understand how Hindu and Muslim communalism help each other grow. Muslim communalists used the demolition of the mosque for their own purposes. When the anger aroused by it found expression in the form of serial blasts, Hindu communalists used it for their own purposes. Thus both grew.
The attack on Christians in Orissa and Karnataka indicate that the Sangh Parivar has decided to open new battle-fronts against the minorities with an eye to the elections. When churches were attacked in Karnataka, and the trouble extended to Kasergode in Kerala, the governments intervened and were able to control the trouble quickly. But, as these lines are being written, weeks later, violence is still raging in Orissa. The State government having failed to maintain law and order, the Centre has the duty to invoke the powers vested in it under the Constitution and bring the situation under control. The Supreme Court has criticized the misuse of the special powers in this regard on several occasions. This should not dissuade the Centre from discharging its constitutional responsibility.
The Sangh Parivar’s words and deeds show that its leaders have still not recovered from the impact of the blow suffered by their forbears centuries ago. All traditions contain both good and bad elements. That they have not been able to internalize the good elements is evident from the fact that tolerance, the noblest part of Indian tradition, is totally alien to them. This is not a problem that can be remedied quickly. But it must be possible to put a quick end to their acts which challenge the rule of law. This can be done if the secular parties overcome the tendency to act with short-term interests in view. For, the good elements of our traditions still reflect strongly in the public mind.
Based on an article in Malayalam published in Mathrubhumi weekly’s issue dated
October 19, 2008