Minorities In India – OpEd

By Kazi Anwarul Masud, Former Secretary and Ambassador of Bangladesh

Throughout history minorities have faced with discriminations, of different forms, based on language, clans, tribes, and most importantly religion.

Intra-religion  conflicts have been known throughout history. Famous are the conflicts among the Christians-the Protestants  and the Catholics; Muslims and the Christians; are the famous conflicts based on religion. Intra-Christians is the most famous one is the revolt against the Pope by Martin Luther giving rise to Catholics and non-Catholics. Other factors emerged to divide the Christianity like the annulments sought by King Henry the Eighth from the Pope revolting in the separation of the English branch of Christianity. Most important however was the Spanish Inquisition (1478-1834) which saw the most brutal killing of human beings by other human beings.

Editor Edward Rayan of Enclopedia Britannica wrote extensively “Spanish Inquisition, (1478–1834), judicial institution ostensibly established to combat heresy in Spain. In practice, the Spanish Inquisition served to consolidate power in the monarchy of the newly unified Spanish kingdom, but it achieved that end through infamously brutal methods.

When did the Spanish Inquisition end? The Spanish queen regent María Cristina de Borbón issued a decree abolishing the Spanish Inquisition on July 15, 1834. The papal Inquisition—founded in 1542 and formally known as the Congregation of the Holy Roman and Universal Inquisition, or Holy Office—was reorganized by Pope Paul VI.  Pope Lucius III declared the first inquisition in 1184, nearly 300 years before the creation of the Spanish Inquisition, and the use of torture was authorized for inquisitors in 1252. As the Reconquista brought the territories of Moorish Spain under the control of Christian kings, many Jews in these areas declared their conversion to Christianity in an attempt to escape persecution.     

The medieval inquisition had played a considerable role in Christian Spain during the 13th century, Over centuries, the Jewish community in Spain had flourished and grown in numbers and influence, though anti-Semitism had surfaced from time to time. After Aragon and Castile were united by the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella (1469), the Jews were denounced as a danger to the existence of Christian Spain… The Spanish crown now had in its possession a weapon too precious to give up, however, and the efforts of the pope to limit the powers of the Inquisition were without avail…      At the end of the 15th century ` Ferdinand and Isabella issued an edict giving Spanish Jews the choice of exile or baptism; as a result, more than 160,000 Jews were expelled from Spain. Ryan The).”

Linguistic differences not only led to dissension among the people of the same region but also led to the creation of a new state.  BANGLADESH was created mainly because Urdu and Bengali were separate language but also had separate script.   The languages were so different that one could not the read or write the other. But then politico-economic reasons were there too. Bangladesh felt that this part of the country was being milked for the benefit of the other.

Then again linguistic differences   are not uncommon in different countries of the world. There are 22 major languages in India, written in 13 different scripts, with over 720 dialects. The official Indian languages are Hindi (with approximately 420 million speakers) and English, which is also widely spoken. In addition, several states in India have their own official languages, which are usually only spoken particular areas. As per 2011 Census of India languages by highest number of speakers are as follows: Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, Gujarati, Urdu, Kannada, Odia, and Malayalam. 22 languages are accepted by Indian Constitution. In Belgium spoken languages are—French and Dutch.

In short differences in languages do not constitute a government or a state. Nor does ethnicity. What makes a nation then? Britannica defines a nation state as—- Nation-state, a territorially bounded sovereign polity—i.e., a state —that is ruled in the name of a community of citizens who identify themselves as a nation. The legitimacy of a nation-state’s rule over a territory and over the population inhabiting it stems from the right of a core national group within the state (which may include all or only some of its citizens) to self-determination.  So why religion was the main determinant in the Partition of British ruled Indian sub-continent? What caused was the predominance of Hindus over Muslim population in India? Was the political ambition of the leaders of Indian Congress Party and the Muslim League?   

Questions arose what was the population of British India in 1947. British India had a population of ~299 million (1941: 292,164,791), the Native states ~90 million (1941: 88,167,852), French India 0.225 million, Portuguese India 0.5 million, the Dominion of India started with a population of ~230 million, while East Bengal / East Pakistan / Bangladesh picked up ~40 million, formerly British Indian subjectswith the rest ending up in West Pakistan, though there was quite a bit of movement, and annexation of territory and peoples soon after independence. 

There was a Census in 1941 before India’s Independence, when India’s population was enumerated as 31,86,60,000. The Government of India made first Census in 1951 when India’s her  population was 36,10,88,000 an increase of 13.31% in Ten years or an average increase of 1.33126 % per year or 2.986 % between 1941 and 1947.

So it could be estimated as 32,81,76,000. So the Muslim population was considerably lower than the Hindu population leading to a conclusion that Muslims would always be under the rule of Hindus. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was determined to be the first Prime Minister of India. Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel were opposed to Mahatma Gandhi’s reported offer to Mohammed Ali for any position in an undivided India- Governor Genera, Prime Minister or whatever he chose. Dalai Lama who is dictating his autobiography is reported to have blamed Pandit Nehru for the partition of India.   

Congress Party leader Man Shankar Ayyar (It was not Nehru who cut Jinnah’s chances of becoming PM—August 17 2020) as initially claimed by Dalai lama in his autography (but later quickly withdrawn). Ayyar added “since almost the morrow of Muslim League’s resolution of March 23 1940 the Congress had been attempting to persuade Stanley Wolpert in his biography of Jinnah, wrote that Jinnah and his League pressed the Pakistan demand as the Congress was more than willing to ensure that, to avoid partition, post-Independence, the reins of power could be passed to the hands of Jinnah and his League…

It was not Nehru but Jinnah who rejected Gandhi-ji’s offer. As Wolpert puts it, “Such an offer might have tempted Jinnah if he believed in or trusted Gandhi”. He did not. Instead, as he told the press, “Mr. Gandhi’s conception of ‘Independent India’ is basically different from ours”, adding, “Mr. Gandhi by independence means Congress raj. Mani Shankar Ayyar concluded “therefore, suggest to a new generation of students born decades after these events that Nehru opposed Gandhi-ji’s suggestion because he, Nehru, was hungering to become PM is both cruel and unfair and totally unhistorical”. 

Given this background of two divisions-Muslim League and Congress- had already been created defacto it is pointless to bring about the Hindu-Muslim divide after decades of majority-minority rule practiced throughout the world despite the unfairness it entails. Neil Ferguson used the words “historical evidence of technological innovation, religious effects, and economic differences, among other factors, to explain why the West, and Western Europe especially, was the dominant force in the world for centuries.”

He added that The West used to be hugely powerful. That was not because of chance. It was because of distinct traits that made the West more innovative and intrepid than the rest of the world”.   Stanley Wilbert gave credit to colonialism , “despite its occasional brutality”, was largely beneficial because it brought civilization and the attendant advances to areas of the world that were still living in barbaric versions of the Stone Age.   

Colonialism, made possible by the fact that the West was more powerful than “the rest” is what led to the rest of the world getting to experience the benefits of Western civilization.  

It is debatable: what factors led to  Narendra Modi’s victory in the elections: is it his muscularity vis-à-vis China and Pakistan or the benefits the common people got from his domestic reforms or was it his Hindutva philosophy which he has been preaching as a “ pracharak” from his young age or the amalgamation of all these factors.  Sashi Tharor Congress Party leader, explains that Hinduism is a rich religion brimming with multifariousness.  As opposed to the Semitic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the most well-known faiths in the Western world have some beliefs in common: every one of the three, for instance, accept that there’s just a single God and that he’s an existent and immaterial being. A genuine devotee must acknowledge that basic tenet.   

Hinduism, with regards to the mentioned tenet, is a totally contrasting religion. In opposition to their monotheistic partners, Hindus affirm the existence of several divine beings. These include Ganesh, the remover of deterrents, and Shiva, the destroyer. There is likewise a wide cluster of Holy Scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita and the Rigveda. Each Hindu is allowed to pick which gods she adores, which writings she upholds and when and where she supplicates. That makes Hinduism a profoundly individual-specific faith that differs from one adherent to another”. In other words Hindus are freer than others in the choice of their God.

A contrary argument could be confusion which more often than not leads to physical confrontation particularly in plutocratic societies. Imagine a household where husband and wife pray to different Gods. Hinduism generally regarded every other religion and venerated their consecrated writings and welcomed Buddhism and Sikhism as coming from the same roots.

The present scenario of slaughtering Beef eating Muslims and the anti-Muslim riots being read and seen on television screen give another picture. Communal fault-lines are not new in the country. When India was partitioned in 1947 — leading to the creation of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan — tens of millions of Muslims chose a secular India as their homeland; they were betting on a more promising future in a country that enshrined religious  equality into its constitution. But Hindu nationalists have long claimed a greater moral right over the nation and have questioned the patriotism of Indian Muslims. And the prejudice is no longer just rhetorical. It has turned into violent hatred that has spilled onto the streets of the country.    

The shift in India’s attitude towards Muslims has been there for centuries ever since the Muslims started invading India. This is the first time that Hindu population have voted BJP as a single majority political party with a group of people capable and willing to implement an anti-Muslim agenda.  Such activities are in violation on the Constitution contrary to the oath taken by the Council of Ministers, and harmful to the image of India carved out by the predecessors are of little importance when President Trump at Allahabad meeting termed it as the internal affairs of India

Gone with the wind when Pandit Nehru, President Nkrumah, Gamal Abdul Nasser dared to clear a path of Non-Aligned Movement when the US was busy with forming NATO, SEATO, CENTO and other alliances to guard the Russian encirclement   of East Europe.

Indian Congress Party leader Sashi Tharoor in his book Why I am a Hindu states, “In 1989, the BJP adopted Hindutva as its official ideology.   The BJP or Indian People’s Party has been ruling since 2014. From the beginning of their assuming of power, the nation has seen a flare-up of insularity which would’ve been incomprehensible to its Hindu ancestors. The BJP is focused on Hindutva, signifying “Hinduness.”” Tharoor traced the thought to a previously developed one of the mid-twentieth century.

At the point when India’s foremost sovereignty leader Mahatma Gandhi advocated for solidarity between the future sovereignty’s different religious societies, he experienced harsh criticism from various commentator   one being  Vinayak  Savarkar, a government official, and essayist who promoted the idea of Hinduness with his 1923 book Essentials of Hindutva.    Savarkar’s seminar in Hindu patriotism asserted that Hindus were the earliest occupants of India. That, he surmised, implied that India was by definition the place of habitation of the Hindus – a controversial move which right away proscribed other different religious faiths from Savarkar’s idea of citizenship.

In 1939, a conservative mastermind called MS Golwalkar expounded upon that line of thought in We, or Our Nationhood Defined. Golwalkar asserted that nationality was dictated by culture as opposed to geology. India, obviously, was socially Hindu from his point of view. A Muslim may live inside the nation’s physical territory, yet she wasn’t genuinely Indian since she didn’t partake in or identify with Hindu culture. That makes the BJP a great deal like a fundamentalist crusade. Like its partners in different parts of the world, its stubborn and discriminatory assertions about social personality sets up a precedence for an institutionalized abuse of minority groups.

Be that as it may, here’s the Catch 22: Hinduism is profoundly dedicated to a reverence for other faiths and religious inclusiveness, putting Hinduness up against an indispensable part of its own legacy.  Can one find similarity with the Nazi belief of superiority over other creed if one were to go with Golwalker’s assertion that that Nazi Germany’s institutionalized extermination of Europe’s Jews was a case of “race pride at its best,” something from which he trusted India would do well to learn?      

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