The Hatreds of India; Hindu Memory Scarred by Centuries Of Sometimes Despotic Islamic Rule

Posted on August 5, 2010

0


hen Hindus destroyed a 16th-century mosque in a remote northern town on Sunday, they touched off four days of rioting in which hundreds were killed as Muslims protested against what they saw as persecution.

Hindu leaders said the militants were trying to sweep away deep feelings of inferiority and were asserting the dominance of Hinduism in Indian society, culture and politics.

The paradox is that Hindus are not a persecuted minority. They are, in fact, the vast majority of a country that regards itself as heir to an ancient civilization. Hindus account for 83 percent of the 882 million Indians.

The deep-rooted cause of India’s crisis is that despite their history, Hindus as well as Muslims act out of a sense of persecution. Centuries of Brutality

The Hindus’ sense of inadequacy and the passionate emotions it breeds are rooted in a history of brutal occupations by Islamic rulers over the past 1,000 years.

But these long memories have also been inflamed by a series of what Hindus see as injustices that began with the creation of the country in 1947, when Pakistan was severed from India and set up as an Islamic state. (East Pakistan became Bangladesh.)

Since 1947, Hindus have seen Muslims rise up in the Kashmir Valley and again threaten the unity of India. Hindus have seen the Sikhs of the Punjab take up arms to press their claim for a separate state. Hindus have seen the Supreme Court allow Muslim men to divorce their wives without paying alimony, as Muslim tradition allows. (The court ruled that Sharia, or Muslim law, held precedence for Muslims over Indian civil law.)

In all of this, India’s Hindus are resentful and angry, and many are determined to wrest what they see as their country back from the discriminatory bonds of secularism. Accusations of Appeasement

For many Hindus, India should become a Hindu state, a nation run by and for Hindus. This is why the mosque was destroyed.

“It has a whole history,” Jipendra Kumar Tyagi, a physician at a government hospital here, said of the mosque’s destruction. “Here in this country, the majority people are so much harassed. The policies of the Government are to appease the Muslims for petty political gain.”

The tension was reflected in the reaction to Mr. Tyagi’s comments during a conversation with several Hindus. Many joined in approvingly but a young man, Hari Kumar, a sociology graduate student at Delhi University, dissented.

“This is the most disastrous incident for our country,” he said. “I feel our country has been pushed back 20 years. You are believing this propaganda. You are not being rational people.” An Instinct for Prejudice

As the talk skittered back and forth, emotions ran high, and one man accused Mr. Kumar of being “commissioned from the other side,” an allusion to Pakistan, thus baring the instinctual prejudices, the tendrils of real and imagined history that collude in dividing many of the 732 million Hindus from the 97 million Muslims.

Many Hindus, probably a vast majority, think of themselves as somehow second-class citizens in their own land, somehow shunted aside as the Muslims are granted special privileges. It is a sentiment that is sometimes viscerally held, a sentiment that has become the fuel for a new type of Indian politics, the politics of divisiveness, mistrust, religious chauvinism.

India’s Hindus, historically, have not enjoyed an always comfortable relationship with Islam. Ten centuries ago, Mahmud of Ghazni, an Afghan ruler, spent a good deal of time touring India with his armies, leaving a trail of looted towns and wrecked Hindu temples. This was India’s first experience with the Muslim world.

After a respite of 200 years another Afghan, Muhammad of Ghor, led his armies to what is now Delhi, where he defeated King Prithvi Raj III and captured the region. A Mogul’s Disdain

For centuries after, Muslim invaders ruled large chunks of India, allying themselves with Hindus when convenient, obliterating Hindu influence when necessary. Babur, the first of the Mogul kings, who marched into India in the early 16th century, saw opportunities for booty but remained singularly unimpressed by his conquest.

“Hindustan,” he wrote dismissively, “is a country that has few pleasures to recommend it. The people are not handsome. They have no idea of the charms of friendly society, of frankly mixing together, of familiar intercourse.

“They have no genius, no comprehension of mind, no politeness of manner, no kindness or fellow-feeling, no ingenuity or mechanical invention in planning or executing their handicraft works, no skill or knowledge in design or architecture; they have no horses, no good flesh, no grapes or musk melons, no good fruits, no ice or cold water, no good food or bread in their bazaars, no baths or colleges, no candles, no torches, not a candlestick.”

Mogul rule gave way to the British, and the British to the new nations of Pakistan and India in 1947. But nationhood, achieved over the bodies of half a million Muslims and Hindus slaughtered in the partition, did not bring with it a sense of renewal, a sense of confidence, a sense of marching into the modern world.

To the Hindu ear, Babur’s words still stung like a fresh slap.

India’s history is not, for most Hindus, a record of earlier civilizations, of distant wars, religions, economies, societies, the stuff of dusty tomes. Instead history, or at least the version retold by Hindu ideologues, is evidence of an enduring Islamic hostility to Hinduism, of the repression of Hindus at the hands of an alien religion.

“So many temples have been destroyed by Babur,” explained Dr. Tyagi. “We have had this sentimental feeling for centuries. I think the Ram temple should be there.” A Hindu’s Grievances

As a matter of faith, Hindu fundamentalists believe fervently that the mosque built by Babur in Ayodhya was on the precise site where their god Ram was born 5,000 years ago, a mosque that was erected after a Hindu temple was leveled. The destruction of the mosque, which was praised by Dr. Tyagi and many members of India’s solid middle class, was revenge for that insult 464 years ago.

But what fuels Hindu passions even more than the abuse of history is the perception, deeply and immovably held, that Muslims continue to enjoy special privileges endowed by the ruling Congress Party to preserve itself in power over most of the past 45 years.

Dr. Tyagi willingly provides a litany of grievances.

“Thousands of temples in Kashmir have been demolished,” he said. “Hindus have been forced out. There is Shah Bano,” which allows Muslims to invoke Sharia rather than civil law in divorce cases. “This was a decision to appease the Muslims. If there is any sports event and Pakistan wins over India, this particular community cheers. It has been going on for 40 years. This should be checked.”

Mr. Kumar, the graduate student, regards people like Dr. Tyagi as easy prey for Hindu ideologues. “The propaganda war by the Hindu fundamentalists,” he said, “has been in such a systematic manner that they are quite convincing. This propaganda war deals with Hindus killed in the Punjab, Hindus forced to leave Kashmir, hundreds of temples destroyed in Kashmir, privileges under the law.”

For the Muslims, the events of the past week augur ill, for them and for India’s secular credentials. Indeed, Tahir Mahmood, the head of Islamic and Comparative Studies at the Indian Institute of Islamic Studies, likens the events at Ayodhya to the actions of Germany’s skinheads and to the behavior of the Nazis. Standards Have Changed

“It is exactly the kind of thing that is happening in Germany,” Mr. Mahmood said. “In practice, these Hindus have been the opposite of tolerance and nonviolence.” He said that most Muslims were baffled by the anguish expressed by Hindus over Babur’s mosque in Ayodhya.

“For the average Muslim in the street, it is quite logical,” he explained. “This was done 500 years ago and this was done according to thoughts then. The kings did it their own way. These things happening now in 1992 seem to be no excuse. It seems inexplicable to Muslims. There was no case for demolishing the mosque, even if Babur demolished a temple 500 years ago.” A ‘Bewildered’ Community

Rasheeduddin Khan, the director of the Indian Institute of Federal Studies and a former member of the upper house of Parliament, says the persistent antipathy between the two communities is a direct consequence of sundering Pakistan from India in 1947.

“Partition has left a scar on everyone,” he said. “The partition of a country on religious grounds is irrational. It is not acceptable as part of modern statecraft.”

The Bharatiya Janata Party, the political party of Hindu fundamentalists, “has been systematically propagating that Muslims are not to be trusted,” Mr. Khan continued.

” ‘Look at these Muslims when they ruled India’,” he quoted Hindus as saying. ” ‘They built mosques on our temples. The role of the Muslim has been to oppress you and destroy your dignity.’ Nobody questions that. This has reached even the rational strata of people, doctors, engineers.”

The Muslims, who are bearing the brunt of the sectarian violence that is sweeping over dozens of cities and towns, have become visibly cowed by the assertion of Hindu might demonstrated in Ayodhya, “bewildered and benumbed,” in Mr. Khan’s words.

“When you have B.J.P.-like parties who openly speak of building a new Hindu ethos, as opposed to a new composite Indian ethos, you allow communal polarization, allow intolerance,” Mr. Khan concluded.

Mr. Mahmood wonders whether there is any way to bridge the gap.

“There is a very fundamental difference between Hindus and Muslims,” he said. “If we go by religious beliefs, what is most abhorrent in Islam is idol worship. For our religion it is so abhorrent. For the other it is normal practice. For followers of Islam, they cannot compromise on that. That seems to be the main reason these communities cannot reconcile.”

For Mr. Mahmood, however, India’s salvation can only lie in the preservation of secularism, the Government’s neutrality in matters of faith.

“India must try and retain its secularism,” he said. “Whether it will, we will see.” And if it fails, “we are going back into the medieval ages.”

Hundreds of people have been killed in the violence that broke out in India after the destruction on Sunday of a mosque in a remote northern town. Rioting, arson and looting have swept Bombay, where looters carried goods from a store that was ransacked on Wednesday. (Associated Press)

By EDWARD A. GARGAN, The New York Times
Published: December 11, 1992
Advertisements
Posted in: India