June 3, 2002


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Najid Hussain

The race of fanaticism

I have great admiration and respect for Hinduism, because I regard the principles of Hinduism as some of the best the human race could have put into practice. The theory of dharma and karma and their importance in seeking nirvana are unique and represent understanding at a very high level of the human intellect.

But just as Islam has been hijacked by a few radicals who did not understand the humanity and more compassionate elements of their religion, Hinduism is being hijacked by a few Hindus who have been working hard at the grassroots for decades in what they believe are efforts at reviving Hinduism. They see Hinduism as a decaying ideology under threat. But a closer analysis of these awakened Hindus, their fascist ideology, extreme agenda and radical mindset reveals only a suppressed psyche which promotes a message of hate, painting an apocalyptic picture of Hinduism, everything that this great philosophy, or religion if you will, is not.

They [the radical Hindus] say that historically Hindus have been suppressed. No one can deny that. Hindus have been suppressed and ruled by several foreigners, including Dutch, French, Portuguese, Mughal and British invaders. Although a part of the legacy of those foreign rulers in terms of architecture and administration was good and desirable, one of its unfortunate effects was that in one way or the other, elements of that rule still continue in some of our hearts and minds. Unless we understand how it became possible for those invaders to defeat and rule us, we will never be able to strengthen ourselves enough to come out of that slavish mindset. Simply blaming others or acquiring a vengeful attitude towards other faiths and beliefs will not solve our problem.

The biggest mistake our ancestors made [the ancestors of today's Hindus and Muslims of the Indian subcontinent are the same -- Hindus] was the creation of the caste system. With that they created several apparently conflicting and mutually hateful groups amongst the followers of the same faith [Hinduism], injecting a mostly suppressive and hated mechanism. Even before the invaders came from outside, we were actively suppressing our own people, thus weakening ourselves. In fact, with that infighting, it was easier for the outsiders to conquer us, dominate us, collectively suppress us, even force us into foreign faiths and beliefs. It was our own indigenous policy of the past that weakened us and allowed us to be ruled by external forces.

The very fact that the 'awakened' Hindus of today continue to not only dodge that basic issue, but even condone it by trying to put a positive spin on its utility even in present times -- and do nothing about the urgent need to integrate all Hindus regardless of caste -- shows that their objective is not to reform the religion and help Hinduism out of the clutches of divisive forces. Rather, their motivation is something else. Their true agenda only appears to spread hate against certain communities; to punish the followers of those foreign faiths for the excesses of their ancestors; to cleanse society of those people. An agenda that has all the elements of fascist ideology, a failed ideology that continues to impress only those sick minds which have otherwise failed to make a difference in the world through progress or through the strength of their principles.

As a Muslim, I have no doubt in my mind that Muslim invaders, even if some of those integrated well with our Indian culture and contributed immensely to our history and pride, have committed despicable crimes and excesses against Indians in general and Hindus in particular. But today what we need to understand and appreciate is that present-day Muslims have nothing to do with that and that they cannot and should not be held responsible for the crimes of their ancestors.

It reminds me of the time when as a six-year-old I was on a train journey. As the train began to move, someone from the compartment ahead spat out and the spittle landed on my hand. Angrily, I spat right back, but it fell on someone behind me, who then came looking for me. The Hindu reformists must rise above that six-year-old intellect. While I do not discount the past excesses of Muslims on Hindus, those excesses had nothing to do with me and asking me to pay for them is ludicrous, just as ludicrous as asking today's upper-caste Hindus to pay for the atrocities of their ancestors on Harijans, or present-day whites for the slavery of blacks in the past.

I do, however, agree that in present times there are several factors that remind Hindus of past Muslim excesses, some of which include Ayodhya, Kashmir, Muslim Personal Law and the anti-national activities of some Muslims. An oft-repeated example is that many Muslims celebrate Pakistan's victory in cricket matches. Many of these complaints or concerns are overly exaggerated and politically motivated, but let us try and analyse these complaints a little more rationally.

This was the biggest blunder of the Muslim leadership. They had a chance to build a bridge of understanding and co-operation with Hindus by yielding on this issue. Besides, it was a small price to pay to compensate for some of the atrocities of their ancestors, even if the claim of the VHP and other radical organisations about the existence of a Ram temple at the site in the pre-Babur era was wrong. Plain and true, they missed the opportunity. The good news is that they still have time to act. Syed Shahabuddin, are you listening?

This issue is a little more complex. I don't think Kashmir is a problem created by Kashmiri Muslims. Much of the crime is committed by those coming from across the border for which the locals get blamed. There is also some resentment among the Kashmiris because our Union has failed to integrate them in the mainstream. That is why it was easier for the ISI to foment trouble in the region. But it would be wrong for us to call it a religious issue. A similar resentment and effort at breaking up was witnessed in Punjab. But we did not bring in religion there, and rightly so. Keeping religious sentiments away, despite the strong temptation to do so, alone will help evolve a solution to the problem in Kashmir. Of course, my heart goes out to those Kashmiri Hindus who have been killed and driven out of their homeland. My heart also goes out to the Kashmiri Muslims who have been killed and displaced over the same period and are no less in number. We need to find a political solution to this problem. The sooner, the better.

The BJP came to power on the promise of scrapping Article 370 in Kashmir. I supported that. It is more than four years since the party came to power and they have done nothing about it. One wonders why. Do they lack the political will, or was it just a convenient issue to whip up religious sentiments and derive mileage?

Muslim Personal Law:
The Muslim leadership has failed its followers here as well. Muslims in general do not oppose a uniform civil code, but they have got the rap for the apathy of their leaders, who exaggerate the importance of the MPL. Muslims in every developed nation, the UK, USA, Germany, France, follow that country's civil code without insisting on a Muslim Personal Law. Then why the opposition to a uniform civil code in India? If they had a little foresight, they would have challenged the proponents of the UCC to do just that. There are other complications in bringing a unified code in India -- like properly integrating various existing Hindu laws and benefits provided to different castes and tribes under existing laws. But again, the Muslim leadership just provided radical Hindus an excuse to put the blame squarely on the MPL and get away with it.

Despite all the noise made by these Hindu activists, the fact is that India's demography has not changed over the last 50 years in spite of the ballooning population. I don't know of any Muslim who has, or wants to have, four wives and dozens of children. The percentage of population with large families [more than six members] also does not show any significant religious bias. So why has the Muslim leadership allowed the blame to be pinned on us for nothing? Ignorance! Wake up, Shahabuddins!

Support for Pakistan:
In justifying the Gujarat carnage, many of my intellectual Hindu friends reminded me that Muslims are anti-national -- they celebrate Pakistani victories during India-Pakistan cricket matches. I don't agree. If this is the yardstick for being anti-national, I have known many Indians living abroad, Hindu and Muslim, who at the very first opportunity renounce their Indian passports and nationality to become American, or British, or Canadian, even Ugandan or Kenyan. Are they anti-national?

It is said that America lost the Vietnam War first in the United States. People were against that war. And they had the freedom to express their views. They were not anti-national. There are many Americans who burn their own flag. Who dares call them anti-national? That is what freedom is all about.

But realistically, not all Muslims hoot for Pakistan. In fact, I have not known anyone who does. So why do we succumb to such stereotyping? Because politically it helps. Because power politics cannot survive without identifying and outlining differences. You need villains to project yourself as a hero. That is what this rhetoric is all about.

Every society has some bad elements -- Muslim, Hindu or Christian. But those bad elements don't define a society. Good elements do. Just because some of those bad elements do what we perceive as anti-national activities, we cannot ask them to leave India. They are also Indian nationals who have every right to live in India. All of their ancestors were Indian, even if at some stage they chose to accept Islam. No one has a right to ask them, or force them, to leave India. There are thousands of Indian Americans who regard themselves Americans. Imagine if tomorrow there is unrest in the US over unemployment and Americans ask them to leave because they are taking up their jobs. How would they feel? Especially those who were born and brought up there? Who have not known any other country as homeland except the US?

That is the state of most Indian Muslims who are often asked to leave India just because somebody paints the entire community anti-national based on a few such bad elements.

During the Gujarat riots, the VHP targeted and killed my father-in-law, the former MP Ahsan Jafri, just because he was a Muslim. Ahsan Jafri was neither a terrorist nor a fundamentalist, nor even an anti-national. He served his country and its citizens, regardless of their ethnic background, race, or religion, for 50 years with pride and distinction. His poems full of strong nationalism and his teachings constant with human values and communal tolerance are a testimony to his deep roots in Indian culture and respect for all faiths, which those who targeted and killed him did not understand or appreciate. Of course, the Jafri family did not blame the entire Hindu society for killing their loved one. Because they know that a few bad elements of a society do not represent the entire society.

Muslim pampering and pandering by political bodies, however, has been a reality in India. That has been one prime factor, which has been largely responsible for the state of Indian Muslims today. The vote-bank politics following Independence has kept Indian Muslims mostly unchanged in terms of education, development or progress. A strong Muslim leadership is mostly absent. I fully agree that without this pampering, Indian Muslims could have done much better if a level field without faith-based discrimination, or intimidation, had been ensured.

Sadly, although the BJP blamed the Congress for such vote-bank politics, it is doing exactly the same. Of course, it does not appease Muslims. Instead, it appeases the VHP, Bajrang Dal and RSS who show the same mindset as Muslim fundamentalists.

The Katopanishad says: 'Those who dwell on yesterday's mistakes are condemned to repeat them tomorrow.' Let the intellectuals not fall for the divisive agenda of activists disguised as patriots or Indian nationalists. Let us not become pseudo-intellectual and pseudo-secular just because we are repeatedly challenged by such rhetoric. Let us recognise that an Indian is an Indian regardless of his colour, race, or religion; that he/she has a right to freedom of expression and faith. Despite all expressed apocalyptic fears, Hinduism cannot be destroyed or weakened. And nor can Indian Muslims.

Najid Hussain teaches at the College of Marine Studies, University of Delaware, Newark.

The Gujarat carnage
Terrorism strikes in J&K

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