The Story Hall
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The Story Hall

India & Me (The Hindu-Muslim Thing)

I often fantasise that if Hindus and Muslims had been able to see beyond their (our) religious differences, India would have stolen a march on China. I have little doubt that Hindus in Islamic Pakistan suffer much the same fate as Muslims in secular India.

Asif, the Tourist Board Leader of the Sunderban tour that I joined, was the only Muslim in any position of authority that I came across. Muslims forming between 25 and 30% of the population of India, one would expect, for example, to see Muslim reporters _I saw none in The Hindu or The Times Of India, which I read daily. There are next to no Muslim ministers in the cabinet, no Muslim executives, no top civil servants. Exceptionally, the Film Industry has more than its fair share of Muslims. Shah Rukh Khan is probably the most

Shah Rukh Khan and his wife Gauri had a Muslim wedding and a Hindu wedding

prized of the Bollywood stars appearing in some advert on television every twenty minutes, promoting everything from watches to soft drinks, presenting Crore Patti (Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?) Also, I gathered that the underworld is run by Muslims from Bhopal! Dawood Ebrahim, wanted for a number of crimes in India, is being sheltered by the government of the land of the pure. In Mauritius, where the proportion of Hindus and Muslims are mirrored by that on the subcontinent, apart from the very top jobs, all ethnic groups have a fair bite of the cherry. I wish that the largest secular democracy in the world, with its erstwhile history of non-violence and nonalignment, would have given a lead and shown the world how to rule with justice!

Asif confirmed my doubts; officially, in West Bengal, we are deemed to be thirty-five percent Muslims, he said, although the true figure is closer to fifty, but do you know how many Muslim civil servants, policemen etc… do we have? Less than one percent, he wailed! Maybe he was exaggerating, but probably not much. Still, when I was over, India had a Muslim president, the wily physicist, Dr Abdul Kalam.

President Abdul Kalam

He was shown on television smiling happily, saying, wonderful news! wonderful news! when Narayan Murthy agreed to be a presidential candidate to succeed him as his own term draws to a close, but on the next day with a straight face he declared that he had not yet made up his mind as to whether he was seeking another term of office.

In some parts, like in Bhopal and Hyderabad, Muslims seem to be prominent businessmen, so it is conceivable that they do not seek jobs in the civil service and in the police force. In Agra Muslims seem to have monopolised the Taj

Tourists at the Taj Mahal

Mahal industry. Muslim Qawwalis sing Muslim dirges outside the Agra Fort and outside the Taj Mahal itself. The shops selling marble replicas and sundry other ornaments bear Muslim names. The guides are Muslims, and they make no attempt to disguise their Muslim bias. Thus, our guide did a very good revisionist job when it came to the Bin Laden of his times, the emperor Aurangzeb.

Aurangzeb, villain or saint?

He was a bloodthirsty fanatic, a fratricide who stopped short of murdering his own father, the emperor Shah Jahan who constructed the Taj Mahal. People accuse Aurangzeb of being a religious zealot and a mass murderer, the guide said sadly, shaking his head, he was nothing of the sort; he was a pious man who had the interest of the people and the country at heart.

But the art connoisseur in our guide conceded that his hero might have got it wrong when he ordered many of the sculptures and carvings commissioned by his aesthete grandfathers, to be defaced because graven images were against the laws of Islam. But remember, he said emphatically, he did not kill his father, but kept him in prison, in a gilded cage, in the Agra Fort, where he was able to admire his masterpiece all the time. The story that he had guards who were specifically charged with stopping the old emperor sneaking a glimpse of his oeuvre,were lies spread by his enemies.

The Shah Jahan had spent three crores of the country’s money in order to build the Taj Mahal _ and that’s not counting the marble which was brought from Rajasthan and had cost him nothing. He had made plans to build a Male Taj Mahal, replicating the original one, but using black marble wherever white had first appeared. No doubt another three crores waiting to go down the drain.

The Jizya, the Infidel Tax imposed on non-Muslims was only a nominal tax, the guide said wearily, as if unable to understand why people wasted their energy on such trivial matters. Again he was accused of being a mass murderer for killing Hindus who refused to convert, but he only did this in the best interest of the nation. You see, he explained, he had realised that it would be better to have one religion, so people would not spend their energy fighting each other. Once the whole of India was Muslim, trilled the guide, think of what a strong united country we would have been. I did not feel able to tell him that with the Hindus outnumbering the Muslims by over three to one,an easier unification strategy might have been to force Muslims to convert to Hinduism!

It was a shame about Aurangzeb, for many of his predecessors _ Akbar is a prime example _ made it their vocation to unify Hindus and Muslims. Hadn’t Akbar taken a Hindu wife, Jodhbai? And she it was who bore him his only son, Prince Salim, whose beloved Anarkali was not only a Hindu but also a nautch girl, and who Akbar condemned to be buried alive. He later to became Emperor Jehangir?* Didn’t Muhammad Quli, the man who created Hyderabad marry a Banjal woman (Hindu), Bhagamathi and name the city Bhagyanagaram after her, before changing it to Hyderabad only after she had converted to Islam and taken the name of Hyder Mahal?

When I was in Kolkata, I went to Belgachia where there is a majority of Muslims. In the tea houses, I found Muslims and Hindus drinking chai and eating sandesh side by side. I got talking to a man who happened to be a biology teacher in a college, and I mentioned this to him, and he laughed. In Kolkata, he said proudly, we think of ourselves as Bengali first, then Hindu or Muslim or Christian or whatever. I did not entirely believe him, but I still formed the opinion that Bengalis were probably more tolerant than other Indians.

The Hindu-Muslim divide has always been a big handicap to the development of the subcontinent. Who are the Indian Muslims? Many fantasise about their ancestors sweeping into India in heroic hordes from Iran or Samarkhand, fuelled only by their Islamic fervour, in a crusade to convert the idolatrous Hindus and put them in the righteous path of Islam, but history does not bear this out. Muslims were often the descendants of the Untouchables, the despised Chhamars, who sought refuge from the cruelty of the higher castes by converting to the more egalitarian form of Islam practised then. Or, many were Hindus forced to change religion by zealots like Aurangzeb to save their lives.

When I was in Bhopal, the running story in the papers was that of the Hindu young woman Priyanka who had eloped with the Muslim Umar to Mumbai. The police arrested Umar’s brother who was himself married to a Sindhi girl (Bhopal received large numbers of Hindu refugees from Sindh at independence, and they are an important community there). The Sindhi girl had converted to Islam, and they seemed to have been living a normal life in Bhopal, but Umar had decided that he would convert to the faith of his wife, and did so in an official ceremony in Mumbai, taking the name of Umesh, much to his own father’s anger. The latter had warned his son not to darken his doorstep ever again in the future. In the meantime a court in Mumbai declared the union perfectly valid and called upon the police to give protection to the young couple. Of the thousands of people who sent text messages to CNN (India) and other television stations, more than half thought that it was a bad idea for people to marry outside their religion.

An electoral campaign was going on in Uttar Pradesh (U.P.), and Rahul Gandhi, Sonia and Rajiv Gandhi’s young son, the latest in line in the Nehru dynasty, went campaigning on behalf of Congress, which seemed to be on a hiding to nothing in that state at the present moment. In a speech he deplored the demolition of the reconstructed Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, suggesting that Narasimha Rao, the former BJP Prime Minister of India had done nothing to stop it, stopping short of accusing him of advocating it _ L.K.Advani has been openly accused of doing so! He was immediately attacked from all sides, even his own Congress Party; his opponents portrayed him as a stooge of the Muslims. Congress was unlikely to do well in U.P. , and that, in spite of Manmohan Singh making a speech in which he called Rao his guru! The BJP is quite shameless in its exploitation of the ill feeling many Hindus harbour towards Muslims. They had circulated a C.D. which seemed to be no less crude than those cartoons of Jews, of Julius Streicher’s in Die Stürmer that the Nazis published, in their heyday, in order to whip up anti-Jewish sentiments. But it is possible that the BJP were not aiming at the Muslims at all, but at Congress, which historically has aspired to be the ally of Muslims.

Babri Masjid in its heyday

The Babri Masjid affair has cast a dark shadow over the already far from harmonious entente between the two main religious groups of India. Egged on by the luminaries of the JNP, its followed demolished the beautiful mosque in a matter of hours, leaving it in a rubble. The Muslims, they claimed, had built their mosque over a temple set up to commemorate the birth of God Krishna. No one can really see the mosque being rebuilt, as had been promised by the government of the day

Proud fundamentalist Hindus claiming victory over an army of bricks and mortar

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