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Indian Muslims: Past and Present (Part II)

History of Islam in India
By Hady Ali and Mohamed Mostafa
History Researchers
IndianMuslimsPast-and-Present-Part-II
India’s Muslims have been suffering from marginalization, especially after the rise of the Hindu Right. (Reuters)
Indian Muslims, between Past and Present (Part II)

The Congress was founded in 1885 with the support of the British who saw it can be a unifying force for Indians regardless their religions, and thought they can understand and know the Indian public through it to suppress any chance for violent uprisings against them. However, the rise of Hindu nationalism was a main factor in the crystallization of the idea of a separate state for Muslims.

The 1920s was the peak of cohesion between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. Gandhi had succeeded in convincing the Khilafat society of India to join the Congress, and other Muslim parties followed. The first conference took place in 1920, and the society put forward its vision for an independent India. However, with fears of Hindu domination, the Muslim League parted ways with the Congress along with some Muslim Congress members, leaving Abul Kalam Azad, and his group, as the main Muslim figure remaining.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah assumed leadership of the League in 1936, adopting the idea of a separate Muslim state, and with the Congress dominating after elections in 1937, having a separate state became inevitable for the League. On March 21, 1940, the declaration of Lahore was issued calling for a Muslim state, and it became the basic doctrine of the League.

Partition and the Rise of the Hindu Right

Hindu nationalists believe that India will be consistent as an idea if defined synonymously with Hinduism. Hindutva is the distinguishing trait of Indians, according to them, with Muslims being a threat to it as a foreign element.

The partition of India was a paramount event in the history of India’s Muslims, as Hindus blamed the League for the partition, and the rest of Indian Muslims left suffering through communal clashes, killings, and discrimination at the hands of Hindu extremists like the Mahasabha. Deaths from both sides reached 1 million according to some accounts, with Delhi witnessing the largest share in violence against Muslims. Gandhi himself mentioned attacks on 137 mosques in Delhi from Hindu and Sikh extremists, and putting idols inside them.

India’s leaders, most importantly Jawaharlal Nehru, did their best to overcome these communal tensions before and throughout independence. The 1950 constitution adopted secularism and religious rights for all, leading to a period of peace and tolerance. This tolerance, however, was threatened with the rise of the far Hindu Right which considers secularism nothing other than an appeasement for Muslims. Instead, the Hindu Right proposes Hinduism as a national identity for India.

RSS is the main Hindu organization representing this ideology, founded in 1925 by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, who had assumed several posts in the Congress before leaving it due to his disappointment with failing to meet extreme Hindu ideals, with Gandhi’s leadership of the party, and with Muslims’ activities within it. He founded the RSS to raise Hindu youth, and achieve progress for India as a mainly Hindu nation.

Hindu nationalists believe that India will be consistent as an idea if defined synonymously with Hinduism. Hindutva (which means Hindu culture), is the distinguishing trait of Indians, according to them, with Muslims being a threat to it as a foreign element. Hindu nationalists practiced discrimination against other religions, especially Muslims, and always put obstacles in the way of integrating them completely within Indian society.

The Babri Mosque and the Escalation of Violence

The 1980s and 1990s witnessed the rise of the Hindu Right, leading the Hindu nationalist BJP –political arm of the RSS- to win the elections in 1998, and form a government during 1998-2004, something which led to the escalation of communal tension according to many analysts. 

In 1984, the Global Hindu Council created a panel lead by the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) organization to liberate the birthplace of God Rama and build a temple commemorating him, replacing the Babri Mosque. As response, 2 years later Muslims founded a panel for Babri Mosque to protest the Hindu panel and its goals.

In 1989 the BJP and VHP escalated in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s capital, putting the first building block for the Rama temple close to the mosque. With the electoral victory of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh in 1991, part of the mosque was demolished, and in 1992 it was completely brought down by Hindu extremists. A series of clashes took place killing 3000 people mostly Muslims, and leaving thousands injured.

In 2002, clashes renewed in Gujarat due to the killing of VHP members (one of whom was a member of the coalition government) during an attack on a train by people who were claimed to be Muslims. The clashes left 2000 dead. Till this day clashes take place, but not as bloody as the ones that shook Gujarat in 2002.

Indian Muslims and Marginalization

“Without doubt Muslims have paid the price of Partition. They could have been significantly stronger in a united India. Of course Pakistan and Bangladesh won't like what I am saying” India’s former Minister of External Affairs said.

 

India’s Muslims have been suffering from marginalization, especially after the rise of the Hindu Right. Despite the fact that the Indian constitution guarantees equality between all of India’s citizens, a feeling of discrimination is prevalent amongst Indian Muslims, something which was reported by the Sachar committee in 2005 to the Indian government. The Sachar committee, created by the government to study the social and economic conditions of the Muslim community, pointed to a very low Muslim socio-economic condition, with their development indices being the lowest across India, compared to other minorities (e.g. literacy, school enrollment, employment in the bureaucracy, police, banks and public sector, etc.), and a level of poverty that is the highest. One of the important findings of the committee was the fact that the percentage of Indian Muslims employed in the bureaucracy is much less than their percentage of India’s population and that Muslims are increasingly feeling threatened by a Hindu-dominated society.

Besides, Muslims often feel they are looked at as agents for Pakistan and conspirators against their own country, especially when it comes to Jammu and Kashmir, one of the most important places where Muslims are suffering, and where some Muslims identify with Pakistan. BBC’s Jill McGivering reported in Delhi in 2002: “Many Muslims see they are being criminalized, as well as feeling isolated in India’s society.”

Indian Muslims feel pressure to always prove they are loyal to India not to Pakistan, and as Aftab Taiyab, a cricket fan, says: “Whenever there is a cricket match between India and Pakistan - they always think we're supporting Pakistan and not India. Why so? We're as much Indian as they are.” Dr. Mukarram Ahmed Mufti, Imam at Fatehpuri mosque, says: “When the tension escalates then this type of question comes more frequently - such as 'Do you support Pakistan?'… 'You're going to have a war, what's your opinion about this?’... I will always support India, why will I support Pakistan? This is our motherland.”[1]

Finally, “India-Partition-Independence”, an important book written by India’s former minister for external affairs Jaswant Singh, who broke away from the BJP, describes the conditions of Muslims as “neglected” and “deprived”. “Look into the eyes of the Muslims who live in India and if you truly see the pain with which they live, to which land do they belong? We treat them as aliens...without doubt Muslims have paid the price of Partition. They could have been significantly stronger in a united India...of course Pakistan and Bangladesh won't like what I am saying”, Jaswant Singh said ahead of the release of his book in 2009.



[1] Jill McGivering. “India’s Muslims Feel Backlash.” BBC News 6 June 2002. Web. 16 April 2014

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Hady Ali is an award-winning Assistant Lecturer of History with a Master's thesis on the Muslim-Crusade conflict in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

Mohamed Mostafa is a history researcher working on his Master's thesis in Islamic political thought.

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