Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Muslims lost an opportunity

by Sandhya Jain

The current explosion of violence, politics, and religious sentiment over the allotment and subsequent cancellation of land for civic amenities to Hindu pilgrims to Amarnath in Jammu & Kashmir should convincingly establish that religion is here to stay in the nation's public life. Religion and its associated culture and civilisational ethos have a large and legitimate role in forming the national character of a people, and need honourable acknowledgement, not concealment.

In India, the time has come to end the 'invisibility' of its Hindu face, and affirm the primacy of Hindu dharma in national identity and national life. Hindu dharma is the faith of India's native and majority community; it cannot cede its status to guest faiths which came here seeking solace from persecution, or to faiths that rode on the back of colonial conquest.

If Ayodhya was the first significant milestone in the Hindu quest for civilisational comeback, Amarnath is the next turning point. In Ayodhya, the Muslim failure to perpetuate the 400-year-old appropriation of the Ram Janmabhoomi was given a semi-fig-leaf of 'victimhood' by anti-Hindus appalled at the fall of the decrepit Babri structure. But Amarnath is pure provocation, a scandalous demonstration of intolerance by groups and parties that take their cue from external sources.

It is absolute tripe that the six PDP Ministers in the coalition Government were in the dark that the Sri Amarnath Shrine Board had sought land for facilities for pilgrims; PDP's alliance with the incendiary Hurriyat in opposing the transfer may have improved its cachet in the forthcoming Assembly election, but bodes ill for the future. It was politically and emotionally ill-timed as the State Government was making overtures to the ethnically-cleansed Kashmiri Hindus to return to the Valley. The promised safety of the persecuted Pandits has now been proved to be a chimera even before the first family could return.

Amarnath is different from Ayodhya. For all its resonance in the hearts of the people, the Ram Janmabhoomi movement could be misrepresented as raking up past issues and provoking a communal reaction. This is, of course, not true, as the dharma of India is a living entity and the gods actually reside in the temples built for them; the structures of monotheistic traditions are mere congregation halls for the faithful, and thus secular rather than divine.

What makes the Amarnath issue so potent is that it does not concern the hapless Kashmiri Hindus, whose pathetic situation is an embarrassment to all political parties and, therefore, purged from memory. The Amarnath yatra attracts Hindus from all over the country. The challenge to an innocuous move by nationalist Governor Gen SK Sinha, coupled with Mirwaiz Farooq's specious claim that an attempt was being made to change the demographic character of the Valley (incidentally the land of Rishi Kashyap), brought sword-wielding middle-aged women into the streets of Jammu. This is an indication that 21st century civil society is beginning to rear its Kshatriya head again.

The shocking and unexpected intolerance towards Hindu pilgrims is widely perceived in India as an attempt to put an end to the yatra itself, as Gen Sinha has been replaced by a supine bureaucrat who obediently 'requested' the State Government to cancel the land allotment and take over the arrangements for the pilgrims. India now has to face the religious identity-cum-civilisational issue head-on. The so-called Nehruvian consensus (actually imposition) is dead and cannot be restored.

At the root of the problem are the linked issues of secularism and Article 370; both are crying for a legitimate space in the dustbin of history. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru bypassed the civilisational issue at independence and imposed a peculiar version of secularism upon the country, with profound, unseen consequences. Nehruvian secularism did not mean tolerance of religious diversity, or even the separation of religion and politics, both of which find resonance in the sanatana dharma.

Nehruvian secularism denied Hindu dharma a seat in the public arena, but legitimised the role of religion in defining the character of minorities in the public realm. This gave minorities a tremendous affirmation of religious identity; Hindus, in contrast, suffered a powerful sense of religious denial and humiliation. As a natural corollary, secularism and votebank politics promoted minorityism at the expense of the majority community, as manifested in state patronage for haj, separate personal laws; tolerance of illegal immigration affecting religious demography and even national security; and carelessness towards the growth of a fanatic underworld which threatens national security.

Hindu dharma is now compelled to assert its natural dominance in its homeland, as Amarnath has demonstrated that Muslims have discarded an opportunity to adjust to the nation's foundational ethos. It needs to be asserted here that every nation has a core culture and identity based on its ancient and native traditions; all groups position themselves around this core. This does not imply that later entrants or minority groups become second-class citizens; but in no country do minorities dictate the nation's identity and ethos.

Abrahamic faiths are vastly different from non-monotheistic traditions because they begin with a human founder at a specific point in history. He launches an exclusivist religious mission which involves the quest for a people and the conquest of an external (and ever-expanding) territory for those 'chosen' people. This necessarily involves the takeover of land peopled by others and the annihilation of the existing religion and culture; often, the original occupants of the land are simply exterminated en masse. The Old Testament testifies that this is what happened at Jericho, "land of milk and honey," when Moses' disciple Joshua set its walls tumbling down. The genocide of Native Americans in North and South America is another grim example of the logic that drives exclusivist religious traditions. In India, we have the Kashmiri Hindu story.

Modern Islam lacks the synergy of political, economic and military power that makes nations autonomous, and political and military glory possible; its halcyon days are over. This awareness has prompted truly conservative Muslims to seek a truce with Hindus. Even on Amarnath, the Imams at Reasi district supported the land allotment to the shrine and condemned the fundamentalists for creating communal disharmony. Deoband has already signalled a desire for peace; today those fomenting violence and unrest have clear links with Pakistan and its Western patrons.

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