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.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Indian encounter with two occupations

By Dr Vijaya Rajiva

India experienced two back to back occupations lasting a thousand years, the Muslim and the British. Of these two, with the passing of time, the British occupation has become less problematic than the other one. While scholars and historians continue to examine the British period, the existential reality of Britain in India has become less urgent and has vanished into the mist of time. The Muslims on the other hand are an existential reality in present day India and the attendant angst(while moderated by good things) is very much there in both communities, largely because of its haunting presence in the Muslim community to start with and its blowback in the Hindu majority community.

Hindu certitude derives not only from the fact of their majority but because the history of India goes back for several millennia, long before the two occupations. Indian history can be traced back at least to 5,000 BC (now scholars have placed it at 7,000 BC) with the Indus Valley civilization . The existence of indigenous peoples pre-dates even that. With the arrival of the Indo Aryans in successive waves starting approximately in 2,000 BC the third important component of the famed Hindu synthesis was physically present.

India then, is earlier than either Islam or Britain. The conquest of Sind in the 8th century AD was accompanied by the forced conversion of the indigenous Hindus to Islam. This is well known and acknowledged by historians. There may have been other reasons also for the conversions such as material incentives, political alliances and in some cases an escape from the orthodoxy of Hinduism. Whatever the motives, the conversions happened and hence with some exceptions the majority of the Muslim population today is indigenous, ethnically, in the same way that Hindus are. However, the advent of a religious text and an imported ethos from Saudi Arabia and other foreign lands has given this indigenous population a special configuration which is important for both the minority and majority communities to recognise.

The conversion process has led to the erasure of indigenous memories from the Muslim population of a time when they were not Muslim. Hence Muslims, even well informed scholars, think in terms of the medieval period as their earliest racial memory and history.

Take for instance the sensitive work of Rasheeduddin Khan, called Bewildered India (Har Anand Publications, 1994 ). His argument that Muslims have contributed as much to Indian history as the Hindus starts only from the medieval period. True, the Muslims did contribute their own successes to national life and continue to do so to day. But Hindu or Indian history, started long before the medieval period, as has been pointed out above. And the continuity of Indian history is largely supplied by the Hindu ethos. As in classical Indian music the sruti is provided by Hindu experience(defined above as the synthesis of the Indus Valley, the indigenous population and the Indo Aryan). The variations are provided by the other communities alongside of Hindu variations.

This sruti is therefore, both geographic and civilisational. Hindus never left the land, nor were they driven out (unlike the Jews). They continued on the land which was variously called Bharat and India. There is therefore not so much complacency or a sense of entitlement or arrogant self assertion of Hindu identity as much as the existential preponderance of a lived history on the same land, continuously for several millennia.

The Hindu religion has been variously described as polytheism, as monism, as dualism, as henotheism , as idolatory, and many other isms. These are interesting labels but the key feature of Hinduism is its awareness of the ‘Divine Principle’ as being infinite and therefore manifesting itself in various forms. Hence, the built in tolerance for other faiths, which can be seen as expressions of the Divine in some form other than the one which any particular individual or community experiences.

Islam and its followers in India are committed to monotheism, the belief that there is only the one God that they worship and that mediation to this one God as they understand it, is through one Prophet, and only Him. This central belief of Islam cannot be wished away and is ever present in the consciousness of every Muslim. This leads to the attendant belief that the true way must be communicated to non believers. The proselytisation tendency is ever present.

Hence, the absence of a historical perspective of going back long before the Muslim conquest of India in combination with the dogmatic belief in the correctness of their own religion has led to a certain type of psyche that now finds it difficult to adjust to the larger Hindu community, in the last analysis. The adjustment takes place at the everday level of livelihood, during exchange in commerce and in the market place or in social events. But the underlying need for proselytisation is never far from the Muslim psyche, since it is built into the religious system. The non believer, is that other person who is an obstacle to the realisation of a world wide religious Caliphate. This must surely be an internalised value, although it manifests in violence only under certain circumstances and under certain political influences. And only in certain segments of the population.

The exclusivity of the Hindu ethos (in its internal dynamic towards the lower castes) does not apply to the Muslim world. The Hindu exists in some primordial world in which the Muslim or the Christian simply fits into as a distant variation. Any feelings of superiority are not external to the fact that Hindu India existed long before the arrival of the Muslim conquerors on the subcontinent. A simple example will suffice. The greater part of the Indus river now flows through Pakistan. Neverthless, to the Hindu this is still their sacred river. This is the river where the sacred texts may have been composed. This is the river, whose famed tributary the Saraswati (mentioned in the Rg Veda) once existed. The romance of this river is all encompassing.

Of course, since the Muslim occupation other memories and associations have been created, but the most ancient memory is Hindu. The same thinking applies to Kashmir, where Islam arrived only in the 14th century. Recently, the American Taliban, whose name prior to conversion is Adam, made a video which was shown on CNN. He claimed that his jihad was righteous because it consisted of driving out the foreigners from Muslim lands. He mentioned Kashmir in this statement. While a certain case may be made for ‘Muslim’ lands even in Iran or other places in the Middle East, in Kashmir, it is singularly inappropriate and reflects his ignorance of Indian history.

While in all lands where the Muslim conquest was successful the native indigenous traditions were largely destroyed and supplanted by Islam, this did not happen in India.

It is an important question to ponder, and an initial approximate answer is this: the resilience of Hinduism as a way of life, as a religion, as a philosophy ,as a culture, is elusive and cannot be identified in simplistic terms. It goes beyond ancient lineage and enters the realm of the indescribable. It is both most ancient and forever young. It allows for the gracious acceptance of other religions, because it is secure both in its physical home, the subcontinent of India and its psychological and spiritual home. Once, the Muslim inhabitants of this gracious land can truly understand this, then the attempt to overthrow this ethos will be abandoned once and for all. There is room for all in Hinduism and in Bharat Varsha, so that all may live in peace and prosperity.

(The writer taught Political Philosophy at a Canadian university.)

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