The Hindu-Muslim divide is India’s biggest challenge

There are enough Muslim leaders to create an impression that Muslims are suffering because of a government wedded to nationalist ideology. They call it Hindu oriented government to make the divide sharper and create their own political constituency.

The Hindu-Muslim divide is the biggest challenge facing India today and it would continue to be so in times to come. Muslims have become a strong assertive minority. Hindus too are becoming assertive and challenging appeasement of the minorities and the age-old belief that makes Islam exclusivist.

The Holy Quran clearly speaks against idol worship and extols Islam as a Supremacist religion. This was okay till they were not challenged. But as more and more people are reading the Quran, they are questioning the postulates that pit believers against non-believers. Wasim Rizvi who questioned the 26 verses of the Quran is not an exception anymore.

While the Supreme Court rejected his PIL, this has not been able to prevent people from asking questions. If someone spits venom against another community or faith, he is liable to be prosecuted. What would the State do if a Book considered sacrosanct by a community speaks against others and tries to paint them as inferior? The issue is unlikely to die down.

Hindu radicals have started arguing why the exchange of population was not affected during the Partition. Those Muslims who stayed in India despite voting for ‘Pakistan for Muslims’ did so due to economic compulsions. But now they have become a strong assertive minority with the ability to turn the tide against them as it happened in the much talked about Shah Bano case when the Supreme Court order on maintenance to the old lady was turned down through a political process.

The issue is are Hindus becoming intolerant? Or, are they becoming more possessive about their civilisation and culture amidst imagined or real threat of being wiped out? The tension that exists between Hindus and Muslims is real and reflective of the time when the Partition took place in 1947 since Muslims refused to live with Hindus in one India.

Many of my Muslim friends complain that they are living in fear and that this has happened due to the ascendancy of the BJP in power. They privately wish that the BJP and Modi should lose elections. When I ask them about the problems, they have nothing to substantiate their claims. They complain that the situation has deteriorated. Even Delhi has witnessed riots, one of them said. When I pointed out to them that riots were begun by Muslim youths, they say but the fact remains that riots happened.

While I can understand their sentiments and also see this leading to more ghettoization of Muslims, I fail to make them see the circumstances that have led to such a situation. Earlier, the old establishment went unchallenged and the situation remained normal even as a certain Islamic narrative was being built by radical Muslim organisations. Congress was not bothered much and was more interested in building a Hindu terror narrative to appease the community.

The Sachar committee that gave its report in 2006 revealed the backwardness of Muslims and their low representation in administration. The report was in fact an indictment of the Congress that had ruled the country for 44 out of 57 years from 1947 to 2004. This proved that Congress paid lip service to the community and did not work for their educational or economic empowerment. The Sachar committee had said that the conditions of Muslims were worse than that of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes.

The ascendancy of the BJP to power has changed the scenario. Enrollment in madrasas for the public fund has been vetted and fake names deleted. Scholarships have been offered to Muslim students for study in non-Madrasa schools, and many initiatives have been taken to provide better healthcare, food and nutrition for lactating mothers. Stress on skill development of weavers and other professions have helped the community in a comprehensive way. The BJP has already empowered destitute Muslim women who suffered due to the practice of instant Triple Talaq. Actually, none of the steps taken by the Modi government can be said to be anti-Muslims. Yet some members of the community want the BJP out.

Is it reflective of the madrasa mindset that abhors modern education and focuses more on Islamic teaching from the Quran and other religious texts? People coming from madrasas often end up becoming halims or maulanas of mosques. Islamic scholar and Human rights activist based in the UK, Khalid Umar had suggested that even before Uniform Civil Code, India should come out with a Uniform Education Code. Arguing that madrasas impart an education that creates an exclusivist mindset, he has further suggested that the Madrasa system of education should be banned in India and all the 600,000 madrasas countrywide should be converted into modern schools. He had argued that this would be difficult to reform madrasas by asking them to teach science and mathematics.

Imagine lakhs of religious teachers coming out of these madrasas for 40 to 50 lakh mosques in the country that control the thinking of those who are illiterate and depend upon them for injunctions from the Text for understanding polity and society. Is it that empowerment of Muslim women by showcasing the right to equality to them has angered the men-folk who would like to confine these women to four walls of the homes. There are many women in the Muslim community who have not seen the light of the day since they cannot take their burqa out. They have been told that burqa and hijab are the ultimate guarantees about their safety. They have been conditioned to take burqa or hijab as symbols of their identity.

The hijab controversy in Karnataka and its spillover effect is not without reason. The Campus Front of India, which is a wing of the Popular Front of India (PFI), seeks to radicalise young Muslim students by spreading their Islamist ideology. It has spread its wings in educational institutions. Suddenly, wearing hijab has become a matter of constitutional rights.

You can wear whatever you want but you have to respect the dress code of the institutions you enter into. As for example the police, the army, NCC, schools or colleges etc. Kerala Governor and one of the profound Islamic scholars Arif Mohammad Khan says that the hijab is not an integral part of Islam and also there is no sanction against the display of face.

Maulanas and other community leaders are inducing fear in the mind of an average Muslim by projecting that Islam and Muslims are in danger. This is the same fear that was propagated without basis during the anti-CAA protests that began from Delhi and spread to other parts of the country.

Some of the issues that had been kept under the carpet for fear of conflict is being discussed openly in debates and street corners. Whether it the issue of Azaan early in the morning in cities where people sleep late in the night or the issue of namaz being offered on streets, love jihad which was first raised in Kerala by the Church or wearing a different dress in search for a separate identity in a country that prides of multiculturalism. The Jamaat has been working overtime to tell ordinary Muslims how to become good Muslims by following the fundamentals of Islam and wearing dresses that would make them separate from Hindus. It recruits youths who go to different places visiting mosques and telling Muslims how to conduct themselves. Earlier, these maulanas had a great time since they went largely unchallenged. Not they are facing a tough time defending the indefensible. The more they speak on Television channels the more they expose themselves as hollow.

There are enough Muslim leaders to create an impression that Muslims are suffering because of a government wedded to nationalist ideology. They call it Hindu oriented Government to make the divide sharper and create their own political constituency. The Hindus are now challenging the stereotypes and asking how is peaceful living possible unless Islamists stop spreading hatred. If one religion is assimilative but the other advocates destruction of idols, how can the two co-exist? Both Christianity and Islam believe in proselytization and glorifying their own religion at the cost of others.

The existence of the world’s second-largest Muslim population in India defeats the ideology of Partition. Now both the communities have to find out solutions to the problems. Another partition is not possible since the situation is completely different and history has proved that partition is no solution. Muslims must choose what they want: Muslim’s India or India’s Muslims. Following Islam is acceptable but extra-territorial loyalty at the cost of the nation would lead to conflict.

What unites you? Being an Indian or being a Hindu or a Muslim. If one community unites in the name of religion saying this is their right given under the constitution, the same would be valid for the other side too. Can nationalism emerge as the ideology that would unite despite differences? This is true that most Muslims in India are converts from original Hindu faiths and there is no reason for them to take Islamic rulers as their forefathers. They were perpetrators of violence and other forms of atrocities. Those who could withstand the pressure or lure of joining the ruling race stayed as Hindus.

None should object to knowing the real history of Muslim India where Hindus were treated as second class citizens. Many perished before the swords of Islamic invaders. The new generation must know so that they can guard its recurrence. Till sometime back, the entire Kashmir was the land of Hindus. Within a short span, the valley has become completely Islamic. Forgetting history and not learning the right lessons would expose society to a repetition of the same. The Hindus also need to realise that Muslims in India are a reality and society must find ways to adjust. Institutions of law and order must act in a neutral way so the crime is punished irrespective of the criminal’s religious affiliation. The intellectual challenge to Islam must be given but without being dismissive. India has a culture of discussion and debate. Followers of both religions should abide by this and not take law unto their hands

Those who are rigid and refuse to change must understand that change is the law of nature. The only factor that is permanent is change. Something written in the past has to pass the test of time. No religion can claim that it is the supreme and ultimate route to salvation. Dogmas that are inconsistent with modern times must give way to new ideas. The real test of secularism is discussing issues of hate without being impassioned and with the sole intention of finding solutions.

The writer is the author of “Narendra Modi: the GameChanger”. A former journalist, he is a member of BJP’s media relations department and represents the party as spokesperson while participating in television debates. The views expressed are personal.