“The Muslim Problem in India” by CM Naim

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(The article was originally published in the ‘Quest’, a bimonthly journal published from Mumbai, in 1972. Author, CM Naim, is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago.) 

As one gets interested in the life and politics of the Muslims in contemporary India one becomes aware of two rather vociferous camps of opinion. In order not to assign unnecessary values I shall refer to them as camps A and B. Those whom I put in Camp A feel that the Muslims are hampering social and political progress in India by refusing to be truly modern and, in the opinion of a few, truly Indian. Thus they believe that India has a “Muslim problem.” They desire that the Muslims should (a) reject their obscurantist and separatist leaders, (b) work to obtain a common civil code for a all the citizens of India, (c) stop functioning as a bloc in national as well as local politics, (d) subject their religion to a thorough socio-historical critique, (e) stop believing in the supremacy of their religion and give equal validity and relevance in their thinking to other religions, (f) embrace the faith of territorial nationalism, and (g) stop looking toward Pakistan for inspiration and leadership.

Those in Camp B feel that the Muslims, far from being a problem for others, are facing severe hardships in India, that they are threatened with physical as well as cultural annihilation. The threat to life is seen in the frequent outbreak of communal violence. The threat to culture is felt (a) in the possibility of a common civil code, (b) in the treatment given to Urdu in what was once the heartland of that language and the “Hindu” bias in educational material, and (c) in the attempts to change the shape of affairs at the Aligarh Muslim University.

It seems to me that whereas the protagonists of Camp B insist on what they claim are concrete and immediate issues, ignoring ideas, history and abstractions, those of Camp A put more emphasis on the latter. This shall become clear in the discussion that follows.

Obscurantism of the Muslim leaders. In 1947, with the partition of the country, forty-five million Muslims in India found themselves in a position somewhat unique in the history of Islam. They formed a sizable minority in a country that was not under Muslim hegemony, and within which they were so widely scattered that their absolute large number amounted to very little in terms of power politics. More importantly, the new framework of politics in the country was such that they were neither ruling over someone nor being ruled over by someone. Islam, as its adherents so often say, demands from its followers adoption of a total way of life. However, the rules and regulations of that total way seem, to my mind, to presuppose a Muslim community which is in full control of its destiny and which can dictate its terms not only to its own dissenting members, but also to its non-Muslim compatriots. (Needless to say, the rules and laws of Islam were never in their entirety enforced after the political machinery of Islam moved out of Arabia. Muslim kings and caliphs did not create Islamic states.)

In the case of the Indian Muslims, the problem now was, ideologically speaking, how to function as a larger religio-cultural minority within a secular-democratic polity adopted by the leaders of a heterogeneous non-Muslim majority. W. C. Smith, in Islam in Modern History, put much hope in the uniqueness of this historical situation. He expected from it to emerge “a new interpretation of Islam in terms realistic for the present situation, superseding pre-partition emotions and viewpoints with a dynamic that would inspire the community to come to creative grips with today’s problems and opportunities.” In 1956, when he wrote these words, that interpretation had not appeared; even now, one can point only to some efforts, such as M. Mujeeb’s and Abid Husain’s, in the field of social and political history, but that is about all. The Muslim leadership that remained in India did not take upon itself the task of scrutinising the values and aspirations of the Muslim community within the new context. The non-theological types took things for granted, expecting somehow a transformation to occur naturally. The “nationalist” Ulama were not only guilty of taking things for granted but also of helping sustain a myth they themselves had perpetrated, that the rights of the Muslims, as defined by the Muslims themselves (i.e. by the Ulama), will not be tampered with by the government of free India. They forgot that in terms of realpolitik they had little or no power; they had failed to deliver the goods and had been in effect rejected by what they claimed was their political constituency.

At the same time, on the ideological plane, they refused to accept that in a secular modern polity the functional unit must be the individual, and not the community. Likewise, as shapers of ideas and opinions, they failed to tackle the problem that Narahar Kurundkar, for example, has referred to in an article in Quest. According to him, the Muslims believe in their cultural superiority over the Hindus and are so obsessed with the loss of their prior, inequitable privileges that they “hardly seem to be in a mood to be content with the mere rights of equal citizenship.” Further he says, “the basic issue is whether or not I have the right not to be a Muslim.” One can, of course, point to the writings of Maulana Azad and a few others to counter such a total indictment. Still, the fact remains that the ideas of these people did not find access to traditional channels for the propagation of religious ideas, nor did these people start a movement to contact Muslim masses in the manner, say, of the Tablighi Jama’at. Thus, to my mind, if the Muslim religious leadership is accused of largely encouraging obscurantism, the accusers are very much in the right.

Here I may add that the fault of the leadership has not been so much in their specific ideas and conclusions as in the manner of thinking that they encourage and even compel people to adopt. I used to be amused by the proclivity of our Ulama to issue a fatwa, especially a fatwa of kufr. Hardly any can be excluded among the notable Muslims of the past one hundred years who did not get accused of infidelity or kufr. But the utter cruelty and ungodliness of the people who indulge in this habit, sank into my mind only after I read the fatwa issued by Mufti Zia-ul-Haq of Delhi and published in the Jamiat Times of 20 November 1970, declaring that Professor Javed Alam, in marrying a Hindu lady, had committed a terrible crime in the eyes of Allah and should be shunned by all true Muslims, and that the children of this marriage will be like “bastards” in terms of the shariah that the Mufti upholds as immutable. What the Mufti did was no less criminal than what the Principal of the Salwan College had done when he fired Professor Alam. The thinking underlying both actions was irrational.

Separatism and pro-Pakistan feelings. Yes, there is quite a bit of “sympathy for Pakistan” among the Indian Muslims. But the use of the quotation marks is absolutely necessary in the above sentence, because both “sympathy” and “Pakistan” should be clearly understood first. And for that we must consider certain other aspects of recent history. Of the two countries that came into existence in 1947, the leaders of one claimed separate nationhood, culture and civilisation identified by Islam while the leaders of the other made a deliberate choice in favour of secular democracy. But that was not all. Certain details deserve careful attention. The chief leaders of the Pakistan movement were not obscurantist mullahs; they were in fact some of the most “modernist” Muslims of their time. They also belonged to an elite section of the community which had its own motive of self-preservation. Their veneer of modernism hid a basically exploitative nature, concerned with obtaining privileges, not equal rights. In a most blatant fashion they used the emotional attachment of the Muslim masses to religion for their own ends. And once Pakistan became a political reality, they sneaked off to collect their share of the booty, leaving behind those they had assiduously claimed to be exclusively their constituents. The Indian Muslims have yet fully to understand the class orientation of their erstwhile leaders, as well as the true nature of the developments in Pakistan since 1947.

Besides Israel, Pakistan is the only country in recent history to be created in the name of religion, but compared with Israel, it has cost more, much more, in terms of death, deprivation and displacement of humanity, and has very little to show in the way of serving its avowed religious and humane cause even within its own boundaries. That universal Islam had nothing to do with Pakistan as it existed could clearly be seen in the colonial war that the Army and the bureaucracy of the West wing waged against the people of East Bengal. The utter rout of the so-called Islam-pasand parties in West Pakistan elections in 1970 also showed how strong the desire of the native Pakistani is to define himself anew in regional, non-ideological terms. He must do it, not merely to further his self-interest, not merely to protect himself from the cultural chauvinism and exploitative schemes of the people from other regions, but also to kill that feeling of guilt which he cannot help but feel every time he hears of anti-Muslim riots in India. He can see clearly that Pakistan has failed in its alleged aim to “save” Islam and the Muslims of the subcontinent. There are now more Muslims in India than there are in Pakistan, and they have led a happier life compared with the non-Muslims of Pakistan. From its inception, rather than serve the cause of Indian Muslims, Pakistan has harmed it by its rabid anti-India and anti-Hindu posture, by closing its borders and putting restrictions on travel, by hampering even the sale or exchange of Indian publications.

Of course, among the Muslims in India we must distinguish between different groups within the community. Among the elder elites there are those who were active in the Pakistan movement but did not go there for purely economic reasons, as well as those who had always been ideologically opposed to that movement. Then there are millions of others who in no way can be blamed for the creation of Pakistan, and who are “guilty” only by association. There are also millions of families which have become divided ever since some of their members found it useful to migrate to Pakistan in order to get a job. Family ties cannot be destroyed even over several decades. It would be false to say that a majority of Indian Muslims do not have “sympathy for Pakistan,” but it would be equally wrong to interpret that sympathy as disloyalty. If ever any proof of their loyalty was needed, it was given by the Indian Muslims most unequivocally during the days of war with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971. The sad fact is that as victims of similar prejudice, Indian immigrants in Pakistan are often suspected of having a soft corner for India.

Now that Bangladesh has emerged as a secular, democratic nation, the Indian Muslims must take note of the fact that two assumptions which had poisoned their recent history have finally been blown to bits. The first is the notion that the Muslims of the subcontinent formed a nation by themselves. No doubt the original Pakistan — with its two wings separated by over forty million Muslims in a secular and democratic India — already gave the lie to that notion, but now its evil nature as well as its baselessness have been established for ever. In order to save a land, a people and a culture, Muslims and non-Muslims of Bangladesh together waged a struggle against a tyrant who, on the one hand, owed his existence to this pernicious concept and, on the other, called his genocidal action a holy war.

The second, more far-reaching as well as more vicious, assumption that has been shattered is what was tacit in the Muslim communal writings of the past one hundred years, i.e. that Islam meant Urdu language, Perso-Arabic culture, and the traditions and values of the earlier, Imperial age and of the more recent feudal and capitalist society. This equating of Islam with things and ideas of a particular region and time, and of a particular elite class, has been at the root of all the trouble. And it is this which still causes many of the Indian Muslims to be so fearful of the future. In fact, the victory of the Mukti Bahini is not only a victory for secularism and democracy, it also releases Islam from those fetters which were put on it in this land by self-serving elites and narrow-minded Ulama.

Turning to the matter of separatism in politics, we must bear in mind that the Indian National Congress, the party of secular democracy, was not by any definition an ideologically homogeneous body, nor, for that matter, were all of its Muslim supporters less elitist, more modern, or more secular. Even now, the self-acclaimed Muslim political leaders, such as those in the Muslim League and the Muslim Majlis – and not necessarily excluding those who support the party of Mrs. Indira Gandhi — often appeal to irrelevant emotions and ignore the more fundamental issues that face the whole of India.

Before the last elections in India, much effort was made to create a separate all-India Muslim party. An All-India Muslim Political Consultative Committee was formed. The Indian Union Muslim League moved northward to stake out new claims. Muslim voters, however, showed greater wisdom than those who claim to lead them, and rejected almost all such groups. Of course, the Congress (R) also appealed to their emotions when it chose to put up Yunus Saleem, who had been refused the ticket in his original constituency in Andhra Pradesh, as its candidate in Aligarh. It was a cynical move, and also a dangerous one, as was shown by the riots during the election.

The Muslim leadership on the political plane has been on the whole reactionary. Muslim leaders have played on the fears that arise in the community because of the frequent communal riots. They do not realise that introducing Islam into Indian politics will not counter the tide of Hindu communalism but will give credence to its extravagant accusations. Furthermore, what may give an appearance of success at the municipal level is not likely to make any impression at the level of state and federal politics, as was shown so vividly by the misadventure of the Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat in North India only a few years ago. No doubt casteism still holds sway over a large section of the body politic in India and whatever ideological crystallisation we now have came about only recently; still persistence in communal politics by the Indian Muslims is not only least desirable but also least efficacious.

As for the suggestion that these leaders are actually seeking to create a new “Pakistan,” that is utter nonsense. A separate political party is not enough to achieve that; a geographic area of Muslim majority in the population is also needed, and there is none within India except for Kashmir. There is no doubt a separatist movement within Kashmir — in both parts of it, actually. Some Kashmiris want an independent Kashmir; they do not want to be a part of either India or Pakistan. But that is a regional movement and is not based on religious identification. The issue of regional autonomy is very much in the air all over the world. But, as Girilal Jain has pointed out, the international system is by and large hostile to secessionist movements, and sovereign states have shown no willingness to allow breakaway movements to succeed “unless they are so weakened by war and internal disruption that they are not in a position to act.” Close to home, hundreds of thousands of innocent people were killed in East Bengal by an army that received supplies and the benefit of silence from two of the three major powers of the world.

Let us now turn to some of the issues raised by Mr. Balraj Madhok in his book Indianisation? to support his contention that Indian Muslims are not truly Indians.

“Islam stands for monolithic uniformity.” Certainly Mr. Madhok cannot be unaware of the variety of sects within Islam! True, the emergence of each of these sects was accompanied by conflicts that were often quite bloody, and whatever group was in political ascendancy always tried to suppress the others. But that should not blind us to the variety of religious experiences that one can find within the world of Islam. At the more mundane level, and that may be of more interest to Mr. Madhok, he should take some time out to read through only a month’s file of such Urdu journals as Al-JamiatMadinahAza’imNida-e-MillatBurhanJamiat Times, and Sidq-e-Jadid. He will find that bickering, wrangling and character-assassination are to be found in ample measure in the so-called Muslim press.

“Muslims are antipathetic to territorial nationalism.” A glance at the Arab world will suffice to reject that assertion. Of course, ideologically and ideally, Muslim do like to think of themselves as internationalists. And so do many non-Muslims too. In any case, if Mr. Madhok really believes as he claims in democracy and freedom of conscience, he should not demand adherence to that most dangerous dogma: my country, right or wrong. It is trite to say that the world is shrinking, yet the fact remains that it is. We are living on a very small planet, and we are surrounded by an atmosphere that all of us must share. What happens in one region of the world affects the rest of it, and not merely in the area of commerce or power politics. We must encourage all drives toward universalism; only in that lies our salvation. Patriotism is one thing; narrow nationalism, another. As Mahatma Gandhi said: “Just as the cult of patriotism teaches us today that the individual has to die for the family, the family has to die for the village, the village for the district, the district for the province and the province for the country, even so a country has to be free in order that it may die, if necessary, for the benefit of the world. My idea of nationalism, therefore, is that my country may become free, that if need be, the whole country may die, so that the human race may live.”

“Muslims are insular and are making themselves more insular against India’s ancient cultural heritage instead of adopting it.” There is some truth to this statement, but only some, otherwise members of the Jama’at-e-Islami and the Tablighi Jama’at would be sleeping a more peaceful sleep. But what Mr. Madhok actually has in mind is made clear by the recommendations he makes as to the ways the Muslims can be Indianised.

(1) Urdu, with its special script, is a symbol of separatism; it must adopt Devanagri. Since a Perso-Arabic script is also used for Sindhi and Kashmiri, Mr. Madhok’s reasoning is somewhat confused. Further, Urdu is not all that exclusively the language of the Muslims, as is evident from the fact that a great deal of Hindu revivalist literature and journalism is still produced in Urdu. Nor should one forget those virulent posters in Urdu that appeared all over Delhi and Punjab during the Hindi versus Punjabi controversy. Frankly, I have grave doubts that Hindi purists would relish seeing Urdu novels and poetry being printed in the Devanagari script.

(2) Inculcate “sarva dharma sama bhava” in the Muslims through education; the notion that Islam is the only true religion has no place in India. It is not that the concept of religious tolerance is totally absent in Islam. The Sufis have always preached that, often to the chagrin of orthodox Ulama. Even some of the Ulama, Maulana Azad, for example, have sought to interpret the Qur’an on such lines. But there is much to be done yet to make the existing religious plurality fully accepted by everyone, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The RSS variety of Hinduism does not seem any more tolerant than Maudoodi’s Islam. It may well be that for reasons of psychological security as well as for “salvation after death,” he who believes in any organised religion must deep in his heart also believe that religion to be the only true one, but such a belief need not and should not affect his interaction with other individuals, who may not necessarily share that belief with him. The fact of religious pluralism must be accepted by the Muslims, and their Ulama and other intelligentsia should stop behaving like an ostrich with his head buried in the sand.

(3) Onam, Vasant, Holi, Baisakhi, Deepavali and Dussehra should be celebrated by the Muslims, as these are seasonal festivals. I personally feel that in this area initiative will have to come from the non-Muslims in the way of making these festivals purely seasonal and truly non-religious. (I hope, however, they will not make them totally commercial, as Christmas has become in the United States.) I also feel that in rural areas all over the country there are Muslims who take part in these festivals, no doubt to the chagrin of the diehard, just as there are many local or regional semi-religious festivals in which Hindus and Muslims jointly participate. At the moment trouble arises not because a festival is religious but because its manner of celebration often causes public nuisance. It is that aspect which we must endeavour to correct. Compulsion of any sort is not likely to make these festivals more festive.

(4) Historical memories cannot be erased by tampering with history; instead, teach admiration for the right thing and revulsion for the wrong. This, I presume, means that Muslims should be taught to admire Shivaji and despise Aurangzeb. But what should one do with the Hindus in the Mughal army and the Muslim cannoneers on the Maratha side? And what about those petty Muslim kings who too had to surrender to the Mughal? Don’t they deserve equal respect with Shivaji? I am not saying that Shivaji was not a great leader of the Maratha people, or that all Indians should not admire him for his courage against great odds. I am simply saying that it is tampering with history to claim that the tussle between Aurangzeb and Shivaji was a war between Islam and the Hindu Dharma. Both Shivaji and Aurangzeb were after political power and were unscrupulous in their pursuit of it. Likewise, those who admire Aurangzeb for what they believe was his Islamic spirit should not, for example, blind themselves to his treatment of his father and brothers, which was strictly in style of his father and grandfather before him and had nothing to do with Islam. These people should also be asked, perhaps, just how they reconcile kingship with that “total” Islam they repeatedly proclaim. Similarly, those who look upon Akbar as a great “secular” king should make sure they are not being overwhelmed by their own romanticisation of the past. One must beware of one’s motives for looking at history.

Let us now turn to the issues haunting the minds of the people in Camp B. These are: (1) the Aligarh Muslim University Bill, (2) derecognition of Urdu, (3) threat of a uniform civil code, and (4) anti-Muslim riots.

Aligarh Muslim University. The Aligarh Muslim University has been constantly denounced as a centre of pro-Pakistan intrigue and Muslim separatism, mostly on the basis of guilt by association. No doubt it was a great source of support for the Muslim League before 1947; it is also true that a large number of its students and faculty did eventually migrate to Pakistan. But that does not justify accusing it of still promoting “anti-Indian” sentiments. A large number of Indian scholars and professionals are settled elsewhere in the world and the number is increasing; shall we then conclude that all Indian universities are guilty of promoting “anti-Indian” sentiments?

The big explosion at Aligarh occurred in April 1965 when a demand by the student-body to reserve in the professional schools more seats for the students of the AMU was given a communal colour by the national press and the authorities of the University and the Ministry of Education. A reign of terror followed on the campus, the effects of which could still be seen and felt when I visited the campus near the end of that year. An ordinance was proclaimed and allowed to continue even after peace had returned. Soon after that a rather amazing ruling was given by the Supreme Court of India, that the AMU was not an institution established by the Muslims of India, because it owed its authority qua university to a decree of the Government. This ruling has been severely criticised by several eminent jurists, but no constitutional step has yet been taken to have it reversed. The present demand concerning the AMU has two parts: the University’s residential character should not be changed, and its minority or Muslim character should be maintained.

I fully support the first demand, as I feel all who are concerned with the state of education in India must do. The University should not be required to give affiliation to the local colleges; it should be allowed to develop as the composite unit it is. We already know well the evils of the current system of affiliated colleges. There is no reason why we cannot start giving our colleges more authority and autonomy, why we cannot trust the various college faculties to set up respectable academic standards.

I am surprised by the fact that no voice has yet been heard from among the educationists in India in support of the demand that the AMU must retain its present residential character. The 1913 resolution of the government of India suggested that the proposed new universities at Dacca, Aligarh, Banaras, Patna, and Nagpur should be “teaching and residential.” More recently, the report of the Gajendragadkar Commission on the affairs of the Banaras Hindu University also recommended that a federal university should be kept free of such local affiliations, for the sake of maintaining an all-India character.

This is not to say that all fraternal ties should be broken between the AMU and local colleges in Aligarh town; on the contrary, the ties should be fraternal and more in the nature of cooperation. For example, if we ever learn to stop wasting the scarce material resource we have in the way of libraries and laboratories and begin to use them full time, all twelve months, it would be a good idea to share the resources of the University with the colleges lacking them. Again, it seems to me, the basic matter is how to bring about a radical transformation of the whole system.

As for the second demand, that the University’s so-called Muslim character should be preserved, I find it hard to understand what this means. If it means that the University’s chief governing body must have only Muslims, then one must ask which Muslim qua Muslim would be acceptable to the community at large? Who would define a Muslim and decide that X is a better Muslim than Y? Further, since the present trend is, as it should be, to give more and more authority to the faculty and students, who at the AMU are not and cannot be entirely Muslims, would not such a specification hinder the growth and functioning of the University? Those who make this demand forget that what they feel is unique at Aligarh arises not out of its being a “Muslim” institution but out of so many other things. Otherwise, the AMU could not have been so different from the University of Dacca, for example. It is one thing to say that an institution has certain traditions in the way of dress, food, social protocol, faculty-student relationship and matters of that sort, and quite another to connect all such traditions to a religion, merely because one suffers from a romantic vision of one’s past.

On the other hand, those who accuse the AMU of being a “Muslim” institution ignore the same reality. They also completely overlook the fact that a very large number of non-Muslim students study there, that in the professional schools the number of non-Muslim students is often proportionately higher, and that the faculty at the AMU is not that overwhelmingly Muslim. Taking into consideration the faculty in the departments of English, Economics, Political Science, Physics, Chemistry and Commerce, I find on the basis of the figures given in the Commonwealth University Yearbook, 1970, that there are 22 non-Muslims to 151 Muslims at Aligarh. Whereas the figure for Allahabad, Banaras, Lucknow and Gorakhpur are 189 to 1, 171 to 1, 143 to 6, and 112 to 3, respectively.

There is no denying that the Aligarh Muslim University has succeeded in maintaining over the past two decades a fairly decent atmosphere for students and faculty of all religious affiliations to live and work together. The Government of India must see to it that this delicate balance is not disturbed by the communalists of either kind. Likewise, our educationists should consider the cause of the AMU as their own cause, and seek to preserve its autonomy as well as its residential character.

At the same time the Muslims of India, and among them specially the alumni of the AMU, should understand that it is not only stupid but suicidal to pin all hopes for the educational advancement of the Muslims on the AMU. There are millions of Muslim students whose educational needs must be provided for outside of Aligarh. Their cause should not be ignored. Further, the Muslim intelligentsia should show some awareness of the fact that the present educational system needs to be changed drastically. Like so many other institutions, the AMU is far from what a good university should be. Academic standards are constantly falling, what education is provided seems to have little relevance to the need of the times, departments are clique-ridden, faculty-student relations are deplorable, inefficiency is the order of the day and nepotism and favouritism are rampant. It is high time that instead of pursuing a shadowy “Muslim character of the AMU, the students and their elders at the University and outside made some effort to make the University serve its basic purpose: provide good and relevant education.

The case of Urdu. It does not need much effort to see that wherever Urdu was in direct competition with Hindi it suffered a great deal. In Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the so-called heartland of Urdu, even the existing facilities for providing education in Urdu disappeared. Urdu-medium teachers became scarce; their training suffered. Text-books were either never prepared or were printed in small numbers. It became difficult, if not exactly a crime, to submit an application in Urdu to any government agency. Special efforts went into erasing the already existing public signs in Urdu. Before 1947, Urdu had a university and a large number of high schools and colleges; now there is no university and very few colleges and high schools. As for the most important matter of primary education, suffice it to say that in UP the forms for admission to primary schools do not even have a column for mother tongue.

What does all this mean in terms of the number of people affected? It means that in just the two states of UP and Bihar, twelve million persons are not allowed to enjoy the guarantees made to them in the Constitution. Most of the blame for such conditions lies on the State governments, but the hands of the federal authorities are not entirely clean. Though the Constitution allows the possibility of a people getting their language declared a second State language by petitioning the President (who, of course, must follow the recommendation of the federal government), it has not been possible for the Urdu-speakers to get their rights recognised and implemented. The reason is the vague language of the Constitution which has been interpreted, not by the Supreme Court, but by a commission set up by the Government of India, to mean that at least one-third of the population of a State must speak the language before it can be given equal status with the official language of that region. There are only a few districts in UP and Bihar where this requirement can be met, but not elsewhere. On the whole, only 14 and 10 per cent of the population in UP and Bihar, respectively, declared Urdu as their mother tongue. But as I said earlier, this small percentage hides a very large number in absolute terms; twice the population of Cambodia, for example.

As for the question “Is Urdu a separate language?,” the answer, despite the sophistry displayed in the census report, has to be “Yes.” A language is a composite system that includes grammar, vocabulary, script, and a great deal of cultural and even metaphysical stuff. Linguistic abstractions tend to confuse, if not completely destroy, significant details. For example, the argument that at the spoken level Urdu and Hindi are the same can be used in either direction, depending upon one’s bias. Historical reconstructions cannot make us blind to the differences between Urdu and Hindi as they exist now, just as such reconstructions will not, for example, demolish the wall between Hindi and Punjabi. In any case, what is at issue is not the spoken language. At issue is the right of a people to maintain and develop their mother tongue for educational, literary and intellectual purposes. At issue is the question: should the administrative system be open, to allow easy recourse to everyone through the medium that comes easy to him, or should it become rigid and punitive? The publication of a government notification or the setting up of a sign at a railway station is for the purpose of bringing an important fact or process to the attention of as many as possible; it should not be used to “test” and “punish” a section of the population.

There is yet another misunderstanding about Urdu. It may well be the language of high culture for a very large number of Muslims in India, but it is neither the language of all the Muslims, nor of Muslims alone. We also know from the census reports that Urdu-speakers are not different from other people in India in the number and variety of subsidiary languages that they know. To create the image of an Urdu-speaker as one who is a fanatic Muslim and hidebound and backward in education, culture, etc., is, to say the least, stupid. At the same time, those Muslim leaders who think that a knowledge of Urdu is obligatory for every Muslim in India are terribly mistaken and dangerously misleading. They should learn at least that much from what happened in Pakistan.

Urdu, on an all-India basis, will develop and flourish, just as it did in the days of Mir Taqi Mir when it had no official status in Delhi. The question is not whether ten years from now somebody would write a magnificent poem or novel in Urdu; the problem is to give a feeling of participation to, and bring about the actual participation of, a very large number of Indian citizens in the democratic processes of the country through the medium of a language of their choice.

Muslim Personal Law and the possibility of a common civil code. I have yet to see any evidence of an attempt to change the whole of Muslim Personal Law, or to alter it in some measure to make it go contrary to the spirit of Islam. Essentially, whatever controversy there has been arose around the issues of polygamy and divorce. Islam can be shown to allow polygamy within certain restrictions, but it certainly does not enjoin it on everyone. This right has been severely restricted in most of the so-called Muslim countries, and there is no reason why polygamy cannot be completely banned, for Muslims and non-Muslims alike, if the Indian Parliament so desires. It will be entirely in the spirit of Islam.

But is it right to blame the Muslims exclusively for the “evils” of polygamy? According to Dr. Kanti Pakrasi of the Indian Statistical Institute, fifteen years after the Hindu Marriages Act, “polygamy persists universally as a cultural trait among the urbanites, irrespective of their religious affinities.” His study shows that “nearly seven out of every one thousand married Hindus and nearly nine out of every one thousand married Muslims are polygamous.” Further, “seventy-two per cent of the total polygamous units are Hindus.” His study also indicates that “in general the Muslim polygamists go for the second wives in relatively higher ages at effective marriage than the Hindu polygamists.”

As to the matter of divorce, in actual practice Muslim males are at definite advantage compared with the females, though the concept of allowing women to get a divorce is in the books from the beginning. There is no reason why uniformity should not be established in this respect by simply requiring a uniform marriage contract, and by providing relevant safeguards to protect both the parties from economic hardship.

It is tragic and dangerous on the part of the present (largely self-acclaimed) leaders of the Muslim community to assert that the national Parliament is not competent to make these changes. They fear that if changes are allowed in one area, then more changes will follows in other areas too, and the Muslim Personal Law will be replaced by the present Hindu code. This fear is baseless. Several other, more terrible things would have happened in the country before the sovereign Parliament of India would seek to impose the Hindu Code on the Muslims. What they fail to see is that radical reforms in the Hindu Code itself are hampered by their reluctance to codify the Muslim Personal Law and remove the existing sources of coercion.

It is deplorable that Muslim intelligentsia have failed to bring all the details of this matter to the attention of the community and left the field to these whose vocabulary is limited to “Islam is in danger.” Similarly, those who espouse the cause of a common civil code should go beyond empty generalities and present to the nation at least some specific guidelines and details. What does it matter if there is one code or ten, so long as the contents do not in any way conflict with fundamental human values? We should not seek to destroy, merely for the sake of having one code, the variety of socio-cultural life now obtaining in India. Of course, within each variety, we must ensure that no individual is exploited or coerced by another, and such delimitation should be brought about by an act of the Parliament representing all the people of the country and not left to persons with vested interest.

Communal riots. Lastly we come to the issue which is actually foremost in the minds of the people of both camps: the increasing frequency and ferocity of communal riots in India. In 1961 there were 92 incidents; in 1965, 676. In 1966 the number went down to 133, perhaps because the Indian Muslims had “proven” their loyalty in the war against Pakistan in September 1965. But the trend worsened the next year. In 1967 there were 220 incidents; in 1968, 346; in 1969, 519; and in the first nine months of 1970 there were 413 incidents in which 274 persons died and 1,475 were injured. According to Upendra Vajpeyi in the Hindustan Times of 6 June 1970:  “In the Sino-Indian conflict India lost 3,078 persons, including 1,655 missing officers and other ranks presumably killed. The toll in communal riots, from 1950 to 1969, according to official figures, based on actual bodies found, has been 3,489. The worst year being 1964 when 2,057 persons were killed, mostly in Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal. Another very bad year was 1969, with 603 killed, 480 in Gujarat alone.” As for loss in property, we can only make estimates, but even the highest estimate cannot indicate the cost of labour and love that went into houses, shops and institutions destroyed. And how does one estimate the loss in confidence, the traumas of insecurity?

The most frightening aspects of the recent major incidents were their ferocity and the evidence that indicated some pre-planning. Reports indicate that at Allahabad, Ranchi, Bhivandi and Jalgaon, election rolls were used to identify the houses and property owned by the Muslims. At some of these places and at Maunath Bhanjan it also became manifest that the local police and administrative authorities cannot always be trusted to maintain even a semblance of impartiality. Equally saddening was the fact that more and more younger people, even students of colleges and professional schools, were found taking active part in the riots, which at several places should properly be called limited anti-Muslim pogroms.

Why do these riots occur? The members of Camp A seem to think that they are invariably started by the Muslims. In 1970, for example, much ado was made about a summary report published by the Home Ministry which allegedly showed that in 22 out of 23 cases mentioned, the first cause was provided by the Muslims. How false this allegation was has been conclusively shown by A. G. Noorani in his lengthy study in Current of 13 June 1970. He points out that the report was only a summary and concerned with the major riots that occurred in 1968 and in the first quarter of 1969. (As mentioned above, there were 346 riots in 1968 alone.) Noorani then goes on to prove that the notion of a “first cause” in such matters is not only irrelevant but patently misleading. In conclusion he says, “if a 12 year old baker’s boy who drives away a bothersome cow with a baker’s knife can be said to have ‘attacked’ the cow, and a whole community be indicted for it, it speaks for the lack of impartiality in the brief description and for the communal mentality of politicians who use it to accuse the Muslims of having started the riot.”

Another reason frequently offered is that the incidence of anti-Muslim violence arises out of a reaction against the obscurantism of the Muslims. This, to my mind, seems to suggest that if the Muslims in India were to accept overnight a common civil code, discard the cause of Urdu, and spend most of their waking time in denouncing Pakistan, their lives and property would be spared. I cannot conceive of a murderer stopping in his tracks to inquire about his victim’s ideas.

There are economic reasons. One’s loss is another’s gain. After a riot many survivors move away to other places, lose their traditional economic position or trade, become insecure and consequently more diffident in their struggle for economic betterment. The other party not only obtains the immediate plunder, but comes to gain much more in the long run. Close to one-third of the Muslim population in India is in cities, proportionately higher than the Hindus, and is most likely to come into conflict with the groups now moving into urban centres. This conclusion is supported by the fact that most major riots seem to have occurred in places where the Muslims were a sizable minority and enjoyed certain exclusive trades and occupations.

There are social reasons. A recent study based on conclusions drawn from research in several nations, including India and Nigeria, makes it quite clear that “modernisation”does not produce lessened communal identification; if anything, it increases it. In other words, communal identification is sought not only by those who feel alienated in the strange environment of the city to which they come either with rising aspirations or under duress, but even by those who seem to have adapted themselves fully to the demands of industrial-urban life. Further, social mobility does not reduce communal conflict, rather it expands and transforms it. The slogan of Indianisation, for example, is not just a euphemism for a kind of Hinduisation of the Muslims, it also serves as a rallying cry for those who already enjoy some benefits of industrialisation and want to increase these benefits by appealing to communal emotions, in fact by enforcing communal conformity.

There may be another, more complex, reason. Communal violence is not the only kind rampant in India. More and more groups are turning to violent means; some to obtain regional privileges, others, what they call social and economic justice. It seems to me that we may now be going through the process of achieving what we set out to achieve while the English ruled over us. As a colonised people we saw ourselves being exploited and put under constraints — our vision of freedom included liberation from those constraints and that exploitation. But all visions are ephemeral and ideal. For the man truly being exploited, freedom also meant possession of power, and since that sense of power has been denied him even after 1947, he is now ready to explode in many directions.

We like to believe that our independence was gained through non-violent means; we gloss over the carnage of 1946 and 1947 and ignore the fact that the so-called non-violent means “succeeded” only because there was always there in the background an implied threat of violence. We deny so many people their dignity and their historical role when we insist on calling Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress the winners of our freedom.

We also fail to ask what happened to the people during the process of obtaining their freedom. Did they transform themselves from things into men, as Fanon says happens in the process of decolonisation? Did the suppressed get the power they sought? Did they get to spit out their venom on the erstwhile coloniser?

One reason, perhaps, for the intense violence against the Muslims is that some Hindus have substituted the Muslims for the English as the old tyrant-exploiter, who must now become the object of revenge for past humiliations. A Hindu kills not because he is a fanatic, but because he feels he has been denied his rightful power, which from his pre-1947 as well as post-1947 experience only means a power to coerce and exploit. A Muslim is killed not because he has certain obscurantist ideas, but because he has become identified in the psyche of his murderer with the earlier coloniser-exploiter. Of course, this identification is made all the more easy by the existence of Pakistan and by such symbols as separate “Islamic” names, separate civil codes, and Urdu language with its Perso-Arabic script. This is not to condone Hindu violence, but to suggest that a resolution of this problem will come about only if we candidly took into account such sentiments, which arise from historical distortions as well as deeper psychological disturbances. The solution seems to require not merely an expansion of avenues of interpersonal relationship, but also a radical transformation of the society as a whole.
I began this study with the purpose of clarifying the issues for my own satisfaction and I submit them here only as the views of a concerned layman who claims no expertise in the sciences of social behaviour and manipulation. I reject the assertion that India has a “Muslim problem”; that label is not only dangerous but indicates nothing of the complexity of the issues involved. I recognise that the Muslims in India have problems, but I hasten to add that some of the problems are by no means exclusive to them, and most are of their own making. They must endeavour to solve them and they must be allowed to be free from a fear of physical annihilation in order to succeed in their efforts. Communal violence and communal coercion, these are the twin problems that all of us face in India. The communal problem in India is not that people do not have freedom of religion, but that an individual cannot yet enjoy freedom of conscience without suffering reprisals at the hands of one organised group or another. We have allowed for too long in our country an exploitation and brutalisation of the individual by the dictators of one kind of group solidarity or another. We have not struggled to make the individual the fundamental unit in our national polity. Instead, we have let him be submerged by groups whose authority does not arise from a social contract or from the fact that the members consciously and of their own choosing share some social-ethical concern, but whose relationship with, and authority over, the individual comes about merely from the chance event of his birth. (For example, religious groups, caste groups, linguistic groups.) This trend must end, and this pattern must change, if the man in India is to survive. 

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Saquib Salim

Saquib Salim is a well known historian under whose supervision various museums (Red Fort, National Library, IFFI, Jallianwala Bagh etc.) were researched. To his credit Mr. Salim has more than 400 published articles on history, politics, culture and literature in English and Hindi. Before pursuing his research and masters in modern Indian History from JNU, he was an electrical engineering student at AMU. Presently, he works as a freelance/ independent history researcher, writer and works at www.awazthevoice.in