Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Friday, December 13th, 2019

Dangers of Religious Identity in South Asia

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Dangers of Religious Identity in South Asia

Religion, many feel, needs to be used instrumentally to bind  together and to overcome one’s caste and language divides and to create a sense of pride in the past.  The rise of confessional Hindu Politics is not a new phenomenon.  It began in the mid-nineteenth century as a reaction to the perceived organisational strengths of Islam and Christianity. Some consider that the slow transformation of the pluralistic identity of Hinduism from a ‘way of life’ into a dominantly religious identity, that is now sought to be given an impetus, has not been adequately recognised. These days politics are sought to be dominated by culture, after making religion and culture inseparable.  It is much like the Christian Right in the US, the Hindu Right in India has shown a notable capacity to exploit the media and mobilise support.  The appeal of the BJP’s narrow advocacies of Hindu cultural nationalism at the grassroots level is such that even segments of the Congress and left – of – centre parties appear to be adopting a similar approach under various heads.
Consequences of the dilemma
The dangers of this situation in  Muslims from a reconstructed Indian identity are many.  In the first place, it would be treated to dissuade the Muslim masses from getting rid of their obscurantist leadership.  Another would be to encourage them to take to the path of  violence.  But more important is the fact that it would hardly be possible to keep above 112 million people subdued, particularly when they have over a billion co-religionists across the globe, most of them in India’s extended neighbourhood.  Ambedkar considered Muslims the sole defenders of India from foreign invasion ……..  . For one often hears them say that they are the ‘gatekeepers of India.  The Hindus must consider the problem of the defence of India in the light of  this crucial factor.  Their exclusion lead every Muslim in India to say that he is Muslim first and Indian afterwards.  It is this sentiment which explains why the Indian Muslim has taken so small a part in the advancement of India but has spent himself to exhaustion by taking up the cause of Muslim countries and why Muslim countries occupy the first place and India occupies a second place in his thoughts.  India cannot hope to emerge as a progressive nation or a powerful state without mainstreaming the Muslim Indian.  And that cannot be done by excluding Islam from the national identity and asking the Muslims to prioritise nation over religion, something the Hindu Indian is not asked to.
When democratic politics was introduced in India, it led to an open articulation of the major groups in society and the Muslims felt highly ambivalent about whether or not they should also organise themselves politically. The most important single factor, the electoral process in the country, instead of pulling down the boundary wall of community and religion, has unfortunately made them more pronounced.  Any party which wants to rule India cannot hope to win an election without the support of  the Muslims. Though they comprise more than half the electorate in only ten constituencies, the way the Muslim vote can influence the fortunes of candidates in as much as 206 other constituencies spread across 13 states. Every ninth voter in the country is a Muslim. On his own, the Muslim voter cannot elect a candidate of his choice. By throwing his weight behind a candidate who needs marginal support to get elected, the Muslim voter come to his rescue. This is the reason why Muslim voters are wooed so assiduously by major parties.  Another the Muslim, in general, has a tendency to vote en bloc.
Effects on Hindu -Muslim divide
Hindu-Muslim antagonism can be described as a complex set of factors going back to the Muslim invasions, destruction of  Hindu temples and building of mosques over them, forcible conversion of  Hindus to Islam, and British encouragement of  Muslim separation for their own ends during the imperial rule.  In 1947 the riots and massacres of partition ushered into existence the new states of India and Pakistan. Partition of the sub-continent was the logical culmination of these historical and the post-1947 India though secular could not remain unaffected by them. Between August 1947 and March 1948, 4.5 million Hindu migrated from went Pakistan to  India and 6 million Muslims the other way. The big exchange of population in Bengal came later in 1950 when 2.44 million Hindus came to India and 1.43 million Muslims went to East Pakistan.  The country was kept in a religious frenzy for four years from 1946 to 1950.  A new political party called the Bharatiya Jana Sangh which draws ideological and physical sustenance from RSS, was created in early 1953.  The third Hindu force, the Vishal Hindu Parishad was set up in 1964. Consequently, communal riots, largely absent in the 1950s, gathered fury after the passing away of  Jawaharlal Nehru in 1964.  According to Ministry of Home Affairs figures, communal incidents averaged 81 a year between 1950 and 1963. They averaged 1025 a year between 1964 and 1970.
Constitutional status
In the post-independence era, with secularism laid down in the constitution, which the Muslim community’s elected representatives unanimously supported and to which they swore allegiance, the evil of communal politics was expected to disappear gradually, if not instantly. The word “secularism” means that there shall be no state religion and that the state shall treat all religions equally. But the nationalist ideology under the Congress frowned upon open expression of the Muslim identity in politics and still more upon separate political organisation for the Muslims. In fighting the two-nation theory of the Muslim League and establishing the claim of the Congress to represent all communities, the movement failed to create a proper atmosphere for secular interaction between different communities through their own organisation and left behind a poor legacy.  Secularism has lost its meaning in a milieu where religious personal law is a mockery of equality under law. The positive purpose of secularism is equal behaviour and equal facilities to the followers of all faiths.  Our secular state enacts laws directing the Hindu to follow monogamy, making difficult for the husband to divorce his wife and providing alimony till her remarriage or death.  At the same time it allows Indian Muslims to follow their personal law which gives them the right to take four wives, divorce their wives at will and are under no obligation to pay alimony if a wife is divorced. Thus, secularism cannot be achieved simply by inscribing it in our constitution.

Dr. Rajkumar Singh is Professor and Head of P.G.Department of Political Science, BNMU, West Campus, P.G. Centre, Saharsa-852201. Bihar, India. Email- rajkumarsinghpg@yahoo.com

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