I have returned from Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) disappointed and disturbed. I am disappointed because the students did not seem to have merged into the mainstream yet and disturbed because they were still talking in terms of religious identity.
Perhaps, it would give a vicarious satisfaction to the Muslims of having an identity of their own if the AMU is officially declared as a Muslim university. After having lost the battle in all fields, including Urdu, the Muslims do feel dejected. There is no inconsistency if a Muslim is made to feel that he has an identity of his own, but the overwhelming identity of all people living in India is Indians.
Aligarh is the place where Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the eminent freedom fighter, was abused before the country’s partition. The students had found him in a train compartment. He was travelling from Delhi to Calcutta from his hometown. They took off their clothes and booed him to show all the disrespect which they could.
His fault was that he differed with the Muslim League and opposed the formation of Pakistan. He would argue that the demand had been raised on the false assumption that partition was the best way out to escape the overwhelming majority of Hindus. But after the formation of Pakistan, the number of Muslims in India would go down still further. On top of it, the Hindu would say that you had taken your share and, therefore, go to Pakistan. This is precisely what happened.
Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, himself went to Connaught Circus and beat up some looters with stick he carried. The AMU students probably did not realize that the identity on the basis of religion led to the partition of India. After the division, the same type of politics could not be repeated and the Muslims, who plugged the line of separation, would suffer. The 80 percent of population, that of Hindus, would not brook the same old talk.
I feel that the Muslims on the whole have turned a new leaf in their life and want to be a part of the mainstream. They realize the dangers of ploughing a communal furrow. The riots between the Hindus and the Muslims ultimately become the riots between the Muslims and the police, which largely has been the case.
It is, however, the mainstream which was not allowing them too much. The soft Hindutava appears to have come to prevail in the country. This is making the Muslims more and more scared. Talking to some of them at the Jamia Millia institution in Delhi, I found that they were scared of the rise of Hindutva followers who cared little about their rights.
In this context I found the report by the US Congress-established panel pertinent. A bit of generalization has reduced its utility. Otherwise, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom is justified in observing that religious minorities in India have been subjected to “violent attacks, forced conversions” and “ghar wapsi” campaigns by groups like the RSS after the assumption of power by the Narendra Modi government.
It is unfortunate that the report has been officially rejected. The country should have debated on it. There is some truth in the perception that the equilibrium which we had developed over the years in the relationship between Hindus and Muslims has got upset since the advent of the Modi government. There is a sense of superiority among the Hindus and insecurity among the Muslims.
True, the strength that the equation has developed in such a way that the bond, however weakened, has not snapped altogether. Maybe, both communities have come to terms with the realities on the ground and had developed an understanding which stands them in good stead during the crises where are arise occasionally.
The RSS, which has added violence or, at best, the threat of it has given a new edge to the narrative. The organization which had taken a back seat since the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi is rearing its ugly head again and trying to put up a statute in the memory of Godse who shot Gandhi dead. Not that the Congress party had made the society secular. But its ideology is secular and it raised the voice when even the communal forces gained ascendency. Other perception about the Modi government is that the communal elements have got fillip in administration.
The understanding may have developed on the part of Muslims that they have to live with the majority, however impossible. Perhaps both live in separate worlds of their own. Social contacts between the two have reduced to the minimum. Yet, the ever present tension which one could smell has more or less gone.
Even the hostility towards Pakistan, a feature of daily life, is less than before. But it is still there. The common man never abjured goodwill towards people in Pakistan. But now even governments have realized the futility of plugging a line which does not sell. There are good chances of the two sides sitting across the table for a dialogue.
The Punjabis in both the states, one in India and other across the border, are so communal in approach that they do not appreciate the Sufi culture which is the synthesis of religious values on both sides. The Pakistan government’s allegation that India is trying to chance the demographic pattern in the state of Jammu and Kashmir is palpably wrong.
The return of Kashmiri pandits to the valley is something to be welcomed. Their integration with the Muslims is one proof of the Kashmiriyat, representing both the communities. Even the separatists, except probably the fundamentalist Syed Ali Shah Geelani, strongly defend the presence of pandits in their midst on the ground that they were integral part of their society.
In fact, the strength of Kashmiriyat is that it is based on secular ethos. The students at Aligarh should take a leaf out of the Kashmir’s book and learn to resist the temptation of underlining the identity on the basis of religion.