By Syed H. Hashmi
It is interesting to survey the trajectory of historical chronicles of the Hindu Muslim dialectic in the Indian context. Only a dedicated student of history with stamina and endeavour can undertake to embark on a journey that spreads across a period of almost a thousand years. An article of a medium length like this one can only cursorily touch upon matters of any consequence in this discourse.
It is a narrative of confrontation between peoples holding divergent assumptions, attitudes and notions of interpersonal relationship in a society. This confrontation or, in other words, coming together of cultures and manners of life produced an environment of paradoxical reactions. There was a desire to reach out and understand each other and simultaneously a feeling of doubt and suspicion of each other’s intentions. An evolving dialectic of hostility and cordiality. The warp and weft of the socially antithetical strains in the fabric of this society were always distinct and obvious.
However, human societies have their own ways of weaving historical textures of reality. With the entry of Muslims in the Indian society almost a thousand years ago new patterns of social and political profiles began to emerge. Some felt a sense of threat and unwelcome intrusion while others accepted it as inescapable facts of history. A society of miscellaneous character was coming into being. What ensued was a social climate of ethnocultural diversity. Amid a variety of factors of resistance and reservation, there was a reaching out across a stream of uncertainties. There was intermingling of social customs, manners of communication, and inter-community transactions. A vital instrument of mutual contact and exchange was the language the two communities spoke. The Indian linguistic diction and idiom influenced the verbal communication of the ‘foreigners’ as much as the vocabulary and linguistic structure of a foreign tongue impacted the language of the native. In this sense language was an important medium of dealing with the gap of socio-cultural diversity.
The social nexus between diverse communities further strengthened through involvement in folk ceremonies and group participation in activities that were purely communal without a tinge of religious observance. Equations exclusively of social contacts and free of devotional and religiously doctrinaire considerations helped to dissolve much of the communal antagonism between people. A climate of mutual acceptance of, even respect for, each other’s ways of living began to take roots. Indians of diverse creeds began to blend into a syncretic society of genial togetherness. This ‘Indian nation’ had come a long way from the days of distrust and suspicion.
A composite culture and national ethos began to emerge as the new identity of the Indian nation. A spirit of sympathy for each other and collaboration in the quest for a common national goal became realities. This very spirit galvanized the ‘Indian nation’ to realise that India was their country and it was ‘them’ who had to take control of the governance of their country. That it was the inalienable right of the Indian nation to exclusively, and legitimately, control and steer the sovereignty of India. This spirit brought the Hindus, the Muslims, the Sikhs, the Jains et alia of the Indian provenance together in their struggle for independence in 19th and 20th centuries. The year 1857 proved to be a momentous watershed in the history of India’s struggle for independence. There was unity of purpose and aspirations. The people of India rid themselves of all kind of prejudice and sedulously concentrated on one common goal, FREEDOM from the British subjugation.
With the emergence of a new generation of leaders on the national scene, Gandhi, Nehru, Azad, Patel, Tilak, Bhagat Singh, Ashfaqullah Khan and the likes, India’s struggle for independence found strength and impetus. The Indian National Congress and its members applied themselves with devotion and unshakeable commitment to the task of achieving independence of the country and nation. It was a long drawn out struggle but the dauntless and indomitable spirit of the Indian nation was equal to the demands of the challenge.
All through this struggle for independence the atmosphere of social heterogeneity had remained in abeyance. It was as if people disparate in nature and thought had abandoned their mutual antipathies and united with a common purpose and goal. The Indian people, be they Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and Jains, had reached a moment of conviction that as long as they remained divided along prejudices of community and creed, they will never succeed in their common struggle against the foreign subjugation of their land and nation. In the end, their commitment, perseverance, tenacity of purpose and sacrifice prevailed over injustice and, not only immoral, indefensible occupation of their land by an alien authority.
On the eve of August 15, 1947 the nation heard Nehru speak simultaneously with panache and gravitas on the ‘tryst with destiny’ declaration. The dream of a nation had come true. The aspirations of millions of Indians had been realised. There was a feeling of triumph and fulfilment in the nation and that the sacrifices and sincere efforts of our leaders had not gone waste.
As the feeling of national euphoria and celebration gradually began to fade or be forgotten, another vein of thought of ‘nationalism’ began to brew. Hindus who formed the predominant majority of the Indian nation, began to feel the need of a Hindu land. It was in reaction to an agonising awareness that Hindus were the exclusive descendants and curates of the Vedic heritage and so legitimately they should have control and dispensation of the country. The Muslim domination in India and then 200 years of the British ‘exploitation’ was a historical anachronism. It was this fact that had enervated the native spirit of the Indian nation. It was in the early quarter of the 20th century that the Rashtrya Sewak Sangh (RSS) was conceived and established with a mission of reclaiming the pride of ancient Hindu India. The rise of the ‘Hindu nationalist’, the phrase used and proudly avowed by the Indian Prime Minister himself of the RSS stock, has always longed for the establishment of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ in India. The ‘nationalists’ of this vein of thought have been affected by a sense of deprivation and frustration. Their voice has lately and progressively become infused with the stridency of an unyielding purpose. The political climate now seems favourable for achieving their goal under the present regime. Some of the ‘nationalists’ of a radical nature have even begun to behave as if they hold the country in their demesne.