Are Secular Indians Negating Their Own History? While sections attack the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and Article 370, are they ignoring the reality of cultural spheres?

This article is dedicated to the Kashmiri Pandits who were driven out of their homeland in 1989. 

Narendra Modi is the first Indian leader since 1947 who has openly declared himself as a Hindu nationalist and won two consecutive elections. Modi’s critics fail to address the reality that a vast number of secular Indians have come to see Hinduism as the bedrock of their civilisation and their nation. As ludicrous as it sounds to the foreign soul, Hinduism has a sense of inclusiveness that allows for a billion Indians to worship more than one god, celebrate multiple festivals and dance to music that praises the gods. Above all, it shapes India’s spirituality and allows for a wide range of interpretations. On the downside, should Modi fail to rein in the extremist elements within Hinduism, India now runs the risk of getting consumed by a narrow fringe of Hindutva (a term used to refer to extremism within the Hindu sphere).

India and Pakistan were carved out of bloody borders and to date, religious demography still looms over almost every riot on the Subcontinent. The fact that Pakistan is made up of other ethnic groups such as Punjabis, Pashtuns, Sindhis, Multanis, Mujahirs, and Balochs is insignificant to its identity. What is supreme to Pakistan is its submission to Islam. Pakistan’s claim to Kashmir extends this linear logic of mowing down other ethnicities and highlighting the Islamic identity of the region. Kashmir, like Kosovo, has succeeded in putting demography in the driving seat of geography and history. While Kosovo draws its unstinting support from Albania, the Kashmir valley gets its supply of oxygen from Pakistan and Jihadi groups across Pakistan and Afghanistan. The porous borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan have helped foster jihadi groups set up with the help of the US during the Soviet-Afghan War (1979-1989). The war gave Pakistan geopolitical importance because of its geographic location. But, Pakistan has a long history of Islamising with Saudi funding that has contributed to its extremist interpretations of Islam and Jihad (a dichotomous concept that refers to an inner struggle and holy war).

From the Indian Subcontinent to the Middle East and Africa, most of the boundaries carved by western colonial powers were drawn with their half-baked truths of peoples and places. The result is that some of these regions have been enduring colonial geopolitics, which fuels ethnic violence. Yet, Muslims have carved out their own spheres of cultures, and despite their cascading differences, they feel a sense of cultural comfort with each other. The Muslim community, or more specifically the Ummah, does not believe in borders and ploughs on for a global Islamic community.

If we are to admit the fact that we live in a globalised world, then we should accept the consequences of it. The Ummah puts Muslims first and cannot tolerate the rest of the world putting the interests of its respective populations first too. Meanwhile, secular Indians can no longer deny that demography fuels democracy. A Pew research study of 2015 reveals that 50 countries have a Muslim majority. There is very little data available on the plight of the minorities in Muslim majority countries. Another Pew research study shows that Muslims want both democracy and Islam in their political life. Islam’s political dimension includes Sharia, which large sections of the non-Muslim world find disturbing and disenchanting, to say the very least. Muslim majority countries rarely have shown religious tolerance to other faiths. Hindu immigrants who live and work in the Middle East enjoy virtually no religious freedom. They are expected to practise their religion in the privacy of their homes. On the other hand, Muslims in India can opt for Sharia, build mosques and publicly practice their faith.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia are leading the campaign to build mosques and Islamic centres all over the world. Both the theocracies have backed concepts within Islam that treat non-believers in a subordinate manner.  What is worse, Islam’s discrimination of religious minorities is systemic, very much like the Indian caste system or the systemic problems that have led to the Black Lives Matter movement. The only difference is that the latter two have been attacked while the former remains a taboo topic. The vast majority of Muslim majority countries allow only Muslims to be elected as heads of state. India, on the other hand, has seen four Muslim Presidents; the most popular of them all remains Abdul Kalam.

Barring Israel, the Middle East or West Asia falls under the influence of the Islamic sphere, and they tend to have a common enemy – Israel. To date, a majority of the Arab nations and Muslim majority countries neither recognise Israel as a state nor do they accept Israeli passports as a valid travel document. Certain Muslim countries have gone one step further and banned passports with Israeli visas. The anti-Jewish sentiment has spread as far as Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh, where Israeli passport holders are denied entry into the country.  While Israel’s actions in Gaza are questionable, the Muslim community across the world has pledged its support to the Palestinian cause. This support now extends to stone pelting delinquents in the Kashmir valley.

But what of the Hindu Pandits who were driven out of their own homes in the Kashmir valley in 1989? Shouldn’t the liberal Left’s support extend to them too? Article 370 gave autonomy to Kashmir and allowed it to have its own constitution. Article 35A narrowed the definition of ‘permanent residents’, and it inadvertently covered a Muslim majority; that landslide majority was achieved with the help of the mosque and the Jihadi groups that unleashed a pogrom that drove the Kashmiri Pandits out of Kashmir.

Part of the problem with CAA and Article 370 is that the liberal voices of India and the artistic ‘elite’ have opposed it. Regardless of their culture, the art world has always crossed borders with greater ease than the common man. In contrast, the less glamorous world of cross border communication identifies with culture as a basic building block of their society. The artistic ‘elite’ all over the world have no real need to cling to their culture, but in fact, they have more to gain by embracing the globalised world for profits. The legendary singer, Sting, can cash in on his ‘Englishness’ only to a certain extent, but his real value lies in crossing thresholds, and defending values that have little to do with ‘Englishness’. The same goes for Bollywood film stars who need to sell films to Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Middle East. Highlighting a Hindu identity is not going to take them too far; that explains why top producers and actors have made films to downplay the threat of political Islam. Some of these were hugely successful and helped build the narrative that Islam was all about peace and love. When it comes to terrorism, the vast majority of Bollywood filmmakers and stars maintain that it has nothing to do with Islam, and they often paint the Muslims as victims.

They wilfully ignore the fact that the Medina verses of the Quran have been used to incite violence by the Jamaat-e-Islam and the mosque, not just in India, but across the world. The Jamaat-e-Islami was founded in 1941 in British India by Abu A’la Maududi.  In 1947 when India was partitioned, he moved his organisation to Pakistan in search of his pure Islamic sphere. Today India, Bangladesh and Pakistan all have Jamaat-e-Islami branches that share common values and goals. The Jamaat (meaning, ‘assembly’ or ‘gathering’), as they are referred to on the Indian Subcontinent, believes that ideally, all sections of all societies should conform to Islamic principles and values. Time and again, these verses have been used to whip up Jihadi sentiments by the mosque and Islamic bodies. Unsurprisingly, the Jamaat-e-Islami remains opposed to CAA and has organised violent protests in India.

There is no doubt that the CAA is controversial and contradicts the government’s official reasoning. It offers citizenship to religious minorities fleeing persecution. Of course, one has to wonder why India is not willing to offer citizenships to Shia or Ahmadiyya Muslims who are persecuted in Pakistan. But the bigger burden for India’s Hindu sphere is this – where should persecuted Hindus go? Europe has opened its arms to regions torn by wars and most of them happen to be Muslim majority nations. Hindu persecution is not high on the list of any western democracy and is rarely addressed. Nepal may be Hindu, but it is obsessed with its ethnicity and in recent years has passed laws to limit citizenship when its citizens marry other nationalities.

Since WWII, Europe has taken millions from the Islamic spheres – a significant number of them are economic migrants – but Christians and Hindus who are persecuted in Muslim countries have virtually no quota in any western democracy. The infamous Asia Bibi case (where a Christian lady by the name of Asia Bibi was accused of blasphemy even though there was virtually no evidence) was revelatory of the policy of western democracies when it came to persecuted minorities. Asia Bibi is Christian, but the Christian sphere shut its doors on her face. Britain’s large intake of Muslim immigrants meant that it could not guarantee her safety on British soil. She was forced to go into hiding in Canada.

In that context, India may not be a shining example of democracy but can we deny the Hindu sphere of its right to protect persecuted Hindus and its definitions of victims? Hinduism was born in India and that makes a vast number of Indians feel a moral responsibility to provide sanctuary to persecuted Hindus. For the first time in India’s history since 1947, that view is bolstered by the government in power. In an ideal world, no one should ever be driven away from their homes, but the world has to wake up to the uncomfortable fact that the Islamic spheres have a long history of driving minorities from their lands, and fairness is hard to debate under these conditions.

Citations

  1. Most Muslims Want Democracy, Personal Freedoms, and Islam in Political Life, Pew Research Centre, July 2012
    2. Descent Into Chaos, Ahmad Rashid, 2011
    3. Analysis, PBS Madrassas Interview Vali Nasr
    4. What Muslims really think? ICM Survey for Channel 4
    5.Bollywood films Coolie (1983), Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), My name is Khan 2010, Mulk (2018)
    6. Qatarends funding of SwissMuslim Cultural Institute, 24 April 2019, Swiss Info
    7. Qatar Papers – Georges MalBrunot & Christian Chesnot
    8. Saudi Arabia Is Investing $20 Billion in Pakistan. Here’s What It’s Getting in Return Joseph Hincks, 19 February 2018, Time Magazine
    9. Why is Nepal’s new constitution controversial?
    10. India’s Islamist groups, Husain Haqqani, 16 February 2006, Hudson Institute
    Sketch Artist: Valérie Boschet