Hindus & Muslims
Politics, Religion, and Independence
 
Islam in India
On the eve of India’s colonization there were already social, economic, and political changes afoot on the subcontinent that were catalyzed by the arrival of foreign rulers. The Umayyad Islamic Caliphate, whose capital was Damascus, had expanded to establish a kingdom in the lower Indus River valley as early as 711 CE. These were Arabic-speaking Muslims, many of whom also traded along India’s Malabar coast. However, Islam’s major push into the subcontinent began with the Turkish ruler Mahmud of Ghazni, who had his Afghan armies move into northwest India. By the time of his assination in 1206, he had established a Turko-Afghan state bordering on Delhi. His successor, Queb u’d-din Aibak, conquered Delhi, making it his capital, and became the first in a series of Delhi Sultans, Turko-Afghan rulers whose empire eventually stretched from the Punjab to Bengal. (IH, 288)
 
 
In 1526, Babar, a descendent of Timur (Tamerlane), overthrew the Delhi-based kingdom and became the first of the Mughal (i.e., Mongol, since Timur was a descendent of Genghis Khan) rulers in India. Babar’s rule lasted for only four years, but he was succeeded by a series of Mughal rulers, such as Akbar and Shah Jahan, who left indelible imprints on Indian civil governance and architecture. Akbar, who inherited the throne when he was only 14, is remembered for his broad religious interests. He patronized the construction of Hindu temples, had the Hindu Epics translated into Persian, the language of the ruling elite during the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire, and abolished the special taxes levied on non-Muslims. Shah Jahan constructed the Taj Mahal, a mausoleum for his wife, Mamtaz, which in design and execution was an unparalleled expression of imperial majesty capable of rendering a divine paradise on earth. By the sixteenth century, with the exception of the Hindu empire of Vijayangara in the south and a few Rajput kingdoms, India mainly had Muslim rulers. Of course, most of these rulers had Hindu viceroys, generals, and so on. Shah Jahan’s successor, Aurangzeb, was far less pluralistic than his predecessors. He revived the tax on non-Muslims and destroyed Hindu temples in Mathura, Banaras, and Rajasthan. (IH, 289)
 
 
Since Islam is grounded in affirming its creed that Allah is the only god, whose message is conveyed by Muhammad in the Qur’an, there were obvious confrontations with the religious beliefs of the people of the Indian subcontinent. ... The Hindu tolerance of innumerable conceptions of and approaches to God, and its acceptance of limitless creative expressions for the forms of God are particularly at odds with Muslim beliefs. ... Hindu iconographic depictions of antrhopomorphic deities, and even animal deities, such as Nandi, Hanuman, and Ganesa, not to mention tantric erotic imagery on temples were all little short of abominations to most Islamic purists ... [and as a result] Hindu icons were destroyed or defaced during periods of Islamic extremism. ... Islam also promotes a spiritual egalitarianism that conflicted with the Hindu caste system. ... While socio-political and religious agendas impede scholarly efforts to articulate the processes of Hindu-Muslim interaction effectively, it is evident that there were grave incompatabilities between Islam and Hinduism. Hindus began to regard Muslims almost like a separate caste, and thus disapproved of intermarriage. (IH, 290-1)
 

The British in India
& the Partitioning of India and Pakistan

In 1600, Queen Elizabeth I initiated the formation of what would become the British East India Trading Company, which established fortified trading posts on various points of the subcontinent. ... Spices, opium, tea, and cotton were of particular interest and the East India Company expanded into the interior acquiring territory, setting up forms of governance and policing the land with a military presence.
In the late eighteenth century the British government took over the rule of Indian territories from the Company, setting up Warren Hastings
as the first Governor-General of India (1773-1785), an official beginning to the period of the British Raj (rule). ... In 1885, the Indian National Congress, a political party many of whose members were Western-educated Indian elites, was formed. When the British governor-general, Lord Curzon, arbitrarily partitioned the region of Bengal into two states (West Bengal with its capital of Calcutta, also the capital of India, and East Bengal and Assam), educated middle-class Bengalis were angered. Not only was their beloved homeland of Bengal divided, but also Muslimsformed the majority population in East Bengal. Moreover, Bengali Hindus were no longer the majority in population in West Bengal, which also included the states of Bihar and Orissa. The Indian National Congress launched a nationwide campaign to boycott British goods, and this led to their progressive development as a national political party, which attracted such notables as Mahatma Gandhi and Jawarharlal Nehru. In 1906, Muslims, who were never successfully embraced by the Congress Party, formed their own party, the All-India Muslim League. (IH, 294-5)
 
 
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948) was a Gujarati from a merchant varna, who trained as a lawyer in London. After practicing law and fighting for civil liberties for more than two decades in South Africa, he returned to India in 1915 and became active in the independence movement. He started an asrama in Gujarat to train disciples in the techniques of active but non-violent resistance to injustice using the “force of truth” (satyagraha). Influenced by Christian ethics through the writings of Leo Tolstoy, and by Henry David Thoreau’s ideas of civil disobedience, Gandhi also drew upon a rich heritage of Hindu philosophical ideas in formulating his approach. Inspired by the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, which promoted action within social realities, rather than renunciation of the social order, Gandhi nevertheless attempted to maintain a life of ascetic simplicity and sexual continence in the yogic style. It was precisely this persona of the renouncer-saint that captivated the minds of the masses, giving Gandhi a stature that no other modern political leader in India has achieved.
 
Sometimes called Bapu, the “Father [of the Nation],” Gandhi insisted that non-violence (ahimsa) was an intrinsic feature of India’s religious heritage, and made it a cornerstone of his pluralistic, inclusive approach. Gandhi’s successes in India were a visible demonstration of the capacity of non-violent oppositionto bring about concrete change. The satyagraha technique offered oppressed groups a new option for resistance. Gandhian approaches have been used by segments of the civil rights movement in the United States, in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and by the women’s liberation movement worldwide. ...
 
Gandhi also utilized his power of asceticism to extract social responses by threatening to “fast unto death” unless politics were modified or people stopped their violent behavior. When justyifying his actions, Gandhi would frequently use religious rationales. Many still ponder whether his political activism was purely the outgrowth of his religious beliefs or if he also co-opted religion in the service of a political agenda. Although he embodied the persona of a sage in the classic Indian mold, Gandhi deviated from orthodoxy in many ways. He did not embrace the caste system and fought for the equality of Untouchables, whom he referred to as Harijans (Children of God). Wherever he perceived it, he confronted evil with action, rather than attempting to transcend the good-evil dualism through the attainment of a higher state of consciousness. (IH, 299-300)
 
Mahatma Gandhi on Caste
I do not believe in caste in the modern sense. It is an excrescence and a handicap on progress. Nor do I believe in inequalities between human beings. We are all absolutely equal. But equality is of souls and not bodies. ... We have to realize equality in the midst of this apparent inequality. Assumption of superiority by any person over any other is a sin against God and man. Thus caste, in so far as it connotes distinctions in status, is an evil. I do however believe in varna which is based on hereditary occupations. Varnas are four to mark four universal occupations — imparting knowledge, defending the defenseless, carrying on agriculture and commerce, and performing service through physical labor. These occupations are common to all mankind, but Hinduism, having recognized them as the law of our being, has made use of it in regulating social relations and conduct. Gravitation affects us all whether one knows its existence or not. But scientists who knew the law have made it yield results that have startled the world. Even so has Hinduism startled the world by its discovery and application of the law of varna. (academia.edu/326347...)
Gandhi Icon
It is as wrong to destroy caste because of the outcaste, as it would be to destroy a body because of an ugly growth in it or of a crop because of the weeds. The outcasteness, in the sense we understand it, has therefore to be destroyed altogether. It is an excess to be removed, if the whole system is not to perish. Untouchability is the product, therefore, not of the caste system, but of the distinction of high and low that has crept into Hinduism and is corroding it. The attack on untouchability is thus an attack upon this ‘high-and-low’-ness. The moment untouchability goes, the caste system itself will be purified, that is to say, according to my dream, it will resolve itself into the true Varnadharma, the four division of society, each complementary of the other and none inferior or superior to any other, each as necessary for the whole body of Hinduism as any other. (mkgandhi.org...)
Gandhi Icon
Varnashrama, as I interpret it, satisfies the religious, social and economic needs of a community. It satisfies the religious needs, because a whole community accepting the law is free to devote ample time to spiritual perfection. Observance of the law obviates social evils and entirely prevents the killing economic competition. And if it is regarded as a law laying down, not the rights or the privileges of the community governed by it, but their duties, it ensures the fairest possible distribution of wealth, though it may not be an ideal, i.e. strictly equal, distribution. Therefore, when people in disregard of the law mistake duties for privileges and try to pick and choose occupations for self-advancement, it leads to confusion of varna and ultimate disruption of society. In this law, there is no question of compelling any person to follow the parental occupation against his or her aptitude; that is to say, there can be no compulsion from without as there was none for, perhaps, several thousand years during which the law of varnashrama worked without interruption. By training, the people had recognized the duty and the justice of the law, and they voluntarily lived under it. Today, nations are living in ignorance and breach of that law and they are suffering for it. The so-called civilized nations have by no means reached a state which they can at all regard with equanimity and satisfaction. (mkgandhi.org...)
 
 
Independence
In 1919, after World War I, the British passed legislation to curtail political activism severely, which precipitated reactions such as protest marches and strikes initiated by figures such as Gandhi. On one occasion, when a group of Hindus had gathered in a garden in Punjab to celebrate a festival, unaware of a government-legislated curfew, the British military commander ordered his troops to fire systematically on the crowd. Three hundred and seventy-nine people were killed and over a thousand injured in an assault in which almost every bullet was shot purposefully at its targets.
 
 
This Jallianwala Bagh massacre was a pivotal event, marking the end of positive sentiments towards Britain by the majority of Indians. Thereafter, the push for self-rule (svaraj) — namely independence from Britain — gained greater momentum, culminating in success on August 15, 1947. To the detriment of the nation’s unity, the Congress Party had continued to alienate the Muslim League, which was led by the charismatic Muhammad Ali Jinna. Hindu-Muslim riots were widespread. Jinnah had long pressed for dividing the nation, and on the eve of independence, to avoid a civil war in the aftermath of Britain’s departure, Lord Mountbatten, British India’s last governor-general, authorized the country’s partition into the sovereign nations of Pakistan and India. Jawaharlal Nehru became India’s first prime minister.
 
 
Born at Wazir Mansion in Karachi, Jinnah was trained as a barrister at Lincoln's Inn in London. Upon his return to British India, he enrolled at the Bombay High Court, and took an interest in national politics, which eventually replaced his legal practice. Jinnah rose to prominence in the Indian National Congress in the first two decades of the 20th century. In these early years of his political career, Jinnah advocated Hindu–Muslim unity, helping to shape the 1916 Lucknow Pact between the Congress and the All-India Muslim League, in which Jinnah had also become prominent. Jinnah became a key leader in the All India Home Rule League, and proposed a fourteen-point constitutional reform plan to safeguard the political rights of Muslims. In 1920, however, Jinnah resigned from the Congress when it agreed to follow a campaign of satyagraha, which he regarded as political anarchy.
 
 
By 1940, Jinnah had come to believe that Muslims of the Indian subcontinent should have their own state. In that year, the Muslim League, led by Jinnah, passed the Lahore Resolution, demanding a separate nation. During the Second World War, the League gained strength while leaders of the Congress were imprisoned, and in the elections held shortly after the war, it won most of the seats reserved for Muslims. Ultimately, the Congress and the Muslim League could not reach a power-sharing formula for the subcontinent to be united as a single state, leading all parties to agree to the independence of a predominantly Hindu India, and for a Muslim-majority state of Pakistan. (Wikipedia/Jinnah)
 
The Partition of India
Partition led to one of history’s greatest mass migrations (an estimated 12 million people) as Muslims moved into Pakistan, and Hindus and Sikhs from the region of Pakistan moved into India. Systematic murderous raids by various factions, particularly in the divided state of Punjab, resulted in the massacre of as many as a million persons. “Ethnic cleansing” led to Pakistani Punjab becoming almost completely Muslim, and Indian Punjab becoming about 95 per cent Hindu or Sikh. Similar shifts took place in East Pakistan (formerly East Bengal) and West Bengal. Since princely states could choose which nation they wished to join, the Hindu king of Kashmir opted to join India, despite the fact that the majority of his subjects were Muslims. Pakistan assumed that Kashmir would be ceded to her. Since independence, disputes between India and Pakistan over the territory of Kashmir have fuelled wars and regional conflicts between the two countries. They have also exacerbated tensions between Hindus and the many Muslims who still live in India. (IH, 295-6)