Identity Politics in 20th Century India: a Case Study of Major Communities.

Position:Case study

Byline: Samina Yasmeen

Khilafat issue had brought two communities closer to each other, yet the demise of the Movement and the way it ended, soared the communal consciousness, thus bringing the enmity in the backyard to the forefronts of communal politics. Muslims termed the Hindu attitudes as a betrayal, while Hindus blamed the Muslims lacking sincerity of purpose. Consequently these vocal encounters had spiraling effect to the growth of communal consciousness and the degree of community consciousness and hostility towards other communities became intense with the passage of time. Being the subjects of the British government in the province, all communities were in competition with each other to gain economic prosperity, an important arena for the competition among three major communities of the province. Muslims although a majority of the province, was acquisition of government jobs. Muslims in spirit of being in majority got a very little share and well represented only in the police force of the Punjab.

Hindus being far ahead in education advocated that government services, even those of clerks and patwaris, should only be awarded on competition basis1. Muslims realized the inherent danger of competition at that stage, and demanded that jobs should be awarded on the basis of numerical strength in the province. Having this stance Muslims were termed as 'greedy job seekers' by the Hindus.

Khilafat Movement, the zenith of Hindu-Muslim unity, successfully drew two communities closer to each other, but the collapse of the movement again opened up an unending chapter of communal conflicts. Khilafat Movement was basically supportive of the Muslim cause, yet the Hindus, the majority community in India also participated in it and took charge of it, though for their own political gains. In the bargain, they obtained certain concessions from Muslims as well including Muslim volunteers abandoning the cow slaughtering and also got an opportunity to lead the Muslims in their testing time. This was really an achievement for them, both politically as well as psychologically, as they were leading the Muslims their old masters. Yet the tree of communal harmony could not flourish beyond the Khilafat Movement, as the harmony between the two communities was not deep-rooted, it soon evaporated into the oblivion.

Hinduism and Islam are not just two religions but they are also two completely divergent social systems and both are antithesis to each other.1 Al-Baruni, a Muslim tourist, in his book Kitab-ul-Hind, observed that the Hindus were different from the Muslims in all matters and usage.2 Inspite of living together for over a thousand years, they were unable to bridge the gulf among them; rather the differences kept on increasing. Armed conflicts between Hindus and Muslims, starting from the war between Bin Qasim and Raja Dahir in 712, down to the 20th century, run in thousands.3 The rivalry between two religions was not confined to the struggle for political supremacy alone, but was also manifested in day-to-day clash of two social orders.4 Relationship between different communities of the Punjab entered a new phase after the annexation of province with the British India.

British' desire to develop a nation out of various communities of India could not succeed, rather the communal differences were heightened in the wake of economic disparity and political inequality generated and promoted during the British era.5 British introduced the system of representative government, which was based on the principle of majority. The system further reinforced consciousness of separateness among the major three communities, the Hindus, the Muslims and the Sikhs. Down from the local, up to the central government, every community aspired to exert their representative significance to their advantage. It did not require much evidence to support the theory that representative institutions enhanced and strengthened communal consciousness6, which was already visible and prevalent in the long history of relationship among different communities.

Muslim invasions of India started with the advent of Mohammad Bin Qasim in the early eighth century and continued till the eighteenth century, when Ahmed Shah Abdali made his last assault. As the Hindus were dominant inhabitants of India then, they resisted the earlier invasions alone which took the shape of conflicts between the Hindus and the Muslims. Many of the governors appointed by the kings in distant parts of their kingdoms at times exploited the situation in their favour and revolted leading to waging wars against them. Thus, the wars, in the history of Muslim rule in India, can be divided into two kinds, first, the wars by the Muslim invaders for establishing and extending their rule - the Hindus having their rule in certain parts of India were the target; and the second, wars of Muslim emperors against the newly establishing Muslim rulers who were in a position to challenge the sitting emperors, as well as against the rebel governors who had pronounced their independence from the central authority.

The first category can be termed as the Muslim versus Hindu, while the second category as the Muslim versus Muslim, in which Hindus were participating in from the both sides. In fact, all the Muslim invaders after the Ghoris invaded a Muslim Kingdom in India and fought and defeated a Muslim ruler to establish their rule. Tamur and Nader Shah's invasions were not, at all against the Hindus. While Babar, the founder of the Mughal Empire in India had to fight and defeat a Muslim king Ibrahim Lodhi,7 for establishing his empire. Humayun, son of Babar lost his empire to Sher Shah,8 a Muslim, until after the death of whom, he could regain it.9 Akbar had to fight several Muslim rulers to expand and strengthen his empire. History also reveals that much of the resources of the Mughal emperors were consumed in fighting and suppressing the revolting governors, mostly the Muslims.

Many scholars interpret the wars between Aurangzeb and Shivaji as non-religious as these wars were not fought between exclusively Muslim or Hindu armies and both communities were part of war from both sides. Aurangzeb employed Hindu generals to fight against Shivaji, while Shivaji on the other side, also had employed a number of Muslim military officers.

"Some of them held important positions like the generals Siddi Hullal and Nur Khan. In Sivaji's navy, there were at least three Muslim admirals Siddi Sambal, Siddi Misri and Daulat Khan".10

The history of India from Qutbuddin Aibak's Sultanate in 1206 down to the arrival of British shows that it was not a period of continuous conflicts and wars between the Hindus on one side, and the Muslims on the other. The record of history displays that during this period, Muslims fought against Muslims more than they fought against Hindus. Thus, it is misconception that during the earlier centuries preceding the British arrival, Muslims were engaged in wars against Hindus as a rival community. This view was presented and highlighted by the Hindu press and opportunistic hawks in the Hindu leadership that Muslims, the invaders, were oppressing Hindus in all the hours of history since their first invasion of sub-continent by Muhammad bin Qasim.11

On the contrary, that even after the advent of British, Hindus along with Muslims collectively rallied around Bahadur Shah Zafar and revolted against foreign invaders for the restoration of his kinship, knowing fully well that the struggle was armed at the re-establishment of the Muslim emperor. Till that time there were no signs of mutual distrust between the two major communities, rather there were echoes of a common nationhood. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan regarded the Hindus and the Muslims as two eyes of a maiden where if one eye was injured, the beauty of maiden would suffer. In 1885, speaking to a gathering at Gurdaspur, Sir Syed said:

From the oldest times, the word nation is applied to the inhabitants of one country, though they differ in some peculiarities, which are characteristics of their own. Hindu and Mohammedan brethren, do you people have any country other than Hindustan? Do you not inhabit the same land? Are you not burnt and buried in the same soil? Do you not tread the same ground, and live upon the same soil? Remember that the word "Hindu" and "Mohammedan" are only meant for religious distinction, otherwise all persons, whether Hindu, Mohammedan, or Christian, who reside in this country belong to one and the same nation. They must each and all unite for the good of the country, which is common to all.12

On another occasion, he spoke on the same topic in Lahore, and said:

In the word nation, I include both Hindus and Mohammedans because that is the only meaning, which I can attach to it. With me it is not so much worth considering what is their religious faith, because we do not see anything of it. What do we see is that we inhibit the same land, are subject to the rule of the same government, the fountains of benefits for all are the same and the pangs of famine also we suffer equally. These are the different grounds upon which I call both these races, which inhibit India by one word, i.e. Hindu, mean to say that they are the inhabitants of Hindustan.13

Sir Shafaat Ahmad Khan, while concluding his foreword to Atulananda Chakrawarti's Hindus and Musalmans of India,14 opines that:

In almost every sphere of our national activity, there was greater solidarity and rapport between the two communities [Hindus and Muslims]15 than is generally supposed. The history of Indian culture shows continuous reciprocity of feelings and solidarity and sentiment between the masses no less than the classes of the two communities.... This understanding, which purified the tastes and instincts of the aristocracy and the populace, has penetrated and refined the whole nation. Whatever our political differences may be...the fact remains that in the temper...

To continue reading