Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Religions do divide, sadly

\Reviewed by Kuldip Dhiman

Converts Do Not Make a Nation by M.G. Chitkara. A.P.H. Publishing Corporation, New Delhi. Pages. 719. Rs. 1000

PAKISTAN was created for Muslims, but the irony of it is that the two men who were largely responsible for partition, Iqbal and Jinnah, were both formerly Hindus. Iqbal was a Kashmiri Brahmin and Jinnah a Khoja Hindu. In fact Jinnah once remarked, "Pakistan started the moment the first non-Muslim was converted to Islam in India."

Whatever may have been the reasons for partition, one cannot forget the untold misery it brought to millions of innocent people on both sides of the border. After partition was announced, the greatest migration of the century took place, accompanied by a bloodbath in which millions of men, women, and children lost their lives. At Malir, near Karachi, Claud Moir, a British commander, made a note in his diary: "The great day has dawned and four hundred million Indians have got freedom to kill each other..."

M.G. Chitkara recounts the sordid story of partition and creation of Pakistan in his book "Converts Do Not Make a Nation". The author — a retired Vice-Chairman of Himachal Pradesh Administrative Tribunal, former Advocate General of Himachal Pradesh and a practising advocate — has burned the midnight oil to write this exhaustive volume replete with quotations, speeches, letters and other historical and statistical material. At the end of the day we have a book of history, albeit history coloured by the author's own political vision.

The author believes that until Independence, both Hindus and Muslims lived together peacefully. He tells us that history "is replete with examples of saintly Hindus and saintly Muslims treating each other as brethren..." They had no differences whatsoever until the British came on the scene with their divide-and-rule policy which finally culminated in the division of India. Now, 50 years later, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are besotted with a number of problems — poverty, rising prices, communal clashes, terrorism, and wars. The author proposes just one solution for all our woes — reunification.

This is in no way a new theory. The RSS and other like-minded parties have been talking about Akhand Bharat for the past five decades. Another point he makes is that most Muslims in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are actually Hindu converts. A person's nationality does not change if he changes his religion, just as "an Englishman will not become an Iranian if he embraces Islam. Religion has no corelationship with nationality. It is preposterous to carve out a country on the basis of religion. Religion unites and which divides is not true religion". The word Hindu does not refer to any religion, but to the peoples inhabiting the great Indian peninsula, hence they are all, according to Chitkara, essentially Hindus.

The author has no doubt gone through the dusty files of history with a toothcomb, but like a clever lawyer, he uses only those facets of history that strengthen his theory, and conveniently overlooks or distorts those facts that might weaken his case. It is possible to pack a book with facts and figures to sound objective and yet give a very subjective account of history — remember P.N. Oak?

Chitkara also frequently changes sides, sounding at times like a scholar, at times like a rhetorician, sometimes like a firebrand Hindu nationalist, and at other like a Gandhian — at the end of it leaving the reader totally baffled.

For instance, he says that only certain sections of Muslims from UP and Bihar were responsible for the creation of Pakistan, and later adds:

"The majority of Muslims were for (a) division of the country on the basis of (the) two-nation theory that they were separate from Hindus..." Regarding Hindu-Muslim relations he writes: "The people presently residing under the dispensation of three independent States, Bharat, Bangladesh and Pakistan, had been living together in amity and with normal relations till 1946 in the then Hindustan. They shared common long history with well-adjusted shared living within the nature's carved single geographical unit of land, Hindustan. They had had common bonds of interaction within the same country. They had fought together an alien colonial power in 1857, the first war of Indian Independence."

We have been given this official view all these years, but the facts say something else. Let us see what the renowned historian R.C. Majumdar, whose books the author has used for reference, has to say about it in his book "History of the Freedom Movement in India Vol I": "Early in the nineteenth century there were communal riots in Delhi (1807) and the Punjab. There was also a violent outbreak at Varanasi (Banaras) in October 1809, when the Hindu mob of the city stormed the great mosque of Aurangzeb.... In 1857 the Muslims of Broach attacked the quarters of the Parsis and killed some of them.... Hindu-Muslim riots with heavy casualties occurred at Bareilly and other localities in U.P. during 1871-72."

The historian further records that a series of riots rocked the principality of the Nawab of Janjira. The frequency of the riots increased between 1885 and 1893. "Serious communal riots broke out at Lahore and Karnal (1885), Delhi (1886), where the military had to be requisitioned, Hoshiarpur, Ludhiana, Ambala, Dera Ghazi Khan (1889) and Palakod in Salem District, Madras (1891). The year 1893 was one of the worst and there were grave outbreaks over a large area in Azamgarh, Dt. (UP), Bombay town (lasted six days) and interior, and Isa Khel.... The Muharram and Dusserah, processions and cowkilling at Baqrid were the causes, and murders, demolition of mosques and temples, and looting of shops were the chief characteristics of these riots". So much for Hindu-Muslim amity.

Like most sanitised theories propounded by politicians, Chitkara also believes that the British were responsible for the rift between Hindus and Muslims. Even a cursory glance at the pages of history will show us that this is an entirely erroneous view. Before the advent of the British, Hindus, Sikhs and others were second class citizens under Mughal rule. They had to pay the jazya and pilgrimage tax. They were converted by various means, including death threat. Barring Akbar, all other rulers tried to convert the local populace by some means or the other.

The most ruthless persecution was witnessed under the rule of Aurangzeb. Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and other communities had no say in the government, their land was taken away, and they lived in abject poverty.

The author himself admits: "Muslims ruled India for about ten centuries and Hindus lived with them as the ruled and survived. During most of the times they were treated as third rate citizens and often less than human beings".

In such circumstances how could the two communities have lived peacefully? Is the author not aware of the ruthless persecution of the Sikh Gurus and their followers? History must not be sensationalised, at the same time one must not try to hide stubborn facts.

There is no point in blaming the British for all our misfortunes. To quote R.C. Majumdar again: "This British policy (divide and rule) was undoubtedly productive of great evil, but it would be a mistake to suppose that the Hindu-Muslim cleavage was a creation of the British or even of the Aligarh Movement. The cleavage was there from the very beginning... the British policy merely exploited it for the safety of British rule, and the Aligarh Movement widened it in order to serve the Muslim interests. Even before the operation of any of these, Hindu-Muslim tensions sometimes developed into serious clashes between the two communities."

Be it the Indo-Pak conflict, Kashmir dispute, Mohajir problem, insurgency problem, poverty problem the author proposes one simple solution: the reunion of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh (he also indirectly hints at Afghanistan and Nepal). Once this object is achieved, the author says, all the above problems will get solved automatically: "Any arrangement of common cooperation between the States of Bharatiya peninsula will pay great dividends. The three neighbours can have common concern — planning in the fields of commerce, communication, culture, also defence and security matters, social, political and economic interaction can further develops (sic) into a loose sort of confederation."

After the dream of Akhand Bharat is realised, not only will the subcontinent solve all its endemic problems but it will also emerge as the strongest nation in the world. All this sounds wonderful but the author does not tell us how we are going to go about the business of reunification. Does he expect the political leaders and the military generals of the above mentioned nations to voluntarily accede?

While highlighting the brighter side of reunification he completely ignores the flip side of it. Throughout the book the author expresses his fears about the alarming increase of Muslim population after independence:

"Now, even after about five decades since the partition of the country and emergence of the Pakistan before the world as a fait accompli, a psychology among the majority community — Hindus — appears to have been generated that wherever in India, the Muslims is (sic) in majority, he — the Hindu — is treated as alien and is being constantly squeezed and is a refugee in his own country. The Hindus constitute 82 per cent of the total population of India in terms of actual numbers would count more than six hundred million, yet he is begin (sic) pushed around by anyone anywhere and thus the net increase in Muslim population in India."

Chitkara cites the example of Lebanon which in 1947 "was a Muslim minority and Christian majority country. But today, in just 50 years the Muslims are in majority..."

If we agree with the author for a while, the question arises how is reunification going to solve the problem? If the two predominantly Muslim countries, Pakistan and Bangladesh, become part of Greater India, won't the percentage of Muslims vis-a-vis other communities steeply increase, or does the author expect the peoples of these nations to convert to Hinduism before reuniting?

At times the author reasons in circles and proposes two opposite views in a single breath leaving the reader bewildered: "The nature and boundaries can change. Its rulers may change, it may be partitioned and two or more states can be united into one but two nations can never be amalgamated into one Nation; nor a nation be divided."

Suddenly he remembers his cause celebre: "Once this allergy to Hindutva is over, what is dubbed today as 'Hindu nation' will be seen as pure and simple nationalism." Well said, but how does one go about convincing the minorities? Doesn't Nawaz Sharif also assure the minorities in Pakistan that their freedom will not be endangered by the imposition of the Shariat law?

Often Chitkara stretches his specious arguments to the point of absurdity. "Hinduism has absolutely no quarrel with other faiths. On his way to the temple, a Hindu will have no objection to bowing before the tomb of a Muslim saint. He will touch a tazia with reverence. He will not kill an enemy. On the contrary he will be hospitable enough to offer milk to a serpent that happens to make its appearance in his house. Hindu religion is admittedly a peace-loving religion. Islam is rigid only on enforcing certain articles of faith but for those outside its pale, it has no other message but that of goodwill and tolerance."

Having said all this, he hastens to add: "Islamic rule never tolerated religious dissent or social digression from the co-religionists. Then where is the question of tolerating the alien faith holding minorities?"

There is too much repetition, and at times he goes on about the 5000-year-old culture of this great nation, development of Hindu religion and philosophy, the Buddha, Mahavira, Dyaneshwar, Tukaram, Basava, Guru Nanak, Dayananda Saraswati, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda. He quotes hundreds of authors, long passages from books, reports, magazines and other sources. All this is wonderful, but the author should have had stronger points to present his case.

If converts do not make a nation, then what does one say about Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, China, Japan, the United States, and the highly successful European countries like Germany, Britain, France and the rest? Surely the peoples of these countries got converted at some point in time.

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