Essay on the concept and problems of Minorities in India

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‘Pseudo-secularism’ implies that those who profess to be secular are really mot so but are really anti-Hindu or pro-Muslim. ‘Minorities’ implies that they really favour the minorities.

Quite often this critique of secularism is a re-run of the old, established communal point of view. It is, for example, argued that in the hands of the pseudo-secularists, secularism “has come to mean anti-Hinduism” and “pro-Islamism”. They have used secularism “to keep down the Hindus” and “directed” it “against Hinduism.”

On 17 October, 1991, speaking on the annual Vijyadashmi function at Nagpur, Balsaheb Deoras, head of the RSS, said that “the pseudo-secularists in Bharat are responsible to a great extent for these aggressive, and achieving their narrow and short-sighted gains the pseudo-secularists will never hesitate to sacrifice national interests and to fulfill event the anti-national political aspirations of the Muslims.” and that “the fear-psychosis generated by meaningless considerations of Muslim mentality has completely obsessed the thinking process of our pseudo-secularist rulers and political parties.”

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The concept of “Minorities is used less stridently to suggest that the secularists have been catering to the minorities that there was “discrimination against Hindus and favoritism to minorities”. In two recent issues of the Organiser,’minorities’ have been described as “scrambles for the communal, pro-pak vote” and it has been asserted that the problem in Punjab and Kashmir was the result of the “dilution of the nationalist spirit by deadly dose of minorities.”

The charge of pseudo-secularism and minorities is, of course basically an effort to undermine sturdy secularism which alone can be the basis for a strong, united and democratic India. At the same time, it is necessary to examine why so many basically secular persons are to believe in this particular critique of secular persons and parties.

There is no doubt that in the last few years’ secular parties and individuals have developed a tendency to associate with and even enter into compromises with different communal parties and groups. When this opportunities occurs visa-vis Hindu communalists, secular individuals rightly criticize it as a sacrifice of secularism; but when this opportunism occurs vis-à-vis Muslim of Sikh communalism, the secularists tend to ignore out or even justify it.

Politically, electoral considerations have led secular parties to treat the minorities as vote-banks and, therefore, to encourage, or at least not oppose, the political consolidation of minorities on non-programmatic, non-ideological or even plainly grounds. Minority communicational, even when it is critically assessed is handled with kid gloves and often tolerated and even catered to out of pure opportunism or misplaced concern for the minorities.

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A crass example of this political opportunism was the Congress Policy in the Shan Bano case and the manner in which the so-called Shahi Imam was boosted by the Janata Dal. Similarly, these secularists have not raised their voice against the naked use of religious places for political propaganda and even inflammatory speeches by the communalists.

Political opportunism is often accompanied by ideological opportunism. Many secular intellectuals glibly talk uncritically and even appreciatively of Muslim or Sikh identity, balking only at the notion of Hindu identity. Similarly, they describe Muslim or Sikh communal leaders as Muslim or Sikh leaders, though luckily, as yet, not describing Hindu communal leaders as Hindu leaders.

We had a finely tuned example of this ideological opportunism in early 1984, when over 150 of India’s leading secular intellectuals, reeling under the pressure of rising Sikh communal militancy in Punjab, appealed to the Government to accept the utterly communal notions of the Sikh community’s pride in its history, of its” desire to wield political power in equality”, and of the sharing of political power in Punjab between the two communities. These intellectuals would have been rightly horrified if similar demands had been made regarding Hindu or Hindu community in India.

Having said this and thus having recognized the little grain of truth in the talk of minoritism, several other basic points must be made and grasped if the critique of the opportunist or soft and tolerant approach towards minority communalism is not to become a garb, or at least an alibi, for majority communalism.

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First, only those have the credentials to make such critique that are fully secular and are open critics of majority communalism. In fact, communalism is a single ideology with Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian variants or manifestations. All of them have to be opposed simultaneously. A simultaneous struggle has to be waged against all the different forms of communalism, also because the different forms of communalism feed on each other and any strengthening of one communalism inevitably strengthens the others.

Second, it is necessary to see that communalism does not benefit the members of the religious community whose interest it claims to defend and promote. In fact, it is their worst enemy. After all, Muslims of the sub-continent have paid the main price for supporting communal parties and politics. Sikhs have suffered the most from the rise of communal parties and politics. Sikhs have suffered the most from the rise of communal militancy in Punjab. Nor is this conclusion a historical afterthought.

Jawaharlal Nehru had, with great foresight, repeatedly warned of this consequence of minority communalism. Writing to Khaliquazzaman in July 1937, he had exclaimed; “Do you not see that this communal policy which the Muslim League here has fathered is a policy more injurious to the Muslims of India than anything that a majority could do. It is a doomed policy both from the point of view of the community and the larger world.” Similarly, in December 1954, referring to the intense communalism for the Akali Dal, he wrote:” If these ideas spread, India will no doubt suffer, but the Sikhs will obviously suffer most of all.”

And, of course, the chief victims of Hindu communalism would be the country as a whole as also Hindus themselves. Representing irrationality, hatred, intolerance and obscurantism, its success would also mark a deep break with the centuries-old culture, traditions, humanity and religious ethos of the Indian people, majority of who have always followed Hindu religion or religious systems. We should, in this respect, learn from the history for other peoples and ask the question, “Who were the chief victims of Fascism?” Clearly, in Italy the Italians, in Japan the Japanese and in Germany the Germans as a whole and not merely the Jews among them.

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Third, rightly seeing all varieties of communalism as dangerous, it must be realized that just as before 1947 the main damage to national unity was inflicted by Muslim communalism, so, after 1947, it is Hindu communalism which poses the main threat to India’s unity and democracy. And this for the simple reasons that, in a democracy, majority communalism can acquire power far beyond that any minority communalisms can. We many also note that just as the end or logic of minority communalism is separatism, the end of logic of majority communalism is fascism. And there is another difference. While the state machinery can be used to oppose separatism, what happens when the state itself becomes fascist?

Fourth, if Hindu communalists are not ‘pro-Hindu’, Muslim communalists not ‘pro-Muslim’ and Sikh communalists not ‘pro-Sikh’, clearly majority communalism does not help the majority and tolerance of minority communalism does not in any way benefit the minority. There is also, then, no reason to feel that opposing or criticizing minority communalism will ‘hurt’ the minority.

For example, recent opportunism or softness towards Muslim communalism has in no way helped, or led to any gains by, Muslims. Their educational, economic and social backwardness has continued as before. Their share in jobs in the bureaucracy, educational institutions, the police and the armed forces, in trade or industry, or in employment in the corporate sector, continues to be very low. Their enrolment in schools, colleges, and universities if far below their proportion in the population. How has the so-called ‘mirtoritism’ helped the Muslim minority?

The shah Bano Bill and the absence of a uniform civil code hurt the interests of Muslim women that are half of Muslim population. Even the declaration of Prophet Mohammed’s birthday as government holiday brought relief mainly, or rather overwhelmingly, to non-Muslims who form 97% to 98% of the total government employees.

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On the other hand, tolerance if not encouragement of Muslim communalism has increased the weight of obscurantist and backward, looking social, cultural and political forces among Muslims. For example, the fact that a large number of the poor and lower middle class Muslim children have to spend their early, formative years in Madras’s becomes a major barrier to their educational and therefore social and economic development in later years.

Lastly, there is no doubt that in specific historical situation; minorities can suffer from several disabilities. Sikhs and Christians have no ground for complain on that score in today’s India; but Muslims certainly do. Some of the disabilities are self-imposed or historical; others result from the wide prevalence of Hindu communalism, especially among sections of traders, industrialists and bureaucrats. But the remedy to their problems does not lie in Muslim communalism; and those who encourage Muslim communalism to feather their own electoral nests are no friends of Muslims. The remedy lies in all secular persons and political forces struggling together for the redressal for minority’s grievances.

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