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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2834

In Understanding Rauf Hakeem and Anti-Islamism in India: Comments on some recent Indian writings

By Bandu de Silva

Rauf Hakeem said that the Muslims in the [formerly temporarily amalgamated) “north-east” were `in a difficult situation particularly because of the India-sponsored merger of the northern and eastern districts (provinces) to form a united northeastern province. The merger had made the Muslims politically weak. But now, we are politically organized and are a vibrant force, which has repeatedly got the mandate of the people.

I was intrigued by a statement made by the SLMC leader, Rauf Hakeem, on 3rd August 2004 in New Delhi in his interview to Hindustan Times (interview with Meenakshi Ayer) just like Apratim Mukarji who reproduced it in his newest book on Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka: A Dangerous Interlude” Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2005).

“Why was it that the SLMC was now suggesting an Indian role in Sri Lanka?”, asked Mukarji. Hakeem provided an interesting explanation, that is that India had, in the intervening years, changed its attitude to the Muslims and was now showing a readiness to accommodate their interests, added this Indian journalist, who was once the Colombo correspondent of Hindustan Times, and the author of another book on Sri Lanka. As for the Sri Lankan situation, he quoted Hakeem saying that India is obviously inclined to amend it (its earlier stand ) and find a modus vivendi for resolving issues relating to an autonomous arrangement that we are seeking in the “north-east” to ensure that we (the Muslims) have self-rule along in a federal arrangement.

This statement was seen as a perception of India’s attitude towards Muslims in India in general, spilling over into affairs of the neighboring land. In analyzing Hakeem’s perception of India’s treatment of Muslims today, let me first hark back to what the well-known analyst of Indian politics, Pranay Gupta, wrote on the situation of Muslims in India after Indira Gandhi’s death; and next to more recent writing of Amalendu Misra,: “Foundations of Anti-Islamism in India: Identity and Religion” (Sage Publications, New Delhi) (Misra is a Lecturer in politics at the Queen’s University, Belfast and his book has received favourable comments from Lord Parekh, Central Professor, London School of Economics and Professor Noel O’Sullivan, Professor of Political Philosophy , University of Hull).

Pranay Gupta writing in his book: “Vengeance: India after assassination of Indira Gandhi” quoted Trvor Fishlock, London Time’s New Delhi correspondent from his book : “India File” : “They (Muslims) are the rather unhappy remnant of a once powerful and conquering people whose forts, mosques, and domes dot the landscape and remain among the most distinctive of Indian images.” Gupta wrote in his book: “…But for an overwhelming number of India’s majority Hindus, Muslims remain the ancient enemy. There is little forgiveness towards Muslims, much less trust and tolerance, because of real or perceived historical wrongs”

If all this sounds dramatic, he wrote, consider the following: of the 4000 officers of the elite Indian Administrative Servicemen only 120 are Muslims.

In the 2,000 –member Indian Police Service, there are only 50 Muslims.

India has about 5,000 judges, but only 300 of them are Muslims.

There are nearly 120, 000 officers in the country’s 14 nationalized banks, but only 2,500 of them are Muslims.
Quoting M.J. Akbar, in his “India :The Siege Within” of a survey done by India’s top private companies, he gives the following figures:

Ponds Ltd: one Muslim out of 115 senior executives;. DCM, 2 out of 987; Brook Bond, 14 out of 673; J.K. Synthetics, 5 out of 673; ITC, 17 out of 966; Sarabai, only 5 out of 628 executives were Muslims. In Aligar, none of the renown locksmiths were hired by the new lock factories!

This is the situation of the Muslim minority of 130 million in India which is roughly ten percent of the population!

George Ferdinedes, India’s leading labor leader and a former member of the Cabinet had told Mukarji “Muslims don’t get ordinary jobs so easily. The Muslim is not wanted in the armed forces because he is always suspect – whether we want to admit them or not, most Indians consider them a fifth column for Pakistan. The private sector distrusts him. A situation has been created in which the Muslims, for all practical purposes, are India’s untouchables.”

Muslims were worried as to what would happen after Indira Gandhi’s death. In Hyderabad riots 150 Muslims died and U.S.$ 10 million worth of Muslim property was destroyed, but only $10, 000 was paid in compensation, no one was arrested; no one was punished. No one had been arrested for rioting against the Sikhs either, after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. (In this country one speaks of unresolved murders!) At that the question was whether Rajiv Gandhi could break away from the communalist hold over the Congress.

Pranay says the memory of Islamic invasions were much alive and people demanded that the historical wrongs- destruction of temples, slaughter of men, rape and carrying away of Hindu women, [and] Aurengzeb’s killing of people who would not be converted – must be avenged. Indians say today’s Muslims must pay for the sins of their fathers! These are attitudes which cannot be overcome easily. RSS flourishes on strong anti-Muslim ideology. The Congress party has to depend on Hindu votes.

Misra’s plan, in comparison, has been to map the subject, by examining the thinking of four Indian personalities who dominated the spectrum of thinking in modern India, namely, Swamy Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Savarkar, the Marathi historian. Misra sees the writings of these four personalities suggestive and much which is extremely perspective, each exhibiting degrees of uneasiness towards Islam as a religion and Muslims as a separate national community. However, Misra’s objective was not to suggest the thinking of these four personalities towards Islam and Muslim rule was wholly pro or anti –Islam, but on the other hand, to highlight their overall reflection on an extremely important period in Indian history and their outlook on the community that was at the helm of its affairs.

The writer observes that his study was also intended to throw light on their response to the issue of syncretism between Hindus and Muslims in India and that the picture that emerged from these varied perspectives was as diverse as the Indian culture itself. While observing that in a multi-national polity predominance of one particular culture over others can lead to institutional discrimination, one is not entirely sure whether an equal presence of cultures in the national mainstream would guarantee continuous intellectual and inter-ethnic harmony. His conclusion is that a community that finds little cultural representation in the national mainstream might justifiably feel marginalized and develop a sense of alienation.

“Vivekananda found the answer to Hindu disunity in Islam. He argued that the very factors which made Hinduism unpopular and rigid helped make inroads for Islamic expansion in India. His idea that the Vedantic philosophy of spiritual solidarity and fellow feeling which did not manifest in a particular God and was non-sectarian could bring together divided Muslims and Hindus in India, (the concept of a Hindu mind and Islam body) was theoretically unique. It had a number of flaws, however.

Firstly, Vivekananda was wrong in assuming that Islam could be subjected to such a `spiritual concoction’;
Secondly, it favored the Hindus over Muslims and was biased.

Vivekananda failed to appreciate that these religions were based on centuries old practices and principles and deeply rooted in particular philosophical traditions. Since Muslims consider Islam as the final word of God and refrain from any further re-interpretations, it foreclosed Vivekananda’s recommendations to strike any roots among Muslims.” His Vedanta alienated Muslims by claiming it to be the universal religion. This `concoction’ finally helped the divided Hindus by providing them the benefit of spiritual unity but also infused in them a fighting spirit borrowed from Islam. The project, according to Misra, finally had converse results of creating Hindu chauvinism and affected the unity of India.

Gandhi’s perception of Islam changed from time to time. At the bottom of his thought was Hindu-Islam unity. He recognized the political significance of the Muslims rather than an acceptance of the teachings though at times he was carried away by suffering, renunciation and the nobility of early Caliphs. He was `well aware of the potential of 70 million Muslims though he personally disliked the prominence of Islam in future Indian politics; but he felt the best way was to recognize their worth’. In Gandhi’s analysis, the main concern was the Islam’s unadulterated belief in the oneness of God, a practical application of the truth of brotherhood and the idea of tolerance. In essence, Gandhi’s perception of Islam was that its basic principles were good; the intolerance following expansion was not; but a return to its founding ethos would be desirable. He said it was often confused that the Prophet’s greatness was his military exploits. He refused to accept it. He said “I must base my conduct on what the great teachers on earth said, and not what they did.”

However, he did not accept the claimed absoluteness of the Prophet. He did not believe any human being was absolutely perfect, he be a Prophet or Avatar. Gandhi was also critical of Muslims’ lack of respect for other religions; its “higher than the others” and “truer than the others“attitude.

This was especially so in respect of Muslim-Hindu interaction. The conclusion is that Gandhi was more pro-Islam than pro-Hindu. His role in the Khilafat movement and over the Moplah (Muslim) rebellion has been heavily criticized.

The basis upon which Jawaharlal Nehru built up his secularism has been proven to be nebulous. According to Misra, the synthesis upon which he rested his secularism which he substituted for religion had a predominantly Hindu bias than a balanced mixture of the two religions. It favored Hindus over Muslims and created further alienation of the latter.

The fourth personality who enters Misra’s discussion is Savarkar. His interpretation of Indian history was anti-Islamic. He talked about Islamic carnage and wrong doings. By quoting Hindu, Islamic and British sources he presented an irrefutable picture of Islam which appeared to be neutral and objective.

The author observes that the four thinkers, though representing four different strands of Indian nationalist thought, nonetheless had a degree of commonality in their attitude towards Muslim rule in India.

Historiography and Divided et Impera

Misra then goes to discuss the legacy of British historiography and `Divided et Impera’ policy under British rule which went to perpetuate the divided history of India. The objective was to unite the rule through the emphasis of division of history.

Bipan Chandra, another respected writer on Indian politics, observes that British historiography highlighted both Muslim and Hindu nationalists and communalists to embrace diametrically opposite hostile positions. Misra while subscribing to the role played by British historiography, points to other factors which contributed to the divide. He quotes the contemporary interpretations of V.S.Naipal who points to `Arab imperialism’ (Nico Kaptein: ”V.S.Naipal’s New Islamic Travalogue: The Believers Revisited”) which demands a new allegiance from the converted. Islam, in other words, is used as an ethnic identity in various countries where Muslims are in a minority. In fact, Muslims have found it hard to compromise between the expectations of their religion and that of their country of origin. The first casualty of this divided loyalty is the national mainstream identity. Misra asks, if this is true, can Indian Muslims be asked to reposition their identity according to the demands of Indian society, one that is overwhelmingly determined by the Hindu majority. Misra also refers to the role played by what is called ’les lieus de memoir’ (the imagination of memorial sites) in the current Hindu-Muslim rivalry as symbolized by the dispute over `Ayodhya (Babri Mosque). Hindu folk sociology, oral memory and indigenous tradition harboured centuries of hatred towards Muslims. He points out that this memory was selective and highlighted a prejudicial image of Muslim rule. As such, he says, these agents were equally responsible for promoting a negative idea towards Muslims. He brings out the other side of the Muslim rule such as music, architecture, art, food and even religion where some substantial interaction took place between Hindus and Muslims, which British historians ignored. The British prejudices against Muslims leading to highly disparaging discourse on Muslim rule and Islam went to separate the two communities

Against this background, Misra maps out the future strategy for India in the inclusion of Muslims. He says the Hindu majority needs to re-evaluate its attitude towards its Muslim minority counterpart, if not for anything else, for the daily contribution of its 130 million citizens in every conceivable form and content to the working of the nation. The syncretism which has been developed over 1000 years is the `primer’ on which the idea of `India’ has been etched. Therefore, those who seek a starkly decided identity and interpret the present as two fundamentally irreconcilable opposites deny the opportunity to the state to function effectively. India’s inability to interpret the nature and function of the attribute of `national identity’ has led to countless bloody frictions among various communities.

One could posit that, if India is to be a home for all its various communities and develop a genuine sense of common citizenship and common belonging, it must evolve an identity which all its citizens can equally share. This involves a broadly shared view of its history and a broadly sympathetic appreciation of each other’s religions, cultures and life styles. This would mean that the Muslim past in India needs to be re-interpreted.

Finally, the author observes that the greatest danger to a society is the moral bankruptcy of its citizenry and the elites who influence and rule them. A society endowed with a good balance and distribution of solid social and cultural resources is able to manage tensions better than a society marked by the destablising conditions.

The question is, has India set herself to coming to terms in accommodating its now 130 million Muslim minority despite having had three Muslims as Heads of State. Then, on what basis Rauf Hakeem came to his conclusion that India `had in the intervening years, changed its attitude towards the Muslims and was now showing a readiness to accommodate their interests’ is not clear. Perhaps, he was thinking of the situation in Sri Lanka, i.e., in the North and the East when he told the Indian media that India was obviously inclined to amend it (its earlier stand) and find a reasonable modus vivendi I for resolving issues relating to an autonomous arrangement that we are seeking in the (formerly temporarily amalgamated) north-east (now North and the East) to ensure that we (Muslims) have self-rule along with a shared rule in a federal arrangement.”

Comparison with Sri Lankan Situationb

The discourse presented above in very summary form should provide a useful comparison for judging the situation in Sri Lanka in relation to minorities. The first point that strikes one is that in comparison, the situation of minorities here is being examined in splendid isolation without any look at the more volatile situation in the neighbourhood of this country, as if the problem is unique to Sri Lanka. At the same time our neighbouring country too has not been wanting in advising us while the situation at its own door-step has nothing to commend about it. In contrast, India would not tolerate any Islamic country in the neighbourhood or what V.S. Naipal called `Arab imperialism’ intervening in her affairs using the same arguments. One may even ask if she is trying to use the Sri Lankan situation to detract international focus on her situation.

Critics of Sri Lanka may have a point in that they are dealing with a different society whose historical record had been clearly marked with accommodation extended to peaceful visitors as much as different groups of her own inhabitants rather than exclusion. This became even more evident not only during the Gampola / Kotte eras when families like Senalankadhikaras and Alagakkonars came to be not only accepted but became respected members of the society but even later, down the line, when Kandappas became Senanayakes (Nora Roberts), and many hundred others have shed the South Indian names to make them cursive to appear Sinhalese as in the case of many –Peruma (originally Perumal) but some names like Dewarajas, Devendras, Rasputrams, Kandambys (see E.V.Naganathan’s writings) and Nambis (of my wife’s paternal side who became Rajapakses but still continue to use the name ’Nambi’), Agampodis, (Arasa) Marakkalas, -Kuttis like Sembakutti (Gupta or Tamil Kutti) and Weerakkod[y]I (Weerakuttis) whom one meets down south in numbers, have not been loath (some are even proud) to retaining the pure original form.

Social integration has been the dominant feature resulting from that accommodation, the new comers integrating into the larger social matrix. The temporary nature of the immigrations such as during invasions was emphasized when the invaders returned with the plundered booty. Peaceful settlers integrated into the local polity and settled down among the local populace (e.g., caste groups, and Vanniyas including Mahavanniya of Bulankulame/Nuwarawewa) and Hurulles).[Hugh Nevil & Silva in JRAS, Sri Lanka,N.S.Vol.XLI, Sp.Number, 1996].

A change in pattern took place in Sri Lanka in the 17th and 18th centuries when large scale Vellala migration into the Jaffna peninsula took place induced by the Dutch who commenced the lucrative tobacco farming there. This new class imbued with ideas of caste superiority (arising, according to Prof., J.H. Hutton, William Wyse Professor of Anthropology in the University of Cambridge,(his Report to the Indian Census of 1931 and his book “Caste in India” (1946), from their knowledge of lift irrigation techniques which made them claim superiority in India) not only brought their slaves but exterminated the Veddas (that is the memory of their tradition) and reduced to slavery and to sub-castes, the original Sinhalese population who formed the peninsula’s principal population even under Ariya Cakravarti rule (Ariyacakravarttis ruled with the support of the Tanjore army). The land -deprived Sinhalese became the Koviyas (Sinh.Goviyas = cultivators) and Nalavars (Toddy tappers) and others living in the periphery of palm groves. The affluence acquired from tobacco gold made them even more assertive.

That was a reversal of the process which was taking place earlier; but unlike in the Jaffna situation, the Tamils became honoured citizens among the Sinhalese. For example, Algakkonara came to be referred to as `Mantrisvarayano’ by the Bhikkus.(Nikaya Sangrahaya). Kandure Bandara became a respected courtier (see Michael Roberts quoting D.G.B de Silva). So were the Malalas, who produced the chief prelates of Totagamuva and Vidagama centres of learning and the poet Alagiyavanna; and the Cola bhikkus throughout history down to Kotte times.

Muslims in Sri Lanka

Looking at the situation of Muslims in Sri Lanka, there is no bitter legacy left by invasion or forceful occupation which is characteristic of the south Indian situation. Early Arab writers were amazed at the state of tolerance prevailing in the country which was predominantly Buddhist. Muslim interaction with Sri Lanka is, therefore, a peaceful one. They were more interested in the trade with the island which consisted of pearls, precious stones and spices. Only once, the legend speaks of a Muslim ascending the throne at Kurunegala but he became the victim of a murder conspiracy soon. The Muslims were very much involved in Sri Lanka’s carrying trade when the first colonial power, the Portuguese arrived in 1505. Their advice to the King of Kotte resulted in period of animosity against the new comer. The Musslim ruler, the Zamorin of Calicut provided military and naval support to the Sinhalese kings of Kotte and Sitawaka against the Portuguese. After the Portuguese occupation of maritime areas of the South and the West, when the Muslims were expelled the King of Kandy came to their succour and settled them on the eastern parts of his kingdom. The Muslims of Sri Lanka claim intermarriage with local women and that as the causative factor of the increase of their numbers.

It was only in 1915 that any known serious friction developed between the Sinhalese and the Muslims. These were in the form of Sinhalese –Muslim riots which first arose over a dispute over the route of the traditional procession at Gampola in which traditional music was practiced. As independent observers Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan have remarked, even these riots arose as a result of a new group of Muslims, generally referred to as ‘Coast Muslims’, new comers from southern India who dominated trade and having set up a new Mosque on the Perahera route and their having objected to the procession proceeding past the Mosque.(Dewaraja).

There had been no such opposition from local Muslims earlier to the Perahera passing their Mosque. As an accommodation, on Perahera days they did not conduct their prayer sessions. These Muslims had lived long among the local people and understood the cultural practices of the land. Not so, the new arrivals from Southern India who had inherited a tradition of domination over the Hindus of South India as rulers and were the economically powerful group. Despite the acrimonious situation which developed as tension and riots spread and the imposition of Martial Law by the colonial government, the incarceration of all Sinhalese leaders and many bogus claims being made against wealthy Sinhalese, as it proved itself, on destruction of Muslim property, the situation settled down and there had been no such volatile situations since then. Occasional fracas have occurred from time to time, but these are like clashes between certain Sinhalese neigbouring villages and others over trivial affairs. No situations like what takes place almost every other day around the Red Fort of Delhi or the terrible incidents in Guzarat, kindled by inherent animosity between the groups have been taking place herein Sri Lanka.

It is only some journalists trying to create unnecessary tension especially using the Face Book mode of popular communication that is worry-some. A most recent distortion was the presentation by a run-away journalist, a clash between two groups of Muslims at Beruwala as an anti-Muslim attack by the Sinhalese. Such attempts are not only insidious ways used to highlight tension but also drown the far more heinous crime of attacking Muslims at prayer at Kattankuddy several times by the LTTE and chasing about 80,000 Muslims out of the Northern province within 48 hours without allowing them to take away their personal belongings. (K.M de Silva: Sri Lanka and the Defeat of the LTTE, 2012,Vijtiha Yapa, pp 249/250. De Silva observes that there is very little prospect of these Muslims receiving compensation from the resources of the LTTE or from their successors.

It is important that Sri Lankans should look with reservation over attempts made by interested groups to disturb the harmony which exists between communities in Sri Lanka and avoid falling prey to them. It is easy to call these conspiracy theories. But one can see the way Muslims have become victims of neo-colonist destabilization in the Middle East and the Maghreb, as was seen in the situation that has been caused in Iraq, Libya and other lands and now threatening Iran too.

(The article presented was written last year just before I went to Australia for a few months and consequently, it remained unpublished. Mr.Hakeem’s forty-page Report given to UNHRC Human Rights Commissioner, Navi Pillai, which has now surfaced in the public domain, has created new interest in what Mr.Hakeem says. It is in this context that the article mentioned above is now presented.)

- Asian Tribune -

In Understanding Rauf Hakeem and Anti-Islamism in India: Comments on some recent Indian writings
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