As an Indian citizen who loves his country, I have the following things to say to those floored by Anupam Kher’s recent observations on the debate on intolerance-
(a) I may start off with something I agree with Kher on, before coming to the points of disagreement. I agree that slogans calling for India’s ‘barbadi’ or hailing a man convicted for terrorism as a martyr, thus endorsing the act he was accused of, are deeply problematic and do amount to sedition in my view, though I would respect the judicial verdict on whether or not this amounted to sedition, and those who actually shouted those slogans deserve punishment. Communal hate speech is not always loaded with content of directly provoking violence, nor is it always followed by retaliatory violence from the other side, but is punishable nonetheless and so should this be. These anti-India slogans too were capable of provoking a violent backlash against those raising them by that yardstick. Also, there is some confusion about the very nature of sedition. There are other laws specifically dealing with violence, vandalism or even conspiring to that effect, and sedition is about expression by way of words or other means (like paintings or gestures) to the effect of seeking to undermine the rule of law under the constitutional setup, and does not even explicitly necessitate advocating violence (which calling Afzal a “martyr” does, by the way, amount to), but even advocating disorder or disturbance of law and order comes within its ambit as per the landmark Kedar Nath judgment, and Article 19(2) of our constitution explicitly mentions that freedom of speech and expression can actually be restricted for the sake of the unity and integrity of India.
While it may indeed be intellectually fashionable to talk about humanism without nationalism (for nation-states are, after all, man-made constructs), till such time as nation-states are real, they need nationalist cohesion for progress and security, and just as loving your family over other humans is not inhuman, nor is identification with one’s country, and those Muslim rightists pleased by strong denunciations of nationalism in general should indeed realise that those critiques would even apply to pan-Muslim nationalism, with territorial nationalism based on a shared political and economic destiny being much more rational, and global pan-Muslim nationalism of the “Muslim ummah” variety is anachronistic, even going by the Muslim scriptures, as I have discussed here (I know that some Muslims would question whether I, as not being a Muslim, can give my own interpretation of Islam, but if non-Muslims are not expected to study and analyze Islam, how do Muslims expect non-Muslims to not have prejudiced views about their faith?). Country-oriented nationalism does not have to be and shouldn’t be the type presupposing the morality of your government in the realms of foreign policy and engagement with secessionist forces to be axiomatic, only complaining about its naiveté or passivity, and one should be open to hearing out counter-narratives, but counter-narratives cannot entail supporting attacking the parliament, and seeking the ‘barbadi’ of a nation, which is a section of humanity, isn’t humanistic either.
Often, opponents of any kind of statist nationalism cite Tagore and Gandhi to validate their views, but what they do is to present a misinterpreted version of what Tagore and Gandhi said. Tagore did indeed lament as to how the division of the world into nation-states became a cause of antagonism, and how nationalist biases often prevented impartial, humanistic assessments in an era that saw two world wars, but Tagore was very clear on the point that human nature had its doses of both good and bad (in his own words – “We must admit that evils there are in human nature, in spite of our faith in moral laws and our training in self-control”), which is why both good and evil shall always exist, and he did not advocate any utopian ideas of a world without borders, presuming that we can all actually possibly happily have a totally fair and reasonable central government accommodating the concerns of the entire human race with all its diversity, when in reality, provinces within countries also have bitter conflicts over resources, and there will always be administrative demarcations of territory for governance. Tagore pointed out in his popular essay on nationalism–
“I have often been blamed for merely giving warning, and offering no alternative. When we suffer as a result of a particular system, we believe that some other system would bring us better luck. We are apt to forget that all systems produce evil sooner or later, when the psychology which is at the root of them is wrong. The system which is national today may assume the shape of the international tomorrow; but so long as men have not forsaken their idolatry of primitive instincts and collective passions, the new system will only become a new instrument of suffering.”
While Tagore’s writings make it seem that he was against nationalism per se, an analysis would reveal that he was opposed to chauvinistic worldviews of asserting the infallibility of one’s civilisation, refusing to learn from others, and jingoistic antipathy to fellow human beings of a certain other state, but he did identify with and appreciate his Indian identity.
Likewise, as for Gandhi, while he disliked the institution of the state as an instrument of violence, he did consider the state to be a necessary evil (for human beings do need to be regulated to check crime at the very least), and suggested a decentralised state pattern based on indirect elections in the form of concentric circles with the village at the centre, but not doing away with the idea of government. Gandhi even supported state coercion in the context of land reforms, though he wanted the land reforms to be voluntary as far as possible, and Gandhi too, like Tagore, did identify with and appreciate his Indian identity.
And yes, if statist nationalism of any kind is supposedly always a bad thing, then so is the Kashmiri separatist movement that strives to create a nation-state or has affinity to the Pakistani state. And their brand of nationalism, on the whole, isn’t secular (Geelani has openly condemned separation of religion and state, and even the more moderate separatist leaders like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq have, in their public utterances, displayed contempt towards Jews, converts to Christianity, and those who are in his view adherents of the deviant sects of Islam, other than making patriarchal statements) and is not in favour of modern freedoms and gender equality, despite some pretensions to the contrary and some genuine exceptions. From girls’ rock bands shutting down to molestations of girls participating in a marathon alongside boys to no cinema halls functioning in the valley owing to militants’ diktats to most of the Hindus being displaced from the valley, that actually represents the true face of Kashmiri ‘freedom’ but what Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz has called the “regressive left” just simply fails to see it, and many other well-intentioned people are often ignorant of the facts and form an opinion seeing only a part of the picture. Even if you declare the Indian state (and not the nation in general) established under the constitution to be your enemy, which is different from criticizing a specific political leader or party, that is an abuse of freedom of speech when you claim it under the same constitution. Not to use whataboutism as a line of argument but we didn’t see the free speech fundamentalists routing for those shouting those slogans routing for the likes of Kamlesh Tiwari arrested for hurting religious sentiments of Muslims.
For those questioning the judicial verdict, the Supreme Court did not declare that they were awarding the death penalty to Afzal only on the basis of “collective conscience” and without evidence. There was a reference to “collective conscience” to justify awarding him the death penalty rather than a life term, and that had no relevance to establishing his guilt, which was based on evidence admissible under the Indian Evidence Act.
Whether one thinks the judgment was good in law or not is another debate which someone can initiate only after having read the entire lengthy judgment (and not just by listening to what Guru’s lawyers who lost the case or activists for Kashmir’s ‘freedom’ have to say), but it would be totally wrong to cast aspersions on the Indian judiciary as a whole, thanks to which many innocent civilians – Muslims, Adivasis and others – wrongly framed as terrorists, have been exonerated, including two people even in connection with the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, and even Kashmiri Muslims were acquitted in connection with a terrorist attack in Lajpat Nagar in Delhi in 1984. It is the judiciary which has convicted hundreds of rioters in connection with the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002 (in cases relating to massacres such as in the Best Bakery, Ode, Sardarpura and Naroda Patiya), hundreds in connection with the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 (though some prominent politicians in connection with the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 are indeed yet to be convicted) and the anti-Christian riots in the Kandhamal district of Odisha in 2008 (in which MLAs like Manoj Pradhan were convicted), and recently, it upheld the right of the Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai to travel abroad and even struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, a UPA legacy the Modi sarkar was shamelessly seeking to retain, as unconstitutional.
Besides, a letter supposedly written by Afzal Guru acknowledging his crime has been verified as being written by him by his own brother, and there are indeed several other such letters too. He even gave interviews acknowledging his guilt, as you can see here and here. P. Chidambaram’s recent statement was most likely politically motivated, given that Rahul Gandhi was being attacked for associating with the pro-Afzal folks, and though the party as a whole disassociated from Chidambaram’s statement, which it had to for Afzal was hanged in their tenure, the Congress often likes to speak in multiple voices to please all kinds of people, as does even the BJP.
However, not in Kher’s context but in general, while those hailing Afzal have damaged the image of secularists, it doesn’t mean that we ought to renounce secularism. In fact, after the partition, if there is any basis for India to claim Kashmir as its part, it is, in fact, secularism, and it is ironic how some Hindu rightist loonies tell Indian Muslims that they have no place in India and should pack off for our western neighbour carved out for Muslims consisting of Muslim-majority areas, but assert with fire and brimstone that Muslim-majority Kashmir bordering Pakistan is undoubtedly an integral part of India. In fact, India was the entity that claimed Kashmir based on the popular support it had there under Shaikh Abdullah’s leadership, and if one were to take the ruler’s word as the only yardstick, then the princely states of Hyderabad and Junagadh ought to have belonged to Pakistan! To get a better understanding, read this article.
Also, Smriti Irani’s aide sharing doctored videos of Kanhaiya who didn’t actually shout those slogans and BJP MLA OP Sharma having him bashed up in court premises was disgraceful, and Kher glossed over this.
(b) What do the ’84 riots and the Emergency, as horrendous as they were, have to do with the allegation against the BJP of promoting a climate of intolerance now? And all the sarcastic humour apart, what does the Congress tolerating Rahul Gandhi have to do with it either? And while I am no fan of the Congress, if it did something wrong in the past when it was in government, should that stop it from raising genuine concerns and doing its job as an opposition party?
True, many of the left-liberal folks haven’t given the ’84 riots (or even the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits; as for rebutting the rationalisations and conspiracy theories offered for the same, read this article) the attention they deserve, as compared to communal instances associated with the BJP, but a more highlighted wrongdoing doesn’t become any less of a wrongdoing for just being highlighted much more.
(c) If past track records are to be invoked, then Kher’s critique of the Congress for blocking parliament would also apply to the BJP when it was in opposition, and the disruptions by the BJP continued even when a law on a critical issue like sexual harassment at workplaces was being passed, and when a law for the disabled was being revamped, and the BJP MLAs have been disrupting proceedings in the Delhi Legislative Assembly.
It really does not matter if the allegations of corruption against Congress politicians were of a more serious nature (and I do hold deaths of Vyapam witnesses to be a bigger issue than any scam, and the BJP government of Madhya Pradesh looking after law and order must take responsibility for the same), and retarding the legislative work of the nation (that is to happen at taxpayers’ expense) by the BJP then, contributing to the policy paralysis they accused the UPA of, was equally inexcusable.
(d) The poor die more in communal violence than the rich; so, I’m sorry, intolerance actually affects them more than those who drink expensive champagne. Those who were displaced from Atali or killed in the riots in Sahranpur were usually not very well-to-do.
(e) Kher did condemn the BJP members engaging in communal hate speech, but till such time as that party retains those engaging in even violence-threatening speech, time and again, most recently calling Muslims demons who should be ready for the “final battle”, why should that party not be accused of being soft on intolerance? Imagine how you would react if such disgusting remarks were passed about Hindus.
The truth is that many of those swooning over Kher’s remarks, however much they may deny it to themselves, they are the sort of people who celebrate intolerance, owing to a host of anti-Muslim prejudices they harbour.
We should only be glad that we opted for being a modern, inclusive state, rather than defining our nationalism based on religious identity, as Pakistan and Uganda did, and we all know the havoc that religious extremism has wreaked for even the majority Muslim and Christian communities respectively in those two countries by the TTP and Lord’s Resistance Army respectively. As much as some tend to level baseless allegations against and float nonsensical conspiracy theories about Gandhi and Nehru (to clarify any misconceptions you have about them, see this article and this one), these two personalities, while certainly not being above criticism, undoubtedly have great legacies, and one should not fall prey to the Hindu right trying to appropriate the legacies of Sardar Bhagat Singh and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose either, and Hindu Mahasabha leader Shyama Prasad Mookerjee (recently hailed by Amit Shah as a “selfless patriot”) had offered to help the British in crushing the Quit India Movement and who actually formed a coalition with the Muslim League to keep the pro-freedom Congress out. (I am not a supporter of the Congress party of today if anyone inferred that, and I am a supporter, though not uncritical admirer, of the AAP.) It is wonderful to identify with the heritage of one’s civilization, which has also evolved, but to imagine scientific or artistic creativity or valid notions of morality to be the sole preserve of one’s own version of Indian culture, imagining other influences as necessarily being pollutants, is nothing but intolerance (which the Rigved opposes, saying one should accept noble thoughts from all directions), and one must guard against chauvinistic notions of tolerance that can and indeed do also produce very lethal intolerance.
I personally know several Muslims who are unprejudiced and are strongly patriotic Indians, and I see no reason to see Indian Muslims loyal to their country as being exceptions to the general norm. In fact, a Hindu acquaintance of mine, who studied at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), told me that while those cheering for Pakistan were quite a vocal lot there, most Muslims cheered for India, and this was in a Muslim-majority setting where the apparently pro-India majority did not have to conceal its true feelings, and another friend of mine, who is an Assamese Hindu from Guwahati and who is very resentful of the Bangladeshi Muslim influx in his state, told me that on a train journey, he overheard a conversation between two Muslims from AMU bashing the students who cheer for Pakistan. Also, another friend of mine whose father is an Indian Army officer once told me that he loves the entire Muslim community (though I don’t support any stereotyping, positive or negative!), for once, his father was fired at by militants in Kashmir and his father’s driver, a Muslim, rushed to bear the bullet to save his father’s life! He also narrated another anecdote of how a Muslim once donated blood to save his father’s life and asserted that he was not in the least ashamed of the fact that “Muslim blood” (whatever that is supposed to mean!) runs through his veins!
I am not even suggesting that it is so much as possible to classify any religious grouping into watertight compartments of ‘communal’ or ‘secular’, and communalism among those we identify as communal does vary in degree. I would even assert that not every instance of Muslim communalism in India necessarily, in the conventional sense, amounts to affinity with Pakistan or hostility to India, and while communalism, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or any other, strikes at what Tagore called the “idea of India”, any communal statement from a Muslim, like Azam Khan’s ridiculous statement attributing India’s victory in the Kargil war only to Muslim soldiers (but he did indeed explicitly glorify these Muslim soldiers serving India’s national cause in the same speech), should not be seen as “anti-national” in the conventional sense of the term if Hindu communal statements are not seen in the same vein, and even Asaduddin Owaisi has ridiculed Pakistan for the partition dividing the Muslims of the subcontinent as also for being backward as compared to India but bearing animosity towards India, making life difficult for Indian Muslims.
Terrorism, and even terrorism citing a theological basis, is not a Muslim monopoly. As you can see here, very many instances of terrorism globally, even in the name of religion, have been carried out by those identifying themselves as Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus and even Buddhists, the victims of the acts of terrorists from each of these religious groupings not always being Muslims. However, just like most people of these religious groupings are not terrorists or supporters of terrorism, and they do not believe that their religion preaches terrorism, the same is the case with most Muslims (and not supporting terrorism applies to even most of those Muslims with other regressive and not-so-liberal attitudes on issues like gender and homosexuality).
It is possible to quote any scripture (allegedly out of context according to its liberal adherents) to justify malpractices, like some verses in the Bible namely Deuteronomy 13:12-15, Samuel 15:3, Leviticus 24:16 and Matthew 10:34 seemingly advocate violence against “non-believers” and the Purusha Sukta of the Rigved, an ancient Hindu scripture, is taken by some to justify caste discrimination, but these verses do not define the entire religion. This article mentioning an anecdote from the British parliament does make an interesting read in this regard, as does this video make an interesting watch in this connection. There are Quranic verses like 2:256, 5:2, 5:8, 5:32, 6:108, 6:151, 10:99, 49:13, 60:8 and 109:6 preaching peace, religious tolerance and human brotherhood, as does the letter from Prophet Muhammad to the Christian monks of St Catherine’s monastery and there are episodes from Prophet Muhammad’s life, as per Islamic lore, indicative of such an approach too, such as his allowing a woman to throw garbage at him daily and his succeeding in ideologically, winning over her by way of humanitarian affection. Those suggesting that peaceful verses in the Quran are superseded by violent verses (which the vast majority of practising Muslims globally regard as contextual) would do well to note that verse 109:6 appears towards the end of the book, and preaches nothing but peace, and the Quran and Hadiths devote considerable space to talking about honesty (there’s an anecdote of Prophet Muhammad punishing a Muslim for stealing from a Jewish gentleman’s house), kindness, forgiveness, humility and striving for socioeconomic egalitarianism.
Very many mainstream Muslims do indeed believe that Islam is the only religion that can lead to God since the advent of Prophet Muhammad, as mainstream Christians believe the same for Christianity since the advent of Jesus, but that doesn’t entail intolerance towards those of other faiths. To explain this with an analogy, if a certain coaching centre (analogous to Islam or Christianity, going by the mainstream interpretation) claims it is the only one that can get students admitted into say, IIT (analogous to heaven), and even encourages its students to get students of other coaching centres and those not taking any coaching to join that particular coaching centre, it cannot be equated with forcing others to join their institute or killing those not willing to do so. In fact, both the Bible and the Quran preach the message of peaceful coexistence with other religious groups (the relevant verses in the context of the Quran have already been cited, and Rom. 12:18 and 1 Tim 2:2 may be cited in the context of the Bible).
Speaking of apostates of Islam (“ex-Muslims”) criticising their former religion, there is a fairly well-known website run by an apostate and basher of Islam who has even offered a cash prize to anyone who can disprove his allegations against Prophet Muhammad (but there are books by apostates of other religions criticizing their former religions too, the most famous one being ‘Why I Am Not a Christian’ by Bertrand Russell, and there’s also ‘Why I am Not a Hindu’ by Kancha Ilaiah, levelling very strong allegations), but practically, he is the judge of the debate, or to go by what he is saying, the “readership” of the website, a rather non-defined entity. In fact, he has acknowledged that he came across a Muslim who “intelligently argued his case and never descended to logical fallacies or insults” and while that Islam-basher “did not manage to convince him to leave Islam”, that Muslim earned his “utmost respect”, which implies that practically, the Islam-basher is the judge of the debate. Likewise, that Islam-basher has mentioned with reference to a scholar of Islam he debated with, that the latter was “a learned man, a moderate Muslim and a good human being” and someone he (the Islam-basher) has “utmost respect for”. So, that Islam-basher’s critique of Islam, whether valid or invalid, has no relevance in terms of making blanket stereotypes about the people we know as Muslims or even practising Muslims. By the way, that Islam-basher bashes Judaism too. And it is worth mentioning that I have encountered several practising Muslims on discussion groups on the social media, who have, in a very calm and composed fashion, logically refuted the allegations against Islam on such websites. Indeed, as you can see here and here, there are several other apostates of Islam who have stated that while they personally left Islam thinking that the extremist interpretations are correct and moderate ones wrong (as is the case with apostates of many other religions), they have equally explicitly emphasized that that does not in the least mean that they believe that most people identifying themselves as practising Muslims support violence against innocent people.
And in fact, even speaking of the West, a report submitted by Europol, the criminal intelligence agency of the European Union, showed that only 3 out of the 249 terrorist attacks (amounting to about 1.2%) carried out in Europe in 2010 were carried out by Muslims. Even in the United States, most terrorist attacks from 1980 to 2005 were not carried out by Muslims. And no, I am not in the least seeking to undermine the heinousness of the crimes committed by some in the name of Islam by pointing to others having committed similar crimes under other ideological banners, for a more highlighted wrongdoing is no less of a wrongdoing than a less highlighted wrongdoing, but only to point out that viewing only Muslims as villains, and that too, all or even most of them, would indeed be grossly incorrect. However, despite jihadist terrorists being a microscopic minority of Muslims, Islamist terrorism has become a bigger global threat for its well-coordinated international network since the 1990s, with the US-backed Islamist resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan having signaled its rise. And, let us not forget that when we had the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, the victims included Ahmed Merabet, a Muslim police officer who died fighting the terrorists (and by the way, there are more French Muslims in the local police, including those who have died fighting jihadist terrorists, than in the Al Qaeda unit in their country), Mustapha Ourad, a Muslim who was one of the magazine staff members killed in that attack and there was Lassana Bathily, a Muslim shopkeeper who gave sanctuary to many innocent civilians during the hostage crisis in Paris that followed. Even in the context of the more recent attacks in Paris, a Muslim security guard Zouheir, risking his own life, prevented one suicide bomber from entering a packed football stadium. More recently, Kenyan Muslims very laudably protected fellow bus commuters, who were Christians, from jihadist terrorists, and Kurdish, Emirati, Iraqi and Syrian Muslims have also been fighting the ISIS. In India too, most of the terrorism is not by Muslims, as you can see here and here.
It is not as though communalists under any banner, except arguably those actually resorting to killing innocent civilians, should be dehumanized or can never be logically made to modify their views, as the must-watch movie Road to Sangam, based on a true story, demonstrates, and to draw an analogy, you can see this video of a Muslim who initially wanted to become a terrorist wanting to blow up Jewish civilians but changed his standpoint about Israel for the better after visiting that country. It is also not as though Muslims are another species that can’t be rationally engaged with, the way some extreme anti-Muslim rightists almost make them out to be, portraying Muslims in general as cruel, slimy, backstabbing and aggressive (many Muslims whom the non-Muslim readers would know personally would not exhibit such traits if the non-Muslim readers were to analyze dispassionately, rather than making baseless presumptions, and indeed, most Indian Muslims are of Hindu ancestry and so, they share the same genes as the Hindus – Hindu religious lore also refers to treacherous human beings like the Kauravas wanting to burn the Pandavas in a wax palace; so, treachery was not unknown to India before the advent of Islam, as royal family feuds among the Nanda and Gupta rulers also demonstrate, and some of the worst atrocities in history have been committed by the likes of Hitler and Stalin, who were not Muslims, nor was Chengiz Khan who was an animist), but like many people in other communities in different contexts, some (not all) Muslims are in the stranglehold of anachronistic ideas like a global pan-Muslim fraternity and the upholding of Islamic law, other than having prejudiced notions of an exaggerated sense of victimhood, and I have dealt with how to ideologically combat Muslim extremism in some depth in this article.
Sacrificing animals as a religious ritual is indeed not exclusive to Muslims, and ‘bali’ has existed among Hindus too, something Gautam Buddha (who lived centuries before Jesus and Muhammad) had opposed (and even Emperor Ashok the Great consumed meat of peacocks, which he stopped after embracing Buddhism, though interestingly, Buddhists in China, Japan, Bhutan, Vietnam etc. do consume meat, as do most Sikhs, Christians, Jews and Parsis, and what is halal for Muslims in terms of dietary regulations and the mode of slaughtering some animals is identical to what is kosher for Jews and several sects of Christians, and that is true for the practice of circumcision for males as well, which even has health benefits), and still continues in many Hindu temples across India, especially in West Bengal during the Navratri season. Also, it may interest some to know that the story of Prophet Abraham associated with Id-ul-Zuha is found in the Old Testament of the Bible too, which the Jews and Christians also believe in (those regarded as prophets by the Jews are regarded as prophets by the Christians too, with the addition of Jesus, and those regarded as prophets by the Christians are regarded as prophets by the Muslims as well, with the addition of Muhammad). And obviously, not all of Arab cuisine is non-vegetarian either, with Arab vegetarian dishes like strained yogurt using labneh cheese and sweet dishes like zlabia, popular in South Asia as jalebi!
And for those suggesting any marriage between a Hindu boy and Muslim girl as amounting to “love jihad”, they may note that many Muslim women too have married Hindu men, like Katrina Kaif, Sussanne Khan, Zohra Sehgal (formerly Zohra Khan), Neelima Azim (Pankaj Kapoor’s wife), Nargis and leading Mumbai cyclist Firoza, and some have even converted to Hinduism upon marriage, like famous sitarist Annapurna Devi (formerly Roshanara Khan), fashion model Nalini Patel (formerly Nayyara Mirza), Maharashtra politician Asha Gawli (formerly Zubeida Mujawar), South Indian actress Khushboo Sundar (formerly Nakhat Khan) and Bollywood actress Zubeida.
Recently, even the Modi sarkar conceded that there is no evidence whatsoever to justify the Hindu rightist conspiracy theory of the Taj Mahal having been a temple of Lord Shiv. And yes, historically, while many (not all) Muslim rulers have a historical record of intolerance to Hindus, so do many ancient Hindu rulers like Mihirakula and Pushyamitra Shunga have a historical record of intolerance to Buddhists. One may add in this context that there is this totally incorrect notion that Muslims are the only ones who stop non-Muslims from entering some of their holiest places of worship like the Kaba in Mecca, but actually, several Hindu temples, like the Pashupati Nath temple in Nepal, too bar non-Hindus from entering them, while many mosques and Sufi shrines have absolutely no problem with non-Muslims visiting them or even praying there. Also, the conspiracy theory about the Kaba being a Shiv temple have their basis in the writings of one Mr. Oak, who was not even a historian, and he is actually not even taken seriously even by those historians, Indian or of other nationalities, who have saffron or other religious right-wing leanings, and in fact, some votaries of this theory claim that Lord Shiv has been ‘imprisoned’ by Muslims, which refutes the logic that God is all powerful! Oak also said that Christianity is Krishna-Neeti (though ‘Christianity’ as a term does not exist in Hebrew, and came about much later in history!) and many other such ludicrous things! There are websites making claims about non-existent Arabic texts to prove their point. While such propaganda (except the bit about Lord Shiv being ‘imprisoned’!) may please the Hindu chauvinist who desperately wishes to imagine ancient India to be the only centre of human civilization, impartially speaking, one ought to thoroughly dissect it before taking it seriously. These are just completely baseless rants being circulated on the social media that don’t have the backing of any serious historian, not even the most right-wing ones. These conspiracy theories are typical of loony religious rightists, including Muslim rightists in Pakistan attributing 26/11 to RAW and many genuine liberal Muslim intellectuals in Pakistan are dismissed by conspiracy theorists as agents of the CIA, RAW and/or Mossad!
There are also misplaced notions of Muslims potentially outnumbering Hindus in India, though the Muslim population growth rate is declining (not the population itself, which cannot decline usually for any community), and the population growth rate of Keralite Muslims is less than UPite Hindus, for instance, and yes, even otherwise, if someone sees Muslims potentially outnumbering Hindus in India as a real problem, they should appeal to the Indian government to legally impose a two-child norm for all Indian citizens, irrespective of religion, rather than just generate unnecessary hatred for an entire community and divide the nation. Many Hindus criticize Muslims for having many children because they practise polygamy as permitted by their faith (though census reports have established that Hindus are more polygamous than Muslims, even though it is illegal for the former, and I myself know a Hindu electrician in Delhi who has engaged in bigamy), even though that actually doesn’t make a difference to the number of children as long as the number of reproductive women remains the same. Four women would respectively give birth to the number of children they would, irrespective of whether they are married to one man or four different men! In fact, polygamy is not prohibited by Hinduism as a faith (and, in fact, it was outlawed for Hindus only after independence, and Nehru faced stern opposition for the same from orthodox Hindus). The Puranic lore is full of multiple marriages by a single man – to quote some prominent examples, Krishna had thousands of wives, prominent among whom were Rukmini, Satyabhama and Jambvati; his father Vasudev had two wives, Devki (Krishna‘s mother) and Rohini (Balram‘s mother) and Ram‘s father Dashrath had three wives, besides even Bheem having a wife other than Draupadi (Gatodkach‘s mother) and Arjun too had several, including Krishna‘s sister Subhadra. In fact, the law mandating monogamy for Hindus was introduced only after independence! Also, Islam mandates a limit of four wives and a responsibility of the husband to look after his multiple wives (if he has multiple wives in the first place) equally well, though I do agree that even this is anachronistic today. As for harems, these too have not been a monopoly of Muslim rulers, and the practice has existed among Hindu rulers too, such as in South India, and even among Buddhist rulers in Sri Lanka. And there are indeed many Hindus too, particularly in rural areas and in several cases, even among the urban educated class, who have several children even if they are monogamous. Many educated Hindus who have been public figures, like former president V.V. Giri, former prime minister Narasimha Rao and our very own Lalu Prasad Yadav have all had many children, and even Narendra Modi is the third of his parents‘ six children.
Also, there are some who accuse Muslims of being the only community that carries out inter-cousin marriages, but that is true for Parsis as well and Hindu lore mentions Abhimanyu marrying his maternal uncle Balram‘s daughter (though this is a South Indian folk adaptation not to be found in the Puranic lore, it shows that the idea hasn‘t always been abhorrent in Hindu societies) and Rajasthani folklore has it that Prithviraj Chauhan too eloped with his cousin and while even this is contested by historians, he has never been looked down upon for the same, and even today, this practice exists in South Indian Hindu societies.
An allegation often leveled against Islam and Muslim societies is sexism. It should be noted that Prophet Muhammad’s wife Khadijah was a successful businesswoman, and the world’s oldest existing university, which is in Morocco and dates back to 859 AD, was set up by Fatima al Fihri, a well-educated Muslim woman. Prophet Muhammad is even believed to have mandated education for all, irrespective of gender, as you can see here and here, and in fact, the education cutting across gender lines even includes physical education. Interestingly, Prophet Muhammad himself is believed to have said that children (he did not specify only boys) must be taught archery, horse-riding and swimming. In fact, a woman, Nusaybah bint Ka’ab, fought in his army, just as Hindu lore refers to Arjun’s wife Chitrangada as an ace fighter and how Kaikeyi and Madri were ace charioteers. This article discusses in some detail the freedoms accorded to women by Islam and early Muslim societies, and how they partook in war, diplomacy, business and several other fields of life, and how the veil came in later as a norm in Muslim history. Currently, many Kurdish Muslim women are bravely fighting the ISIS, and there was news of an Iraqi Kurdish woman, Rehana, killing over a hundred ISIS terrorists. Major Mariam Al Mansouri, a female fighter pilot from the UAE, has also been involved in anti-ISIS operations. While one would not assert that Islam or any other major global religion (and in this, we include the oriental faiths as much as the Abrahamic religions) is completely free from patriarchy (with all due respect to everyone’s religious sentiments), this mindset of prohibiting girls’ education represents a deeply patriarchal mindset among these ultra-conservative terrorists hailing from tribal Pashtun communities in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but has no basis in Islamic theology, and very many people across the globe who have identified themselves as Muslims have educated their daughters.
No Muslim-majority country (but for parts of them ruled by militias like the Taliban and ISIS), not even Saudi Arabia, has legally imposed wearing burqas (though only Iran has imposed headscarves; however, as regards wearing burqas, it must be noted that the Quran does not ordain it, nor do quotations attributed to Prophet Muhammad of undisputed authenticity), or prohibited women from driving (though only Saudi Arabia, other than militia-ruled regions, has imposed a ban on women driving, but a Saudi cleric also declared that there was nothing in the Islamic texts that prohibits women from driving. In Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, another Islamic state which largely follows the same Wahabi sect of Islam as Saudi Arabia, there are women-run family taxis, and Laleh Seddigh, an Iranian Muslim woman, is among the best car-racers globally, competing with men.
For all residual resentment against Muslims, I’d request you to peruse (not skim through and judge based on one’s preconceived notions) this e-book of mine available for free download.
If we, as Hindus, expect Muslims and Christians to oppose their extremists, isn’t it fair on their part to expect us to oppose ours? If we want Hindu minorities to not feel victimized elsewhere (be it the Gulf, Malaysia or anywhere else), don’t we owe the same to non-Hindu minorities here? While most Hindus are not to blame, with many of them (myself included) raising their voice for minority rights whenever the occasion arises (and some even going to the other extreme of exaggerating minority victimhood), the religious rightists among the Hindus need to understand this. As mentioned earlier, majoritarian bullying is something we rightly criticize the Pakistani and Ugandan states for, and these countries went on to have ultra-rightist militias (the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and the Lord’s Resistance Army respectively) wanting to govern their country in a fascist fashion, in which even the majority community would be deprived of the civil liberties underlying a democracy (our current culture minister Mahesh Sharma is already trying to define an “Indian culture” cast in stone). We don’t want to go down that route, do we?
Also, to my Muslim countrymen, I must say that those of you (I may emphatically assert that I am not in the least generalizing all of you, as is clear from what I have been saying all along in this piece) who wish to demonstrate your “secularism” and “human rights activism” by idolizing anti-AFSPA Manipuri activist Irom Sharmila and wrongly generalizing the Indian security personnel as all being murderous, pervert rogues by pointing to their human rights violations in the northeast (and not only Muslim-majority Kashmir to showcase secularism), just like harping on the problems of Dalits and Adivasis, or Christians targeted by Hindu extremists, ought to speak up more openly against your own politicians like Azam Khan (who hasn’t even been charge-sheeted for his alleged role in the riots in Muzaffarnagar and Sahranpur, unlike Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi, who were duly convicted and spent some years in jail, after which they were rightly or wrongly conferred bail, and my point is not with respect to how much evidence is available in which case for what sentence, but whether the narrative of “Hindu riot-instigating politicians always go scot-free and Muslims are only victims, not perpetrators of riots” is true, and I believe that the issue should be ‘powerful vs. non-powerful’, ‘vote-bank politics vs. the spirit of democracy’ etc., rather than ‘Hindu oppressors vs. Muslim oppressed’, which would actually be half-true or even false in many contexts), other instances of violence against innocent Hindus (take, for instance, the recent news of a Hindu boy in Bihar being murdered by Muslim extremists for marrying a Muslim girl, or the killings of innocent Hindus in a communal riot in Rampur over a petty issue of some Hindu farmers’ cattle having strayed into Muslim peasants’ farms or how before the Dadri incident, an innocent constable in Maharashtra was killed as a retaliation against the beef ban in that state, or how very many innocent Hindus were killed by Muslim rioters in Muzaffarnagar in 2013 and Gujarat in 2002 and not only the reverse), anti-Jewish hatred within your community, the forced displacement of the Kashmiri Hindus, also known as Kashmiri Pandits (as for rebutting the conspiracy theories and rationalizations offered about the exodus of the Kashmiri Hindus from their homeland, have a look at this piece), Shia-Sunni violence (which has occurred in India in places like Lucknow), the intolerance towards Ahmedias who are socially boycotted and occasionally violently targeted in India by Muslim extremists in India and whose right to free speech and freedom of religion is to a great extent legally denied in Pakistan, refusal to accept progressive verdicts of the Supreme Court as in the Shah Bano case, curtailment of females’ rights in Muslim communities in India in different ways, like disallowing them from playing football or acting on stage or forcing them to wear burqas in many cases, non-Muslims not being given equal rights in many Muslim-majority countries and being violently targeted in our neighbouring countries (if such Muslims can shout against injustices by the US and Israel in Iraq and Gaza respectively, they can certainly look at our immediate neighbourhood), blasphemy and apostasy laws in Muslim-majority countries and so on (and for those of you, Muslims, not genuinely caring about the rights of others, why do you expect others to care for the rights of Muslims?).
Supporting northeasterners against what one perceives as a common foe with one’s Kashmiri co-religionists (the Indian Army), or riot-affected Christians against one’s common enemy (the Hindu communalists), or deriving cheap thrills by pretending to be concerned for Dalits with the objective of Hindu-bashing does not make one secular, impartial or someone who genuinely cares for universal human rights.
The same holds true for left-liberal non-Muslims who try to showcase some intellectual elitism by selectively raising their voice usually against the wrongs of non-Muslim extremists or non-Muslim states.
(Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)