One of the biggest problems that independent India was beset with was that following the Partition, social interaction between Hindus and Muslims, something that had carried on for centuries before, was suddenly almost completely snapped. This made it virtually impossible for members of these two communities to enjoy a normal, cordial relationship that would have enabled them to learn and benefit from each other and work together for the country’s progress.
Following India’s independence, a section of extremists emerged among the Hindus. It was not that such extremists did not exist in the British period, but at that time they were a minor element, on the fringes of society. The rise to prominence of this section among the Hindus posed a major challenge to prospects for Hindu-Muslim amity. It played a major role in further widening divisions between Hindus and Muslims, with grave consequences for both communities.
In independent India, Muslims perceived Hindus to be of two sorts—one they saw, from their point of view, as ‘no problem Hindus’, and the other as ‘problem Hindus’. They felt that it was very easy to interact and get along with the former, but that it was virtually impossible to do so with the latter.
The post-independence Muslim leadership chose to promote better relations with ‘no problem Hindus’ and to work with them to counter ‘problem Hindus’. Accordingly, numerous efforts were made by various Muslim leaders, movements and institutions. This carried on for around 40 years, but the results that followed proved to be entirely contrary to what had been expected. And so, when the 20th century dawned, ‘problem Hindus’ had emerged as an extremely powerful force across the country, having established a very prominent presence in almost every sphere of national life. They even managed to come to power at the Centre, as well as in several states.
This approach of Muslim leaders of joining hands with ‘no problem Hindus’ to combat ‘problem Hindus’ was both unnatural as well as unwise. It was a negative approach. And, it must be noted, any effort that follows from a negative approach can never produce positive results. Positive results only follow from a positive approach.
Another harmful consequence of this negative approach of the Muslim leadership was that Muslims were turned, for all practical purposes, into one vast group of demonstrators, protesting against this and that almost all the time. This negative approach engendered a peculiar mindset that was based on protest and complaint. This is what happened with Muslims in post-independence India. Virtually every newspaper of theirs was transformed into a vehicle for fanning demonstration and complaints. Every Muslim rally turned into a platform for voicing protests. Men who could incite the public through their powerful rhetoric and further stoke their protest mentality turned into acclaimed Muslim heroes and leaders.
Protesting and complaining is one way for people to let off steam, to give vent to their bottled-up emotions. But letting off steam was not the real issue which Muslims should have got so bogged down in in post-independence India. What they should have focused on was on how to play a creative role in the new context, on how they could help in building the country’s future. They could have played the role of a creative minority in the country.
In his Study of History, the British historian Arnold Toynbee discusses this role of minorities in considerable detail. The Quran (2: 249) refers to the creative role that a minority can play in the following words:
Many a small group, by God’s command has prevailed against a large group. God is indeed with the steadfast.
In this Quranic verse, the ‘command’ refers to the law of nature that God, in His wisdom, has established in this world. Accordingly, when a minority comes up against a majority, it develops a certain quality, which is patience. This is an appropriate respond to the challenge that it faces. In this way, what has been called the ‘challenge and response mechanism’ engenders new and creative qualities among a minority. It is able to discover more appropriate solutions to the problems it faces. This process continues till the minority succeeds in its efforts, bringing benefits for itself, and for the wider society, too.
If a community responds in a negative manner to the problems it is faced with, reacting with impatience, it can only produce negative results for the community itself. The Quran recommends a different approach—that of exercising patience in the face of difficult situations and challenges.
This is the positive way. It is the way to produce positive results. To respond in a positive way to a negative situation is what creativity is about. And it is this ability that equips a minority to play a more important role than a majority, the role of a creative minority.
The question now arises as to what Muslims should do in order to play their historical creative role that has been ordained for them according to the law of nature. In this regard, the first and foremost task is for them to put a complete end to their politics of protest and complaint, and to replace it with positive, constructive politics.
Today, the Indian Muslims only beg, demand and complain. They have been doing this for almost 70 years, and it has compelled them to speak in the language of defence. They are now a group that considers itself oppressed and that begs for this and that. A community that has fallen prey to this psyche can never do anything major. To do anything major in life, one requires a positive, active psyche, not a defensive, protest-oriented psyche.
Fortunately, there are enough factors and opportunities available in India for Muslims to shift from this defensive posture of theirs to becoming positive and active. For this purpose, all they need to do is to discover the available opportunities and use them to the fullest. In this regard, the first step for them to take is to remove the barriers that stand in the way to close interaction with Hindus. Using peaceful and wise persuasion, they can convince Hindus that the public sphere be governed by secular norms, rather than Hindu culture that is sought to be passed off as ancient ‘Indian culture’ and imposed on all Indians. If this happens, it will facilitate closer interaction between Muslims and Hindus, enabling them to work together for the benefit of the country. When this happens, then, in accordance with the law of nature, Muslims and Hindus will start exchanging the good things that they have with each other. As a result of this interaction, a new culture and a new system will emerge, which will be beneficial for both.
For this process to get underway, both Hindus and Muslims have important responsibilities to shoulder. Hindus should know that they simply cannot defy nature. Seeking to impose Hindu culture on the whole country in the name of ‘Indian culture’ is against nature as well as against present-day global thinking. And so, it is definitely unworkable.
Once, I visited a city in Maharashtra, where I met a Hindu and a Muslim. The two men were once friends, but later they quarreled. But when, after several months of trying to patch up, they still were not on talking terms, the Hindu man said to the Muslim, ‘Come, let’s set aside our differences and work together on issues that we don’t have differences about.’ This is how Muslims and Hindus should relate together as communities, too.
There was another case of this sort that I heard of, from Mumbai. A Muslim and a Jew were business partners. At the very outset, the Jew had told the Muslim, ‘There are no differences between us on business matters, but there is one issue on which we do not see eye-to-eye—the question of Israel. Let us both decide that we will never talk about the issue of Israel.’ And that is what happened. The two men never raised this contentious issue, because of which their joint business venture was very successful.
India’s Muslims and Hindus must use this very formula, too. They should be inspired by the common concern that this country should progress. A major issue that divides them, however, is the question of unnecessary imposition of a certain form of Hindu culture in the name of ‘Indian culture’. The Hindus must realize the need to keep this culture within their own personal sphere. If they agree to do so, Hindus and Muslims will find new doors opening up to them, new avenues for progress. And this can only work for the collective good of the country as a whole.
This is very essential, it must be noted. Without this, Muslims will be able to have close relations only with ‘no problem Hindus’, leaving out of their purview ‘problem Hindus’. Needless to say, without including ‘problem Hindus’, the country cannot achieve much progress.
In this regard, there is just one thing that Muslims need to do. And that is for them to accept as a challenge what they have all along perceived as discrimination and excess. In India, Hindus are a majority. And so, it is natural that Muslims may face certain situations and events that they have, till now, been described as a result of discrimination. Such things happen in every society and have always existed everywhere. Muslims must view these as a challenge. Rather than thinking of them as the handiwork of a particular community, they should view them as developments that resulting from the system of nature.
If you label a situation that you regard as unpleasant as ‘oppression’, your reaction breeds a complaining mentality. On the other hand, if you view the same situation as a challenge, then, in accordance with the law of nature, your capabilities are awakened and your latent potentials are brought to the fore. In this way, you can be transformed dramatically and be in a position to successfully meet the challenges you are faced with.
This is the stage that, after a long historical process, Hindus and Muslims must arrive at.
(This essay is a translation of an excerpt from Maulana Wahiduddin Khan’s Urdu book Hind-Pak Diary)