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Saturday, March 24, 2001

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Hindu rashtra & Indian nationalism

By Asghar Ali Engineer

THE RSS, despite the BJP's denials, is out to create Hindu rashtra in India. Its chief, Mr. K. S. Sudershan, a known hardliner, repeatedly asserts his ideas of Hindu rashtra, Hindu culture and Hindu values. He has been demanding `Indianisation' of Islam as well as of the Christian Church. He maintains that Muslims are converts from Hinduism and they should respect Hindu gods as their own and also that they should rename themselves as Muhammad Prasad or Muhammad Das. He says Indian Muslims should emulate Indonesian Muslims who, according to him, have adopted Hindu culture.

The problem is Mr. Sudershan is neither conversant with Indian reality nor with that of Indonesia. There are thousands of Muslims in this country with indigenous names already and this has been in existence for centuries. There are Muslims with names such as Dahyabhai, Ratanbai, Manikbai, and Kutty and surnames such as Deshmukh, Deshpande, Patel or Patil. Mr. Sudershan is reported to have said that if Indian Muslims adopt Sanskritised names communalism will subside. Has the existence of such names among Muslims for centuries helped reduce tension now? Among Christians also such names exist. Did this help in reducing communal violence against Christians? Will Mr. Sudershan recommend to Hindus settled abroad to change their names and adopt western culture? Should their loyalty to those countries be judged by Christianisation?

Any social scientist will corroborate the observation that the causes of communal tension do not lie in personal names but are much deeper and part of the struggle for political power and political hegemony. The graph of communal violence shoots up or falls depending on the political situation in the country. Several communal catastrophes took place from early 1980s to the 1990s as the BJP had decided to capture power by consolidating Hindu votes by provoking communal feelings raising emotional controversies such as Ramjanmabhoomi. The Sangh Parivar did capture power but thousands of innocents lost their lives. Their names had nothing to do with all this. Nor were they involved in any political controversy. Nor were they less Indian.

Those killed were the poorest of the poor. They were not even aware of renaming controversies or controversies about Bharatiya culture. They were just immersed in their struggle for survival. A year after the demolition of the Babri Masjid we held a meeting at Behrampada in Bandra east, Mumbai. Behrampada had been the worst affected by communal violence. I asked the Muslims at the meeting whether they would like the Babri Masjid to be rebuilt in Ayodhya. A young Muslim stood up and said ``We do not know about Babri Masjid but we are worried who will rebuild our hutments which were burnt down during the riots. We are still leaving without these huts.''

Mr. Sudershan knows very well that even if all Indian Muslims change their names to Hindu names, communal violence will continue to take place. The next demand may be to convert to Hinduism and even if all Muslims convert to Hinduism and Christians stop proselytisation totally, the saffron family's aggressive postures will not change. They will be targeted as former Muslims and Christians.

There are many such examples in the world. In former Yugoslavia, Bosnian Muslims were targeted by Serbian Orthodox Christians even though they Muslims neither had any distinct culture, religious identity or even awareness that they were Muslims. The awareness came only after they were targeted so ruthlessly. They wondered why they were being killed. They were not even loyal to any other country. They had not even created any separate Muslim country like Pakistan.

The Indian Muslim community is not homogenous, if Mr. Sudarshan cares to know. The rural Muslims in India are highly integrated with the local milieu. Many of them wear dhoti and kurta like the Hindus in those areas and they speak the same rural dialect. Their names are also indigenous. They cannot even recite the kalima (Islamic confession) let alone read the Quran. Today these Muslims are also being targeted. Rural areas are also being penetrated by communal forces. The VHP is converting many rural Muslims saying their ancestors were Hindus.

It is only in urban areas that middle class Muslims may assert their Islamic identity and may show awareness of having distinct religio- cultural practices. And what is wrong with that? Mr. Sudershan is not fully conversant with the Indonesian reality either, whose example he never tires of giving. It is only Javan Muslims who have sanskritised names and perform dances based on the Ramayana, not Muslims from other parts of Indonesia. Java was ruled by Hindus for a few centuries and this left a deep influence on indigenous Javanese culture. But it is not so in other parts of Indonesia. In Aceh and parts of Indonesia there is a demand for implementation of Islamic Shariat and to declare the country an Islamic state. In many parts of Indonesia there were riots between Muslims and Christians and hundreds of people were killed on either side.

Java has a composite culture and Mr. Sudershan should know that India too has a composite culture of which all of us are so proud. Many Muslim dynasties ruled over India for over 700 years and left a deep impact on the cultural scene as Hindu rule did over Java in Indonesia. The Indian composite culture has Muslim influences as Javanese culture has Hindu influences. Mr. Sudershan should know that Indian Muslims, particularly those who had come from Central Asia or Iran, accepted indigenous influences in every field of life.

There is hardly any field in which these Muslims did not accept Indian influences including music and painting of human figures, though both are prohibited in Islam. Indian Muslims, despite strong opposition from the Ulema, made seminal contributions in the field of music. Only recently the shehnai maestro, Ustad Bismillah Khan, was awarded the Bharat Ratna. Is shehnai of Arab origin? It is very much Indian. Who can deny the contribution of Tansen as far as Indian music is concerned? He was a Muslim and medieval India has not produced a greater singer and inventor of several ragas. Even Khusro, the celebrated poet laureate of the Sultanate period, not only wrote Hindi duhas, which are tremendously popular even today, he was a great musician in his own right. He invented some musical instruments too.

There have been several poets who wrote in Hindi and Avadhi such as Raskhan and others. And who wrote `Padmawat'? A Muslim poet, of course. These poets are considered founders of Hindi poetry. A great Sufi saint from Punjab, Baba Farid, was the first to write poems in Punjabi and Sikhs are proud of him; his verses have been quoted in the `Adi Granth'. For his seminal contribution to Punjabi literature, the Punjab University in Chandigarh has established the Baba Farid Chair and a lot of work is being done on him. Many Sufi saints wrote in regional languages. Everyone in Maharashtra knows about an eminent sufi saint, Sheikh Muhammad, who wrote in Marathi.

In contemporary India also, there are eminent Muslim poets and writers in all regional languages such as Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi, Hindi, Kashmiri, Assamese, Oriya, Bengali, Mithili, Rajasthani, and Malwi and several other dialects. What is Indianisation if not all this? What kind of Indianisation does Mr. Sudershan want after all?

The real agenda of the Sangh Parivar is to completely `hinduise' all Indians and sanskritise all Hindus to create total uniformity. The RSS hates diversity and pluralism like all fundamentalists, including Islamic fundamentalists. They want uniformity as defined and understood by them. The RSS does not like even indigenous Hindu cultures; it wants to disseminate only Vedic Sanskritic culture. It is not only Muslims and Christians in the firing line of the RSS; Hindus following non-Vedic cultures will be on the chopping block next. Demands to sanskritise names or `hinduise' culture go against our diversity. And without diversity there can be no democracy. Only the enemies of democracy would like one people, one language, one culture.

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