[Reader-list] No minorities in India?

Sarang Shidore sarang_shidore at yahoo.com
Sun Nov 9 04:20:21 IST 2003

Dear Waquar,
I broadly agree with you that the concept of a religious minority is a relevant and useful approach for analyzing India's cleavages. With the recent rise of Hindu nationalism in India, there is no question that the Indian Muslim community today is facing particularly intense attack from various quarters. The recent genocidal acts in Gujarat have highlighted the brutality and intolerance of some of our self-proclaimed patriots.
However, there is some truth to the argument that the ancient divisions of caste (and, in many cases, language) are very much alive in the Muslim, Christian and Sikh communities. Marriages and social relations within these religious minorities are still governed by "biradaris", which are nothing but caste-like structures. If you add class and language to the mix, then what emerges is a picture of India that includes but goes far beyond the Hindu-Muslim duality that is often the obsessive focus of analysts. 
One can staunchly oppose the political ideology of Hindutva (as I do) and yet accept the fact that the Indian subcontinent (including Pakistan and Bangladesh) in fact is one civilization formed by many multitudes of  communities. 
Thus, the two-nation theory of Jinnah is as much a warped and simplistic reading of India as the Hindutva theories peddled by the RSS. In reality, both Jinnah and Savarkar were wrong. The partition of India goes against the grain of the multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-linguistic community that India is. The partition remains a permanent wound deep within Indian civilization. The building up of a "Hindu" political identity is a mirror reflection of the two-nation theory, and a second body blow to the multi-ethnic reality of the subcontinent.
No doubt, a Hindu Muslim bi-polar approach is one of the important ways of looking at the subcontinent's social structure. But it is an incomplete one. When all the other factors are taken into account, it becomes a grossly inadequate tool for understanding the subcontinent's past and realizing its future. There is a lesson here for ethnic nationalists of both India and Pakistan to grasp. 
Sarang Shidore
Austin, Texas

Waquar Ahmed <ahmed.109 at osu.edu> wrote:

Ashok Ganguly's 'No Minorities in India' is an interesting read. This article was published in the Op-ed page of Asian age and I have copied it below. The content of this write up is more rhetorical than factual. His conceptualization of India as consisting of innumerable communities encompassing varied castes, sects and religions, though seemingly correct at one scale, fails to comprehend reality vis-�-vis Muslims in India at another. Classification, and thereby differentiation between community on the basis of religion does not carry the same meaning, understanding and conceptualization as in the case of classification on the basis of caste or sect. They fall in different levels of classification of the population and encompass different meanings for the general population. It is incorrect to say that division or fissures between Hindus, Muslims and Christians is of the same type as that between a Brahmins and Khatriya or Vaishnavites and Shivites. For example, and generally
 speaking, for a Brahmin, it would be more acceptable that his daughter chooses to marry a Khatriya than a Muslim, or for that matter, he might feel one with a Vashya and have no problem in giving him access to his temple at home or eat food cooked by him, though he might have problems doing so in case of a Muslim. Division on the basis of religion is far more a visible and dominant demarcation than that between castes and sects and so is all the animosity and biases associated with them. Thus, Muslims are a minority in India and lets not dilute this fact by saying that the Indian population can be divided into innumerable sects and castes. Besides, the term minority encompasses the concept of power. Minorities are those who are powerless and this is a fact with Muslims in India. They are educationally and economically dis-empowered. Their representation even at the lowest levels (be it as drivers or peons or sweepers) in the organized sector, be it public or private, is abysmally
 low. Isn't this proof enough of the fact that a process that is unfavorable to them operates? It is high time that we stop turning a blind eye to this process. Not only in an Islamic state like Pakistan, the example that is provided by Ashok Ganguly, but in India too, unfair discrimination against Muslims is a visible reality. And this fact needs to be accepted before we can start removing this problem from the Indian society. A self-gratifying attitude where one believes that all is 'well and great'in India will not help us change India for the better.

I also hold Ashok Ganguly liable of promoting a kind of stereotype and this is a very common feature in general parlance and literature in India. He reminds his readers that 'India was invaded by the Muslim hordes from Central Asia' and though there is no denying of this fact, it's a reality that all communities that are settled in India today, did arrive to occupy land at some point of time or the other. As they came, they did displace, more often than not forcefully, the population that had settled there earlier. Thus, when authors use strong terms like 'invaders'or 'Muslim hordes' they should not forget to apply similar phrases to the other communities as well. This will help the general population to understand that 'Muslims' were not the sole 'outsiders' and 'invaders' in India.
The understanding of communalism too is extremely shallow in this article. Communalism as a phenomenon in India is not 'neo' or new. Its true that the frequency of the occurrences or riots has increased and the state, especially the police, as seen in the case of Gujarat and Bombay has been complacent on behalf of the majority community. However, the struggles between Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists and secular and communal forces have had innumerable manifestations ever since India gained independence. At times, manifestations of communalism have been in the form of riots, at other times it has been in the form of the selection of Hindi as the national language of India in the parliament over Hindustani (which was looked upon as a secular symbol and had the approval of the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru for acceptance with the status of a national language). While Hindi had carried the underlying connotation of being the language of Hindus, Hindustani was looked upon
 as the language that brought the Hindus and Muslims together. Besides, the abysmally low presence of Muslims in the government services, even as sweepers and drivers and their literal absence from the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) is enough proof of the fact that communalism has been going on since quite some time now.

Yours faithfully,
Waquar Ahmed,
Graduate Reaching Associate and Ph. D. student,
Department of Geography,
Ohio State University,
Columbus, Ohio.
United States of America,
Email: ahmed.109 at osu.edu 

No minorities in India
- By Ashok Ganguly 

Recently, a Saudi prince, on a diplomatic visit to Pakistan, was asked by journalists whether he was concerned about the plight of the Muslim minorities in India. His reply was interesting. The prince said, since India was home to the second largest Muslim population in the world, they could not in reality be described as a "minority" and, furthermore, since Independence, Indian Muslims have shown that they are quite capable of taking care of their interests.

The princes was an extremely perceptive observation which needs to be explored a bit in the context of current debates and events in India. My contention is that the term minority or the concept of minorityism, may be politically expedient, but is doing a great deal of harm to our civil society. Therefore, the exploitation of minorityism, by various individuals and groups, has to be continuously challenged in the public domain.

India is a nation of a more than a billion Indians. We could have been a country of close to one-and-a-half billion, if Pakistan was not carved out as a theocratic Islamic state. That the majority of their co-religionists chose to or remain Indians is a matter of historical fact. That a part of Pakistan broke away as Bangladesh, exposed the fragility of the concept upon which Pakistan was born. An Indian is an Indian first and an Indian always. Our religions differ, as indeed do our languages and customs, but this can only be falsely linked to being identified as an Indian or otherwise. There are thus, those of us who are born as Hindus, some amongst us are Rambhakts, some are Vaishnavites, others are Shivibhakts; others are Sunnis, Shias, Ahmadis, Bohras, or Khojas; then there are the Catholics and Protestants, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains, Zoroastrians and Jews, several different Adivasis and other tribes of different religious beliefs and persuasions; but no minorities in India. No
 one group is a minority because under our Constitution, each one of us has the same rights, privileges and obligations and there has been no provocation to challenge this fundamental wisdom of the founding fathers of our Constitution.

All of this might appear to be rather obvious and the need to reiterate the obvious may seem somewhat trivial. However, in India, it is critical to continuously debate divisionism and separatism and reiterate what may appear to be obvious, because there are powerful and well-funded organisations and individuals bent upon distorting the fundamental reality of Indianness for political and sectoral gains. The harm these organisations and individuals unleash in this process is difficult to contemplate.

It has now become an accepted practice that in vast parts of India, caste and religion are misused for political ends. As a result, this has now become a hugely successful and cynical exercise to exploit certain narrow class and caste identities which should have legitimately been confined to the dustbin of history. 

In earlier centuries, when India was invaded by the Muslim hordes from Central Asia, the invaders were eventually culturally and socially assimilated into the milieu of India. Religious conversion, both forced as well as voluntary for economic gains, while providing benefit to the converted, could not fundamentally change the individuals Indianness. Similarly, the evangelists who arrived with the East India Company and its successor regime, tried to spread the gospel of Christianity without being able to dent the Indianness of the converts and so on and so forth.

If any group had the right to feel excluded in Indian society, it was that section of the Hindu community who found themselves outside the historically well defined and rigid caste classification. That they were deprived and denied their social and civil rights was rightly acknowledged and several measures have been taken since Independence to undo the historic injustice to integrate them into the mainstream of Indian society. Thus, in spite of centuries of exclusion and exploitation, the "Harijans," as Gandhiji christened them, remained Indians in their hearts and minds.

In order to comprehend the enormous strength of the concept of Indianness, it must be assumed that Indianness is genetically ingrained in every Indian, no matter what ones religious, linguistic or cultural persuasion might be. In spite of the historically strong roots of Indianness, why religion, caste and community continue to be exploited cynically and successfully, is more a poverty, illiteracy and unemployment issue, rather than emergence of a neo-communal definition of what defines an Indian. This short term but potentially extremely dangerous neo-communal movement which we are witnessing, in different parts of the country, will eventually run out of steam. But while it lasts, it is damaging the fabric of our society beyond description. India has, through the centuries, fought off various kinds of attacks and attempts to dismember her inherent strength and centuries-old cultural genetics. If this were not so, majority of us Indians would not have taken our Indianness for
 granted, while the vocal lumpen element occupy centrestage raging the battle to re-define Indianness. It would be interesting to explore who are funding and encouraging this movement of challenging the Indianness of the vast majority of Indians, who will never support them as they spread their orgy of threat and violence.

I am optimistic about the short-lived nature of such socially disruptive movements, because, as one recently widely reported international study has forecast, India along with the US and China will be the three largest economies in the world by 2050. Eradication of illiteracy, poverty and providing more employment will be surrogate of Indian social and economic transformation, and which has already commenced. An economically prosperous and democratic India will have less and less space for politicians and their henchmen who thrive by exploiting the insecurity of those who have yet to join the mainstream of the countrys economy and, as they progressively do so, they will have much to lose of their stake in the prosperity and progress of India.

It is not surprising that the Pakistani journalists asked the Saudi prince about Indian Muslims. In an Islamic state, anybody who is not a Muslim is defined as a minority and unfair discrimination against them is a visible reality. That in a secular democracy, every citizen enjoys equal rights, even though not all the same benefits, is a difficult concept to comprehend in a society with a theocratic mindset such as Pakistan. 

The basic premise of this article would be incomplete without acknowledging the powerful role of the judiciary and the media in India in helping to balance the interests of our civil society against certain disruptive forces in our politics and extra politics.
reader-list: an open discussion list on media and the city.
Critiques & Collaborations
To subscribe: send an email to reader-list-request at sarai.net with subscribe in the subject header.
List archive: 

Do you Yahoo!?
Protect your identity with Yahoo! Mail AddressGuard
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: http://mail.sarai.net/pipermail/reader-list/attachments/20031108/3afed560/attachment.html 

More information about the reader-list mailing list