How secular are India’s Hindus?

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Even as saying that Gandhi legacy in India has been pushed to the background, communalising sections of Hindus, in an interview, Prof JS Bandukwala, president of People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Gujarat, regrets that the Muslim leadership has failed to use the post-partition period to reform and transform the community

To what extent in your view is Hindu society is secular in India and in Gujarat?
Prof Bandukwala: Statistical figures on grave sociological issues are never possible. It is like drawing lines on water.  People change their thinking, their views and even their prejudices from time to time. But one angle about India can be stated clearly : Gujarat is more communalised than other states in India. This confuses scholars from abroad, because Gujarat was supposed to be the land of Gandhi and Narsinh Mehta. But Gandhi had little impact on Gujaratis. Oddly the man who reflected the Gujarati mind best was  Kanhaiyalal Munshi, popularly known as KM Munshi. His work on Somnath, its destruction by Mehmud Ghazni and his dream of rebuilding the same, touched Gujarat deeply.  Today Gujarati communalism is rooted in what happened at Somnath about one thousand years ago.

In the aftermath of the partition of India and the awful Hindu-Muslim violence what helped secularism survive in India?

Prof Bandukwala:  Yet we can never ignore that India is a secular democracy with equal rights for all citizens, including Muslims. Note that this was in spite of the horror of partition. This was possible because of Gandhi and the nature of the freedom struggle. More important, Gandhi’s assassination left a deep impact on Hindus all over the country. The Indian constitution was drafted at that time. Further, Nehru lived long enough to make secularism a reality.

So what caused setback in India’s secular society?
Prof Bandukwala:  But over time old prejudices returned. Kashmir and the wars with Pakistan revived communalism. The RSS and LK Advani realised the potency of Babri Masjid and used it to the hilt to turn the clock back. Using religious symbolism , such as worshipping of Ram’s slippers, and sending bricks from every village to Ayodaya, tempers were raised high against Muslims. Yet the impact was maximum in Gujarat. The RSS used this Ayodaya movement to rope all castes firmly within the saffron brigade. It is no wonder the tragedy of Godhra occurred, and again used to the hilt by Modi for political supremacy. The flip side is equally noteworthy. The male-female ratio is frightening. There are news reports daily about women committing suicide because they could not beget a son.  The treatment of Dalits within Hindu society is still very poor.  Dalits cannot enter most temples. Yet, using the communal card, the RSS succeeded in turning them into foot soldiers. Most of the violence in 2002 was caused by Patels, Tribals, OBCs, and Dalits. Though the maximum hatred against Muslims come from Gujaratis settled in the US. That is a painful. It is strange that those who abandoned India  accuse me of being anti national, little realsing that I gave away  my green card way back in 1972 to return and help my country and my community.

Why in your opinion Muslims are near the bottom of the socioeconomic and educational ladder in India?
Prof Bandukwala:  One last point concerns Muslims within India. Our leadership should have used the post-partition period to reform and transform our community. Instead the focus was on religious rights, as defined by the ulema. The vision was to protect poor Muslims from being lured into Hinduism. To give you an example, the region between Vadodara and Surat had 23 Dar-ul-ulooms, which are the equivalent of a University. Huge funds flowed to raise posh centres that produced more and more ulemas, who sadly lacked the skills to operate in a modern India. All they could do was to lead prayers. Otherwise most had to be supported by an already poor community.  As against this fact, there was not a single engineering or medical or even science college in this region. Bohras and Khojas had financial, managerial  and educational  resources, but were tragically cut off from the Muslim mainstream. Even so eminent a man as Ahsan Jafri was not acceptable to the community as long as he lived, because his views were not palatable to the ulema. Note that after 2002 Muslim society has changed sharply and for the better.

Will Muslim youth of today be able to break the stereotype and emancipate the community?
Prof Bandukwala: There is a sharp rise in boys and girls wanting to go for higher education. There is a greater trend towards business, influenced by the fact that it is difficult for Muslims to get jobs outside. Most important, Muslims have become politically more mature. Hopefully future generations will play the political game in a way that we may have an Obama like figure becoming the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Inshallah.

— Kaleem Kawaja

(Kaleem Kawaja was with NASA, and then established an association of Indian Muslims in US. Prof Bandukwala knows him “as a writer whose writings analyse deeper problems facing the Muslims community in India”.)  

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