To understand terrorism in India, we need to look at some historical facts and their impact on current Indian attitudes.
When it became obvious that India will win independence from British rule, Pakistan came into existence with the idea of providing a homeland for the Muslims of the sub continent as it was feared that the then India, with its vastly larger Hindu population will mean less opportunities for Muslims. This happened in 1947. Prior to this, Hindus and Muslims lived together in harmony and none of the animosity that is seen now was known.
Partition itself caused untold misery and death to many on either side, and the wounds have just begun to heal, with the passing away of the older generation with first hand experience of the horrors of partition.
Almost all Hindus and Sikhs of what is now known as Pakistan and Bangladesh were driven out of Pakistan and became a very substantial force of refugees. These, the Punjabis, Sindhis and East Bengalis, were welcomed into India and offered a new start and it is to their credit, that despite losing everything that they had, they succeeded and make for a very vibrant and prosperous middle class in India.
Many Hindus, not quite the majority, felt that, had Mahatma Gandhi (MG) not given consent, the partition would have never taken place. It was felt, and subsequent information confirmed that MG was quite willing to let Jinnah be the Prime Minister of a united India but, Jawahrarlal Nehru and a few others simply would have nothing of it. This created the final parting of ways with MG’s reluctant blessing. In this atmosphere, it must also mentioned that the British saw an opportunity to divide and rule by remote control, a post independence sub continent for purely commercial and strategic reasons.
This perception of MG having agreed to the partition, was to result in his being assassinated by a Hindu extremist.
From the Indian side, most educated Muslims of the middle classes consisting of lawyers, doctors, civil servants, educationalists etc, went away to Pakistan under the impression that in India the non-Muslim population will prevent their progress. Despite this, a very large portion of Muslims chose to stay in India due to the assurances given by Jawaharlal Nehru and the Indian National Congress that they would enjoy the protection of the Indian state under its secular approach to governance. Those that chose to stay behind were essentially the working class, artisans, petty traders, agricultural landlords and workers. These people almost entirely formed a vote bank for the Indian National Congress.
The then ruler of Jammu and Kashmir was a Hindu Maharaja who originally was not in favor of joining either Pakistan or India but was forced to seek merger with India when Pakistan sent tribal irregulars into Kashmir. The Kashmir valley is predominantly Muslim in its population and the Jammu region, Hindu. The Kashmiris who had been terrorized by the invaders welcomed Indian armed forces. The Indians drove the intruders back and since then, Kashmir has been a bone of contention between the two countries and Pakistanis are perceived to be encouraging cross border insurgency through jehadi religious fanatics and malcontents.
Pakistan, since its inception, has not been able to succeed as a democracy due to its own internal contradictions, and has had a number of military coups. On the other hand, India has succeeded as a democracy and moreover, economically prospered to a greater extent than Pakistan. This has been reported to be galling for the Pakistani establishment and it does not hide its hostility to India.
In 1965, Pakistan and India went to war with each other over Kashmir and the valley was divided into two under the UN mandate and a line of actual control (LOC) has been in existence since then. That war was also a watershed in the sense that Pakistan realized that it could never win a conventional war with India. Indian troops were well into Pakistani territory and Russia brokered a peace treaty with India withdrawing into the pre war areas. Since then, Pakistan has been fighting a remote controlled war with India, which has just now been publicly acknowledged by the West after Pakistani double dealing has been exposed.
In 1971, Bangladesh came into existence, after a bloody war of independence with the Pakistani establishment, which could not stomach the Bengali Muslims ruling over the rest in a fairly won election. Bangladesh simply had more people and thus more elected representatives. What happened in Bangladesh prior to the war of independence is well known to the world and needs no repetition. This war of independence however was won with the actual support of the Indian armed forces that were forced into it due to millions of refugees flooding into India from the then East Pakistan. The war resulted in a humiliating defeat for Pakistan, with India taking over 90,000 prisoners of war. It was after this that the famous “War of one thousand years with India”, slogan was raised by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the late father in law of the present President of Pakistan. Taking revenge is the one ambition that drives the Pakistani military establishment, which through its ISI has consistently been blamed for the proxy war with India via the terrorism route.
The Indian Muslim has always been blamed by the fringe elements of Hindus, perhaps with some justification, for Pan Islam – a notion that Islam is greater than nationality and the Muslim brotherhood transcends borders. Some miscreants for instance would cheer the Pakistani cricket team against the Indian and would mourn the former’s loss and celebrate their wins.
The vast majority of Indian Muslims are poor, in fact, much poorer than their Hindu counterparts. They are too busy eking out a living and do not represent any threat to anyone. Education for most Muslims is also only at the local religious school level and they hardly ever go to the schools and institutions that Hindus go to. They learn to read and write Urdu or Arabic and to recite the Quran. They are totally unequipped to handle modern life as they are by and large ghettoized. Most young Muslims are therefore inadequately equipped to fight for a place in the growth story of India. Some readily come under the influence of radical elements and give a bad name to the entire community.
Following a massive family planning program, the Indian population growth stabilized but due to the message not reaching the Muslim population for whatever reason, or for economic reasons, the population growth of Muslims was perceived, I repeat perceived, to be greater than that of the Hindus. A piece of information or misinformation that caused considerable panic among hard line Hindus.
The ‘secular’ political establishment in the meanwhile, interpreted secularism to mean minority appeasement and allowed Muslim Personal Law to be applicable for Muslims which gave their men to have four fives, adding fuel to the fire, with the Hindus crying that this would increase Muslim population further. Many instances of appeasement by the political class were used to aggressively promote a brand of Hinduism hitherto unknown in India. Two instances will illustrate. A Muslim woman thrown out by her husband sought the intervention of the Indian laws for maintenance, which was granted to her. The Muslims raised a hue and cry saying that this was contrary to the Muslim personal law and the Indian National Congress, succumbed and amended the laws of the law! As this is being written, a terrorist convicted by all the possible courts right up to the Supreme Court, and given the death sentence is not being hanged by the secular parties worried about how the Muslim population would react.
Such developments resulted in the strengthening of a nascent political movement and a Hindu national party with hardly any presence in the parliament was able to substantially improve its hold on the Hindu imagination and fears and gain many more seats, in fact overtaking the tally of the oldest Indian political party, the Indian National Congress. As I write this, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) widely perceived to be a hard line Hindu party, is governing some important Indian states, including the state of Karnataka, where Bangalore, familiar to my friends in the USA is located,.
Ayodhya, a town in the Hindi heartland of India, is believed by all Hindus to be the birthplace of one of their Gods, Lord Rama. Babar, a Moghul emperor, is believed to have destroyed a temple marking the exact spot. He is also believed to have built a mosque on that spot till recently called the Babri Masjid. This mosque has not been in use for many years and was in a decrepit condition. Hindu extremists, who wanted to build a temple dedicated to Ram there, demolished this. This development started off the major Hindu Muslim confrontation that continues till today, despite the majority moderate elements from both sides calling for an end to it. Some volunteers from Gujarat, who had gone to Ayodhya to construct a temple there had to return without doing so. On their way back, a railway coach that they were traveling in was torched by some Muslim miscreants and when this message was received in other parts of Gujarat, the famous riots took place causing serious damage to lives and property to both sides but more severely to the Muslims.
In the meanwhile, Kashmiri Muslims known to be of a tolerant form of Islam, made it impossible for the Hindus living their for thousands of years, and the mainland plains had to accommodate one more set of Hindu refugees. This further fueled the Hindu right-wingers’ argument that the Muslims are treating India and Hindus as a soft target. Added to this, is a steady stream of illegal Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh who are rightly economic refugees fleeing abject poverty. They perceive India to be a better place and most of them do find employment of sorts and are able to live better than had they stayed on in Bangladesh. They too become pawns in local politics, further adding fuel to the fire.
There is no denying the fact that except at the educated and prosperous levels of both religions, there is considerable suspicion of each other, which only gets exaggerated every time an act of terrorism, or a communal riot takes place.
The establishment (Read the so called secular political parties) blames almost all such developments as cross border terrorism by the ISI of Pakistan. The opposition on the other hand, blames the so-called pseudo secularists for them. Both sides play vote bank politics without really addressing the core issue – alienated malcontents on both sides of the divide.
Misguided youth from both religions resort to violence and acts of terrorism. The latest development being attacks on Christian institutions and churches blaming some proselytizing Christian sects, for converting ignorant and naïve Tribals.
National (Federal) and State elections are round the corner and the political activities have shifted gears to attract the maximum from this chaotic situation. The ordinary citizen suffers. There is the saving grace in Indian politics that, none of the national political parties are in a position to form a central government on its own strength due to the strong presence of many regional political parties. Coalition governments have therefore been in power for many years now, and this has enabled some semblance of sanity, due to the pulls and pressures exerted by regional outfits in the center.
Barring the Communists, there is little to differentiate between the main political parties in India for their ideological commitments. Religion has stepped in, either to give a weapon to target the opposition parties or to safeguard vested interests.
This is what started off my original lament, that enough is enough, and the State has to act before it becomes too late.
The great majority of Hindus and Muslims are not responsible for the present state of affairs. Some misguided people from both sides are responsible. It is my submission that if we can make our economic progress and consequent benefits to reach all segments of our populace, India can live in peace and prosperity. The upwardly mobile elements in both religions want this, but they are the silent majority like in most countries of the world. Perhaps the time has come for them to become more proactive.