New Age Islam
Sun Jun 16 2024, 11:40 AM

Current Affairs ( 15 Aug 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Comment | Comment

Caste and Religious Groupings Have Commitments That Can Never Be in Harmony with The Nation as A Whole

By M Rajivlochan

Aug 15, 2020

AS we commemorate another Independence Day, we notice that guile and guts are needed to craft a country, ensure that fissiparous memories are forgotten, and create new ones about harmonious living. Merely making sacrifices or appeasing caste and religious groups are poor strategies to knit a people into a nation. Indians like to recall the martyrdom of their ancestors for the independence of the country. Hum Laye Hein Toofan Se Kashti Nikal Ke, Iss Desh Ko Rakhna Mere Bachho Sambhal Ke was and continues to be a powerful sentiment. However, very few remember that consolidating this Independence after the British left, and convincing people to stay together, required tremendous guile and guts. The wisdom of a handful like Sardar Patel, their willingness to force the nay-sayers and refusal to kowtow to anyone who opposed India, ensured it became a country and did not disintegrate into hundreds of small, mean, warring territories.


Spirit of freedom: Resilience has helped the country withstand divisiveness.


When the British left India in 1947, their direct rule was only over about three-fifth of the landmass. The rest was controlled by sub-contractors put in place after the British became the paramount power. These sub-contractors or ‘Princes’, had a well-equipped, battle-hardened army of about 2,00,000 at the time the British left India. While departing, the British gave these sub-contractors the privilege of becoming independent rulers. Many, like Jaipur, Alwar, Bharatpur and Dholpur, banded together to create a new country, called Matsya Ganrajya. The prince of Hyderabad, one of the richest in the world, lording over one of the poorest princedoms, and his wazirs, even conducted an open warfare to assert independence. Publicly shared folk memories of those Hyderabadis who escaped to Pakistan and whose ancestors fought against India in 1947-48 are that at least 2,00,000 of their ancestors were killed in this fight and that eventually they lost because Pakistan, an Islamic republic, refused to support them militarily.

Pandit Sunderlal Srivastava of the United Provinces was tasked by the Congress to report on the suppression of separatism in Hyderabad. He wrote a long report condemning the actions. Home Minister Patel shelved the report. As expected, everyone forgot about the conflict. They now rebuilt their lives around new opportunities that a newly independent India offered.

Over the decades, these opportunities have been good enough to forge bonds of love, affection and trust, over-riding the differences in region, religion and language. Today, there is little hesitation in saying that India has withstood the test of time, remained a united and powerful nation, capable of protecting the residents of the country. Most importantly, the people continue to be upbeat about the future and trust their government. This is how the country was crafted by the makers of Constitution in 1950 when they outlawed caste discrimination, refused to allow separate electorates, or identify a national language. Instead, they made the individual citizen the fulcrum around which India was to exist. Over the years, far too often than is healthy, we allowed caste and religious groupings to overwhelm the freedom of the individual.

The consequent partisan politics has been a great distraction that makes it impossible to plan any long-term project internally and present a strong image externally. This was most dramatically visible in a recent headline. After Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of a Ram temple at Ayodhya, the Times, London, headlined its story, ‘Modi is hailed as the Hindu king of a divided nation’. The paper refused to acknowledge the resolution of a long-festering problem.

So what exactly would be the parameters of a nation that is united? Will that unity be in the form of individuals that relate to the nation and disregard primordial loyalties? Or will that unity have to be defined as one between groups defined in terms of religion or caste?

We need to notice that a recognition of caste and religious identities as being the primary identity of a person, marks the success of the British colonial project in India. The project was to convince the Indians that theirs was a second-rate, decrepit culture based on mutually warring primordial identities.

That the British preferred us to forget thousands of years of living together is understandable. Why modern-day Indians would prefer to forget that experience is a more complicated problem.

To the British, India seemed like complete chaos. It was inconceivable to them that thousands of languages and belief systems could co-exist without any one group imposing upon the other. The English came from a system where the primordial belief systems overpowered all else. Millions, not hundreds or thousands, were routinely killed over their beliefs. If the Crusades, the Hundred Years’ War, the Spanish Inquisition, are too far back in history, then please look at the two World Wars, Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy or Stalin’s Russia. In India, on the other hand, differences in belief were not something to fuss about.

In the Census Report of 1911, we learn that the Census Commissioners of Bombay region noticed thousands who did not claim to be either this or that but showed complicated characteristics. For instance, there were Hindus of the Panchpiriya cult who worshipped Mohammedan saints. Or there were the Matia Kunbis of Gujarat who called in Brahmins to perform their ceremonies but were followers of the Pirana saint Imam Shah. The field-level Census officials classified such people as ‘Hindu-Mohammedans’. The Census Director, learned in the science of anthropology, strongly felt that his subordinates should have ditched the greyness and classified them as either Hindus or Mohammedans. He noticed the ‘extremely indefinite character of the boundary line between different religions in India’ and promised that by the next Census, all individuals would be forced into neat primordial categories (Census of India, 1911, p. Vol I, Part 1, p 118). The dividing line between the Hindus, Jains and Sikhs was, so the report said, even more hazy and non-existent.

Similar indeterminacy was noticed to exist across caste divisions. By the next Census in 1921, the colonial officials drew stronger lines within the Indian society. ‘Divide and rule’ is how such artificially created divisions were condemned by the leaders of the Indian National Congress.

Seven decades after the British left, we need to take a moral decision on whether we would continue to privilege such artificially created primordial divisions along caste and religious lines, or reward the individual who has loyalty to the Constitution. Caste and religious groupings have commitments that can never be in harmony with the nation as a whole. The individual alone stands to support the nation fully.

Original Headline: Freedom of the individual holds the key to unity

Source: The Tribune India