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HVK Archives: Witness for the persecution

Witness for the persecution - The Telegraph

Dileep Padgaonkar ()
16 February 1997

Title : Witness for the persecution The past, in the Muslims intellectual's eyes, can refute received wisdom
Author : Dileep Padgaonkar
Publication : The Telegraph
Date : February 16, 1997

``It is unadulterated Hinduism that must rule India with its
gentleness and wisdom free of the muck accreted over the
centuries in holding out against foreign domination.. The content
of `Secularism' vaunted in opposition to Hindutva- is general,
weak and has no apparent foundation in the spirit of the Indian
people... The Bharatiya Janata Party is the only party which
has shown the capacity for new thinking with which to make a new
ideology.. The sangh parivar is distinguished by its
demonstrates astonishing ideological flexibility.''

These words have not been written by an ideological or a known
sympathizer of the sangh parivar. The sentences are lifted from a
book which did not receive the attention it merited when it was
first published in 1995. Why refer to it now? Quite simply
because The Rediscovery of India deals with a theme that it bound
to figure in the debates focusing on the 50th anniversary of India
and Pakistan: has Partition helped or hindered peace and
progress in south Asia?

An additional reason for drawing attention to it related to the
identity of its author. Ansar Hussain Khan was born in Calcutta
in 1928 and spent his childhood in many parts of British India.
Much against his wishes, the family migrated to Pakistan just a
week before Independence Day. After spending two years at
Government College, Lahore, he joined the United Nation and
served as an international civil servant until his retirement
in 1987.

But something quite unusual happened to him in 1986: he sought
and obtained Indian citizenship. All along he had considered
himself to be a national of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. He
had never once doubted that Partition was a mistake which could
have been avoided. And he held firm to his belief that sooner
than later the three countries would either hang together in a
confederation of disintegrate.

What, however, is more interesting than this belief is his
appraisal of the historical factors leading to Petition and his
panaceas to resolve the communal problem. The antagonism and
antipathy between Hindus and Muslims, he argues, ``lay in the
imposition by early Muslim invaders of an allegedly superior
religion and way to life which was hostile and unyieldingly
different upon the settled Hindu people among whom they
arrived.''. The Hindus were alien to sectarian assertion or
aggressiveness, ``a far cry from the blood and steel arbitration
between faiths that the Muslim imposed.''

Add to this the Muslim refusal to have any truck whatsoever with
Hindu belief. Their total denial of any virtue, any merit, any
sanctity in the religion of the people they were vanquishing in
battle was not only an affront, it was the deepest wound that even
time would not heal.

What exacerbated the situation, the author argues, is partly
the conversion of Hindus by the thousand and partly the
destruction of Hindu places of worship. In the first case, Islam,
in one stroke, ``disrupted the Hindu social system put together
with subtlety and adjustment by the Brahmins over the thousand
years''. And in the second case, Khan has full empathy for
Indians who loathe invaders like Mohammed of Ghazni for the
havoc they wreaked in Kangra, Mathura and, above all, in Somnath.

The Hindus, he says, ``might forget his plunder but his iconoclasm,
the desecration of their gods, the destruction of their cultural
records and treasures in a deep injury full of havoc''. He is
harsh on all subsequent rulers who mistreated the majority
Hindu population, especially Aurangzeb.

His ``narrow bigotry, mixed with his unhealthy vindictiveness
and suspicion, was an underlying constant in his treatment of the
majority of his subjects''.

Khan dismisses out of hand the ``secularist'' theory that Aurangzeb
and his predecessors acted not as Muslims but merely as
plunderers and empire builders. It may be true that they killed
their co-religionists and sometimes they resorted to violence
against the Hindus with a purely punitive motive. But their
overall record, he argues, demonstrates that they acted against
the Hindu religion.

In doing so, they went against the letter and spirit of Islam.
Khan quotes chapter and verse from the holy Quran and several
other authoritative theological texts to buttress his case
that ``the divine law of Islam is altogether opposed to forced
conversion of `Idol worshipers' and the destruction of their
temples''. Its outlook on other faiths and those who believe in
them in humane, generous and tolerant.

It is because he brought this outlook to bear on his rule that Khan
reserves his highest praise for Emperor Akbar. He was forever
seeking links, harmonies, amities, sympathies, similarities and

To such a person ``the ferocity of dogma, theological
absolutism, arrogance of doctrine, all so characteristic of the
majority of ulemas thronging his court and prodigal in their
exhortations that the state be likewise, went against his
intellectual and spiritual grain, and were indeed deeply
offensive to him''.

The author directs his sharpest barbs at the British: ``They
were next to the Almighty, and the Indians were a fallen lot,
with a past greatness of history and a rich but stagnant
civilization, feckless and futureless''.

He records with great appreciation those Indians who held fast and
almost turned the English tide; Haider Ali, Tipu Sultan, the
Marathas and the Sikhs and, of course, those who led the first war
of independence.

And finally he takes M.K. Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai
Patel, Mohammed Ali Jinnah et al to task for allowing themselves
to become pawn on the colonial chessboard. Among the leaders of
the period who receive fulsome praise and Subhash Chandra Bose
and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.

Space does not allow me to speak about Khan's detailed exhortations
to the three south Asian countries to leave the past behind them
and rearrange their sovereignties. But his exhortations to his
co-religionists in India merit a mention.

He asks them to purely and simply dump those of their leaders
who speak up for Muslims and Muslims. He invites them to join the
main political party - ``which has to be the BJP alone or in
fusion with the Congress'' - and asserts that they will be able
to enjoy their culture and observe their faith under the Hindu
rashtra since Hindutva ``does not preempt or displace the other's
culture or religious preference''.

He asks the sangh parivar to return to the metaphysical ideas
and culture of the Upanishadas and the Bhagavad Gita, rid the
Hindu samaj of casteism and jettison its rabid elements. Once
this happens the "adoption of Hindu culture would not generate
phobias among the minorities, he insists.

While Khan's book can be faulted on many grounds - not least
its assumption that historical prejudices can be discarded by
the very forces which sustain them - this must not detract
attention from its chief merit: intellectual courage to decry
bigotry and fanaticism wherever they manifest themselves.

The secular and Muslim response to it cannot be one of
denunciation. For, unwittingly perhaps, Khan has laid the ground -
some ground, however shaky - for the two communities and, by
extension, the three countries of south the depredations of the
past but about the options available to them in the future.

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