Religious extremism in Pakistan (Part IV)

The rise of communalism in the Indian Subcontinent played a major role in strengthening the extremist forces, both Muslim and Hindu, which also led to a political divide between the Hindus and the Muslims. In 1906, the All India Muslim League was formed as a (Muslim) counter body to the Indian National Congress, supposedly a Hindu organisation in the eyes of most Muslims. The Indian National Congress was formed in 1885 as an association comprising largely of lawyers and other professionals, who founded the party so that Indians could gain a voice in the governance of their own country. The formation of the Muslim League was the “first major step in the direction of the separatist movement among Indian Muslims” (Indian Muslims, Asghar Ali Engineer).

Following the Muslim demand for separate electorates in 1906, the Minto-Morley Reforms (the Act of 1909) were made law in 1909. The British ensured a provision for a separate Muslim electorate. The partition of Bengal in 1905 was one of the foremost reasons for the Muslim’s demand of a separate electorate. The division of Bengal into Muslim majority East Bengal and Hindu majority West Bengal was a subtle attempt by the British to suppress the burgeoning nationalist trend emerging in Bengal, which soured the intercommunity relations between the Hindus and the Muslims. “...What had begun as a proposal for transfer of a few districts finally became a scheme of a full-scale partition of Bengal apparently to achieve administrative efficiency, but really to gain a political end of a sinister kind…The motive was to create a Muslim opposition within the Bengalis themselves and to isolate and weaken the Bengali middle class, which was preponderantly Hindu and spearheaded all political agitations…This ‘divide and rule’ policy was not only Machiavellian, but also Mephistophelean. Till the partition, Bengal enjoyed the unique distinction of being communally the least disturbed province. The partition marks the date from which communal disturbances began to occur with increasing frequency,” (‘Lord Curzon and the Partition of Bengal’, Kumud Biswas).

The Muslims welcomed the partition of Bengal, but the Hindu community strongly opposed it. Thus after the partition, a massive agitation campaign was launched against the British by the Hindus in Bengal, which led to the annulment of the partition in 1911. Muslims reacted strongly against the annulment of the partition of Bengal. Hindus’ opposition to the partition of Bengal strengthened the Muslim belief that the Hindus were not ready to concede any kind of concession to the Muslims.

These feelings had been simmering. In the 19th and the 20th centuries, not only did the Indian nationalist movements gain strength, but both Hindu and Muslim revivalist movements also gathered momentum. Islamic revivalist movements such as the Faraizi Movement (of Haji Shariatullah) in Bengal, the Tariqah-i-Muhammadiyah Movement (of Sayyed Ahmed Shaid of Rae Bareilly) in Delhi, the Ahl-e-Hadith Movement (of Shah Ismail Shahid), and the Taaiyuni Movement (of Maulana Karamat Ali) started and spread all across the Indian Subcontinent. All these movements had one thing in common: they wanted to revive the Islamic Ummah by establishing an Islamic social order and political state (Islamic Caliphate).

On the Hindu revivalist front, Raja Rammohan Roy started a Hindu revivalist movement in the 19th century in Bengal, which sought to restore a pristine Hindu religious spirit. In consequence to Roy’s movement, some other Hindu reform movements were also started, the Arya Samaj being one of them. The Arya Samaj not only promoted Hindu reformation, but also sought to reconvert Hindus who had been “lost” to Islam. The 20th century saw the Hindu Mahasabha Movement being founded in 1915 to defend Hindus against Muslim influence and one of its leaders, Vinayak Damodar Sarvarkar, presented the idea of ‘Hidutva’ (a movement to bring together Hindus of all castes in a communitarian fold) in 1923. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS or ‘Sangh’) was founded in 1925 as a “cultural and social organisation” to protect and organise the Hindus. Both the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS looked upon Muslims as the main threat to Indian unity.

The Muslims did try to obtain their rights through a political course while staying clear of communal extremism. Muhammad Ali Jinnah was a member of the Indian National Congress when he joined the Muslim League in 1913. In 1916, he succeeded in persuading both Congress and the Muslim League to hold their annual sessions at the same place, Lucknow, and at the same time. Jinnah’s plea to allow weightage of seats in the legislative councils of certain provinces where the Muslims were in the minority was agreed upon by the Congress. This agreement was known as the ‘Lucknow Pact’. Jinnah at that time was an elected member of the Imperial Legislative Council. When the Rowlatt Act was passed in March 1919, it gave the Government of India summary powers to curb any rebellious activities. Jinnah resigned from the Imperial Legislative Council in protest, while Gandhi launched a movement of non-violent civil disobedience because of the Rowlatt Act, the Jalliwanwala Bagh massacre and martial law in Punjab.

During this time, the issue of Turkey in World War I was also coming to the fore. Turkey held quite an importance for the Muslims due to the Ottoman Dynasty and its caliphate. With the division of Turkey’s territories under the Treaty of Sevres, the Indian Muslims felt apprehensive about the caliphate’s custodianship of Islam’s Holy places. The Khilafat (Caliphate) Movement was thus launched in September 1919 to protect the Caliphate and save the Ottoman Empire from dismembering. The Ali brothers, Maulana Mohammad Ali Jouhar and Maulana Shaukat Ali, initiated the Khilafat Movement. They joined with other Muslim leaders to form the All India Khilafat Committee, which aimed to build political unity amongst the Muslims and use this influence to protect the caliphate.

An alliance was made between the Khailafat leaders and the Congress in 1920. Gandhi was fighting for Swaraj (self-rule). There was a nationwide campaign of mass, peaceful civil disobedience after the alliance between the Khilafat Movement and the Non-cooperation Movement. The Muslim League did not support the Khilafat Movement as Jinnah thought of it as nothing but “religious frenzy”, while the Hindu revivalists identified it as a movement based on pan-Islamic agenda.

The movement was going strong and the relations between the Hindus and the Muslims were once again harmonious. But in 1920, about 18,000 Muslim peasants from Sindh and NWFP migrated to Afghanistan because they felt that India was Dar-ul-harb (the abode of war). This and some other factors, especially Gandhi’s abrupt call to end the civil disobedience movement after the Chauri-Chaura incident in 1922 in the United Provinces where a violent mob had set fire to a police station killing 22 policemen, damaged the Movement. The Muslims felt betrayed at Gandhi’s call. This considerably weakened the Khilafat Movement, but the final blow came from the Turks themselves when Mustafa Kemal overthrew the Ottoman rule to establish a pro-Western, secular republic in independent Turkey.

Disappointed with the failure of the Khilafat Movement and apprehensive of a Hindu rule, the Tablighi Jamaat was founded in the late 1920s by the Deobandi cleric Maulana Muhammad Ilyas. He wanted to restore the lost political glory of Islam through preaching. The element of religious extremism, which fuelled communalism, thus came into full play in united India.

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