Religious extremism in Pakistan (Part V)

The Khilafat Movement initially started as an anti-British movement, but by its very nature was inherently an Islamic movement. Some Hindu leaders feared that it would take the shape of an anti-non-Muslim movement at some point – in other words, it would ultimately become an anti-Hindu movement. Their fears were not unfounded.

Before the Khilafat Movement completely collapsed, there were some incidents that strengthened the divide between the Hindus and the Muslims, especially the ‘Mopla riots’. The Moplas, a Muslim community settled in the Malabar area of Bombay Presidency, were ardent agitators during the Khilafat Movement. While revolting against the British, their rebellion took on an anti-Hindu tinge in 1921 due to the religious colour of the Khilafat message. A Khilafat kingdom was declared by the Moplas who then murdered the Hindus, looted them, raped their women, burned their homes, desecrated their temples and forcibly converted many Hindus to Islam. A prominent Hindu leader, Swami Shradhanand, wrote about his experience at a Khilafat Conference in Nagpur where he was accompanying Mahatma Gandhi. Swami writes, “…The Ayats (verses) of the Quran recited by the Maulanas on that occasion contained frequent references to jihad and killing of the kafirs [infidels]. But when I drew his [Gandhi’s] attention to this phase of the Khilafat Movement, Mahatmaji smiled and said, ‘They are alluding to the British bureaucracy’. In reply I said that it was all subversive of the idea of non-violence and when the reversion of feeling came the Mahomedan Maulanas would not refrain from using these verses against the Hindus.”

The Mopla riots provided the British with an excellent opportunity to stoke the fires of communalism. Thus after the Khilafat Movement ended, there was a steep rise in communal riots all over the Indian Subcontinent. The Viceroy of India invited Swami Shradhanand for a meeting during this time, after which Swami Shradhanand stepped up the ‘Shuddhi Movement’ – a movement started in the early 20th century by the Arya Samaj, which aimed to reconvert and purify those who had left the fold of Hinduism and embraced other religions such as Islam, Christianity or Sikhism. The movement succeeded in reconverting thousands of people to Hinduism. Another Hindu movement called the ‘Sangathan Movement’, started by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, aimed at removing untouchability in order to create solidarity among the Hindus and trained the Hindus for militant community defence in order to protect themselves in the event of a communal conflict. To counter the Shuddhi and the Sangathan movements, the Muslims launched the ‘Tabligh Movement’ and the ‘Tanzim Movement’. The Tabligh Movement warned Muslims of the threat of the Arya Hindus, trained them for jihad and sought to convert non-Muslims to Islam, while the Tanzim Movement preached orthodox Islam to Muslims and urged them to become ‘good’ Muslims by bringing their lifestyles in conformity with the Shariah (Islamic law). According to Muhammad Miyan (Jamiat al Ulama kia hai?), the Jamiat al Ulama-e-Hind was successful in converting more than 2,000 non-Muslims and winning back 11,000 apostates. These religious movements and counter-movements played a major role in fomenting communalism in the Indian Subcontinent. Tariq Hasan rightly asserts in The Aligarh Movement and the Making of the Indian Muslim Mind that “…communalism of one community was nourishing itself on the communalism of the other. It was, to be precise, a vicious circle.”

Swami Shradhanand was shot by an extremist Muslim in December 1926, and to add fuel to the fire, it was reported by The Times of India that the theological college of Deoband had finished recitations of the Quran for the murderer’s soul and planned to finish 125,000 recitations of the Quranic verses daily. Such support for Muslim extremists in the Muslim community further fomented hatred between the Hindus and the Muslims. Anti-Muslim literature and pamphlets were then circulated around India. It was in view of these rising communal tensions that the Muslims demanded a revision in their constitutional demands.

The system of dyarchy in the 1919 Government of India Act was not acceptable to the Indian public since it was seen as a difficult form of government. The 1919 Government of India Act itself stated that a commission would be established after 10 years to assess the progress of the governance scheme and then suggest new reforms. The Simon Commission was then formed in 1927 and sent to India to study what constitutional reforms were needed. There was no Indian in the commission, which antagonised the Indians who then boycotted the Simon Commission and its all-White character. The Indian National Congress was unanimous in its decision to boycott the commission while the Muslim League was divided into two factions with the Jinnah-led faction in favour of the boycott and Sir Muhammad Shafi-led faction against it. The Secretary of State for India, Lord Birkenhead, then challenged the Indian political forces to resolve the conflict by drafting a constitution that would be acceptable to the Indian populace. The Congress came out with the Nehru Report, which was widely seen as an anti-Muslim report since it rejected separate electorates and weightage for minorities. Jinnah then presented his 14 Points, which proposed some amendments to the Nehru report in order to safeguard the Muslim interest. The Congress rejected the Muslim demands, furthering the political alienation between the Hindus and the Muslims.

This brought back the two-nation theory that was in its infant stage presented by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. In his presidential address at the All-India Muslim League Session at Allahabad in 1930, the great philosopher and thinker Sir Allama Muhammad Iqbal presented the idea of a Muslim India within India. He said, “…The principle of European democracy cannot be applied to India without recognising the fact of communal groups. The Muslim demand for the creation of a Muslim India within India is, therefore, perfectly justified…the Hindus [should not ] fear that the creation of autonomous Muslim states will mean the introduction of a kind of religious rule in such states…the formation of a consolidated Muslim state [is] in the best interests of India and Islam. For India, it means security and peace resulting from an internal balance of power; for Islam, an opportunity to rid itself of the stamp that Arabian imperialism was forced to give it, to mobilise its law, its education, its culture, and to bring them into closer contact with its own original spirit and with the spirit of modern times.”

The orthodox Muslim clerics, clinging to khilafat and jihad, however, opposed Iqbal’s idea of moving away from Arabian imperialism, as they deemed it an integral part of Islam. They also did not advocate the need for a separate Muslim homeland (within or without India).

Meanwhile, Lord Irwin, the Viceroy of India, believed that India should have a dominion status. He organised two Round Table Conferences in 1930 and 1931. The first one failed as no members of the Congress were present, while the second did not achieve much because the participants were not able to agree about the Muslim representation in an Indian parliament. These Round Table Conferences and other British moves to bring about political amity however made shipwreck in the face of many troubling events such as the formation of the Congress ministries in 1937 and what ensued. These events further germinated the seeds of Hindu-Muslim division.


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