Thursday, January 15, 2009

India's secular credentials are just impeccable!!

Long time back Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, the poet of Vande Mataram, had told, "Tumi Adhom Hoile, Ami Uttam Hoibo Na Keno", which translates into English as, "If you're inferior, why shouldn't I be superior". That's against communism, because it perhaps sows the seeds of inequality. There are two ways of bringing equality among these two sides - superior and inferior. One, you improve the 'inferior' and two, you drag down the 'superior'. The first option is hard, but the second one is very easy. It's very sad that many people take extra effort to resort to the second option to downgrade many aspects of India just to give a feeling that we're also as bad as the rest. Well, this has reference to the secular credential of our country. It has become a fashion for a group of people, who think that they are the only secular people in this country and the rest are just a bunch of irrational, insensitive, illiterate, parochial and communal thugs, to dig up acts of intolerance and disharmony and highlight them every time the country condemns an act of terrorism perpetrated by Muslims thinking that highlighting some bad things about India might make the perpetrators of terror feel happy because that would equate them to the also-equally-bad-Indians. A classic example of this is an article by Arundhati Ray in the aftermath of the recent Bombay Terror Attacks on 11/26. She has a lot of sympathizers. She and her crusaders want to always bring up Narendra Modi, Indian Army's violation of human rights in Kashmir, VHP, BJP, Veer Savarkar and what not - as if all these can justify a young Muslim to get angry and frustrated to the extent that he finally takes arms. This not only demeans the stature of Muslims in India, but also brings disgrace to the secular credentials of India. It's sheer lack of knowledge about the history of our country that makes people come to some conclusion just based on a few stray facts. Just because you fracture a few bones in your body you don't call yourself a limp or handicapped. Just because there are few black moles in your body you don't denounce your body and go for plastic surgery. Just because there are just a few (yes, just VERY FEW) acts of intolerance in a span of 4000 years of impeccable track record of tolerance and harmony, you don't label India as communal or intolerant.

No one appreciates communal riots. They are the biggest scars of our society. Almost all political parties have resorted to some form of communalism in recent times to gain political mileage. Often the ruling political party didn't want to go against the sentiments of the majority community - starting from Suhrawardy's (the then Muslim League CM of Bengal province) role in Hindu genocide on "Direct Action Day" on 16th Aug in 1946 (FYI, that's the biggest genocide of any community till date in India killing more than 4000 people in 72 hours), to the Shikh massacre under Congress and finally the post Godhra riots under Modi.

Now consider the following.

Ashoka turned into a Buddhist and played a great role in spreading Buddhism to major part of Asia Pacific. Statistically the spread of Buddhism during the reign of Ashoka and the successive Buddhist Rulers of India over the few centuries was much more than what the Caliphs could attain in the first few centuries after the birth of Islam - and all that without any force. Even though the whole of China, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma, Sri Lanka and many other countries turned Buddhist, India still remained a majority Hindu nation. Have you ever heard of any conflict between the Hindu and Buddhist. Ashoka, Kanishka, Harshavardhana, the Palas and many more emperors of India, though themselves Buddhists, never antagonized the Hindu rituals and traditions. In the same way the Hindu Guptas allowed Buddhism to flourish. The result of this harmony was off course Taxila and Nalanda Universities, the centers of learning and education for the entire world for almost 1500 years, till the rise of Baghdad during the Golden Age of Islam. People from all over the world flocked to Taxila and Nalanda, which were the centers of great discussions, arguments, debates that resulted in the greatest researches, inventions and discoveries in the field of science, mathematics and astronomy.

The greatest example of harmony is perhaps the period between 1200 and 1800 AD, when most part of India was ruled by Muslim rulers, all of whom came from outside. It's remarkable that elsewhere Islam just swept across all the places where ever it went. Almost 100% of Persian Empire (covering Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Asia Minor and major parts of Middle East) and Arab land was converted into Islam over a few centuries. Traces of pre-Islamic culture and religions were wiped out since the decline of the Golden Age of Islam (8 to 12th Century AD). But despite the 600 years of Muslim rule in India, only a fraction of India had converted to Islam. From this point of view the Muslim rulers in India were undoubtedly much more tolerant than their Western counter parts. This is also an example of the Indian tradition of tolerance and harmony, that existed even before the advent of Islam in India. None of the Muslim rulers elsewhere in the world had non Muslims in critical positions as in India. Akbar's reign is just incredible from that point of view - 4 out of 9 in his Nava Ratna were Hindus. None of the Muslim rulers elsewhere in the world ever thought of amalgamating different religions and creating a new religion called Din-i-Ilahi like Akbar. Beyond the Islamic Golden Age, there were very few instances of free debates and discussions on religion and philosophy between people of various creed and cultures in the West. For three hundred years, the mullahs of the Ottoman Empire objected to the introduction of the printing press saying that the Word of God (the Qur’an) would be defiled if it came in contact with the wood or the metal of the press. It was only in the year 1728, three hundred years after it made its appearance in Christian Europe that the printing press was allowed into the Ottoman Empire. Contrary to that, Dara, one of Aurangzeb's brothers had translated Upanishad from Sanskrit to Persian. The first Ramayana in Bengali was written with the initiative of the first Muslim Rulers of Bengal. Has anyone heard of any Muslim King naming his capital after the a Hindu God? Well, that would be just a blasphemy in Arab world. But Tipu's capital was actually called Srirangapatnam - the city of Vishnu.

The other side of the story is also there. The Bengali San Calendar, considered to be a Hindu calendar, was actually synched up with the lunar Hijri during Akbar's reign, but the counting remained Solar. That's why the date in the Bengali San calendar is quite close to that in Hijri. This means that my marriage, on some auspicious day as per Hindu norms, has a reference to the day when Prophet Mohammed marched from Mecca to Medina. Well, you might argue that Akbar might have forced this on the Bengalis. But then the Bengalis didn't change this ever - even after the death of Akbar or the end of the Muslim Rule in India. Is there any other place in this world where a Muslim calendar is synched up with Christian era or vice versa? Has anyone spoken about this? The sound of Shehnai is part of the ritual in any Hindu marriage in North India even though till date I haven't heard of any Hindu playing Shehnai. In older days even the staunch Brahmins used to invite the Muslim Shenai players to perform in their marriages. Is there any ritual in any part of the world where people of different faith play such a great role? Bismillah Khan's shehnai was one of the main attractions in the temples of Banaras till his death. Can you show me any single church or masjid in the world where a Hindu has been asked to sing Bhajan? Have you ever heard of any Hindu preferring the Brahmin Kishore Kumar Gangopadhyay over a Muslim Mohd. Rafi for religious reason? Have you ever heard of any actor becoming superstar by virtue of his religion? Khans are the rulers of Bollywood. Some of the richest Muslims, the likes of Wadias and Azim Premji, of the corporate world are in India. The biggest real estate company, Prestige, in Bangalore is owned by Muslims. One of the poorest persons, also a Muslim, from one of the remotest villages went on to become the top boss of India's premier defense research organization and later the President. Ask Abdul Kalam, ask Mohd. Rafi, ask the Wadias, ask Azharuddin, ask Bismillah Khan, ask Shahrukh Khan, ask Amjad Ali Khan and Ali Akbar Khan, ask the sexy Katrina Kaif, ask Omar Abdullah, ask Ghulam Ali if they have ever faced any discrimination? No.... India never discriminates. That's why the Parsis never found any problem to establish the biggest business houses in India where as they had to flee from their home land - Persia. The Tatas are as much Indians as are the Birlas and Ambanis. Have you heard of anyone discriminating between Tatas and Ambanis because of their religion?

Can you show any other country in the world with such impeccable tradition of harmony and secularism? India always has provided the safest and the most prosperous ground for the development of any culture and religion. Even now we're equally proud of our past which is partly pagan (Indus Valley), partly Hindu, partly Buddhist and partly Muslim. A very simple example of our regards for all the religion and culture is the way our history is highlighted in our National Portal:
In contrast just have a look into what Pakistan says about their history:
An entire 1000 years of Hindu rule is intentionally omitted to give stress on the Islamic Age. Even the Vedas are mentioned in a very poor light: "In fact they (Aryans) believed in nature gods, one of them Indra destroyed the dams and spelled disaster on the local Dasyus who differed from them in colour, creed and language. These Aryans conquerors developed there own religion of the Vedas, practiced animal sacrifice and gradually built up tribal kingdoms all over the Indus Valley". It's a pity that the national portal of Pakistan totally ignores the fact that their ancestors might have written the greatest books of philosophy some 3500 years back just because the Vedas are non-Islamic in origin. The same is true for Iran where the Mullahs revolted against the Shah's decision to use a calendar with zero point coinciding with the coronation of Darius the Great rather than the Islamic Hijri, in 1970s. Just see the difference - one of our Hindu calendars is synched with Hijri and Iran doesn't even want to relate to their greatest emperor just because he was not a Muslim.

Do I have to give any further proof for the secular credentials of India - of which Tagore says - "Here I stand with arms outstretched to hail man divine in his own image and sing to his glory in notes glad and free. No one knows whence and at whose call come pouring endless inundation of men rushing madly along to lose themselves in this vast sea of humanity that is India. Aryans and Non-Aryans, Dravidians and Chinese Scythians, Huns, Pathans and Mogols all are mixed, merged and lost in one body" - that's the body an Indian!!

A final note. The Hindu-Muslin communal divide is nothing but the creation of Jinnah. People say that Savarkar had talked about Two-Nation-Theory long time before Jinnah. But the point is that how much influence did Savarkar have on Indians? Compared to that Jinnah's influence on Indian politics and society was much more stronger. Also Savarkar never asked the Hindus to go and kill the Muslims, which Jinnah actually did. The first ever large scale communal riot between Hindus and Muslim happened only after Jinnah's call for Direct Action against Hindus. Since then the Hindus have been just retaliating. The day Jinnah's venom cease to exist in the minds of any Indian, there won't be any communal problem!! And the saddest part is that Jinnah himself was also quite secular like any other Indian. He invented the venom just to satisfy his political ambition.

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