Growth of Hindu and Muslim communalisms was a parallel process

Prof K. N. Panikkar

Prof K. N. Panikkar
Modern India

For the British, as rulers trying to understand and control Indian society, it was important to develop an understanding of what Indian society is. It was through this process that the category of a community of Hindus and a community of Muslims began to be widely and increasingly used.
This use of community terminology became part of our scholastics and analysis. What we need to ask ourselves is: does this category as a category of analysis give us the whole picture?
Conversion, both as a continuing and a historical phenomenon is an important facet that is constantly brought to bear on communal discourse. The most important aspect to remember when we look at the issue of conversion historically is that the largest concentrations of Muslim population are not in states where there was a Muslim ruler or dynasty; quite the contrary. What does this tell us?
For example, in the Malabar Coast in Kerala, large scale conversions to Islam did not take place during the invasion by Tipu Sultan. The largest conversions to Islam on the Malabar Coast were during the period 1843-1890 and were directly linked to the fact that in 1843 slavery was abolished in this region. As a result, large numbers of formerly oppressed castes bonded in slavery by upper caste Hindus moved over to Islam which they perceived, rightly or wrongly, as a religion of equality and justice.
Religious stigmatisation also, unfortunately affects our reading and interpretation of the reigns of specific historical rulers like say Tipu Sultan or Shivaji. Do we know, that it was during the reign of Tipu Sultan that a Maratha Sardar, a good believing Hindu, invaded Mysore several times and during one such attack plundered and destroyed the Sringeri Math.
Who was responsible for the reconstruction of the Math and the pooja that was performed before the reconstruction? Tipu Sultan. We need to ask ourselves what a "good, secular Hindu Sardar" was doing destroying the Math and how come a "fanatical Muslim ruler" restored it?
During the invasion of the same Tipu Sultan of Kerala, there were hundreds killed, not because they were Hindus but because the people of Kerala resisted his invasion.
There are hundreds of such examples in history. We need to search them out and examine in the right perspective what were the motives of the rulers of those times for such actions? What were the politics and the historical processes behind the destruction and plunder of temples, the invasion of new territories and kingdoms and the conversion to a different faith?
Another aspect critical to the study of Modern Indian History is the counter positions of communalisms, Hindu Communalism and Muslim communalism that have so dramatically affected the politics of the subcontinent. We must be very conscious when we read and interpret this period to understand that the development of both communalisms was a parallel process that is not rooted in the second or third decades of the 20th century (the birth of the Muslim League or the Hindu Mahasabha) but must be traced back to the middle of the 19th century.
This critical juncture in the communalisation process (mid 19th century) has to be more closely examined by us: it will reveal how these processes occurred in parallel, how the Arya Samaj that began as a reform movement turned communal and similarly the Aligarh movement that began as a movement for internal reform also became communal.
Another critical aspect to a non-communal approach to the study of modern Indian history is rooted in understanding the development of the concept of Indian nationalism that was always characterised by its anti-colonial thrust.
We have through the early part of this century distinct trends visible that go beyond the anti-colonial, negative thrust, and moving towards a positive understanding of Indian nationalism. One is Anantakumar Swamy's ‘Essays on Nationalist Idealism’ that explores the real essence of a nation as being not politics but culture. The other is Gandhi's ‘Hind Swaraj’ which explains the essence of nationalism as civilizational. Both these thinkers did not link the concept of nationalism with religion.
Yet another contribution in this area was by Radhakumar Mukherjee who in his works, ‘Fundamental Unity of India’ and ‘Culture and Nationalism’ tried to conceptually trace the relationship of nationalism to the ancient period of history. He sought to link culture with religion.
In 1924, Veer Savarkar's ‘Hindutva’ forcefully pushed this link, between culture and religion. The compositeness and plurality of Indian tradition was overlooked completely when Savarkar explained how the Indian nation evolved. In his chapter ‘The Six Glorious Epochs of India’ where his key questions were: How did India become a nation? How did Hindus become a nation? The book, forcefully written, is based on an erroneous interpretation of facts.
But the important thing for us to understand is why Savarkar did this given his own history of being a revolutionary. In his earlier work written some years earlier, ‘National War of Independence’ the same Savarkar describes the 1857 War of Indian Independence as the combined efforts of Hindus and Muslims and the rule of Bahadur Shah Zafar in New Delhi as its culmination as "five glorious days of Indian history."
— Prof K. N. Panikkar
Jawahar Lal Nehru University, New Delhi

In 1997, Khoj education for a plural India programme held a workshop that enabled interaction
between in India's leading historians and school teachers in Mumbai. This article is the edited transcript of the lecture by professor K. N Panikar. 
Archived from Communalism Combat, March 1997 – Cover Story



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