India’s composite culture and Muslim stalwarts

Blaming Education ministers who were Muslims adds to Islamophobia in India.


Contrary to the present impression that Muslims are separatists due to whom the partition of India took place, the truth is, that Muslims contributed to the freedom movement and upheld India’s composite culture in equal measure. The partition process, mainly due to British policy of ‘divide and rule’ well assisted by Hindu and Muslim communalists is being hidden from the popular vision in India and Muslims in general are held responsible for the same. Not only that the communal historiography introduced by British to pursue their policies has become the bedrock of communal politics and worsening of the perceptions about Muslims is in progress in India.

Yet another example of this has been a series of tweets by the bureaucrat, who is close to retirement, K. Nageshwar Rao. Contrary to the service rules he has made statements, through his tweets which are appreciative of RSS-BJP and demonise the stalwarts Muslim leaders who not only contributed to the freedom movement but also later gave valuable service in laying the foundation of Independent India. As per Rao, his tweets he accuses Maulana Azad and the other Muslim Education ministers of “deracination of Hindus”. After naming “Maulana Abul Kalam Azad — 11 years (1947-58)”; “Humayun Kabir, M C Chagla & Fakruddin Ali Ahmed — 4 years (1963-67)”; and, “Nurul Hassan — 5 years (1972-77)”, he posts: “Remaining 10 years other Leftists like VKRV Rao.”

He points out that their policies were meant to “1. Deny Hindus their knowledge, 2. Vilify Hinduism as collection of superstitions, 3. Abrahamise Education, 4. Abrahamise Media & Entertainment, 5. Shame Hindus about their identity!  and 6. Bereft of the glue of Hinduism Hindu society dies.”

Then he goes on to praise RSS-BJP for bringing the glory back to Hindus. These statements of his on one hand promote hate and on the other tantamount to a political statement, which civil servants should not by making. CPM politburo member Brinda Karat has written a letter to Home Minister Amit Shah to take suitable action against the erring bureaucrat.

Rao begins with Maulana Abul kalam Azad. Surely Azad was one of the major leaders of the freedom movement, who was also the youngest President of INC, in 1923 and later between 1940 to 1945. He opposed the partition process tooth and nail till the very last. As the Congress President in 1923 he wrote a remarkable para, symbolizing the urge for Hindu Muslim unity, “If an angel descends from heaven and offers me Swaraj in 24 hours on condition that I give up Hindu Muslim Unity, I will refuse. Swaraj we will get sooner or later; its delay will be a loss for India, but loss of Hindu Muslim unity will be a loss for human kind”. His biographer Syeda Hamid points out “He spoke without an iota of doubt about how debacle of Indian Muslims has been the result of the colossal mistakes committed by Muslim League’s misguided leadership. He exhorted Muslims to make common cause with their Hindu, Sikh, Christian fellow countrymen.” He was the one who promoted the translation of Hindu scriptures Ramayan and Mahabharat into Persian.

Surely Mr. Rao, neither has read Azad nor read about him nor knows his contributions to making of Modern India. While today, the ideological formation to which Mr. Rao seems to be pledging his commitment is critical of all that happened during the Nehru era, it was during this period when as education minister Azad was shepherding the formations of IITs, Academies of Science, Lalit kala Academies. It was during this period that the efforts to promote Indian composite culture were undertaken through various steps.

The other stalwarts who are under the hammer have been outstanding scholars and giants in their own field of education. Humayun Kabir, Nurul Hasan, Dr. Zakir Husssain gave matchless ideas and practical contributions in different fields of education. One can say that contrary to the accusations, India could match up to the Computer era, software and associate things, due to creation of large manpower in these areas mainly due to these foundations which were laid down particularly in the field of education during this period.

The charge that these ‘Muslim’ education ministers white washed the bloody Islamic rule is a blind repetition of the offshoot of communal historiography introduced by British. While Kings were ruling for power and wealth, their courts had Hindus and Muslim both officers. The jaundiced vision sees this as a bloody Islamic rule but as a matter of fact the syncretic culture and traditions developed precisely during this period. It was during this period that Bhakti Tradition with Kabir, Tukaram, Namdeo, Tulsidas flourished. It was during this period that humane values of Sufi saints reached far and wide. It was during this period that poets like Rahim and Raskhan produced their classic literature in praise of Hindu Gods.

We also need to remind ourselves that a large number of Muslims participated in the freedom Movement. Two scholars Shamsul Islam and Nasir Ahmad have come out with books on the myriad such freedom fighters, to recall just a few names. Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, Zakir Hussain, Syed Mohammad Sharfuddin Kadri, Bakht Khan, Muzzafar Ahmad, Mohammad Abdir Rahman,, Abbas Ali, Asaf Ali, Yusuf Mehrali, Maulana Mazahrul Hague.

These are just a few of the names. The movement, led by Gandhi, definitely laid the foundations where composite Indian culture and respect for all religions, others’ religion was paramount and this is what created Indian fraternity, one of the values which finds its place in the preamble of Indian Constitution.

This blaming of Education ministers who were Muslims is an add-on to the process of Islamophobia in India. So for there have been many actions of Muslim kings which are selectively presented as being bloody, now the post Independent History, where glorious contributions have been made by Muslim leaders are being used to further deepen the divisive process. We need to pay respects to builders of modern India, irrespective of their religion.

* The writer is a human rights defender and a former professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT Bombay).  

Other pieces by Dr. Puniyani:

Freedom of Religion: Indian Scenario
Palakkad, Kerala & death of a pregnant elephant: Communalisation of a Tragedy
Dealing with Corona Virus: No place for blind Faith
Delhi violence: Genesis of carnage



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