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The character of the Hindu Muslim Divide


That the Hindus and the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent are two distinct communities needs no gainsaying. No fundamentalist zealot on either side of the divide need remind us of this reality. The irongrip of the British Raj, that was so brutally demonstrated at Jallianwala Bagh of Amritsar in April, 1919 had held the two communities together under one yoke. The British bureaucracy had successfully forced the two opposites in joint captivity. Yet the mere prospect, in the beginning of the twentieth century, of even a modicum of self governance at once brought the differences to the surface. The demand for separate electorates preceded the Councils Act of 1909. (The Minto-Morley Reforms Act).

The differences between the Hindus and The Muslims of India have often been highlighted. Hindu idolatory is pitched against Muslim iconoclasm. The original Hindu polytheism has been contrasted with Muslim monotheism. Even though some Muslim ascetics permitted some forms of dance, nevertheless devotional and tantric cults of Shaivistic Hinduism were at once shockingly bold and alien to Muslim rituals. Hindu practice of 'Suttee' and the strait-jacket of caste offend Muslim conscience, though the Muslim rulers of India did little to eradicate the former and, in fact profitted (in revenue and the maintenance of the peace) by a clever employment of the latter. (Sattee was finally prohibited by the Government of the East India Company in 1829). Since 1192 AD for a continuous period of about 500 years, Muslims ruled most of northern India. Hindus, including the twice-born Brahmans and the proud and arrogant Kashatries, had been their subjects. The highest positions the Hindu elite could aspire for were those of confidants and courtiers of Muslim Kings and Emperors. At best they could aspire to become semi-autonomous but nevertheless subject, feudatories. Nor could the iconoclasim of Islam, personified in the form of the Sultan of Ghazni, be readily forgotten by the Hindu mind. It had been the high-point of the clash of the two communities. We have already noticed Romila Thapar's most vivid and elaborate account of early and medieval India wherein she recounts that "The destruction at Somnath was frenzied, and its effects were to remain for many centuries, in the Hindu mind and to colour its assessment of the character of Mahmood, and on occasion of the Muslim rulers in general."Romila Thapar: "A History of India, 1", Pelican, p. 232-3 But the sacking of the temples in the time of Firuz Shah, and later by Aurangzeb was intended both to augment the decreasing revenues of a decadent feudal system as well as to prevent the allegedly conspiratorial potential of anti-government congregations. The declining empires had none of the permissive and liberal confidence of Allauddin Khilji or Akbar.


It would, however, be a distortion of history merely to highlight the differences between the two communities. Even though the fundamentalists on both sides of the divide may not like to admit it, the fact remains that the two communties had co-existed together, at most times in harmony, over several centuries. Hindu ministers had served in Muslim courts, and vice versa. Often Hindu and Muslim feudatories had formed alliances. At least at the level of the ruling elite the Mughals had practised, inter-marriage, and Allauddin Khilji, Akbar and Jahangir had all taken Hindu rajput princesses for wives and queens. In fact the Mughal system was substantially dependent upon the support of the rajput princedoms, the twice-born progeny of the Sun and the Moon!

Prior to the Delhi Sultunate, firm contacts between the two religions had been limited in geographical expanse, to the coastal regions. They had been transient elsewhere.

A narrow strip of land along the peninsular coastline of India had been initiated to Islam by Arab traders and seamen. The Arabs had, since the fall the Rome, been the richest intermediary traders between the East and the West. Their vehicle was the sea and they colonised small areas, such as Malabar along the Peninsular coastline. But their sights were focused only on maritime trading routes. They made no effort, whatsoever to penetrate inland. The Arab seamen had very limited, in fact minimal effect upon the mainland.

The sole early invasion from the sea, that of Muhammad Bin Qasim,See Chapter 10 of 'The Indus Saga and the Making of Pakistan' by Aitzaz Ahsan was also aimed at the protection of maritime traffic in trade and pilgrims. Even if there had been any long term territorial designs these were subverted by the recall of the spirited and precocious general. The Rashtrakatas and Pratiharas, the neighbouring and successive regional dynasties, were thus successfully able to resist any extensive Arab advance. The suzereignty of the Ommayyad's and the Abbasids over Sindh lasted only about 140 years. And since Sindh was at the periphery of the Islamic empire, their hold was weak and irregular. Islam could therefore not be established on a very large scale anywhere in the Sub-continent by direct Arab impact. By the time the Central Asian Muslim kings began their incursions upon the Indus more than a century had passed since Arab suzereignty upon the southern reaches of the Indus had been terminated. Even the Muslim pockets that remained had shed Arab ways and customs. Their Islam drew more from the Indus than the Arab culture. They had also learnt to co-exist in a multi-religious environment with people of other pursuasions.

Even when vast and stable Muslim states and empires were finally established, communal harmony remained the norm, and communal conflict was the exception. Most of the rulers of the Delhi Sultanat and the Moghal line (excepting Feroze Shah and Aurangzeb) strived adeptly to maintain a balance between the two communities.See Iqtidar Hussain Siddiqi: 'Some Aspects of Afghan Despotism in India', Book Traders, Lahore, pp.viii to x (Introduction), for examples of many Hindus who occupied high positions in the 
Delhi Sultanat. And see: Philip Mason: 'A Matter of Honour', p. 48, where he observes of Mughal times that 'the enemy was often Muslim and there were usually Hindu princes among the
Emperor's allies'. See also Chapter 15, Section III of 'The Indus Saga and the Making of Pakistan' by Aitzaz Ahsan They always needed their support of the martial confederacy of the rajputs. In fact countless Hindus were retained as feudatories, while 'Jaziyya' (tax on non-Muslim) remained only a very minor source of the State's revenue even though an overwhelming majority of subjects qualified to this liability. Even where this tax was imposed, it was confined to artisans and the urban pupulation, implicitly exempting both the rural elite (the military retainers) and the already over-taxed peasantry.

While the armies of the Delhi Sultanat (kingdom) and the Mughal empire derived substantial strength from recruits marshalled by Hindu feudatories, even lesser dynasties frequantly entered into inter-communal alliances.

That enlightened Hindu, Diwan Ram Narain of Patna, was the friend and ally of Siraj-ud-Daula, the brave Muslim Nawab who first faced the British orslaught and fell fighting in the field of Plassey in 1757. It was the Hindu, Ram Narain who mourned the defeat and death of the Muslim ruler Siraj-du-Daulah, in words that have saddened the hearts of so many:


O gazelles, since you know, tell us how did love die?
He died at last, and then what happened to the wastelands?"

In 1751, Nawab Wazir Safdar Jang of Oudh, sacked the Muslim principality of Rohilkhand, and the entire Rohilla country, with the aid of the Marhatta army of Malhar Rao Holkor, Mahadji ScindiaScindia 
had, in fact, since 1785, been designated the Emperor's vakil, (or attorney), a position supposed to be even higher than that of the 
vazir, of principal ministerand the Bharatpur troops of Raja Suraj Mal Jat. In doing so these Hindu-Muslim allies were indeed avenging the humiliation of a Muslim emperor (Shah Alam), at the hands of a Muslim chieftain (Ghulam Qadir RohillaSee Chapter 19, Section I of 'The Indus Saga and the Making of Pakistan' 
by Aitzaz Ahsan).

Muslims kings and emperors had married Hindu princesses.See Chapter 16, Section I of 'The Indus 
	Saga and the Making of Pakistan' by Aitzaz Ahsan The imperial court had adopted many Hindu practices including the association of divinity with kingship, a concept entirely alien to Islam. Moghal Emperors had assumed the exalted and flattering title of "Zile-e-Ilahi", literally: the shadow of God implying, of course, His appointee, or delegate. Many kings and emperors of Delhi enthusiastically participated in such Hindu festivals as Holi, Dusehra, Diwali, and Basant.

The mixing of the two communities was not confined to the imperial and feudal elite. It was equally obvious at lower levels even if prominence to this circumstance has not been allowed by historians more concerned with dynastic fortunes and palace rituals than with the common man. The fact is that migration of Muslims into India had definitely been limited. There was never any mass-migration into the Indus or India along with Central Asian soldiers. The armies of the Turks, the Aghans and the Mughals were only accompanied by the usual crop of camp-followers and retinue. The consolidation of Muslim governments in India did, no doubt, induce some Muslim, central Asian traders to create out-posts in India, and several artisans and architects to migrate. Arab traders had also built settlements along the Peninsular coastline, particularly around the ports of Broach (near present-day Bombay) and Malabar. But all these "aliens" together formed only a fraction of the Muslim population in India.

The vast majority of Indian Muslims were converts from 'Hinduism' especially from the lower castes. By conversion they expected to shed their inferior status. The tendency, once a decision was taken, was for entire communities to convert at once. But when a class of artisans thus converted to Islam, there was no immediate and sudden change in the life-style or status of the converts. The artisans, for their own survival, had to continue to practice the same craft they were experts in and had inherited from their forefathers. The practices of the trade, the mode of living, the standard of life and social status, underwent little change. Weavers for instance, are one such community that by the large converted to Islam 'en masse'. Yet their status, in the all-prevading caste-order (that unfortunately remained the back-drop of all Indian social activity at the popular level, whether Hindu or Muslim), remained as low as it was when they were Hindus. Because the artisans were organized in "craft-castes", the caste distinction continued even after conversion. And since the process of conversion could never be induced by any very substantial coercion (barring the initial centuries) it was slow and gradual. The majority, with no real prospect of an instant change in status, remained Hindu even under a long line of Muslim rulers. This in itself contributed towards assimilation of the two communities as there was no sudden and lightening break with the past or with the contemporary local environment. It may be difficult for us to conceive today, but the two communities, although distinct in essential aspects, had learnt to co-exist at all levels, from the highest to the lowest, at the time that the Moghal Empire, having gone past its peak, was curving towards its decline. Though inititially derived from Persian traditions, the 'but' (idol) and the 'butkada' (the temple) had become idyllic images Urdu and vernacular works of Muslim poets. Leterature had fused many images and absorbed them upon its soft and fertile soil. See, for instance, how the images of but, kufr and khuda merge with the full play of poetic licence:


After pleadings the idol (beloved) came along,
The heathen's will broke, thank god.

The syncretics, the sufis and the bakhtiesFor Sufis and Bhaktis, see Chapter 16 of 'The Indus 
	Saga and the Making of Pakistan' by Aitzaz Ahsan also played an important part forging links and the spirit of co-existence between the two communities. They focused on and identified both the agents of conflict and the areas of harmonious co-existence. They targetted the fundamentalists, and preached the love of man. They decried intolerance and dogma, and gave the message of peace and communal harmony. Man, to them, was the supreme creation, and he had to be defended regardless of religion, creed, or caste. In this belief they were boldly inconoclastic.


Pull down the mosque, and pull down the temple,The verse could perhaps put the poet in jeopardy of 
  prosecution today under one of the recent laws inspired by fundamentalist pressure
Pull down eveything that can be pulled down,
But do no pull down the heart of a man,
For God lives in the hearts of men.

In the War of 1857, both the communities together joined issue with, and, shoulder to shoulder, entered together a life-and-death battle against the British. The War had, indeed, been triggered off by the greased cartridges that had incensed soldiers of both communities to rebellion at the Meerut garrison in May that year. Both the Hindu and Muslim soldiers were equally outraged by the procedure required to load the new Enfield rifles. Then as the partriots galloped the forty miles to Delhi, the population of that town and the Oudh peasantry, that rose to welcome them drew from both communities. While most of the princes, both Muslim and Hindu, either sided with the British or maintained a significant neutrality,See Chapter 23, Section III of 'The Indus 
Saga and the Making of Pakistan' by Aitzaz Ahsan the name of Lakshami Bai, the attractive 20 years old Rani of Jhansi who bravely led her cavalry to her defeat and death, cannot be omitted from the ranks of the Indian heroes of the independence struggle against the "Farangees". Nor can we deny the valour of Nana Sahib, and of his the guerilla commander, Tantia Topi who took up arms at a time that their people, the Marhattas, were fully exhausted. The latter two continued their resistance well into 1858, even after Delhi had fallen to the British. All were fighting, in effect, for the posterity of a feeble Muslim emperor. The emperor himself recognised this contribution. The Proclamation issued by him on august 27, 1857, before his final deposition and capture in September began: "It is well known to all, that in this age the people of Hindoostan, both Hindoos and Mohammedans, are being ruined under the tyranny and oppression of the infidel and treacherous English. It is therefore the bounden duty of all the wealthy people of India ... to stake their lives and property for the well being of the public."See Wolpert: Though the Proclamation did not evoke much response among the "wealthy people", it did indicate how to him the Christians, but perhaps not the Hindus, were "infidels".

The War of 1857 proved, by and large, the shared concerns of the Hindu-Muslim peasantry and the middle classes in the area of conflict. It also manifested the shared, though generally opposing, concerns of the Hindu-Muslim aristocracy. The Divide was essentially on class and geographical (or regional) lines, not on a communal basis.

The communal co-existence did of course break down at times. There was also occasional conflict. Sometimes quite gory. But the periods of harmonious co-existence were always far more extended than the times of conflict. Then, too, the conflict would be confined to geographically specific and limited areas. And it merely highlighted that the two communites were indeed different nations, not that they could not co-exist in peace. Quite often the disputes were extra communal.

Then came the Battle of Plassey (1757). And a new power.


The 190 years between Plassey (1757) and Partition (1947) eroded all the factors that had contributed towards peaceful communal co-existence. They made way for active and intense hostility.

It is not being simplistically suggested that this corosion of the spirit of communal co-existence was the result merely of any conscious "Divide and Rule" policy of the new rulers. The policy must also have played its part. But the divide was never artificial. It was indeed far more tangible and real. It was too much a product of the inevitability of circumstances to go unnoticed. And it had its roots less in religious differences and more in the differing circumstances of class, profession, calling, means of livelihood, and status.

Traditionally Muslims had either been rulers or workmen. The invading migrants had ruled. The caste-converts had been artisans.

Hindus had continued to pursue the professions of business and trade. They filled the ranks of the merchants. As the British tradesmen found their first decisive foothold in the Sub-Continent at Plassey, in 1757, Hindu merchants easily integrated into their system. The British and the merchants (mostly Hindus), became partners. But the imperialists had had to defeat Muslim rulers to gain power. The British and the Muslims became adversaries. The very objects and purposes of the Raj, thus also made adversaries of the two Indian communities.

Hindu merchants soon began to play a complementary role to British commercial and industrial expansion in India For this role they had a natural facility. They took to commerce and industry as well as to participation in the adminstration, albeit at subordinate positions, from the very day that the British set foot in Bengal. By the turn of the century they were establishing factories and mills. The twentieth century saw a widspread and truly national Hindu bourgeoisie straining to break out of unjust and uneconomical imperial controls restricitive of its growth and intended to preserve all manner of British monopolies.

The Muslims, by contrast, had always looked down upon such vocations as trading, money-lending of book-keeping. The Muslim aristocracy had been feudal and land-oriented. It could fall into debt of the Hindu money-lender but looked down upon his profession as unworthy of its own sons. The caste system, which had by now adopted readily discernible classification along occupational lines, was also conducive in preventing inter trade or inter-occupational mobility. For a Muslim feudatory to take to trading? How preposterous. (It is only recently that these barriers have been broken with the pre-eminent feudal gentry of the Punjab and Sindh taking on, what are today certainly more profitable occupations but which would, doutbless, have been scorned at by their grandfathers). While the Arab traders, had, for centuries partaken of usurious transactions and continued to go on with the prevelent trade practices, the more puritancial Turks and Afghan were somewhat inhibited by the Islamic injuction prohibiting usury. This again restrained Indian Muslims (other than the Coastal Arabs and the itenerant pathans from the north), from taking to trade.

There were no merchants among Muslims as there were among the Hindus. The Muslims had also sulked over the outcomes of Plassey and Seringaptam as they were later to resent the annexation of Oudh and the failure of the uprising of 1857. They had stayed away from the British system of trade and industrial expansion. The Vaish took this opportunity by the forelock. The Muslim stood by and let it slip past him.

But this is not to suggest that there no elements, whatsoever, among the Muslim population of the Sub-continent that did provide any support to the Raj. An entire elite of the Muslim community did, in their own way, assist the Raj. The Muslim collaboration with the Raj was in the role of the lower feudatories or 'Zamindars' collecting revenues and harvesting crops suited to Lancashire industries. Mostly these crops were also grown upon "newly colonised" lands opened up for cultivation by massive irrigation works and allotted to land-owners by the imperial adminstration. The Muslim elite which had lagged behind in commerce and industry, was thus in its own way, also supporting the Raj. Only its department of support was different. As landowning feudals, enjoying almost arbitrary revenue-collection and law-enforcement authority over the peasantry, the Muslim feudatories complemented the Raj, just as the Raj ensured them their privileges and status. While the interests of the Hindu merchant and industrialist would, one day in the twentieth century, conflict with the Raj, the relationship of this element of the Muslim community with the Raj was not, and would nover become, competitive.

The Hindu bourgeoisie was, at the turn of the century, becoming impatient with the restraints cast upon it by monopolistic trading policies of the Raj. The two Indian communities, the Hindu and the Muslim, thus now stood well apart, and the distance between them was rapidly increasing. The harmony and co-existence of the recent past was soon to become a fantastic, unbelievable tale of some distant age, long since gone past and forgotten. This conflict of interests was to ensure the parting of the ways, and to lead to Partition in 1947.


These essential differences of profession and calling between the Hindus and Muslims extenuated other more deeply ingrained differences of attitudes and cultures.These were, again, less the product of dogmatic divergencies, and more the creatures of these distinct and differing circumstances and acquired social status. The trader in India was not supported by a lego-administrative system whereby his credit could be recovered or gauranteed. He faced the prospects of sudden losses, distraint of goods, breaches of contract and denials of pecuniary liability. His only insurance therefore, was his monetary savings. He became known for his thrift. The bourgeois retained all the surplus liquid deposits. The feudal, by contrast maintained, and was allowed the aid of, coercive revenue collecting retainers. He could employ these levies to extract revenue from the peasantry, or forcibly expropriate what crop there was. He required no insurance except the loyalty of his men. His ways were, therefore, extravagent. Not so that of the Hindu.

The primary distinction therefore that coincided substantially with the Hindu-Muslim divide was that the Hindu community had a vigorous bourgeoisie, while the Muslim society was still agriculture based, and feudal. The two communities were in different historical time-zones. Even if this divide had not coincided with the religious divergence, it would have been enough to impel a division of the Sub-continent.

And this distinction was to remain, and was ultimately to become the prime-mover impelling the Pakistan Movement of the mid-Twentieth Century. The predominatly feudal and agranian society of northwestern India was to be repelled by the prospect of becoming subject to the predominantly bourgeois areas south of the Gangetic plain and the Rajasthan desert. The use of the word "predominantly" is deliberate as the contrary elements on either side were not insignificant. The peasantry and many feudals, Hindus and Muslim, supported that sole spokesman of the Indian bourgeoisie, Mohandas Karamchan Gandhi, as did many bourgeois Muslim politicians and intellectuals. At the same time the Bengali bourgeoisie and the Muslim commercial communities of the west coast were an important element in the Pakistan Movement. Doubtless the Muslim bourgeoisie expected a protected, monopolistic market in the new State, exactly what it did manage to obtain.

The predominent trends were, however, so powerful, in fact, that the latter-day, West Pakistan-East Pakistan rift, and the creation of Bangla Desh out of East Pakistan, was also a result of it. Bengal, with its bourgeois relations of production had always been too much a part of this Gangetic India, and the world of maritime trade and commerce. It was, thus, quite distinct and different from the land-locked and landowning elite of the north-west. Here the divide, of 1971, was not prevented by commonality of religion. The divergencies of social and political culture were more powerful and irresistible. When this inherent cultural distinctiveness outpaced the commonality of religion, many were confused and utterly at sea. Their basis of the "Two-Nation Theory", adverting only to the Hindu-Muslim divide on the basis of religion, was thus put at nought.

But Bengal, that featured so prominently at a very critical juncture of the history of the Sub-continent, provides many key elements necessary to the determination of the effects of the bourgeois-feudal conflict of interests, and to the discovery, ultimately, of the "Indus person", (the Pakistani). If we are interested in identifying the attributes of the Indus person, and determining the essential core of the Hindu-Muslim divide in the Sub-continent, many events and developments in the history of Bengal will throw much light on the subject. Its conquest, plunder, and adminstration by the British hold the key to the Hindu-Muslim divide. To Bengal we must now, therefore, turn.


The Indus Saga and the Making of Pakistan
Aitzaz Ahsan

Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah HODSON

United Kingdom

Of all the personalities in the last act of the great drama of India's re-birth to independence, Mohammad Ali Jinnah is at once the most enigmatic and the most important. One can imagine any of the other principal actors (not counting Mahatama Gandhi, who makes by fitful and inconclusive appearances from the wings) replaced by a substitute in the same role - a different congress leader, a different Secretary of State, a different representative of this or that interest or community, even a different Viceroy -- without thereby implying any radical change int he final denouement. But it is barely conceivable that events would have taken the same course, that the last struggle would have been a struggle of three, not two, well-balanced adversaries, and that a new nation State of Pakistan would have been created, but for the personality of one man, Mr. Jinnah........ Not even his political enemies ever accused Jinnah of corruption or self-seeking. He could be bought by no one, and for no price.

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