Caste Based Reservations & Their Politicization – Saif Ahmad Khan



Hinduphobia Among Misguided Muslims

A saffron robed Hindu monk conducts aarti. (Image: The Patriot – News)

A saffron robed Hindu monk conducts aarti. (Image: The Patriot – News)

Samuel P Huntington’s controversial thesis revolving around the Clash of the Civilizations does not merely apply to the political tussle being played out between the Judeo-Christian West and Islamic Arab Land but also involves into its ambit what some call, ‘Hindu India’, an identity of India based on its Hindu majority. The fact that the world is beset with sectarian bloodshed and religious tension proves that there is some truth behind what Huntington initially stated in a foreign affairs publication in 1993. American intellectual Noam Chomsky has pointed out to the close diplomatic alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia, the most conservative country in the region of Middle East, to show that Huntington’s theory is planked on oversimplified analysis of subjects which are often influenced by political opportunism.

Whether or not there will be a civilizational clash in the 21st century is debatable but what is not debatable is the rampant rise of bigotry, racism and stereotyping as is visible through Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism or what scholars call the assault of secularists on Jesuits. In the midst of all this commotion, the Western media has been quick to highlight the rise of fascist movements in the Indian subcontinent be it that of the Hindu Nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in India, Bodhu Bala Sena in Sri Lanka or 969 in Myanmar but so far they’ve greatly ignored the phenomenon of ‘Hinduphobia’. Over 90% of Hindus in the world reside in secular India, a country which has been home to the Hindu civilization since the past 5000 years. Unlike the two major monotheistic faiths ie Christianity and Islam, which happen to be the dominant faith in scores of countries besides being powerful minorities in several other nations, Hindus aren’t scattered in that much quantity across the globe. A good reason behind this could be the lack of consensus on the issue of proselytization among Hindus but organizations like Ramakrishna Mission and ISKCON have managed to bring saffron-hood to the West by means of their preaching.

The political and theological discourse revolving around Hindus and Hinduism is intrinsically associated with India as it’s not only the holiest place for Hindus but also because it is one among two Hindu majority countries in the world. The community which has interacted most with the Hindu community of India has been that of the Muslims. The Hindu-Muslim interaction began with Arab ships coming to India in search of business and spiralled with several invasions of Muslim rulers on the territory of India. The partition of India in 1947 on religious lines has left a permanent scar on relations between Hindus and Muslims but over the past six decades various commendable efforts have been the made to bring the two communities close to one another.

The road to reconciliation between these communities is often derailed due to the activities of hardline Islamist and Hindutva groups in Pakistan and India, respectively but another significant threat to better relations emerges from the growing Hinduphobia among certain sections of the Muslim community in India and Pakistan who disseminate their ideas to other parts of the Islamic Ummah. The prejudices which many Muslims harbour regarding Hindus revolve around theology, politics and history.

Theologically, prejudiced Muslims view Hindus as a community of ignorant polytheistic idolaters who are seeped into superstition and cow worship. Hindus are ridiculed as a bunch of people who pray to idols signifying sexual organs (Shiv Lingam) and equated with Pagan Meccans who waged war against Prophet Muhammad and his companions. This image of the Hindu being a descendant or somehow being associated with Pagan Meccans is propounded by Muslim Zionists like Pakistan’s Zaid Hamid. This understanding of Hindus and Hinduism is flawed because unlike the Pagan Meccans, the Hindus are in possession of literature which they claim to be divinely revealed. They call it the Vedas and besides the Vedas, the Hindus happen to have scores of religious scriptures and discourses. Secondly, despite their polytheistic cum pantheistic beliefs, the Hindu at the end of the day says that God is one and there are different paths of approaching that one God, something which the Pagan Meccans never stated. But then people will argue that they worship the cow, if the Jews can be nephews to Muslims even after worshipping the calf then what’s wrong with the Hindus? In the Islamic sense, the Christian concept of the Trinity and The Cross is viewed as polytheistic and idolatrous but they still continue to be the People of the Book. The Quran doesn’t equate Zoroastrians with Pagan Meccans for worshipping fire but still some continue to draw proportionality between Hindus and Meccans on account of their nature worship.

Thirdly, Pagan Meccans have been heavily criticized by Islamic scholars principally because of their uncivilized ways of living. The Hindus on the other hand have been associated with one of the most advanced civilizations to have ever existed in the world. During the ancient times, the Hindus achieved great progress in the fields of architecture, engineering, medicine, astronomy, philosophy, literature and jurisprudence. The illiteracy and ignorance of the Pagan Meccans stands in complete contradiction to the intellectual might and scientific advancement of the Hindu civilization. Fourthly and most importantly, the first set of Muslim conquerors that came to India associated Hindus with the People of the Book, a Quranic term referring to the Jews and Christians. This was because of the scriptural nature of the Hindu religion. It became the basis of Hindu-Muslim relationship and might have been the possible reason behind Hindu-Muslim marriages as Muslim men are permitted to marry from among the People of the Book. It’s utter falsehood to even remotely suggest that Hindus have always happened to be an object of ridicule for their Muslim brethren. In fact, 11th century Muslim scholar Abu Rayhan Al Biruni is recognized as the “Father of Indology” because of his remarkable study of India and its people.

On 6th of December 1992, secular India was jolted heavily as the disputed Barbi Mosque, which was constructed controversially in 1527, was razed to the ground by a mob of over 100,000 Hindu fascists. Secularists in India, majority of them belonging to the Hindu faith, have come to treat that incident with disgust and have slammed those who were responsible for carrying out the sacrilegious act. The kind of negative perception which India’s populace, again majority of them being Hindus, holds regarding the Babri Mosque demolition was so fierce that the man who headed this controversial movement, Former Deputy PM of India, LK Advani, had to willingly or unwillingly remark that 6th December, 1992 happened to be the saddest day of his life. Currently, the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Mosque dispute is being heard by the Supreme Court of India and whatever the court judgement might be, it shall certainly uphold the secular spirit of the Indian constitution. However, there are some people, especially some Muslim intellectuals based in Pakistan who periodically rake up this issue to score brownie points during debates and discussions. They rhetorically ask, “Who destroyed the Babri Masjid?” Do these people remember how many Hindu temples were destroyed in Pakistan and Bangladesh as retaliation for the destruction of the mosque in Ayodhya? These are the very people who frown at the demolition of the Babri Mosque but glorify the iconoclasm carried out by plunderers like Mahmud of Ghazni. There is a tendency among some Muslims to lionize anti-Hindu emperors like Ghazni who invaded and plundered India 17 times. It’s absolutely legitimate to assert that the demolition of the Babri Mosque was illegitimate but was demolition of scores of Hindu temples by Muslim rulers in the name of Islam legitimate?

While one might not agree with the exaggerated estimates of temple destruction as documented by Hindutva ideologues like Arun Shourie and Ram Swarap but there has been objective research carried out on the subject by historians like Richard M Eaton of the University of Arizona. His well researched book titled, “Temple Desecration and Indo-Muslim States in Medieval India” traces the history of temple destruction for political purposes by both Muslim and Hindu rulers. Babri Masjid’s demolition will remain a blot on India’s image but so will the destruction of countless Hindu temples by Muslim rulers prior to colonisation. The main question is why defend the indefensible. Was Mahmud of Ghazni acting like a pious Muslim while desecrating the Somnath temple? He was utilizing the loot money to finance plundering expedition against fellow Muslim kingdoms in the Iranian plateau. Was Aurangzeb being a good Muslim when he was using the jizya to economically oppress the Hindus? The Prophet himself said that on the day of judgement he shall stand in testimony against those who extract more tax from Non Muslims than what they can bear. This is the same Aurangzeb who murdered his brothers and imprisoned his father to grab the Mughal throne. Then how can he be a good Muslim? The Quran says that there is no compulsion in religion but Tipu Sultan ordered forced circumcision and conversion of Hindus. Should such a person be remembered as a Muslim hero? Unfortunately, in the history textbooks of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, these emperors are shown as exemplary Muslims who have left behind a historic Islamic legacy.

The imbroglio surrounding the Muslim-majority state of Kashmir also plays an active part in fuelling anti-Hindu rhetoric. Kashmir is the most heavily militarized zone in the world with over 600,000 Indian troops stationed in the state to maintain law and order. The human rights violations carried out by the Indian army has given further boost to the ambitions of the local populace to secede from the Union of India. As per the Indian Government, the conflict has left 47,000 people dead. Kashmiris hold the Indian army responsible for various forced disappearances and mass rapes which have occurred in the Valley. Kashmiri Muslims have taken to jihadist insurgency to gain their ‘Azaadi’ from India and have targeted civilians across India in their mad pursuit of independence. From Pakistan to Iran, several so-called Islamic countries have expressed their solidarity with the people of Kashmir but these people of Kashmir only seem to be the Kashmiri Muslims. Kashmiri Pandits were wiped out of the Valley during the ethnic cleansing which occurred when the insurgency began after the disputed election of 1987. The Government of India says that there are more than 58,000 Kashmiri Pandit families living in a state of exile in various parts of India. The mainstream discourse concerning Kashmir has so far ignored the plight of Kashmiri Pandits. Some Kashmiri Muslims have definitely spoken in favour of the Pandits returning to the Valley but the reasoning which they give for the exodus of Pandits from Kashmir is purely hypocritical. To pin the entire blame on Governor Jagmohan without saying a word about the threat posed to Pandits by Muslim terrorists is indicative of the Kashmiri Muslims sympathy as well as support for the jihadist insurgency. Many Muslims highlight the issue of Kashmir to show how brutally Hindus have ruled over Muslims in ‘secular India’ but will these people ever realize that the Kashmir dispute has been as painful for the Hindus as the Muslims.

Most of the Western scholars who have studied Hinduism have criticized it on the basis of the repressive caste system which forms a very integral part of Hindu society. The Islamic scholars have also rested bulk of their criticism of Hinduism on the caste system. However, the Islamic scholars have turned a blind eye towards the casteism which has developed among South Asian Muslims. The people who indulge in this sort of a denial also deny destruction of Hindu temples by Muslims zealots, forced conversion of Hindus and role played by Islamist terrorists in driving Kashmiri Pandits out of the valley of Kashmir. The fact of the matter is that the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent happen to have Hindu ancestry. But some Muslims are so busy in romanticizing themselves as Arab Muslims that they’ve continuously denied any such connection as if it would lower their stature within the Islamic Ummah. Some surnames which are common amongst Hindus and Muslims are clear evidence of the Hindu ancestry which Muslims possess. Muslims in this part of the world compete with Hindus in terms of being feudal and class bound. A Muslim who happens to be Shiekh or Syed would never marry someone who is an Ansari. This problem of casteism among Indian Muslims cannot be solved till they realize their roots which are primarily Hindu. Nobody is recommending Subramanian Swamy kind of radical solutions that Muslims should be stripped off their voting rights if they don’t accept their Hindu ancestry but they should realize that this problem exists because of their prior associations and while they might have converted to a different faith, they haven’t yet realized its essence as they carry on with such kind of discrimination based on socio-economic conditions and tribalism.

American journalist Fareed Zakaria has stated that despite all the cynicism which has engulfed the world, there is enough factual evidence to show that we are living in a world which is far more peaceful and prosperous than ever before. If the 21st century intends to prove Samuel P Huntington’s thesis wrong then it has to learn the art of disagreeing without being in disagreement. If any community or group is subjected to constant ridicule and humiliation over a long period of time then a day would come when they would revolt. It’s important for the law to defend people of all faiths and even those who have no faith. It’s extremely disappointing when bigots say that Hindus (India) are poor because they worship Satan-like Gods or that Hindus, again signifying India, would not have been living in a state of destitution had Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth existed. Making fun of the hair tail which Hindu monks have on their head is just as ridiculous as treating someone inferior because of his black skin. Some people would definitely try to discredit this piece by citing the religious affiliation of the author and by accusing him of trying to appease Hindus but this writer has also been one of the fiercest critics of rising Hindutva fascism and has in the past written several pieces condemning extremism carried out by saffron groups besides writing a piece on the shocking Islamophobic views of some revered Hindus like Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi.

Caste Cauldron – Ambedkarite Approach vs Gandhian Approach

The caste system which is situated at the very heart of Hinduism rebuts its tall claims of tolerance. Hinduism is generally known for its open and dynamic nature which has been heavily praised and has often been cited by public intellectuals including Fareed Zakaria for being responsible for the growth and survival of democracy in India. On one hand, we’ve had maverick religious reformers who have weeded out evils and superstitious from the Hindu faith thus making it appear more attractive, inclusive and tolerant but on the other hand, the continued existence of the rigid and repressive caste system has not only institutionalized intolerance within different sections of the Hindu community but has also jeopardized Hinduism’s claims towards being a tolerant faith. This is somewhat similar to Islam’s claims to universality which appear weakened and morbid when one sees the situation prevailing in its two holy cities, namely, Mecca and Medina where Non Muslims are not allowed to enter.

The phenomenon of castes and sects is not specific to the Hindu faith as we are all aware of the existence of Catholics and Protestants in Christianity and Sunnis and Shiites in Islam. Protestants emerged in opposition to the Catholics and were seen as religious fundamentalists who rejected the primacy of the Pope and pressed upon the infallibility of the Bible. The two sides were embroiled in a number of bitter battles including the Thirty Years War in the Holy Roman Empire and the French Wars of Religion. The split within Islam has existed since the massacre of Karbala. While Shiites emphasize on the divine right of the Household of the Prophet to rule over the Muslim community, Sunnis remain critical of the approach. But the reason why the Hindu caste system is more worrying than sectarianism within Christianity and Islam is because in Hinduism there is scriptural sanction for the caste system. Castes have been a talking point in a number of scriptures including the Rig Veda and Codes of Manu whereas the divisions in Christianity and Islam have not happened due to scriptural sanctions but because of difference in opinion regarding the interpretation of the scriptures.

The persecution of the untouchables and the slavery imposed on the Shudras has no parallel in human history. Their condition was for more abysmal than the Afro-Americans in the United Sates or the bonded labourers of the Roman Empire. They did not have the freedom to profess an occupation of their choice nor did they have the right to reside freely as they were pushed outside cities to stay into ghettoes where they resided for centuries. They also did not enjoy the freedom of worship as they were not allowed to enter temples. The Hindu society’s crusade against casteism has been an old one. Over the past decades, two fundamental approaches have risen while tackling the menace of casteism. The first approach is the Ambedkarite approach. Ambedkar chose to alienate the Dalits from the orthodox upper caste Hindus by portraying them as a minority within a majority and tried to take them away from the fold of Hinduism. The second approach is the Gandhian approach. Gandhi pitched for Dalit rights by rejecting scriptures and by trying to get rid of untouchability as a whole from Hinduism.

I personally feel that while battling casteism, the triumph has been that of the Gandhian approach. Dalits haven’t ceased to be a part of the Hindu community and attempts are being made to integrate them into the mainstream by rejecting strict adherence to the scriptures. The second big issue is that of affirmative action. Due to the iconoclastic views of Dr Ambedkar, he was often at loggerheads with Mr Gandhi. This opposition to Gandhi was strange because Gandhi enjoyed such a towering stature within the Congress that his moves were hardly met by voices of dissent. During the Second Round Table Conference in London, Ambedkar proposed the idea of having separate electorates for Dalits. Gandhi opposed the idea as he felt that this would lead to irreparable divisions within the Hindu community. Ambedkar’s plea for separate electorates was accepted by the British and Gandhi undertook a fast from a prison in Pune in opposition to the move. The standoff came to an end with the signing of the Poona Pact between Gandhi and Ambedkar where Ambedkar gave up the demand for separate electorates in place of reservation of some constituencies for Dalits.

Looking back I feel that Gandhi’s fears have been proven correct. Identity politics of caste has taken a very detrimental toll on the Hindu community and today, it stays far divided than it ever was. Ambedkar’s scheme of affirmative action has failed to solemnly resolve the problems faced by the Dalits. Even after having a cumulative reservation bank of 22.5% along with the Scheduled Tribes, only 11.1% of the SC’s and 4.6% of the ST’s are employed in Group A Services of the Central Government. Out of the 93 Secretaries of the Government of India, there is not even a single Dalit. By churning out these statistics I don’t intend to reignite the debate of doing away with reservations. I am for it but there needs to be a paradigm shift in the way it is being implemented in this nation because the benefits of reservations aren’t flowing down to the Dalits as in most of the cases, seats reserved for the depressed classes stay vacant. It is this error which has to be overcome.