Following a renowned Bollywood actor’s public remark regarding growing intolerance in India, Kuldip Nayar casts an eye over the history of division in the subcontinent, and its ongoing effects.
I was present at the recent function where Aamir Khan, one of India’s leading actors and a Muslim, said that his wife had suggested they should move to some other country to bring up their child, due to rising intolerance in India. There was no rancour in his tone when he said this, only a hint of sadness. Still, his remark shook me. Indeed, it shook the entire nation.
Never before had I realised things had come to such a pass that even a person like Aamir Khan would consider leaving India, a country where he had built such success. Less fortunate people from the minority communities must be terror-stricken.
The return of awards by some 500 artists and intellectuals in India is understandable. It is their way of expressing their opinions, and their pain. Even those who have not gone to that extent share the feeling of helplessness.
Aamir Khan’s remarks should make the communalists sit up and reflect on what has driven India’s minorities to the wall. Even the most talented and sophisticated, like Aamir Khan, feel unsafe.
Instead of taking Khan’s comments seriously, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has pounced on him and abused him, telling him that India has made him and calling him ungrateful. Yet Aamir Khan has made himself through hard work and talent. India has simply appreciated him.
I concede that nothing new has happened in India to deserve such a remark from Khan. But this is how he feels, and I respect his feelings. We should all take a moment to think about why a person like Aamir Khan, who is loved and admired throughout the country, should make this kind of remark. He is a sensitive man who must have known the effect it would have. His secular credentials are beyond reproach, and his whole life is an open book. But he must have felt that the intolerant mood deepening in the country makes even a person like him vulnerable.
Unfortunately, the debate on Khan’s remark has not been healthy. Instead of making people sit up and seek possible reasons for it, there has been a furore over how he dared to make such an observation, and so publicly. Once again the perennial question of Hindu-Muslim relations has come to the fore. The tendency to sweep everything under the carpet does not help. It has been done in the past, to no avail.
India must discuss this question in its entirety. Minorities should be able to consider themselves safe. If they do not, it is what they say that counts in this case, not the majority view.
Unfortunately, the point of reference for India still remains division. Partition was and is a reality. It was accepted by Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel, who led the Independence movement. True, both were reluctant to accept Partition. But when they felt that there was no other option to end British rule, they agreed to the vivisection of India.
Mahatma Gandhi walked out of Governor General Mountbatten’s room when he broached the subject of partition. Gandhi wanted nothing to do with it. But when the then British prime minister Clement Attlee said that they would quit, with or without any settlement between the Congress and the Muslim League, Nehru and Patel faced the facts and agreed to partition, albeit with pain and sorrow.
The line drawn on the basis of religion has been a disaster, because it has left two communities, Hindus and Muslims, at loggerheads. But this was apparently the price people had to pay to make the British leave India.
Sadly, the fallout from partition has been so damaging. The disconcerting part is that the two resultant states, India and Pakistan, became sworn enemies instead of being friends. Politicians on both sides are to blame because they, particularly the ones in Pakistan, have for years continued the same discourse of division and difference.
The Congress, leading the Independence movement, should have explained to the people of India why there was no alternative to partition after Muslims were generally guided by the two-nation theory. Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan, argued that Hindus and Muslims were two different nations. He made religion the basis of nationality. It has had injurious consequences but he was able to marshal the support of Muslims at that time.
The transfer of power was peaceful only in name. Despite their leaders’ assurances of peace and amity, people on both sides left their homes to seek shelter in a country comprising those from their own community. There followed an unprecedented bloodbath. Some ten million people from both communities were killed, and many times more driven from their homes.
Even today the wounds have not healed. On the contrary, the two countries have fought three inconclusive wars. And there is no prospect of durable peace. Muslims have lost importance in India, although they make up more than 15 crore of the population, while Hindus comprise less than two per cent of Pakistan’s populace.
After independence, Pakistan declared it would be an Islamic state and adopted a constitution accordingly. India chose to be a secular state. Despite forming 80 per cent of the population, the Hindus preferred to be ruled by a constitution which has put secularism in its preamble. There is equality before the law and no Indian is inferior to another on the basis of religion.
However, in practice, Muslims count for very little in affairs of the state. The fact that there is a joint electorate, unlike before Partition, helps the Muslim community. But that is only up until polling day. Once the elections are over, other factors take over and Muslims are ignored. The hiatus between Hindus and Muslims reappears as it was before the polls. This is the situation India still faces, and we would do well to listen to those who encourage debate about it.