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Adopted from British policy of divide and rule: Hindus versus Muslims

Syed Osman Sher* 
The slogan of “Hindus versus Muslims” is resounding these days so forcefully that the democratic and syncretic fabric of Indian society seems, once again, to be put to tatters by hatred. And this voice is coming loud from no less a person than the head of the Indian Government himself who is at the helm of affairs for the last ten years. 
We all know that this lethal device was earlier adopted by the British rulers with a purpose: “Divide and Rule” that ultimately tore the country in two and created a mayhem of unprecedented magnitude. Thus, one may be intrigued to find whether this attitude was instilled by the British or it was coming from earlier times.
From ancient times, India has been hosting to hordes of aliens such as the Aryans, Greeks, Scythians, Parthians, Kushans, Huns, Arabs, Turks, Afghans, Portuguese, Dutch, French and British. Excepting the Europeans, they entered here not as ordinary migrants but as conquerors. But they could not be taken as a source of irritation for a long period of time. After living together for some time, they had to be treated as their own. 
Fortunately, the earlier immigrants had not brought with them strong schools of theology and religious beliefs. Therefore, as religious entities they could not withstand the seductions and overwhelming embrace of the Vedic religion and were ultimately absorbed in it. But the episode of the Muslims was different. Since Islam was a strongly established religion a compromise on this plane was not possible. But as for social assimilation, it did, in fact, take place. 
It was not merely in superficial ways of eating and dressing, but in more fundamental fields of values and culture. Thus, the Muslims, though not conquered in India from the angle of religion, were subdued to a very large extent on social and cultural fronts. They adopted many Hindu customs and even values and gave in return their own. 
This amalgam of the two cultures gave birth to the Indian race and Indian civilization which was different from the neighboring countries like Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, China, Myanmar or Thailand. Undoubtedly, the two communities were following different religious but over the centuries they have coexisted as one people.
The Muslims, who were settled at Malabar coast as traders from the time of the advent of Islam in the early 7th century as also in Sind with the conquest of Muhammad bin Qasim in 712 A.D., had begun acclimatizing with Indian society and culture, and they were being Indianized in turn. The process of integration was somehow facilitated by the policies of the Mughal rule, whose quick and universal acceptance promoted a new culture. 
The molding of the Indian culture was probably the finest achievement of the Mughals. It made a long-lasting impact, so much so that even today it is referred to as the ‘Mughlai’ culture, which reflected itself in the language, literature, art, architecture, dress and manners. The process of integration was somehow facilitated by the policies of the kings. 
Mughals considered themselves Islamic ruler. But their ruling ethos was non-communal and led to the emergence of a cross-communal service class
The Mughal monarchs ‘regarded the ruled as a flock or herd to be tended and exploited rather than converted or persecuted.’ They became universal symbols of power and remained a stable unifying force for many centuries until the British stepped into India.
Writing about the Mughal rule Sardar Panikkar says: 
“The Mughals considered themselves Islamic rulers… But their ruling ethos was non-communal and led to the emergence of a cross-communal service class. This was a development actively encouraged. Akbar’s successors continued this tradition of drawing upon differentiated symbols of legitimacy to serve as Hindu Maharajah and Padishah-i-Islam simultaneously. Cleavages rested on class rather than religious lines; prevailing standards were aristocratic rather than communal. Among those who participated in the court culture, communalism was regarded as bad manners." 
BNPande explains it further: 
“Destiny had ordained that the Mughals would play this unifying role. So strong was this tradition among the Mughals that even Aurangzeb could play the bigot only half-heartedly, and with considerable restraint.”
Scanning the history of this period we do not find the communal fabric of Indian society in two colors. We also do not find instances of Hindu-Muslim communal riots as only they had started taking place during the British rule. The Britisher had adopted the policy of dividing the Indian people as Hindus and Muslims not only from the time they established their rule after the War of Independence of 1857 but from the earlier times when they had appointed their first Governor General in 1772. 
It is confirmed by the admission by as important a person as the British Secretary of State, Sir Charles Wood himself who, in a letter of March 3, 1862, to Viceroy Lord Elgin, instructed: ‘We have maintained our power by playing off one part against the other, and we must continue to do so…Do what you can, therefore, to prevent all having a common feeling.’ 
And, again on 10 May, Wood wrote: ‘We cannot afford in India to neglect any means of strengthening our position. Depend upon it, the natural antagonism of races is no inconsiderable element of our strength. If all India was to unite against us, how long could we maintain ourselves?” (All the above quotations come from "Nehru: The Making of India", Chapter 2, by MJ Akbar).
Alas! The wrong of the past had almost settled down but it has been made to raise its head once again, and this time by our own people disregarding the harm it would do.
---
*Source: JanVikalp Google group

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