Understanding India: The Question Of Muslim Identity

Understanding India: The Question Of Muslim Identity
Two decades ago, Shohini, asked me, ‘we (Indians and Pakistanis) are born of the same womb, why have your faces started to resemble the middle eastern people more?’

Shohini Mukherjee was from New Delhi, and doing a degree in biochemistry from the University of Glasgow, Scotland. What made her ask me this?

She must have been thinking about it. People around her – back in India – must have been talking about it. A few years later, while browsing through some Indian newspapers available online, I harked upon an article in The Hindu. The crux of the piece was what Shohini had asked me all those years ago - why have the Pakistanis abandoned their Indian identity and leaned closer to the Middle East – claiming an Arab-Persian identity instead. A sense of pain and anguish in the article was too obvious to hide.

Indian wounds are perhaps deeper than their claims of Pakistan’s involvement in cross border terrorism, or waging four wars against India, claiming Kashmir, or even falling asunder from them in 1947. To add insult to injury, the Partition proved to be a bloody one – leaving deep scars – that however could be healed with time. But it didn’t happen. There was something more to it, brewing deeply, but not so visibly, which perhaps had to wait for decades to surface – the notion of Pakistan discarding its Indian identity. It had so far remained a topic of discussion among historians and political science scholars, until we heard it loud and clear in response to two videos, titled Understanding India, where our aim was to explore the various dimensions of Modi’s India. A simple quest to know today’s India. Nothing more.

In response to our talk with notable political scientist and author of Jinnah: His Successes, Failure and Role in History, Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed – published on YouTube – the general response from the Indian audience centered on one point: all Muslims from India and Pakistan are converts from Hindus; and that they have disowned their origin – the Hindutva – the Hinduness.

One may like to say that these are uneducated retorts by common Indians, but that makes it more dangerous. Implying that Indians have been so deeply indoctrinated with a concocted history and xenophobia about Pakistan that has infused a dangerous nationalism in them. This is more problematic than Kashmir, or the blame game of terrorism, or other things that have soured relations between the two adjoining nations.

Even if these core issues have been addressed, the perturbing question of Muslim identity remains unsolved – and what will solve it? Or, what can solve it? The demand appears to be very clear: discard your Muslim identity and adopt Hindu outlook and culture.

Talking to Karan Thapar on his show The Wire – published on YouTube on 23rd April 2023, the executive deputy director of Hindus for Human Rights, a USA based organization, Nikhil Mandalaparthy, narrated the details of his yatra through 9 Indian states. The purpose of this pan-Indian tour was to probe and explore Islamophobia in India. The story Mandalaparthy tells paints a bleak picture of Hindu-Muslim relations in his country that boasts of being the largest democracy in the world with a secular constitution. Many liberal scholars in Pakistan, including Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed, believe that the current Islamophobia in India is a response to religious extremism and hatred towards Hindus in Pakistan. According to Mandalaparthy, Muslims who shave their beards, wear western dresses and speak Hindi and not Urdu, are considered more acceptable in the Indian society. We are talking about today’s India. The problem is probably more complicated than the Muslim faith. It’s a question of assimilation, discarding individual, personal identity as a Muslim, disowning Urdu language, disregarding Muslim history of India or anything that has anything to do with the Muslim rule in India, including the architecture.

Last year in May, the BJP demanded the renaming of Jinnah tower in the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh, India. The list is long. Mughal architecture, Mughal history, or anything associated with the Mughals is unacceptable – the Mughals were the usurpers, they looted India, they polluted India and converted Hindus by force. So, that’s the kind of sentiments we have in today’s India – Kashmir, terrorism, warmongering are ostensibly the offshoots of this basic problem.

One can argue that the Two Nation Theory that created Pakistan is the basic cause for these sentiments. But at the same time, one can also argue that these sentiments were always there before Partition took place and Jinnah and other Muslims leaders could sense it.

Therefore, the Two Nation Theory came into being as a response to these already existing sentiments, which have been nurtured for long hidden under the rug of political correctness. All that Modi had to do was to remove the rug and there they were, in all their ugly glory. In that case, when Pakistan endeavors to engage with India on core issues like Kashmir, terrorism, trade and peace, it is just beating about the bush. The wounds are perhaps not caused by the partition of mother India, it’s a long painful history of Muslim rule in their country.

Sane, serious-minded people from both sides should sit down and think. Feeling angry doesn’t serve anyone well.

The author holds a PhD from the University of Glasgow, UK. He hosts a political talk show on TV and appears as a political commentator in TV shows.