India Seeks Harmony Amid Diversity
IT is ironic that the worst Hindu-Muslim violence in recent times should have taken place in Ayodhya, literally meaning the land of no fight. Even more ironic is that proponents of Hinduism, a religio-social way of living that preaches nonviolence, have become demagogues. In a stroke, one of the world's oldest cultural systems seemed to lose its poise and dignity as fanaticism surfaced in its practitioners.Skip to next paragraph
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On Dec. 6, 1992, a frenzied crowd of more than 200,000 Hindus stormed the territory of a disputed mosque in Ayodhya, northern India and leveled the 16th century structure. In the aftermath of the crime, more than 1,800 people, mostly Muslims, have died. To understand the recent events in India, one must revisit the foundations of the Muslim and Hindu conflict in the context of present-day India. India today
Picture a multi-storied apartment house in which a different family has lived in each apartment for generations. Each has a different cultural orientation, speaks a different language, and eats different food. A visit to any one apartment reveals a different form of art, entertainment, and music. To this add different religions and, at times, their conflicting practices. The ultimate masala (mixture) obtained is a potpourri of cultures called India.
The nation suffers from serious social and economic malaise. There is hunger, poverty, bureaucracy, and corruption. While slowly moving toward extinction, the rigid caste and dowry systems prevail. The pressure of a population still growing at about 2 percent a year has pushed millions of Indians into wretched living conditions. Even within this intractable framework, the Indian economy, often compared to a lethargic elephant, has lurched ahead. The success of the Green Revolution seemed to herald a new era in agriculture. India's space program and peaceful nuclear program, place it among the top industrial countries. Only 18 months ago, Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao began a drive to unshackle the economy. Despite having to live on a per capita income of less than $400 a year, Indians have maintained a functioning secular democracy.
The goal of remaining secular has often been hampered by the diversity of languages, people, and religions. For example, there are more than 15 major languages, nearly 24 other languages, each spoken by a million people or more representing different broad ethnic groups. The roots of the conflict
Historically, relations between the Hindus and Muslims have not always been placid. But despite the difference between the two religions and their practices, they have lived for decades in relative harmony. During the struggle for independence, Muslims and Hindus worked shoulder to shoulder for an India free from colonial domination. The discontent between Hindus and Muslims can probably be traced to a few legal actions by the colonial masters in the early part of this century.
In an attempt to officially recognize the large Muslim population in India, the English government passed bills that designated Muslims as a voting block separate from the Hindus and other Indians. The law mandated that Muslims could vote only for their Muslim leaders. By accident or design, the separatist sentiment of being a "Hindu" or a "Muslim" was reinforced every time Indians went to the polls.
As the image of majority rule by Hindus in free India loomed, greater efforts were made by Muslims to build the Muslim League, led by Jinnah, into a strong national party. The Indian National Congress remained a secular party of Hindus and Muslims. The League, however, had one major difference in that it was a party of Muslims only and had one agenda - the creation of a separate Muslim state to safeguard the interest of its members.
The transition to an independent state was anything but easy. The national betrayal and trauma associated with the cruel dissection of India engendered widespread animosity. More than half a million Indians were slaughtered and more than six million people were displaced on either side of the new border. The creation of Muslim Pakistan in 1947 did not solve the problem of communal strife.