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Another hard line

Cultural traditions of the subcontinent, especially Muslims, seem to be under attack from all sides

Another hard line

The massive victory of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) in the recent elections and their formation of the government in Delhi have led to serious questions being raised about the cultural bedrock that India has always prided itself on. It is even more poignant given the share of the Muslim population in India and its much greater contribution to the cultural development of the subcontinent.

This may have been has been dwarfed by the fact that the Indian subcontinent is now divided into three political entities — India, Pakistan and Bangladesh but  the total population of the Muslims comes to nearly 60 million which is almost 40 per cent of the entire population of subcontinental India.

This point is being raised because the elite of India have always prided themselves on the inclusive nature of their society, its syncretic culture and the acknowledgement of diversity within society. This pluralism had resulted in the political expression of federalism and democracy — the two pillars that have been upholding the entire structure of the state and society.

But BJP and its political and cultural agenda emanating from Hindutva is in direct conflict with the vision and the constitutional assumption of the founding fathers of independent India.

It was feared early on that the real casualty of partition would be the Muslims of India. It all started with the initial aftermath of the partition of the subcontinent in the nation building narrative of the two states. While Pakistan looked towards the future purposefully being selective about the past, the Indian intellectual elite always painted that the leadership that wanted a separate homeland for a separate nation was parochial, myopic, separatist and exclusive.

Now all these assumptions are being undermined by the victory of the BJP which calls for the Indian subcontinent to be primarily for the Hindus. The status of the rest, left undetermined, rests on the implication that second rate citizens cannot be granted equal status. With the shrinking of the cultural space those worst fears are being realised now about the Indian Muslims.

What is to happen to the Indo Muslim culture and tehzeeb, who is going to be the custodian to that culture now that there is a BJP government in India put in place due to an electoral process?

Ideally Pakistan should have been the custodian of that culture as its foundation called for that, but due to a number of reasons, the general trend has been to disown a part of that culture and to align itself with the interpretation or cultural practices of Arabia or to be precise, the Arabian Peninsula.

What the BJP will start now is what we had embarked on much earlier.

So it could be that we are on the verge of losing a rich heritage of culture. The Indo-Muslim civilization is under threat from the hardliners in Pakistan as well as those extremists in India. In Pakistan many believe that everything local and related to this land should be eliminated and replaced by values, festivals and rituals that have originated in Arabia. In India now they are hell bent on removing or erasing the 100 year history of cultural interaction and fusion that gave rise to what we know as Indian culture in the most general terms.

It is a battle of the puritans on both sides, a race as to who eliminates the extraneous influence sooner than later and cleanses society of the so called “impurities”. It is a war against inclusiveness, plurality and diversity.

Will the current government of BJP in the centre and some of the states be different from the ones that have ruled the centre and the provinces previously? The many years have been characterised by the purging the syllabi of everything that was of foreign origin, the consequence of the meeting of cultures and the questioning of various policies that may have given the impression of being titled towards one religious group than the other.

The  cloud of suspicion that has hung over the role of the BJP and the incumbent prime minister while ruling Gujarat has not blown away despite many a strong wind and the tar has not been wiped clean despite all the lauded processes that have been put in place. The prevalent state of suspicion and fear that the Uttar Pradesh has experienced is a replay of the foreboding that had swept Gujarat before the onset of the massacre. In other words, the government since its election victory and assumption of power has done little to allay the suspicions and fears of the minorities, especially of the Muslims.

And it has led to the toughening of the attitude in Pakistan. The lobby which has been more vociferous and strident and calls for purges in customs and rituals have been strengthened as they view the about turn taking place in India. Didn’t we tell you so; they say and call it the reaffirmation of the need to have a separate homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent. And it has re-intensified the call for return to the origins of a religion based culture derived from a rarefied construct of its 1400 year history.

This points to the weakness of the Indian democratic system where the minorities stay in the state of permanent minority while the majority is determined not by policies and its directions but conditioned by the advantages derives from being the biggest group. The determining factors become religion, family, caste and clan rather than the individual and so is a defiance of the assumption of a democratic order as conceived in its most pristine form.

Sarwat Ali

The author is a culture critic based in Lahore

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