India’s 75th Independence Day and Religious Intolerance

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By Arshad Azmi

We all are celebrating “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav.” Well, it is a wonderful initiative to celebrate and remember India’s 75 years of independence as well as the glorious past of its people, culture, and triumphs. Since its conception, several initiatives have been launched to recognise the significance of shared identity and culture. However, the initiative would have been more successful if it had focused on the prevention of rising religious fundamentalism, fanaticism, orthodoxy, and intolerance which is bent on hollowing out the diversity of our peaceful, democratic, and tolerant society, instead of making citizens comply with the norms of displaying flags in or outside of residences. It is apt to remember Karl R. Popper who writes, “Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.”

If there is anything that should initiated immediately, it is the preservation of the glorious culture from the rising intolerance that has engulfed entire Indian civil society in its deadly blaze. The premeditated plot of the British, along with religious intolerance, had already led to India’s bifurcation. If tolerance is not be defended with force, intolerance will certainly take an ugly turn. During partition we already witnessed a million deaths. The professor of history at AMU, Muhammad Sajjad, claims that “Partition resulted from competitive communalism, aided, abetted and aggravated by the colonial state and its stooges in the communal organisations, the Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha-RSS.” Therefore, assigning a greater blame to any of the parties would be pointless. If Hindu fundamentalists burned down Bihar, Gujranwala was burnt down by Muslim fundamentalists. Given the current climate of hostility, one might conclude that the partition shock was less apostrophic than the current wind of hatred and intolerance.

In his article that was ultimately published under the title “Hind Pak Diary,” Maulana Wahiduddin Khan (a renowned secular writer and a spiritual Guru) makes a legitimate argument that “socialising the government under Nehru would have been more successful if he had focused on strengthening social ties rather than imitating the western phenomenon of govt.” He goes on to claim that “Maulana Abul Kalam Azad may have served the community to some extent if he had sought to focus on the issues of Muslims.” Despite having a profound effect on the populace, Maulana Azad and Jawaharlal Nehru were unable to become advocates for cultural integration. There is little indication in the accounts of history whether either of them tried to reduce ubiquitous prejudice in their own communities while both were aware of religious extremism.

Historically speaking, we have a long shared cultural tolerance. In his book, Mughal Darbar, the renowned Pakistani historian Dr. Mubarak Ali writes, “In the court of Akbar there used to be gatherings of individuals coming from different ethnic groups to celebrate Eid, Holy, and other significant festivals of the times.” The phrase “Divide and Rule” was an exclusively British invention that they used for their own benefit. Though we maintained our legacy of tolerance very well until the Gowalkar era began, when the concept of “Hindutva” developed as a deadly weapon to undermine the long-cherished tradition of tolerance, brotherhood, and peace. Subsequently, we witnessed the rise Muslim fundamentalism which further destroyed the Indian society. Perceiving the rising hate Mahatma Gandhi described “a social tension between Hindus and Muslims as “the problem of problems.”” However, because the hatred was intensely politicised, no one dared to pacify it. Mahatma Gandhi made an effort in this regard, but what followed is clearly visible.

At this crucial juncture of civilizational and religious difference where unimaginable intolerance is present everywhere around us, it is impossible to even call for the infringement of fundamental rights due to the winds of intense hatred, animosity, and intolerance. Shaheen Bagh is a living example of such a trend – how a nonviolent protest was mounted as a challenge to India’s descent into the majoritarian notion of hate and exclusivity. Furthermore, it should be noted that hatred is not only focused on a particular ethnic group but also on the same group when its beliefs conflict with those of the hardcore orthodox. India’s ongoing Hindu-Muslim cultural strife endangers not just the nation’s prosperity but also its peace and civic relations. If truth be told, we are still a developing country with the lowest per capita income and the least index happiness score. Initiatives like “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav” could now play a bigger role in bringing back common cultural values in Indian society and helping people remember their shared cultural heritage and legacy of tolerance. The profound core of the initiative would be better utilised by organising an inter-civilizational dialogue, which will ultimately encourage Indians in understanding the significance of the desired goal of the initiative in the long run.

Since partition, “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav” is the first large-scale initiative to honor our culture’s extraordinary legacy. Henceforth, conferences like the World Religious Parliament, which had taken place in 1893 in Chicago, should be reorganized at the national level. Under the aegis of the cultural conference, harmony and traditional negotiations should be initiated by inviting scholars of different religious groups, and importantly, those having a scientific temperament and secular mindset. In order to highlight the importance of peace, coexistence, compassion, and equality, Prime Minister Modi had taken a subtle step in this regard in 2016, which then had a profoundly favourable impact on the people. Furthermore, secular literature, particularly those of writers who have demonstrated the Indian cultural ethos in a secular way and shed light on Hindu-Muslim relations, should be taught in schools, colleges, and universities. It is extremely important to recognize the value of teaching the next generation about culture, history, tolerance, and brotherhood so that they can be compassionate in the future and continue upon that inheritance. In conclusion, the goal of “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav” can only be achieved if efforts are made to let people recognise their historical and cultural ties with one another.

Arshad Azmi studies at the Department of English, Aligarh Muslim University, India.


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