The Hijab row in Karnataka seems to be stirring more political hornets than evaluating its religious sanctity or its social relevance in a secular state in the modern context.
A basic online search on ‘Hijab’ tells us that some believers of Quran Hadith and classical Arabic texts tell us that the term ‘hijab’ simply denotes a partition or a curtain, that is mostly attributed as a modesty headgear worn by women in Islam, although the exact origin of this practice is not clear and is not required by law even in staunch Islamic countries like Saudi and Palestine, a hear gear is generally worn by both men and women in the Saudi (mostly royals) perhaps owing to the extreme climatic conditions or as a symbol of status. Muslim dominant countries like France, Kosovo, Azerbaijan, Tunisia have all banned the burqa in public schools, universities and government buildings/offices, Syria and Egypt have banned the face veil (some partially, some entirely) in universities. While Turkey reintroduced the Hijab recently to reiterate its Islamic stand, many other nations are considering legislating a ban on hijab as it upsets uniformity and is seen as a self-inflicted discriminatory apartheid that seeks to be distinct and separate while openly flaunting a political Islamic statement.
In the Indian context, the outrage about this increasing religious fetish stems from the fears of the expansionist designs that this religious symbolism signals, as if to mark out the others – the infidels in some Islamic census. It is a matter of concern as it not only marks out the Hindu women as potential converts especially when there are increased number of LoveJihad cases that are coming to light in recent times, but it also acts as a marker to check and prevent intermingling of the Muslim women with the others, which essentially is a curtailment of freedom of the Muslim women that they fail to recognize.
Back in the 70s and 80s the Indian cinema was dominated by Muslim women artists who donned bold glamorous attires, the burqa was a rarity confined to the staunch practitioners and the hijab was unknown until recent times. Even today most rich and educated Muslims at college and at the office spaces abhor it as a regressive practice and steer clear of it. But what explains this Emblematic Minoritarianism that these Muslim students from poor and middleclass backgrounds are suddenly pitching so fervently to the extent of prioritizing religious symbolism over education by filing petitions in court, especially when numerous populist schemes are doled out for elevating the status of these very Muslim women by successive Governments. to uplift and mainstream them by showering various privileges to liberate them from the patriarchal grips of their religion. Despite an open armed and even back bending willingness by the state to be inclusive, this case of demanding a reversal of that social scaling in the name of religious choices seems to be less about fundamental rights and more about radical fundamentalism. This indeed is a matter of grave concern to reflect upon not only for the state policy makers who generously dole out privileges on them but also for the Hindu society at large to safeguard their girls from being preyed upon in the demographic games.
The twin design of Islamic fundamentalism and secular Hindu tolerant state makes an interesting case study if not for our political science students steeped in secularism, at least for some business school that can propose and construct some political theories upon it. Or we do not know if we have already a project in the making.
In this post I make a brief attempt at contextualizing one of the episodes from the freedom movements to understand and explain the contributions of religion in political makings and the role of Islam as a political instrument and its continuity in contemporary polity.
Sri.K.M.Munshi, who was deputed as India’s Agent General before the ‘Police Action’ to Hyderabad by the Indian state makes some interesting revelations in his book “The End of An Era” and takes us through the arduous journey of integrating Hyderabad with India by plucking it out from the rabid grip of Islamists. He brings out the many difficulties, hostilities, treacheries that they endured in the process. I have used several excerpts and references from his book in this post to compare the many aspects of those times, the traces of which seem to echo even today.
The Nizam’s rule in Hyderabad would have long been thrown out by the Marathas, had not the East India Company maintained them in their own interest. The Great Revolt in 1857 shook the British, hence the British crown kept the Nizam in power as a potential mercenary backup in the event of a country wide anti-British outburst. The Nizams were pampered and maintained by the British crown as a counterweight against militant nationalism. As a result, the Nizam of Hyderabad, who was under the control of the British resident was allowed to function as an irresponsible potentate and was given a freehand in brewing fascist communalism, alienating and exploiting Hindus by treating them as an inferior race and consolidated his power by converting Hindus en masse to Islam.
Although all state and military control was in the hands of the British, the Nizam of Hyderabad was hypnotized by the British into believing that he made all the difference and that he held a special position in India. But when the possibility of transfer of power from the British to the Indian hands loomed large, sections of political Muslim groups could not fathom the idea of being ruled by the Hindus. Demands such as separate electorates, a balance of Hindu-Muslim provinces in the federal government and a claim to equality of representation with the Hindus (50:50) disproportionate to their population, had already found expression among the Muslims of undivided India which the British fueled by giving active support through legal recognition.
During the negotiations prior to the ‘Police Action’ to get accession of Hyderabad, the Nizam, despite the administration and everything else being under the British control, failed to realize that he was a puppet being played in the hands of the British and continued to hold ambitious dreams of establishing an independent Islamist state. While Sardar’s team tried hard to gain accession peacefully. the British ran with the hares and hunted with the hounds. The attitude of rabid religiosity of the Muslim separatism blocked the progress towards freedom for several years.
The Nizam’s army was commanded by General El Edroos, who was initially close to the Ittehad (modern day AIMIM) and just when divide was furthered to its peak, he left without taking any sides.
In Nizam’s Hyderabad, 86% were Hindus and 12.5% Muslim, 1.5% Christian, rural population was 95% Hindu, but 95% of the state police and military forces were Muslim, 75% of state officials were Muslim, High offices were held only by Muslims, the Hindu officials were mostly in the lower ranks and were spied upon. The Hindus lived in constant fear and did not dare to point a finger at Muslim officials or the Nizam, as their status, security, everything depended on their rulers’ favors. Hindus were subject to harassment, threats, and violence, they were prevented from building or repairing any of their temples, temples was subject to desecrations, they could not take out processions or pray in Muslim areas. The Razakars ran a school of espionage and propaganda, some of the trainees, in the guise of Brahmin priests would instigate and lead local Hindus to inflict injury to a mosque, and then as retaliation the Razakars would kill and plunder the Hindu villages. Mass conversions were state sponsored. The Deendars engaged in rabid proselytizing, the head of this religious sect posed as the avatar of Channa Basaveshwar Qible, the founder of the Lingayat sect to woe the lingayats into Izlam, some Sidique lieutenants declared themselves as Hindu divinities – Vyaasa, Sri Krishna, Narasimha and Veerabhadra. So, they tried both the wild and the mild ways. And then there were modern day poetic eulogists like Smt Sarojini Naidu, steeped in the traditions of the Muzlem aristocracy in Hyderabad, heaped praises and eulogist odes upon the Nizam.
But back then it was a one-way route there was no question of taking sides or award wapsi. Those that demanded 50:50 representation never implemented the same spirit in their predominant Islamic states. The puppetry formula of the British through the Nizam, by fostering Ittehadi dreams for state dominance through the tool of Islam, was in line with the thoughts of the Muslim League, both of which aimed at rendering the Hindus as underdogs. It was the same formula that Gandhiji advocated the Hindus to adopt by laying down to be ravaged upon, it was the same formula that ManMohanSingh echoed when he said that minorities had the first right on India’s resources, and it is more or less the same formula that is constitutionally legislated through various minority schemes, rights, grants, personal law liberties and such other privileges, to counteract and check any formidable nationalistic consolidation.
“The Hyderabad that the Nizam inherited had at that time 70,00,000 who spoke Telugu, 40,00,000 spoke Marati, 20,00,000 spoke Kannada and only the ruling class spoke Urdu till a policy of Urduizing the state was undertaken by the Nizam, with the hope of establishing an independent Islamic state”
For his good abetments and obedient subservience, the masters were pleased.
The Nizam received a privy purse of 5million rupees a year and sundry allowances from the state as well as an annual income of 25million more from sarf-i-khas a large chunk of state money which he treated as his own private property.
This was the extent to which the Nizam was pampered by the British to inflict culture clash in the largely Hindu dominant region, because Hyderabad was geographically an important bifurcating point between the North and South for the British. After 1857 Great Revolt (the English call it Mutiny) the British feared that the Southern states and provinces may rise up to join hands with their North Indian counterparts in the event of a call for national unity, hence an adverse despotic rule that would subdue the majority was deemed necessary by the British. The British, although they allowed a long string for their puppet – his highness, they had complete control over individuals and institutions, this is the reason for the smooth demographic transition from Islamification to Christianization in Hyderabad region (Andra) after its accession.
If Lord Mountbatten was appointed to appease the Indians, Sir Walter Monekton busied himself supporting the Pakistan proponents.
Sir Walter Monekton, always insisted upon Lord Mountbatten that no pressure must be exerted on the Nizam to give up his sovereignty. And Lord Mountbatten himself repeatedly pledged himself not to be party to the Nizam’s accession to India by means other than gentle persuasion.
It was amidst this kind of hostility from within and without, that Sardar Patel and his men went on to accomplish an incomprehensible feat of integration.
“On the night of August 14th at a farewell banquet given to the last of the British Residents, the Nizam said:
It is still my desire and the desire of Hyderabad to remain within the Family of the Nations of the British Commonwealth…. After all these years of friendship, I am confident that the ties which bind Hyderabad to Great Britain will not be severed.
In his reply, Mr.Herbert, the out-going British Resident said
I join with Your Exalted Highness in the hope that a new relationship between Hyderabad and Britain may soon be created and prove as enduring as that which is passing away.
The Resident did not rest content with words, most of the Residency files were destroyed and three military barracks – two in Secunderabad and one in Aurangabad were handed over to the Nizam’s Government. The Hyderabad Residency and considerable military equipment belonging to the Government of India were handed over to the Nizam’s Government either for inadequate price or for none. The Hakimpet’s Aerodrome was similarly given up”, much like how the American troops and NATO forces left Afghanistan recently with tens of millions of dollars’ worth of aircraft and armored vehicles and sophisticated defense systems in the hands of the American mercenaries – the Taliban.
While the business of raising mercenary armies and inflicting guerilla warfare continues to be a thriving colonial tool even in modern times for carrying out political and economic expeditions, we continue to hear about the military coup of west African countries like Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea today and the reason cited is “Islamist radical uprisings” with no questions asked from any sides. This is not to vindicate or victimize the radical Islamic ideologies as getting played up by the wily west, nor about negating the religious rabidity, but to understand how both factors seem to be thriving through collaborative interdependencies – that there is a despotic radical political ideology masquerading as religion and that it is willing to get weaponized as a political tool in the hands of the wily west. This is why there is an apprehension about hijab as it seeks to compartmentalize societies by raising ideological curtains amongst people by furthering conflicting distinctiveness and by refusing to collaborate with the secular state. Hence it is for the Indian Muslims to reflect on how and why Islam came to be instituted in India at knife point. It is for them to ponder why countries are forced to take in compulsory refuges, and how refugees incidentally are always Islamic, as if in some kind of war indemnity that countries are obligated to fulfil. Today the native Mullahs with local and international support are doubling up for the Nizams, the Ittehadis, the Muslim Leagues, or for that matter any other modern day western mercenary armies with fancy names like Al Qaeda, ISIS or the Taliban or their local Indian versions like the CFI, PFI etc.
The ancient Assyrians it seems were ruthless political and military warlords and strategists who after conquering lands, particularly made sure to displace its natives and infused people of adverse cultures in the conquered lands to cause culture changes. Populations were periodically forced into migration so that the natives lost touch with their culture or were forced to integrate and adopt whatever was imposed upon them as their own, and the new converts carried it forward even more rabidly. This political ploy was adopted by several semitic rulers in consequent periods. And it always started as minority culture, that received state protection and eventually went on to exterminate civilizations.
20 years back Hijab was unknown and fewer women donned the Burqa among the college going. Muslim women roamed around freely in the most fashionable modern outfits. But the obligation of imported faiths has always kept their loyalties fixated with a Qibla compass in the heads that looks to the MiddleEast for all their inspiration. . A little pondering as to why that Emir of Dubai of an Islamic state received divorce settlement orders from a UK court, or why an Islamic Pakistan is kowtowing to the communist duo when it knows fully well that there is no place for a Church or a Mosque when it comes to securing their national interests, would perhaps reveal the wick of the radical flame. The Talibanic protocols that the young women so enthusiastically want to guard in the name of religious compulsions or choice, although no liberal feminists or women activists have dared to call out this as a regressive practice, the insistence on donning it remains less of a personal religious choice and more of political enforcement. Yes, it is true that people should be allowed religious choices and there are various arguments one can make for and against it for the sake of it all, but one cannot argue on unequal grounds, and it is important to call out the expansionist political motives behind this religious façade.
The root cause of the outrage or fetish for overt outward symbolism has political inlays and it is not secret, whether it is Hijab mongering, street praying or Rahul Gandhi’s recent concoction of Union of Nation remark, or Mahua Moitra’s rancid insinuations, or a multinational brand’s solidarity with Pakis, the commonality in the pattern of the attack are all aligned with the idea of freely cascading the idea of two or more Indias or many mini Indias within the Indian state, only that the echo chambers for the splintering separatist demands are different. And this new portrayal of many Indias is antithetical with the idea of unity in diversity as it is aimed at brewing a separateness that refuses and repulses to integrate with the established social order.
On a closer look it also reeks of the Marxist ideology of disintegrating and overthrowing established social order by brewing class struggles and civil wars which it calls as revolutionary progress. These constructs worked well for the medieval European society to break free from the shackles of monarchical absolutism and abuses and exploitation by the Church but what is it doing in an overtly democratic modern India? Indiscreet superimposition of these European constructs have already had its disintegrative share in phase one by attributing the caste system, now this phase two looks to be more catastrophic if the authorities did not pay attention.
It is also possible that some of these echoes may also be aimed at mischievously dragging a neutral India into the war scenario and to make it take sides, but remember, when war strikes it is this very religious fanaticism that will be leveraged to render you as a foot pawn of an imperialist power, that will employ you to be wasted in insurgencies and terrorist activities in the name of Jihadist crusades. Because hiring unofficial insurgent sidekicks is a cost-effective foreign policy to save some white soldiers the unworthy effort of losing lives. This is the reason you see many Indian Muslims joining the ISIS only to be stifled out of their lives in the promise of a notional heaven, that is somewhat similar to a typical medieval era like Church practice of ‘sale of indulgence’ where the papal dispensation of souls after death could be secured by paying a cash sum to the church and those that didn’t pay were threatened to be denied entry into heaven! Today your ideological kith and kin are always pitched and penetrated as refugees into one or the other nation, to clash with and clear the local cultures and wipe out civilizations, to disintegrate and create more nations. And yes, more nations mean more lines of borders to guard, more rat race to emerge strong and supreme, more military weapons to procure, and more business at the end of the day. Many African converts today who do not see through these supremacist imperial designs for political and economic hegemony have ended up as hand tools who are reduced into drug peddlers or insurgent rebels or coup agents or forced labor. Perhaps a little reading and reflection about your roots by casting aside that religio-political baggage for a while may really be insightful and educational. Until then the state may revisit the minority dole outs and reconsider if they are indeed necessary as no amount of pandering through social populism seems promising to make an equal case hence some pondering on nationalizing all minority institutions of religious and educational holdings to rectify and redeem them to establish common order, equality and integrity, may fix the more equal social orders.
End Of An Era(Hyderabad Memoirs) – K.M.Munshi
A Short History of The World –H.G.Wells