Communal Violence and Minority-Majority Relations
By Asghar Ali Engineer
Milli Gazette Online
4 December 2005
Often I face a question in various workshops and seminars on communalism as to why majority is often blamed for violence and not minorities. Those who ask this question often ask with genuine feelings and not necessarily as a result of communal bias. It will also be wrong to maintain that minorities are blameless and do nothing that is questionable.
First of all it is necessary to emphasise that one should not homogenise whole community, be it majority or minority. Neither all are communal in any community nor all are secular and peace loving. Also, there is no single political trend in any religious community. Here it would be interesting to give the example of partition in 1947. It would be wrong to maintain that all Muslims supported partition and all Hindus opposed it. Large number of Muslims including ulama (theologians) opposed partition. Similarly, it is equally wrong to maintain that all Hindus opposed partition. Many Hindus were of the view that partition was the only solution. Not only that Hindu Mahasabha believed in Hindu Rashtra and thus strengthened two-nation theory propounded by Jinnah but also leaders like Lala Lajpat Rai supported partition of the Punjab in 1924 itself.
In post partition period also in every community there are divergent political trends. It is wrong to assume, as communal elements often do, that all Muslims support the Congress. Large number of Muslims, for example, in West Bengal and Kerala support the left parties and in Tamil Nadu the DMK and AIDMK. Now Muslim vote also goes to different parties in different regions. The Hindu vote, of course, is divided among different political parties. Interestingly, all communal forces claim to be champions of entire community. The Sangh Parivar claims to be championing the cause of entire Hindu community. The Muslim League, similarly, claimed to be sole representative of Muslims in pre-partition days.
Thus when we talk in terms of majority-minority it creates an impression as if entire majority or minority community supports one particular point of view or one particular political trend. Large number of Hindus fight against the Sangh Parivar and large number of Muslims opposed Muslim League politics in pre-partition days. Thus while using the term majority or minority we should be conscious of this fact.
Thus when we say Hindu-Muslim problem it is not between all Hindus and all Muslims but between communal Hindus and communal Muslims. When we say Hindu communalism we mean communal politics of the Sangh Parivar who swear by Hindu Rashtra or incite Hindu feelings against Muslims. All Hindus do not support the Sangh Parivar.
It is important to note that after partition Muslims have been reduced to a small minority and cannot afford to be very aggressive. A section of Muslim leadership took aggressive posture during the eighties on questions like Shah Bano and Babri Masjid and launched aggressive movements. The result was strengthening the Sangh Parivar, which began to get more Hindu support. However, realisation about negative outfall of aggressive postures by a section of minority leaders came after demolition of Babri Masjid and consequent communal riots in Mumbai, Surat, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Bhopal and other places. Since then the Muslim leaders have been sobered down.
It is also important to note that majority tends to be arrogant and assertive not only in India but in all countries including those of the West. The white majority in Europe and North America (including Canada) tend to be racist and assertive vis-à-vis other Asian minorities. In Muslim countries the Muslim majority behaves no differently. In Bangla Desh Hindus are at receiving end and in Pakistan the Shia minority suffers at the hands of Sunni majority. In Sri Lanka the Sinhala majority tends to be quite aggressive vis-à-vis Tamil and Muslim minorities.
Thus Majority-minority conflict is almost universal. It is not specific to India. Majority feels arrogant on account of number and political power. In some countries minority may wield political power as the Alawis in Syria over Sunni majority or Sunnis in Iraq over Shia majority. But this is possible only under dictatorship and not in democracy. In Iraq today it is Sunni minority, which is using violence in protest against loss of power and prospects of Shias and Kurds ruling over them under democracy.
In all these countries usually those who are supporters of democracy and inclined towards left tend to be more sympathetic towards minorities. Thus we see in India left parties are very sympathetic of Muslim minority. It was left which consistently opposed the NDA rule and helped Congress form the government to keep NDA led by the BJP out of power. Also some caste -based parties like RJD, SP and BSP have taken sympathetic vie of Muslims. But this is more on account of compulsions of minority votes than on ideological grounds as in the case of the left.
But nevertheless such alliances, though not ideological, are nevertheless important to keep communal peace. Thus Bihar has seen communal peace in last 13 years largely because Lalu Prasad needs Muslim votes. However, in West Bengal the left has maintained communal peace in last 23 years not simply because of compulsions of vote but ideologically it is against communalism. And this is an important difference.
Besides arrogance of majority there are other factors like class, caste and race at work. In this connection the example of communal and racial violence, which has been going on for last 20 days is quite important. The police in suburbs of Paris was chasing some North African youth and two of them got electrocuted while running away from the police and the violence against police and subsequently against others broke out.
The North African youth attacking police and burning down cars every night belong to Algeria. Thus they are Muslims, black and poor. Thus they are thrice removed from white, French and middle class majority. These youth live in poor suburbs of Paris and other French cities, are less educated and unemployed. They are totally frustrated in life and have been victims of white racialism and economically downtrodden.
The police has so far failed to restore order. The fury of the youth is unparalleled. Here it can be argued that Black Muslim minority is being very aggressive. But it is not the whole truth. The white upper class majority has been highly arrogant and unjust to the Black Muslim Algerians. Violence results from victims of severe injustice as much as from arrogance of power. The violence borne out of frustration and continued injustices can at times be quite intense.
We can give example of Naxalite violence in India. The tribals and dalits who belong to minority in Indian society, tends to be quite intense as it is result of centuries of oppression and exploitation. Similarly the LTTE also tends to be very vicious in its attacks though Tamilians are in minority in Sri Lanka. Thus it will be seen that much depends on concrete situation and it is very difficult to generalise. In many cases minority can be very vicious in its attacks on majority people or on government constituted by the majority community.
If the minority is poor and illiterate it may tend to be less aggressive but if it is facing intense exploitation the situation might change. In case of India its secular democratic political structure becomes a cushion against more intense violence. The Muslim minority tends to benefit from democratic secularism and hence it does not resort to violence as minorities do in other authoritarian countries.
Indian Muslims were also traumatised by partition experience and soon realised that democratic secularism is there for their benefit. In this connection it is important to note that in India been most orthodox ulama support secular democracy as against the ulama in Muslim majority countries who denounce secularism as against Islam. The ulama feel empowered in Muslim majority countries through assertion of religious dogmas as majority of people follow Islam.
However in Muslim minority countries like India such assertion does not bring political empowerment but arouses suspicion of majority and hence such assertion for political empowerment is avoided and instead it is acceptance of secularism which brings more acceptability and so the ulama tend to support democratic secularism.
Thus to understand majority-minority dynamics one has to understand political dynamics of the country. One cannot understand it in political vacuum. It certainly cannot be understood only in terms of religion, as usually we tend to do. It is not a religious but a political problem. If it is a tiny minority like the Parsis it will not create any problem but if it is a sizeable minority like Muslims, it will give rise to majority-minority problem. The tiny minorities like that of Parsis cannot influence power dynamics while sizeable minority like that of Muslims can.
Thus when we discuss Hindu-Muslim problem we should be aware that all Hindus are not communal but most of them tend to be peace loving and democratic. It is only a tiny minority, which is aggressive and communal as it invokes religious identity in order to come to power. The question of blaming entire community does not arise at all. There would have been no democracy, let alone secularism, if all Hindus had toed the communal line.
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