Thursday 11 October 2012

Rid our body politic of communal poison

Indians must defeat all those elements that promote and thrive on religious hatred

Though many Hindus and Muslims in India are today infected by the virus of communalism, the fact is that before 1857 there was no communal feeling at all in most Indians. There were, no doubt, some differences between Hindus and Muslims, but there was no animosity. Hindus used to join Muslims in celebrating Eid, Muslims used to join Hindus in celebrating Holi and Diwali, and they lived together like brothers and sisters.

How is it that around 150 years later, suspicion, if not animosity, has developed between the two major religious communities on our subcontinent? Today, Muslims in India find it difficult to get a house on rent from Hindus. When a bomb blast takes place in India the police, incapable of catching the real culprits (because they have no training in scientific investigation), ‘solve’ the crime by arresting half-a-dozen Muslims. Most of them are ultimately found innocent in a court of law, but after spending many years in jail.

This has resulted in tremendous alienation among Muslims in India. In Pakistan, things are even worse for the minorities who often live in a state of terror, scared of extremists and religious bigots.


1857 is the watershed year in the history of communal relations in India. Before 1857, there was no communal problem, no communal riot. It is true there were differences between Hindus and Muslims, but then there are differences even between two sons or daughters of the same father. Hindus and Muslims lived peacefully, and invariably helped each other in times of difficulty.

No doubt, Muslims who invaded India broke a lot of temples. But their descendants, who became local Muslim rulers, almost all fostered communal harmony. This they did in their own interest, because the vast majority of their subjects were Hindus. They knew that if they broke Hindu temples, there would be turbulence and riots, which no ruler wants. Hence almost all the Muslim rulers in India promoted communal harmony — the Mughals, the Nawabs of Awadh, Murshidabad or Arcot, Tipu Sultan or the Nizam of Hyderabad.

In 1857, the First Indian War of Independence broke out, in which Hindus and Muslims jointly fought against the British. After suppressing the revolt, the British decided that the only way to control India was to divide and rule. Thus, the Secretary of State for India, Sir Charles Wood, in a letter to the Viceroy, Lord Elgin, in 1862 wrote, “We have maintained our power in India by playing off one community against the other and we must continue to do so. Do all you can, therefore, to prevent all having a common feeling.”


In a letter dated January 14, 1887, Secretary of State Viscount Cross wrote to Governor General Dufferin: “This division of religious feeling is greatly to our advantage and I look forward for some good as a result of your Committee of Inquiry on Indian Education and on teaching material.”

George Hamilton, Secretary of State for India wrote to Curzon, the Governor General: “I think the real danger to our rule in India … is the gradual adoption and extension of Western ideas … and if we could break educated Indians into two sections [Hindus and Muslims] … we should, by such a division, strengthen our position against the subtle and continuous attack which the spread of education must make upon our system of government. We should so plan education textbooks that the differences between the two communities are further enhanced.”

Thus, after 1857, a deliberate policy was started of generating hatred between Hindus and Muslims. This was done in a number of ways.

Religious leaders bribed to speak against the other community: The English Collector would secretly call the Panditji, and give him money to speak against Muslims, and similarly he would secretly call the Maulvi and pay him money to speak against Hindus.

History books distorted to generate communal hatred: As already mentioned, it is true that the initial Muslim invaders broke a lot of Hindu temples. However, their descendants (like Akbar, who was the descendant of the invader Babur) who were local Muslims rulers, far from breaking temples, regularly gave grants to Hindu temples, organised Ram Lilas and participated in Holi and Diwali (like the Nawabs of Awadh, Murshidabad and Arcot). This second part of our history, namely, that the descendants of the Muslim invaders, almost all, promoted communal harmony, has been totally suppressed from our history books. Our children are only taught that Mahmud of Ghazni broke the Somnath Temple, but they are not taught that the Mughal emperors, Tipu Sultan, etc., used to give grants to Hindu temples and celebrate Hindu festivals (see online ‘History in the Service of Imperialism’ by B.N. Pande).

Communal riots deliberately instigated: All communal riots began after 1857; there was none before that year. Agent provocateurs deliberately instigated religious hatred in a variety of ways e.g., by playing music before a mosque at prayer time, or breaking Hindu idols.

This poison was systematically injected by the British rulers into our body politic year after year, decade after decade, until it resulted in the Partition of 1947. We still have nefarious elements that promote and thrive on religious hatred.

Whenever a bomb blast takes place, many television news channels start saying that an email or SMS has been received claiming that the Indian Mujahideen, the Jaish-e-Muhammad, or the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al- Islamia has owned responsibility. Now an email or an SMS message can be sent by any mischievous person, but by showing this on TV and the next day in print a subtle impression is created in Hindu minds that all Muslims are terrorists who throw bombs (when the truth is that 99 per cent of all communities are peace loving and good).

During the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi agitation, a section of the media (particularly the Hindi print media) became kar sevaks.


Recently, SMS messages were sent to northeast Indians living in Bangalore and other cities stating that they had killed Muslims in Assam and so they had better get out of Bangalore otherwise they would be massacred. This created panic. When the Muslims of Bangalore came to know of this mischief, they organised a feast for the northeast Indians and told them that someone had played mischief, and that Muslims are not against the people from the northeast.

It is time Indians saw through this nefarious game of certain vested interests. India is a country of great diversity, and so the only path to unity and prosperity is equal respect for all communities and sections of society. This was the path shown by our great Emperor Akbar (who, along with Ashoka, was in my opinion the greatest ruler the world has ever seen), who gave equal respect to all communities (see online my judgment Hinsa Virodhak Sangh Vs. Mirzapur Moti Kuresh Jamat).

When India became independent in 1947, religious passions were inflamed. There must have been tremendous pressure on Pandit Nehru and his colleagues to declare India a Hindu state, since Pakistan had declared itself an Islamic state. It was the greatness of our leaders that they kept a cool head and said India would not be a Hindu state but would be a secular state. That is why, relatively speaking, India is much better off in every way as compared to our neighbour.

Secularism does not mean that one cannot practise one’s religion. Secularism means that religion is a private affair unconnected with the state, which will have no religion. In my opinion, secularism is the only policy which can hold our country together and take it to the path of prosperity.

(Markandey Katju is a retired judge of the Supreme Court and Chairperson of the Press Council of India)

Published in The Hindu on 11th October,2012


  1. Excellent article Justice Katju. It throws the light on some myths (read as rumors) doing rounds on social media, and unravels the facts.

    The problem, as you have suggested is, we Indians fail to understand that politics is mainly about organizing people and making them feel they think alike. Leaders, if a good one, uses this method for larger good of the society, while the power hungry feed false information and win over people.

    I hope people learn to live in peace and harmony together.

  2. Truly enlightening analysis of feudal religious harmony, british raj's divide & policy, today's political communal riots and secularism.

  3. Dear Sir,
    Definitely you have written broader article which includes so many secrets about Indian Social organization. I agree with your views, that prior to 1857 both of the Hindu, and Muslim people come together and celebrate equally and participate in each festival but when we introspect our Indian ancient history, We found that in ancient Indian history the southern part of Indian society was unblamable, because of his tough graphical structure.The divide and rules policy was much affected in the northern part of India, because it was fully intact with the controversy. The reasoned was all attack or setback from Middle East subcontinent from north west therefore those persons belonging from this side of part of India was much affected and they have taken the pain, when we will analyze the religions by which the social organization comes on prevailing circumstances they are able to understand in different manner. It is visible that whole world has multifarious religion and you cannot denied reflection of religion because the religion constructs social organization. Whenever we analyze our ancient Indian History the views of ancient Indian history is completely different from modern history, indeed the gap of era represents different social values and social organization. Since in the year of 1207 to 1526 was completely different from the Great Akbar. Our existence was nowhere we were slave of different rulers, in this regard you can say the social harmony was existed in the society. In Ram Charit Mamas Tulsi Das has written “ Samrath ko nahi dos gosai”.I don’t disagree with the coexistence of society but whenever we are introspecting the social organization at whole territory of India some Social psychological reason should be considered. Divide and rules which has been adopted by the britishers but you should not draw the conclusion that only the religious field of Hinduism was convicted, as far I understand religion is closely associated with way of life. Whenever you analyze all the Muslim dominated country they are representing himself as theocratic state why is this? My consider opinion that to all Muslim community, they should study in modern way in comparison of religious study. When our country became independent a great leader of Mr Jawahar Lal Nehru without having any pressure all the leader has unanimously adopted as secular state of India, so far as Hindu religion is concerned it is unstopped process of life so all the Hindu’s are secular.

  4. Your point is excellent your grace . Our nation is simply too diverse to be held by any single ideology and even though whatever you mentioned in the article is very pragmatic yet I believe it will be better for the nation if religion as a whole is eradicated and people look at each others as equal human rather than associating them with their religion or caste . For this science should be brought forward in order to escalate critical minds and scientific thinking .

  5. Tell the truth boldly,strictly boldly whether it hurts or not--Swami Vivekanand.

  6. Mr. Katju, you should investigate Islamic Literature and its arguable focus on the uncompromising nature of Islamic jurisprudence in Sociopolitical life of Muslims and pay close attention to the claims of the likes of "Islam is a total way of life" and find its roots and implications.

    Your article, written in good faith, somehow completely omits the Muslim Personal Board angle, which is flying in the face of Indian Uniform Civil Code. I find it hard to believe that you just happened to forget that.

    It is nothing short of a statement that certain number of Muslims will not agree to live by Indian law. Why are the followers of such ideology inhabiting India? Pakistan was created for such Muslims. So what are they doing in India, when clearly they are not okay with living by secular Indian laws? You somewhere criticized Bal Thackeray for anti Indian politics. What about this particular group of Muslims? Does it make sense for someone who openly denies following American Laws to go and live in America?

    Also, your citing example of Akbar as an exemplary pluralist Muslim is faulty, as Akbar, having started his own religion Deen E Ilahi was arguably a Non Muslim from a Islamic Vantage point.

    Though I totally support your ideas of ending politics based on communal lines, we should also take into account the ground realities of why those communal lines exist in the first place. I am sure you wouldn't be able to argue that British were responsible for the Muslim Personal Board. Or would you?

    1. Mr.Leech your opinion is really helpful in giving a point of view which is presumably coinciding with that of many Indians. But I would like to make an attempt to give a reason of your questions. To your first question as to why they dont live in a country dedicated to their community but in India is self explanatory. Imagine why cant they live in that country they chose ours because they have considered and felt our country as a better place to live in and we must respect that.
      For the point of muslim personal law board I would say it can be seen no different than an effort to save a regional language or regional culture by a state. That law is specific to their community with an aim to prevent their culture and beliefs, The idea that our constitution is all about.

  7. sir, you need to read more about akbar, about the atrocities he committed after war victories and the like... and also about aurangzeb - the great grandson of the gradson of the invader aurangzeb...

  8. प्रियं च नानृतं बृयात एषा धर्म सनातनः

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  10. sir excellent article , love your views and inderstanding except that in pardon of sanjay dutt case