Travelogue – The Common Heritage of SAARC Countries

By Sami Ullah Malik, London, UK

First of all I am thankful whole heatedly of Br Khawaja Ekram Sb & his all colleagues who organised this conference & invited me. Infect I could not get Indian Visa for unknown reasons whenever Indian Govt claiming the friendship with neighbours. Now I come on topic which organisers ask me to say some something about Travelogue.

I am not much of a tourist traveller; I travel usually on business. But I do observe things more closely and reflect to draw conclusions from my observations. Since I hail from Pakistan I generally tend to compare India with Pakistan from which it split in 1947. However, I have lived in the UK for more than thirty years; I look at social structures from the Western standpoint.

Various parts of the British Empire in India were conquered at different times. The advent of the British Empire began with the Battle of Plessey in 1757 and the Empire folded its flag in 1947. The total life of the British Empire was 190 years and it expanded from Bengal in the East to the Punjab in the West. The Punjab and Sindh were annexed to the British Empire in 1846 and 1843 respectively. Pakistan was ruled by the British for a hundred years and the Punjab was ruled by the Sikhs for nearly thirty years before that. But the Muslims ruled India for nearly 800 years. During Muslim Moghul rule their empire comprised present day India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The Mughal Empire in India was rich. India was known as the ‘golden sparrow’ which accounted for nearly 20% of the world GDP. In contrast, Hindu imperial rule under Gupta Dynasty was brief – less than a hundred years in the 4th Century A.D. – and it was confined to the Ganges valley. The entire sub-continent was brought under one rule under the Maurya Empire – 4th and 3rd Century B.C – by a Buddhist Ruler – Ashoka.

The concept of a continuous Hindu civilization or Hindu imperial rule for thousands of years is a myth. India of today has been influenced mostly by Muslim and British rule. The legacy of the two periods of imperial rule is everywhere. Post partition India finds it difficult to identify itself as a country under Hindu rule because this has no precedence or history. The Muslim rule is reviled today as the ‘dark age’. India’s efforts to build a Hindu India are stymied because it can built on the foundation of hatred for everything Muslim while India needs the underpinning of ‘secularism’ for its national solidarity as well as its expansionist ambitions.

Continuity and Diversity

When one travels from Lahore to Delhi by air, one is struck by the short time it takes to reach Delhi – half an hour. If one travels by road, one is struck by the similarities of terrain and culture: lush green fields and neat villages and the same language being spoken on both the sides in the Indian as well Pakistani Punjab. To a person like me who hails from the Pakistani Punjab, it feels very comfortable. The warmth and hospitality of the Sikhs is impressive as is their bearded and turbaned appearance and pretty women in Shalwar Qameez. However, one thing is disconcerting: the presence of pigs on rubbish dump in every village. They are probably wild boars made lean by starvation and forced to look for food in rubbish. However, pork is not food for any significant community in India. Why the pigs roam around like stray dogs is something I do not understand.

But the moment one goes beyond the Punjab into Haryana, the wild boars come to be a lesser concern; a Pakistani is looked at with suspicion and hate. That is true all over the Hindi belt of Northern India even though the Muslims constitute a significant proportion of the state population. In north India the Muslims are clearly identifiable by their dress and by their being consigned to ghettos. The poverty and destitution of Muslims in India is a source of much anguish to Muslim visitors to India. After ‘freedom’, the erstwhile ruling community of Muslims have suffered repression and exploitation so much that their psychology appears to have undergone a change. They have become used to torment and seen so much suffering that they appear to be unaware of their own real feelings – their concerns, worries and anxieties never get to aired or expressed. They see and experience caste and religious apartheid but instead of disgust and protest, they express gratitude for India’s ‘secularism and tolerance’. In the UK, ‘political correctness’ implies care in choice of words lest it revealed religious or ethnic prejudice. In India, ‘political correctness’ implies that the majority – members of low castes, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs – have to be careful not to speak their mind lest they became victims of Brahmin wrath inviting the state as well as non-state instruments of coercion and torment. One can see that even the erstwhile untouchable Dalits or Scheduled Castes feel more confident in India than the Muslims.

Delhi is different. It is a melting pot like all the capitals but apartheid is the hallmark of this great city. There are a few posh areas where people of different races and religions live together but much of the capital’s population lives in segregated communities. The Muslims of Old Delhi particularly in the slums close the Jamia Masjid speak volumes about the depth to which the Muslims have fallen since ‘freedom’ in 1947. One is struck by two more things about Delhi. One is the traffic jams, the noise of vehicle horns and noxious fumes. The other is the abusive language used by traffic policemen. The word ‘sala’ (wife’s brother) is their favourite word of abuse. While most people in South Asia are brown skinned and most understand Urdu or Hindi (Urdu written in devnagri script) the hate between Muslims and Hindus is palpable. The Muslims, Christians and Sikhs are considered are all considered to be untouchables just as those outside the chaturvarna (four castes) system, but the Sikhs are somewhat feared because of their reputation for being bold and easily provoked.

The Christians are the object of contempt because most of them converted from low castes The Muslims are viewed with a mixed feeling of fear, respect and contempt directly resulting from the popular line of propaganda against them by the ‘chattering classes’. If all Indians appear Poker faced to foreigners it is because they have centuries of practice in hiding their true feelings. The expression of the majority in India being deemed untouchables is the way the Indian greet each other – with folded hands, a smile and the word Namaste. Those who visit India for a short time treat this as cultural idiosyncrasy which they find cute. But its profound meaning as a mark of Brahmin superiority and cultural apartheid is not lost on those who know or have to suffer hate and contempt.

Efforts for Unity and Harmony

Before the advent of Christianity and Islam the history of Eurasia was marked by two great ‘migration-conquests’. I use the term ‘migration-conquest’ for the Aryan and Mongol conquest of much of Eurasia because it was primarily migration; the conquerors did not return to their country; they had little nostalgia or memory of the land of their origin. The Mongols did not come into the Indian sub-continent; only the Aryans did. The Mongols invaded and colonised sparsely populated Central Asia and they were a spent force before they went into Europe proper. The Aryans went into Europe, the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent to occupy and settle in those lands. They did pillage and destroy the local order and the economy before they decided to stay or move on; but they were primarily colonisers rather than conquerors. Europe eventually embraced Christianity and the Middle East and Central Asia embraced Islam but in the Indian sub-continent a unique socio-cultural transformation occurred which is now known as evolution of Hinduism. In the sub-continent the land was well populated, the soil rich and rainfall plentiful. The Fair skinned Aryans were welcomed eagerly and they co-existed peacefully with the indigenous black peoples even though they were outnumbered by something like fifty to one. What was unique about these black people was that they were eager to ‘please’ the foreigners and they stories and tales – the taller the tale the better. What emerged from the mixture of magic and mystery, cults and conspiracies, sex and suspense was a new religion and culture which is now known as Hinduism.

The core of Hinduism is the caste system which met the need to assimilate while maintaining separation from the native. The Aryans in the sub-continent divided themselves into three castes – the priest caste (Brahmins), the warrior caste (Kashatriya) and the trading caste (Vaisha). Since native concubines were plentiful, the offspring of union between the Aryan and the native were the Shudra, who were untouchables because of being the product of illicit sex, but they were allowed to own land. The Hindu Varna (caste) System includes only these four castes the total numbers of which even in India of today is no more than 15% of the population – (4% Brahmin, 1% each of Kashatriya and Vaisha, and 9% Shudra). The population outside the varna system is called, counted and treated as ‘outcastes’. Those within the caste system (15%) are about the same as the Muslims of India today who are also about 15% of the population. The irony is that the untouchables did have an opportunity to escape the rigours of the caste system. They were offered ‘separate electorate’ by Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald in 1932 under the Communal Award. The leader of the untouchables at the time – Dr B.R, Ambedkar – accepted ‘separate electorate;’ but he changed his stand and accepted ‘joint electorate’ with chaturvarna Hindus when Mahatma Gandhi went on ‘fast until death’ if he did not reject the Communal Award. Freedom that came in 1947 would have been more meaningful to the outcaste majority in India if ‘separate electorate’ had been accepted by them in 1932. But that did not happen. India has ever since been feverishly distorting its history to justify rule by high caste Hindus in perpetuity.

British Military system

The officials of the British East India Company were more interested in lucrative trade concessions from local Muslim Nawabs and Hindu Rajas. They soon found that providing a military force commanded by a British officer to one ruler against another was the most lucrative business in the sub-continent with 500 plus princely states. They got their reward for military support by obtaining some of the conquered land and securing the right to collect revenue in large areas. Since the prevailing military system in India was based on feudal (jagirdari) system. This system was based on the award of a Jagir (allocation of land) to a notable or a General who was responsible for providing the king with a certain (fixed) number of soldiers and officers for his Army who were paid and maintained from the income and revenue of the Jagir. When they abolished the system, the land came under the ownership of the Company and later the Crown. The British East India Company made direct recruitment into the Army from loyal native tribes led by well-bred and well trained British officers. Every soldier was paid his salary on the first of every month by the Company. To be salaried was to be privileged. After 1957, the British Crown took direct control of their colony in India. To be a salaried servant of the Crown was no ordinary honour. It is often said that the ‘British rued India so smoothly and comfortably by institutionalising two things: 1) paying their soldiers their salary on the first of the month, 2) the district civil administration moving heaven and earth to provide redress to a soldier whose Commanding Officer wrote a letter to the Deputy Commissioner conveying the complaint of maltreatment of the family of the soldier in his village. The British were seen to be ‘fair’ and they designed a better military system than native rulers.

It was a defect in the design of the military system by the East India Company that led the Mutiny of 1857. They recruited Muslims as well as Hindu, and organised regiments (sub-divided into units) which had both. But within units they kept them separate in sub-units (company, battery or squadron) which had soldiers from one caste/religious group. This made sure that they ‘ate separately’ but fought competitively and yet together. That worked very well because the prime assertion of religious identity was made on the dining table only – meat eating but port avoiding Muslims separated from vegetarian Hindus. That aspect of religion is taken very seriously. The Mutiny was started by a rumour that the new cartridges in the personal weapon of every soldier, which required one end to be chewed before loading, had cow fat (unacceptable to Hindus) or lard (views with revulsion by the Muslims) in it. That was enough to cause the mutiny. Ironically; to be serfs in the Hindu society and to be ruled by foreigners never became the cause of mutiny. If the Brahmin had said that service in the British Indian Army was adharma (against religion) even the non-Hindu untouchables, who were the bulk of the Army of East India Company, would have been hard to recruit and the British would not have been able to establish their empire. But they did not say so. They accepted the British as rulers just as they had accepted Muslim rulers earlier.

Distortion of History

After the Mutiny, the British wanted to learn more about the psyche of various religions and tribes. They were surprised by two things: 1) the absence of conflict between the Hindus and the Muslims, 2) the high standards maintained in every walk of life from language and literature to art and architecture. They were not pleased with the absence of conflict between India’s many religions and castes. The British had developed their techniques for imperial control in Ireland by polarisation and conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants. They just would not believe that there was no conflict between the Muslim rulers and their non-Muslim subjects. They started with the assumption that conflict must have existed. How come then, asked the British historian Sir Henry Elliot, that the Hindus “had not left any account which could enable us to gauge the traumatic impact the Muslim conquest and rule had on them?” Since there was none, Elliot went on to produce his own eight–volume History of India with contributions from British historians (1867). His history claimed that Hindus were slain for disputing with ‘Muhammedans’, generally prohibited from worshipping and taking out religious processions, their idols were mutilated, their temples destroyed, they were forced into conversions and marriages, and were killed and massacred by drunk Muslim tyrants. Thus Sir Henry, and scores of other Empire scholars, went on to produce a synthetic Hindu versus Muslim history of India, and their lies became history.

The facts are entirely different. Long before Aldous Huxley wrote his ‘Brave New World’ the Aryans had structured a society in which everyone was happy having a profession/vocation fixed at birth and a guaranteed place in the society even though the place for the natives was that of ‘serfs’. The fair skinned were the rulers. As the Aryans became less fair skinned because of racial dilution and the scorching sun, the Muslims – who were more fair-skinned than their existing rulers – fitted into the narrative of their religion as well as the caste hierarchy. The Western rulers were even more fair-skinned and fitted into the narrative just as easily. The rulers were always foreign – the fairer the better. Here the word ‘fair’ applies both to the colour of the skin as well as to the rules by which they ruled. Muslims rulers were more just and fair than the non-Muslims they replaced; the subject peoples were more content. When the Muslim rulers became too much like those they replaced, they lost their grip and the sub-continent was ready for ‘fair’ conquerors and rulers once again.

Change in the view of history and societal acceptance of foreign but fair rulers was not enough for the sub-continent to be comfortable with British conquest. The Colonial Government in India changed the education and the legal system to impose their own. Lord Macaulay, while addressing the British Parliament on February 2, 1835 said,

“I have travelled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief; such wealth I have seen in this country, such moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think that we would ever conquer this country unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage. And, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture; for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, the native culture, and they will become what we want, a truly dominated nation”.

India – the name of the country- is given by Britain; Hinduism is the name given by the British to what was called sanathan dharm. India has not even tried to shake off the colonial heritage in its education or it’s military. Its political system and societal mores remain the same as under colonial rule. Even its quest for imperial influence over South and Central Asia is British heritage.

India likes to describe itself a beautiful mosaic of many different races, religions, castes and cultures. The design of SAARC – which cannot discuss bilateral issues – is founded on a hope to expand this mosaic further. But the plight of Muslims and other untouchables of India reveals that SAARC is an imperial quest just like India itself. Readiness of smaller nations – three Muslim, two Buddhist and one (Nepal) Hindu – to see some benefit in membership of SAARC provides a basis for hope that the oppressed majority inside India would not rebel. But that is a forlorn hope. The intent behind the ‘mosaic’ as description of India as well as SAARC underlines that both are imperial projects just as British India was. India could indeed be harmonious mosaic of races and religions, of castes and cultures if it recognised its past. If it is recognised that the best aspects of Indian identity – its Hindi language, its culture, art and architecture, its morality and humanity – are the gift of Muslim rule over the sub-continent. Muslim rule of the sub-continent was its Golden Age and it must be acknowledged to be so.

If India wants to make its heterogeneity an asset, it must recognise that those outside the chaturvarna are not Hindus; they deserve to be recognised as such and given separate representation and rights just they enjoyed during Muslim and British Rule. If India continues to be pulled into the direction of religious and caste conflicts so frequently it will fail to become a nation. If India continues to look at Pakistan and Bangladesh as territories and people over which they had a right to rule which was denied by the British ‘divide and rule’ policy, suspicion of India would persist. If Indian media and films continue to pedal that line, India would not be seen as mosaic but as abstract painting with a sinister message and an evil purpose. The assiduous effort by almost every educated Indian to discredit the ‘Two Nation Theory’ and to revile the partition in 1947 as a tragedy is disturbing for a Pakistani visitor. Travelling through India reminds a Muslims of the contribution his forefathers made to give the country a personality and a purpose. But instead of gratitude India shows hate and contempt. India and SAARC are imperial projects; any sensitive traveller would see that. ++
Thank you for listening to me.

(Seminar at Jawahar Lal Nehru University New Dehli India on 14th March 2012)


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