Communal situation in India has improved substantially during the last few years but there is a need to further strengthen this relative peace. The wall of distrust between Hindus and Muslims must be demolished and open-ended dialogue should be started between the two communities. It is time that Muslims rethink their strategies. Hindus too cannot just wish away the Muslims. There is a communication gap between the two communities. Muslims need to explain their position on issues concerning Muslim identity, loyalty and their personal laws so that mutual antagonism between the two communities comes to an end.
The most common complaint against Muslims is that they are preoccupied with their separate identity and refuse to become a part of the mainstream. Muslims must make Hindus understand they are an integral part of the Indian mainstream, as distinct from the Hindutva unmistakable stamp of native Indian influences. However, Muslims can’t be expected to give up their religious beliefs as demanded by the RSS under the garb of “cultural assimilation”.
The dialogue has to take place essentially at the non-political level. Muslims are, by and large, bewildered and angry at those leaders who, by their confrontationial attitude, have led the community to near disaster. The dialogue has to be conducted by ordinary Muslims and Hindus at a one-to-one level shorn of any prejudice. The post-demolition period has witnessed the emergence of enough voices of sanity and modernization among Muslims. Both the Hindus and Muslims should understand that aggressive and ambitious leaders do not represent the masses. They are protecting their own political interests or those of powerful socioeconomic exploiters. It is the masses of both communities, unfortunately, who fall victim to aggressive propaganda.
The recent condemnation by Muslim intellectuals of the stand taken by the OIC on Kashmir goes to prove the point Hindus must take note that, Muslims are Indians by choice. Muslims have to stress that they consider Kashmir an integral part of India and will not be found wanting in defeating Pakistan’s design. Hindus need to be reminded that there have been three wars between India and Pakistan, and Muslims should proudly assert their Indian identity. They need to reiterate that they do not harbour any protective feelings towards migrants from Bangladesh. They are not against their deportation to their own country, but would favour proper identification through a competent administrative machinery to ensure that poor Indian Muslims are not victimized.
A related myth propagated by communal forces against Muslims is that their loyalty lies with the Islamic world. Muslims have to dispel this notion by making it clear that their only link with Islamic nations is with the holy sites. Apart from the essentially religious links, the community has nothing to do with their brethren in the Islamic world. There are widespread misconceptions among Hindus about the position of women in Muslim society. The position of Muslim women is no different from that of Hindu women. Muslim society is relatively free from the evils of dowry. Even the rate of divorce among Muslims is lower that that among Hindus. The level of literacy among Muslim women is definitely much lower and there is a pressing need for reforms in this area.
Reforms to promote communalism take their own time. Nonetheless, there is a case for reforming Muslim personal law just as there is an equally strong case for reforming other personal laws. In the process, some uniform norms and standards may evolve. Large parts of the civil and criminal laws are, in fact, common already. Only marriage succession laws are an issue. Hindus, unfortunately, are not aware of the Muslim marriage system. The misconception that Muslims are trying to overtake the Hindu population by multiplying fast, needs to be countered. Islam is not opposed to family planning, and a sizeable section of the community practices it.
The population of any group or nation trends to stabilize at a certain stage and the Muslim population is expected to stabilize at around 15 percent of the local population. In socially and educationally advanced states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the Muslim population growth is less than that of the Majority community in Bihar, Rajsthan and Uttar Pradesh. Any confrontation with Hindus will cripple Indian Muslims as well as the nation.
Today’s world is making rapid strides in Science and technology. People travel thousands of miles to help others in distress. Ironically, we who were once the torchbearers of spiritualism, have been engaged in fratricidal violence in the name of religion. Muslims have a unique opportunity in India. They are neither the rulers nor the ruled. They are partners in power along with Hindus, Sikhs and others. They must be prepared to meet this challenge and avail of the opportunity. They should build pressure on the Muslim leadership to shun the politics of confrontation and instead opt for the policies of co-operation.