A pluralistic society By Sayeed Hasan Khan - Wednesday 6th April 2011

THE founding fathers of independent India gave the country a secular constitution. This was not just because partition left it with a sizable Muslim minority but also because there were large minority groups of Dalits, Sikhs, Christians and others.
Dalit leader Dr Ambedkar, a leading opponent of Gandhi, was chosen to pilot the first constitution. The intention was to peacefully integrate various communities into a democratic nation-state.
Since then, India has seen several significant attempts at violating the constitution, beginning with Mrs Gandhi’s attack on Amritsar’s Golden Temple. Later, she was killed by a Sikh guard enraged at the desecration of his religious centre. A massacre of several thousand Sikhs followed, a criminal reprisal that was backed even by some Congress parliamentarians.
In 1992, the Babri mosque was destroyed by a mob led by members of one of the country’s major political parties. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was ruling the state of UP at the time. Clearly, they wanted their violent sectarian message sent everywhere. Then in 2002, the government of Narendra Modi in Gujarat helped engineer the killing of some 3,000 Muslims and the destruction of their properties.
Sporadic attacks on Christians and Muslims took place elsewhere in India but were largely contained. With the exception of the BJP, political parties have avoided using the card of communalism. Social conditions in India are hardly perfect but the law compels courts to decide cases impartially. Higher courts are, for the most part, careful in this regard.
Over the past six decades, India’s Supreme Court has established a reputation as an independent body. A strong section of civil society keeps watch and reminds institutions of their occasional failures and shortfalls. Muslim institutions such Jamia Millia Islamia, Aligarh University and Darul Uloom Deoband continue to flourish through financial assistance from the government.
The situation in the south is even better where Muslims run major medical and technical colleges. The Muslim community was at great disadvantage for the first 20 years after independence, because it was blamed as the sole reason behind the partition of the country. Many educated Indians now know this is unfair. One of the best examples of a secular democracy at work today is UP, where for the fourth time a Dalit woman is the chief minister.
For 40 years, Mohammad Ali Jinnah was a secular nationalist who fought for Hindu-Muslim unity and a constitutional guarantee safeguarding the rights of Indian Muslims. It is ironic that Gandhi used reactionary Muslim forces, both at the time of the Khilafat Movement and later at the Calcutta meeting, where proposals were discussed to bring Hindus and Muslims together and to ease Jinnah out of the nationalist camp.
Jinnah deduced that the only way forward for Muslims was separation, although he kept all options open till the last moment. Even when separation took place, he immediately returned to his nationalist past and secular, democratic views.
When the Delhi proposals were formulated under the chairmanship of Jinnah, amongst them was the separation of Sindh. Jinnah told Mrs Naidu that he was attracted to this idea after listening to Annie Besant, who said that India had 23 per cent Muslims while Sindh had the same percentage of Hindus, and was a place where Muslims believed in the Sufi traditions of brotherhood.
According to Besant, if the minority problem could be solved in Sindh it would be solved in India too. Jinnah told Mrs Naidu: “I want Sindh for that definite purpose. I am determined to deserve the title you have conferred on me as the ‘ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity’.”
Before partition, Jinnah described his public vision of a new South Asian state during an interview in New Delhi with Reuter’s correspondent Don Campbell. He said that the new state must be modern and democratic, with sovereignty resting in the people and the members of the new nation having equal rights of citizenship regardless of religion, caste or creed. When Pakistan appeared on the map, he asked Dalit leader Joginder Nath Mandal to be the provisional president of the constituent assembly.
Jinnah’s address to the constituent assembly on Aug 11, 1947, was a strong resolution to guide the future constitution of Pakistan. He stipulated that every Pakistani be equal no matter what religion or creed he or she belonged to. Jinnah died a year later, but he had always urged a secular democratic constitution for Pakistan.
The fates willed otherwise. Liaquat Ali khan promoted a new Objectives Resolution which sidestepped Jinnah’s recommendations. According to the Munir Report, when the question was asked, the ulemas were not clear what exactly an Islamic state was, and where it had existed historically.
The report freely admits that this resolution, though grandiloquent in phrases and clauses, is nothing but a hoax. The Objectives Resolution negated the wishes of Jinnah and at the same time, according to the Munir Report, failed to convince the ulemas. The Munir Report succeeded in sowing confusion for future attempts to revise the constitution.
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Ziaul Haq, for self-serving reasons, also steered the country further away from a secular constitution. Because of the absence of a secular and pluralistic society, dozens of groups and sects have cropped up in the country while mosques and shrines are bombarded. Even the sanctity of the funerals is not respected. Judges are afraid for their lives and cases where religion is involved are not decided.
All these facts prove that Jinnah was right, and that we should go back to his way of thinking. Minorities, which now stand completely marginalised, would be reassured and restored to full citizenship.
The other option would be that the ulemas of various viewpoints sit together and agree on a pluralist Islam, which certainly existed when we were fighting for independence. Such a process is not under way now, however.
Until we move towards this goal, the killing will not stop and the interpretation of laws will remain in the hands of people who never read the law nor care about it.

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/04/06/a-pluralistic-society.html

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