There is no dearth of books on Muslims in India, and indeed, here is a wide range of scholarships available on the subject. To cite a few examples; we have The Destiny of Indian Muslims by S Abid Husain (1965), Muslim Politics in Modern India by Mushir U Haq (1970), The Muslim Dilemma in India by MRA Baig (1974), Indian Muslims Since Independence by Omar Khalidi (1996) and India'sMuslims Since Independence by Mushirul Hasan (2001). Scholarship on Islam and the Muslims of India is not lacking. For all that, SS Gill'sIslam and Muslims of India is a welcome addition to existing studies, if only because his approach calls for a lot of questioning.
He is typical of the liberal ?secularists? of the country who finds faults with ?aggressive Hindu communalism?, without making any serious effort as to why such ?communalism? became ?aggressive?. There are casual references to ?Hindu communalism? being a ?reaction to Muslim communalism? without making any serious effort again on how Hindus were treated in almost 800 years of continuous Muslim rule in India. Gill says that ?Muslims fear of Hindu majority? is quite legitimate. Is that a reflection of a sense of guilt of having treated Hindus as second class citizens in their own country for over eight centuries? He describes Hindu ?communalism? as ? a muted desire to set right historical wrongs?. Wouldn'tit have been more to the point to describe in precise terms what those ?historical wrongs? are, instead of leaving them to one'simagination?
Even the terrible cruelties perpetrated by the Moplahs of Malabar (1921-22) are dismissed casually as if no particular import. He could have read Annie Besant'sreport on the subject for some guidance. Gill'sexplanation for the mayhem created by the Moplahs is that they were ?mostly landless labour? with ?a long history of conflict with their Nair landlords?. That is ducking the issue and does not reflect much on Gill's objectivity. He describes the ?demolition? of the so-called Babri Masjid (December 1992) as ?one of the most shameful acts of violence in India?. Forget the construction of the Masjid over the remains of a demolished temple to Shri Ram?forgotten also is the demolition of other temples sacred to Hindus in their thousands. Weren'tthey also ?shameful acts?? Or are we to forget them?
Gill apparently does not understand hurts felt by Hindus. He does not bother ever to give us a gist of the long-drawn talks between concerned Hindus and Muslim organisations which had a stake in the Babri Masjid, and the role of ?secularists? in supporting Muslim intransigence. If only Muslim orthodox groups involved in the discussion had graciously conceded to Hindus their claim on the Babri site, the masjid could have been respectfully dismantled and rebuilt elsewhere. It would have been a win-win situation for both communities and the government besides. It was the secular Hindu who widened the Hindu-Muslim divide.
Gill frequently makes charges against Hindus and what he calls ?saffronisation? without providing any background as to why such a thing became inevitable. He is unhappy about the way Urdu has been marginalised. He probably does not know how Tipu Sultan imposed Persian on the Kannada-speaking people of Mysore and how a predominantly Telugu-speaking Hyderabad state had imposed Urdu on it by the Nizams. And when Urdu is taken over as an exclusive Muslim language, the consequences surely could have been foreseen. Again and again Gill blames the ?Sangh Parivar? for everything that has gone wrong in Hindu-Muslim relations. It would have been more to the point if Gill had studied the socio-cultural history of 800 years of Muslim rule in India to understand, if not to accept, the Hindu mindset. Gill'sexplanation to Muslim thinking is that ?in the context of Quranic precepts, Muslims are placed in an unenviable situation? and that ?according to strict orthodox prescription, they are enjoined either to wage jehad and convert the country to Islam, failing which they should migrate?. They refuse to migrate. Where can they go? Not to Pakistan where they are unwanted. Not to Bangladesh which is already overpopulated and is itself pushing its citizens into Indian territory.
Do Hindus have to meekly accept Quranic concepts and let jehadis take over India? Or permit large-scale conversion from Hinduism to Islam? If this is the role that Muslims are supposed to play in India why blame Hindu ?chauvinists? as Gill with such poor taste calls them? Gill wants to ?understand? Muslims. He shows little interest in understanding Hindus. Gill says that the message of ?holy war as a religious duty? has ?seeped much deeper into the Muslim consciousness, than the Quranic precepts of peace and amity?. Which should explain so many things like the creation of SIMI and the full support given by locals to Pakistani jehadists? terror campaign in Mumbai. Eclecticim and heterodoxy are integral to the Hindu ethos, but Gill states correctly that ?this sort of doctrinal repudiation of violence could not carry any credibility with Muslims? who ridiculed Mahatma Gandhi ?as a faddist and an insincere windbag?. Gill provides detailed information on the madrasas which have been multiplying in India, casting Muslim children ?in a mould designed several centuries ago?.
As Gill puts it, ?millions of Muslim children in India who attend madrasas are today growing up with hidebound, antiquarian attitudes which put them on the backfoot as far as competition in modern society is concerned?. Are Hindus to be blamed for that? Gill'sadvice is that ?instead of denigrating Islam and putting all Muslims on the defensive, non-Muslims must facilitate the task of modernists in Islam by paying this great religion the respect it merits?. Who says that Hindus have been denigrating Islam? It was always the other way around.
Gill says that several Islamic countries including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have launched projects to expunge hate lessons against other religions from school textbooks?. He is obviously unaware of a report submitted by the Sustainable Development Policy of Islamabad which condemned Pakistani textbooks for spouting venom against Hinduism. Gill (1927-2007), means well but he is far too often self-contradictory. Muslims in India are hardly a minority. Next to Indonesia, India has the second largest Muslim population in the world. The Muslims in India have to learn to live in peace with their Hindu compatriots and be sensitive to their hurt feelings also. Hindus may be in a majority but there never has been a ?Hindu rule? as in India. It is a rule of the people, for the people and never, as in Muslim countries rule of the Muslims, for the Muslims and by the Muslims.
(Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017)