Deep analysis, exhibits that India has a profound advantage over the west, thanks to more than a hundred years of theoretically objective education (initially forced by British Colonizers) along with a tradition of experiential science. Both the aforementioned have led to Indian Republic irrevocably becoming plural in continuation of its 3 millenia of existence.
Plurality is an unvoidably bold outcome of Indians’ subjective experiential understanding of the world. Indians do not try imposing objective realities. Most is experiential, verbal (shruti) and hence always with differences & deviations. Differences therefore, are innately accepted in Indic civilization as we consider deviation as the natural way of existence, development & progress. Irrespective of how much the western media (incl. NYT) raises alarms on threats to plurality in India, fact is, we are plural not by imposition of constitutional obligations or law (like the USA), derived by trials and tribulations of three centuries but by the gene that reproduces us.
Indians are heuristically & semiotically advanced. Western societies are good in objective rule-based approach. Indian vehicular traffic vis-a-vis western is an excellent representation of the heuristic (Indian traffic) vs rule-based (western) approach. A society in which heuristic outcomes are welcomed, plurality is an unavoidable spin-off. Heuristic outcomes are always different though they are easily recognizable as having the same meaning. Concomitantly, heuristic outcomes today are heuristic inputs tomorrow. Making the progression heuristic not rule based. It is like cooking. No one uses exactly same quantities of inputs, from the same vendor, or the produce of same agricultural field or same crop. All inputs vary, and so does the output. Yet, one can easily distinguish the foods cooked by a spouse and a parent, which means it’s taste is well-understood & recorded in memory.
In their foundation, western Abrahamic societies are non-plural. They start with one God, one right way, ideal inputs and — right or wrong, good or bad, moral or immoral outputs, with greyscales recognized only outside of religion. Plurality is a recent phenomenon in west, though the circumstances in America in recent months puts this assumption to doubt & stress test. Heuristically & semiotically advanced societies (like India) are plural because they neither have one God, nor one way, everything is in grey, morality and immorality are let to be described by the society in concurrence with time, laws & rules are interpreted in context. The last two salience — contextual laws & time sensitive morality actually are the keys to Indic civilization’s in continuum existence through 3+ millenia.
Giving benefit of doubt to western media complaints of an attack on Indian plurality, & introspecting it (Indian plurality), one realizes that a monolithic India is a figment of imagination of either those who have never known or visited India or those who are undertakers of a political propaganda. What can change the DNA of a people that governed their existence for last 3 millenia? Dislike of Muslims is what the western media accuses current Indian ruling party of. But Muslims are just one of hundreds of religious, linguistic, racial, regional minorities of India. How does that make India not plural? Since, I am neither an advocate not a critic of the ruling party, I refrain from projecting my view on how ruling party treats Muslim minority because my view has no place to be. Only the Muslims of India are the right source of response to such a question. But it is pertinent to inform my readers that a Muslim Party (Muslim League, though not a representative body of all Muslims of India) partitioned undivided India into current plural India and the Islamic States of Pakistan and Bangladesh. The partition was bloody with half a million dead on all three sides (India, Pakistan & Bangladesh). It also is a fact that thanks to incitement by Pakistan, minority Hindus in Kashmir Valley were forcefully evicted after 219 of them were killed in a single predominantly Muslim region of India (Kashmir) and are till date living as refugees (internally displaced) in their own country. Local sporadic riots & acrimony have existed before partition in 1947 and fact is deaths due to religious acrimony have reduced substantially in average in last last few years of the current ruling party. But, there is a reality beyond statistics, and some reset in assertiveness of all minorities taken together vis-a-vis Muslim minority seems evident. Having said that I have no hesitation is saying that we are a proud plural nation, which undeniably is dealing with its wounds of past in a much mature fashion no worse than that of France, Europe or America. Though none of them (except America are as multicultural as India). Having said that, bad examples are not sensible to be followed or quoted as justification of one’s own under-performance. I personally bet, India is and will remain plural, where all minorities accommodate each other because we are all different, heuristic and semiotically plural. And while religion separates Indian Muslims from other minorities their shared culture in a specified region unites them with locals. Pakistan is a contrarian case, where different cultures were neglected in favour of one religion. Result — it is in an endless war with itself. I believe culture to be a much stronger & dominant gene vis-a-vis religion. The French have no problems with those of their Muslim brethren, who are culturally French, though religiously they might follow Islam in their personal lives. Irrespective of the concept of Ummah, Islam remained a religion, at best — a religious-political identity, but never became a single culture throughout its existence, though it seemed to be desired by its founding fathers. In the meanwhile, India has innumerable instances of Hindu Muslim marriages and at least the differences are now on the table to discuss and resolve. In a veiled manner for 70 years the Indian Republic disfavoured Muslims by letting them live their lives somewhat disjoined from mainstream and to be really honest no different from how similar 10% Muslims were treated in Europe — left to live in their own areas as in France. And no one in India talked about this isolation of Muslims from the mainstream, as it was ‘politically incorrect’, leaving innocent populations at the mercy of clergy, which let no social progress and modernization happen. Muslims in India were left to sort out their problems by themselves, which for me as a patriot, who keeps ‘Indianness’ above any religion (whether mine or someone else’s) is unpalatable. Why can’t the Republic enable social progress of a community by giving voice to moderate and progressive Muslims? Unfortunately, media portrays the trouble making clergy as representatives of Muslims; not Muslim professors, thinkers, artists, scientists & professionals, who could be in reality, the intellectual backbone of a progressing community and ensure a tandem with other communities of India. And I suspect the media purposefully does that as it serves good for divisive politics. An important caveat — my preceding statements in no manner should be construed as a justification for any discrimination that anyone, even a single Muslim undergoes in the multi-coloured, multi-ethnic, multi-racial Republic of India. We are a Republic of all Bharatiye (Indians) barring none, living together on basis of a constitution & rule of law. And I would encourage every minority community, Muslim or other, to approach Indian Courts of law for any discrimination that is forced upon them whether on basis of caste, community, religion or race.
And what is the problem that Muslim minority has with current ruling party — they (ruling party & their ideologues) claim that most Muslims in India are Hindus, using the term ‘Hindu’ for a cultural identity, which etymologically is correct as Hindu seems to have been derived from the word Sindhu (river on the western periphery of India and Pakistan) and was for 2 millenia never used for religion. ‘India’ even till date is called ‘Al Hind’ in Arabic, which means the ‘other side of Sindhu river’. Quite similarly, the predominant language of the Indian heartland is Hindi !
Many believe that the explanation of etymology is an alibi of the current right wing ruling elite, of their tacit desire to force inferiority among Muslims by asking them to be included in the cultural ‘Hindu’ identity. I fail to understand what kind of an inferiority is enforced by someone claiming another person of different community, of being a part of his community or family or category. “You belong to us” — how can such an attitude or statement be termed discriminatory or violative of rights? Until and unless, the included party abhors inclusion.
Discrimination is that which Jewish people and many other had to undergo or the Black community underwent (undergoes) in America and indeed the lower castes rampantly undergo in India even today or the non-Muslims underwent (by having to pay Jiziya — a tax for being non-Muslim) ! Discrimination happens when minorities are forced to live in ghettos outside the city limits or are not treated at par by law and the majority community shuns the minority away! The Indian ruling ideologues on the contrary are pushing for a unification, while clearly recognizing that Islam followed by Muslims is a separate religion. And I tend to believe that beyond the politics of the word ‘Hindu’, the subsumption of Muslim identity into the subcontinent’s identity is a undeniable fact. ‘Indian Muslim’ is an identity in itself. Indian Muslims have nothing in common with Turkish or Indonesian Muslims. To avoid the constant unneeded friction of egos; why can’t we settle on ‘Hindi’ or ‘Hindustani’ as the names for the culture identities? Could the Indian heartland Muslims be called Hindi Muslims instead of Indian Muslims. Or else the ruling party ideologues settle on Hindustani Muslims & Hindustani Hindus, making Hindustani the commonality for this family reunion!?
My moot point is — how can my friend’s family be accused of being discriminating, if it emphasizes that I am a part of their family? India is an aggregated nation of minorities, co-existing with different Gods & rituals, different languages (22 at last count), different foods (39 regional cuisines of Indian origin & a similar number adopted into India), different marriages (all marriages as per local customs, which are thousands are held valid in law), different races & looks (seven at the last count), different traditions, different thought, different education (while there are English Medium schools all over, yet every state has its local language medium school education, which is predominant). India survived the British divide & rule policy and Churchill’s foxiness and gracefully carries Pakistan as a visible birthmark of the Indian Republic. It needs to be specially underlined that while Pakistan is a sovereign state, it is still Indian in nature (to avoid heartburn of Paki friends, “please call yourself as habitants of Bada Sageer — the Indian Subcontinent). The repulsion among Pakistanis to call themselves Indians and constantly try deriving themselves as the spin-offs of Arabs or Turks (both of who are intertwined into Indian culture, but not its hallmark) is a political enterprise of the Pakistani militant establishment. It will die a natural death as the wounds of partition heal. It merits mention that India(ns) not only adopted Islam, when it came knocking in 7th Century, but it also tempered & blunted it, leading to much softer & tolerant versions, east of India in Malaysia and Indonesia. India created innumerable versions & schools of Islamic thought — The Barelvis, the Deobandis, the Bohra İsmayıllı (too prospered in India though non-Indian in origin), Khojas, Twelver Shi’ism, Sufism (non-Indian origin, but mainly propagated in India, becoming almost mainstream in certain pockets), Ahmadiyya, the Quranists & many more. Not to forget that India is the proud habitat of Jewish people & Parsis (Zoroastrianism) without any persecution. India has its own way of working upon everything that is brought from anywhere in the world, to finally make it Indian. And how did we temper theoretical, objective, only in print, Islam — again by adding the experiential to it, by adopting & propagating Sufism.
India is probably the only nation invaded & settled into, so often for its riches, that ‘different’ no more scared it ever. Without a hitch India has been a home to Parsis (Iranians), Tibetians, Bangladeshis (before 1971 & after), Afghans (which in turn includes Tajiks, Uzbeks, Pashtuns). Undeniably, some of the invaders plundered & butchered the habitants, while others, smarter ones, embraced her and adopted its value system. It is because of this that Indians always focused on themselves as the subject of experience, Yoga and meditation developed & thrived here, Buddhism and Jainism happened here. Few in the west know that India is the only nation to give the world atheistic & agnostic religions (Jainism & Buddhism). For most in the west — religion and atheism are oxymorons, but not for India (& Indians).
Having said the aforementioned, and recognizing that there still are real differences to be resolved among Indian Muslims & all other Indian minorities (because India is a nation of minorities), this really does not make India non-plural and monolithic that western media has sometimes accused India of. I am a very usual, average, common, infinitesimally minute of India. I’m plural, non-discriminating, appreciating equality and equity, in love of Sufi music, in love of Hindustani food, speaking few different languages, loving the finesse of Urdu, though loyal to my mother -tongue ‘ Punjabi’, with Muslim friends and happy to welcome anyone into my house and share my meals. So, it is completely unacceptable for me (a small, average part of India) to be accused of being anti-Muslim by a Western columnist, because I am not. And I am the majority of India. Yes, it is true that like any other nation India too has a small deranged community of professional haters or soul sellers, but they do not represent India. India is us — Hindu, Muslims Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, Buddhists, Christians, Jews. Yes, with some differences that we will handle and resolve by ourselves.
India always was, and will remain a land of mystics & Gods, the land of the experiential science as much as objective modern science and hence a land of plurality