Acceptance would be a good step towards lasting reconciliation.
Noted writer Chetan Bhagat recently published an article (behind a paywall) in which he suggests that both Hindus and Muslims should come together and construct Mospels — a combination of mosques and temples. He has become the subject of ridicule on the Right, but in spirit, I think this is something, if not exactly, what India needs right now. We need to move past the middle-age conflicts, and this cannot happen unless both the sides learn to live with each other without intimidating or feeling victimized.
The problem is not as simple as it is made out to be by writers like Chetan. The conflict between Hindus and Muslims is less ideological and more existential. If there were just ideological differences things would have been easier. Also, you cannot completely demonize one community and victimize the other. There needs to be a balance and unless there is an intellectual balance on both the sides, nothing much can be achieved.
One thing we need to accept is that Hindus and Muslims have had a bloody past. Call it political hegemony or a zeal to spread one’s religion, things were not as hunky-dory as they are made out to by the many leftist historians. In a country where people are free to have their opinions on different branches of thought sprouting from different forms of thinking, you cannot whitewash one fact while completely negating the other. The truth comes out.
There are fears on both the sides. Let me first echo the fears of the Hindu side because I follow many Right-wing thought leaders on Twitter. Among the Hindu right, there is fear that one day Muslims are going to become a majority and once that happens, it will be difficult for minority Hindus to live in a Muslim dominated country. They can see the live example in the Kashmir Valley, India’s only state where Muslims are the majority. There is rampant separatism. Hindus are being killed. The second exodus of Kasmiri Pandits is knocking at the doors of the nation’s conscience.
There are multiple examples from the neighboring countries. Minorities have been almost eliminated in Pakistan and Bangladesh. At the time of partition there were 15% Hindus in Pakistan but in the next 50 years they were reduced to just 1.6% (source: Hindus in South Asia & the Diaspora: A Survey of Human Rights, 2013)
Efforts are made to whitewash this fact too by stating various reasons why populations are skewed in the neighboring countries, but in the times of viral videos and social media, there is plenty of evidence that Hindus in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, are systematically being either victimized or proselytized, reducing their populations. The Right in India fears that the same will happen, whether Muslims become a majority in 100 years for 200 years, in India.
These fears are conveniently brushed aside stating that the examples given to show that Muslim dominated countries treat their minorities badly are non-secular countries and hence, parallels cannot be drawn. According to the Hindu right, there is no guarantee that the country will remain secular once it becomes Muslim-dominated. Muslims play the secularism card only while they are in a minority, they say.
There is also a massive political problem of minority appeasement that stops politicians from treating all the communities same. The so-called secular parties are constantly appeasing minorities to such an extent that even legislation and schemes that can benefit Muslims in the long run are opposed simply because Muslims are religiously against such legislation and schemes, for example declaring Tripple Talaq illegal or abolishing burqas (they completely cover faces of girls) in schools and colleges.
The recent cases of Hindus trying to reclaim their places of worship, for example the Gyanvapi mosque, is a manifestation of another unresolved issue. There are many mosques where it can be clearly seen that there are Hindu icons and carvings on the pillars and walls. These things are for all to see. Even if you visit Qutub Minar you can see the idols of various Hindu gods and even examples of Hindu architecture. It is plain silly to deny this or downplay it. In the case of the Qutub Minar and Gyanvapi controversies, if I’m not mistaken, Hindus are just asking to be permitted to perform pujas at the places (so the concept of Mospels is already taking origin). In many cases they say that if there are temples existing inside the mosques, they should be allowed to pray, and the Muslim side, considering that there were temples before they were mosques at those places, shouldn’t have any problem with that. This will give rise to a syncretic culture.
What about Muslims? They too have genuine concerns. The current generations didn’t do what happened 200–500 years ago. If temples were demolished and desecrated by the Mughals, the current generations of Muslims are not answerable. It is impractical to demolish every mosque that contains traces of temples because those days, it was a tradition to build mosques over temples. The old Islamic texts and chronicles gloriously explain how temples were demolished and mosques were built upon them. Rarely there were mosques built that were stand-alone structures. Most of the mosques were built to demolish and desecrate Hindu temples. In that sense, we are not going to see any end to it if you start pointing every temple under a mosque. Many Muslims are not even aware of the historical facts.
We will never resolve the issue if you paint the Hindu Right as completely evil or the Muslims as complete aggressors or victims. A middle path is needed, and the middle path can be found through strategic reconciliation. Let all the sides be heard. If you ridicule one side in favor of the other things will be back to the square one. Address the fears of all the sides even if you don’t agree with them.
Hindus definitely don’t want all mosques to be demolished. They want acceptance. Millions of Hindus perished during the Mughal rules and this needs to be addressed and accepted. Places of worship were demolished, and mosques were built over them and this must be addressed and accepted.
Sadguru rightly said in one of the interviews recently that when you should have defended your places of worship you couldn’t defend and now you are in a position, you are being assertive, which is of no use. Let go and move on.
Building common places of worship isn’t as far-fetched as it seems in the beginning. They will help people understand each other better. Hindus should be encouraged to read Quran and Muslims should be encouraged to read Gita. If there are temples inside mosques, Hindus should be able to pray there. Just as there is no government control over mosques and churches, government control must be withdrawn from temples. Hindu schools must be treated at par with minority schools and must enjoy all the privileges granted to minority schools. There should be a strong consensus against appeasement politics. Only then a syncretic environment for all religions can be created.