‘The Hindu-Muslim Problem’ by Lala Lajpat Rai

(Following is a reproduction of an article written by Lala Lajpat Rai in 1924.) 


 THE HINDU-MUSLIM PROBLEM is the problem of India. We have heard and read much of Hindu-Muslim unity. It is always a matter of controversy between the Anglo-Indian [British person in India] and the Nationalist. The former asserts, and the latter denies, the impossibility of Hindus and Muslims uniting together to form one nation. The amount of unity or disunity existing at a particular moment is also always an issue. Yet it is a fact that from 1919 to the end of 1921 Hindus and Muslims of India were fairly united. It was during this period that for the first time in the history of India a Kafir (Swami Shradhanand) preached from the pulpit of the biggest and historically the most important and the most magnificent mosque (Jama Masjid) of Northern India. It was during the same period that the Malechhas fraternised with the Hindus on the occasion of their religious festivals.

It is also a fact that the amount of unity achieved in this short period, has since then melted down, and for the last three years Hindus and Mussalmans have been at daggers drawn with each other to an extent never before known under British rule. All attempts to stem the tide have so far proved ineffectual. All efforts for finding a solution have been fruitless. It cannot be denied that at the moment of writing, the relations between the two communities are strained almost to the breaking point. Communal riots and scuffles are of more frequent occurrence than ever before. Mutual distrust and suspicion has reached the Nth point. Even in Congress circles, in spite of much hugging and cooing, the relations between the leaders of the two communities are not free from distrust and suspicion. Hindu-Muslim unity is always put in the fore-front of the Congress programme, but so far the leaders have failed to successfully grapple with the situation and find out a suitable solution. The explanation is obvious. Either they have lost influence with the masses, or they are not sincere. I cannot accept the latter alternative, and thus it is only the former that is left to us to adopt.

Before Mahatma Gandhi was released, the whole country looked to the Yeravda jail for the cure of the disease that had overtaken the body politic during his incarceration. All hopes were concentrated on one person, and that person being in jail, it was expected that his freedom would mean the freedom of the country from Hindu­Muslim quarrels. Both parties had faith in him. His leadership was acknowledged by all. There was not the least possible suspicion of his motives. He was the very personification of love, forbearance, trust, and goodness. So it was believed that the “key to the Yeravda jail” was the key to Hindu-Muslim unity. Providence in its own wisdom supplied that key, and the Mahatma was released. It is now more than six months that he has been released. His health was very delicate when he was released, so delicate that he could not leave the hospital for about six weeks or so after his release. Yet with characteristic selflessness he immediately set himself to study the situation, to probe into the causes of this unhappy change. He left nothing unexplored. He met and heard the stories of both sides, and also of those who professed to belong to no side. He made independent enquiries, and thought and meditated.

Eventually he issued a statement which, sweet, reasonable, and highly conciliatory though it was, failed to satisfy anyone. When I say anyone, I exclude that class (a fairly large and influential body) for whom his word is law and who will.not question anything he says. If any distinction were to be made between the amount of satisfaction the statement gave to the Hindus and the Muslims, it will not be wrong to say that it gave less satisfaction to the former than to the latter. There is, indeed, a general impression among the Hindus that in apportioning blame and responsibility he was not impartial. There are classes of Hindus (most influential, energetic, and active) whom his statement mortally offended, and who have not hesitated to retaliate with words and resolutions of protest and anger. Whatever one may think of its justifiability or otherwise, this represents a frame of mind which no one who is anxious to bring about lasting peace between: the two communities can ignore.

The solution which the Mahatma suggested, and the cure he prescribed, have, I am afraid, appealed to none. Even his diagnosis is not so masterly as one had a right to expect from him. He has laid great stress on mere symptoms and has not gone deep into the underlying and predisposing causes. He had something to say about Mian Fazl-i-Husain and Swami Shraddhanand, but he did not go into the forces that went to make the one and the other. No one doubts his honesty of purpose, his deep love for all, his desire for peace, and his anxiety to bring about such a complete unity among Hindus and Muslims as to make their united demand for Swarajya irresistible and to make Swarajya itself, when attained, durable and progressive. But with all this the document is rather disappointing, and the solution suggested is on the face of it superficial, though noble and magnanimous in appearance. The events of the last six months are enough evidence of its utter failure both as a palliative or [and] as a curative remedy.

Yet amidst all these disappointments and disconcerting events and circumstances, and in the midst of [the] resulting chaos, there is one fact which emerges boldly and which gives hope to all well-wishers of India. However divided Hindus and Muslims may be, however bitter their relations with each other, they are still united in their demand for Swarajya, in their opposition to the Government, and in their hatred of the subjugation imposed upon them from without. It will stand to the eternal credit of Mahatma Gandhi that he has brought politics home to the masses of India, that he has created a wonderful and never to be effaced awakening in them, and that he has produced a consciousness which marks the beginning of a real nationhood. With this solid and permanent achievement to the Mahatma’s credit, there is no reason to despair of the future. His statement may not be as satisfying as one would have wished it to be, but he is still at the wheel and is hopeful as ever of being able to lead us through to the desired goal. But the one essential condition of success is that there must be no ignoring of facts, and no clinging to shibboleths blown away by the wind of experience. If he will apply his mind to the removal of the real causes of Hindu-Muslim disunity, and keep himself open as to methods and means, he may yet succeed. Even if he does not, others may, given the right attitude, the right mind, and the readiness to apply the right remedy.

After the above was written on board the ship during my voyage to India, I have had further corroboration of statements made in what I have seen, read, and observed since my landing at Bombay on the 18th of October, 1924. The two shocking [pieces of] news which I heard immediately on landing were about the Kohat tragedy and Mahatma Gandhi’s fast. The most disconcerting feature of the former was the total emigration of the Hindus from Kohat, out of fear of further Muslim attacks. I am not at present prepared to assert what the respective liabilities of the communities were in regard to this tragedy, but I have no doubt in my mind that the Government has throughout shown such utter inefficiency and incompetency as stands unique in the history of British rule in India. I am not very much enamoured of British rule, or for the matter of that [for that matter] of any foreign rule, and in spite of my great admiration for British character, I have been a life-long critic of the British administration. Yet I always believed that the one justification for British rule in India was its ability to protect the minorities, and to guarantee peace and security to them under any circumstances.

The spectacle of a whole community of about 3,500 men, women, and children marching away from their homes to distant places under Government transport arrangements and with Government help, for fear of being annihilated by an infuriated majority, is, however, a conclusive proof of the falsity of this belief, because it can only mean one of the two things–either the insincerity or the inefficiency of British officials, at least in the North-West Frontier Province. I will assume here for the purposes of this argument that the Hindus of Kohat were in the first instance to blame, and that they had provoked the Muhammadans for a fatal attack on them; still, it was the duty of the British Government to keep the Hindus in Kohat, to protect them from further molestation by the Muhammadans, at any cost, to restore order and peace, and then to proceed to try and punish the guilty persons. Practically what happened at Kohat was that the authorities considered themselves overpowered and incapable of granting the necessary security to the Hindus. We have often heard of lynch law. What is lynch law? It is nothing else but the prevention of the ordinary course of justice and the preventing of the authorities from proceeding according to law. Was not the happening at Kohat an illustration of the same tendency?

The law demands that every accused person should be fully protected from molestation by the accusers, until a court had found him guilty and sentenced him legally. Assuming that the Hindus of Kohat were in the position of accused persons, it was the duty of the government to arrest them, and keep them in safe custody until they could be placed before a court of justice and regularly tried. The British Government admittedly failed to do this at Kohat. Even assuming that the Hindus wanted to go away for fear of their lives, it was the duty of the Government to dissuade them, and provide sufficient military security to enable them to stay in their homes. No one wants to leave his home and property in the way the Kohat Hindus did, unless he felt that his life was no longer safe. This particular incident has disclosed a new phase of the communal strife, which should be particularly noted by those who want to patch up and create an appearance of unity without going to the root of the problem.

 As regards Mahatma Gandhi’s fast, it is an open secret that the desecration of Hindu temples, one after another, at Amethi, Gulbarga, Kohat, and, other places, and the tragedy of Kohat, gave him such a shock that he considered it his duty to undergo a penance for his misunderstanding and mishandling the Hindu-Muslim situation during the last three years. For the first time he felt miserable at the thought that he, who had striven his best to obtain Hindu cooperation for the saving of the Muhammadan “temple” Khilafat, had to see desecration of Hindu temples by tens, in most cases without any provocation, at the hands of Muhammadans. The sense of helplessness and disappointment generated by this shock impelled him to impose a purificatory penance of twenty-one days’ fast on him[self], in the hope that whilst he purified himself of any sin that he might have committed unconsciously, he would be able to create an atmosphere which might give opportunities of improving Hindu-Muslim relations.

My first feeling was one of disapproval. On reaching Delhi, however, I felt that the impulse which forced him to take the vow could not perhap be satisfied otherwise. Similar was my feeling about the Unity Conference. I don’t think the Unity Conference has solved the problem or could possibly solve it, but on the whole it has been useful in paving the way for the right understanding of the problem with its various complications and implications. Mahatma Gandhi is now resolved to devote the best part of his energies, time, and attention to the solution of this problem. From the bottom of my heart I wish him success, but he will not succeed unless he devotes himself wholeheartedly to the understanding of the real causes that underlie the present situation, and scrupulously avoids proceeding on assumptions and presumptions engendered by affectionate relations with friends, and well-meaning but ineffectual professions of devotion on their part. He must adopt a scientific attitude towards this question, and proceed by scientific methods to find out the root causes of trouble and its possible solutions.

I have resigned my position of leadership in the Congress in order to be free to express myself. I am going to speak the truth plainly, and untrammelled by any delicate feeling about the responsibilities of leadership, and unaffected by what anyone might think of me. Anybody may criticise me, but I will not enter into controversies. I have considered it necessary to say all this before I start giving expression to my views on the subject.


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Saquib Salim

Saquib Salim is a well known historian under whose supervision various museums (Red Fort, National Library, IFFI, Jallianwala Bagh etc.) were researched. To his credit Mr. Salim has more than 400 published articles on history, politics, culture and literature in English and Hindi. Before pursuing his research and masters in modern Indian History from JNU, he was an electrical engineering student at AMU. Presently, he works as a freelance/ independent history researcher, writer and manages the website heritagetimes.in

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