One aspect of the British imperialism in India, which critics of the subcontinent have obsessively used for demonizing the British, was their “Divide and Rule” policy.
Critics claim that the British rulers created animosity between Hindus and Muslims as a premeditated stratagem to weaken the unity and neutralize the collective resistance of Indians for facilitating their continued occupation and exploitation.
This criticism of the British “Divide and Rule” policy has been regurgitated frequently by all: Hindus and Muslims. There existed a wonderful relationship of amity, tolerance, brotherhood and co- operation between the Hindus and Muslims before the devious and manipulative British spoiled it all. Even Nehru painted a picture that the British deliberately created a division between the Hindus and Muslims. India’s Congress Party viewed this conspiracy theory as a major underlying cause of the continued Hindu- Muslim conflicts in post-independence India; and all blame was conveniently heaped, in absentia, on the former colonists.
The British rulers undoubtedly exploited the religious division amongst Indians to their advantage.
The claim that harmony existed in pre-British India is not at all supported by available historical evidence; it, instead, point to the contrary. During the centuries of Muslim rule in India, every major Hindu temple was destroyed and many of them were replaced by mosques, often with towering minarets, as a twin symbol of Islam’s triumph as well as the subjugation and humiliation of the Hindus. Even after the British mercenaries first landed in India as traders in early 1600s, Aurangzeb was destroying thousands of temples and forcing the Hindus all over India to convert to Islam. Islamic persecution and brutality virtually extinguished the light of Buddhism in India, a vibrant religion in parts of India when the Muslim invaders came. The Sikhs and Jains also suffered their share of terrible atrocity during the Muslim rule.
Obviously, there existed a huge chasm between the Muslims and non-Muslims of India. The British mercenaries, after arriving in India, witnessed it themselves for a long time before they started capturing power in 1757. In front of their own eyes, Emperor Aurangzeb destroyed thousands of Hindu temples; they witnessed his bloody, bitter, ceaseless struggles with Marathas, Sikhs and others. The British later exploited this pre-existing discord and animosity to their advantage.
Beginning with the year 1920 there occurred in Malabar what is known as the Mopla Rebellion. It was the result of the agitation carried out by two Muslim organizations, the Khuddam-i-Kaba (servants of the Mecca Shrine) and the Central Khilafat Committee. The Moplas were suddenly carried off their feet by this agitation. The outbreak was essentially a rebellion against the British Government The aim was to establish the kingdom of Islam by overthrowing the British Government. Knives, swords and spears were secretly manufactured, bands of desperadoes collected for an attack on British authority. On 20th August a severe encounter took place between the Moplas and the British forces at Pinmangdi Roads were blocked, telegraph lines cut, and the railway destroyed in a number of places. As soon as the administration had been paralyzed, the Moplas declared that Swaraj had been established. A certain Ali Mudaliar was proclaimed Raja, Khilafat flags were flown, and Ernad and Wallurana were declared Khilafat Kingdoms. As a rebellion against the British Government it was quite understandable. But what baffled most was the treatment accorded by the Moplas to the Hindus of Malabar. The Hindus were visited by a dire fate at the hands of the Moplas. Massacres, forcible conversions, desecration of temples, foul outrages upon women, such as ripping open pregnant women, pillage, arson and destruction—in short, all the accompaniments of brutal and unrestrained barbarism, were perpetrated freely by the Moplas upon the Hindus until such time as troops could be hurried to the task of restoring order through a difficult and extensive tract of the country. This was not a Hindu-Muslim riot. This was just a Bartholomew. The number of Hindus who were killed, wounded or converted, is not known. But the number must have been enormous.
In the year 1921-22 communal jealously did not subside. The Muharram Celebrations had been attended by serious riots both in Bengal and in the Punjab. In the latter province in particular, communal feeling at Multan reached very serious heights, and although the casualty list was comparatively small, a great deal of damage to property was done.
Though the year 1922-23 was a peaceful year the relations between the two communities were strained throughout 1923-24. But in no locality did this tension produce such tragic consequences as in the city of Kohat. The immediate cause of the trouble was the publication and circulation of a pamphlet containing a virulently anti-Islamic poem. Terrible riots broke out on the 9th and 10th of September 1924, the total casualties being about 155 killed and wounded. House property to the estimated value of Rs. 9 lakhs was destroyed, and a large quantity of goods were looted. As a result of this reign of terror the whole Hindu population evacuated the city of Kohat.
In the summer months, there was a distressing number of riots. In July, severe fighting broke out between Hindus and Musalmans in Delhi, which was accompanied by serious casualties. In the same month, there was a bad outbreak at Nagpur. August was even worse. There were riots at Lahore, at Lucknow, at Moradabad, at Bhagalpur and Nagpur in British India; while a severe affray took place at Gulbarga in the Nizam’s Dominions. September-October saw severe fighting at Lucknow, Shahajahanpur, Kankinarah and at Allahabad.
In 1925-26 the antagonism between the Hindus and the Muslims became widespread. Very significant features of the Hindu-Muslim rioting, which took place during this year were its wide distribution and its occurrence, in some cases, in small villages. Calcutta, the United Provinces, the Central Provinces and the Bombay Presidency were all scenes of riots, some of which led to regrettable losses of life.
The year 1926-27 was one continuous period of communal riots. Since April 1926, every month witnessed affrays more or less serious between partizans of the two communities and only two months passed without actual rioting in the legal sense of the word. One or two of the riots, indeed, were due to nothing more than strained nerves and general excitement. Of these, the most striking example occurred in Delhi on 24th June, when the bolting of a pony in a crowded street gave the impression that a riot had started, upon which both sides immediately attacked each other with brickbats and staves. Including the two outbursts of rioting in Calcutta during April and May 1926, 40 riots took place during the twelve months ending with April 1st 1927, resulting in the death of 197 and injuries, more or less severe, to 1,598 persons.
Coming to the year 1927-28, from the beginning of April and till the end of September 1927, no fewer than 25 riots were reported. Of these 10 occurred in the United Provinces, six in the Bombay Presidency, 2 each in the Punjab, the Central Provinces, Bengal, and Bihar and Orissa, and one in Delhi. The majority of these riots occurred during the celebration of a religious festival by one or other of the two communities, whilst some arose out of the playing of music by Hindus in the neighbourhood of mosques or out of the slaughter of cows by the Muslims. The total casualties resulting from the above disorders were approximately 103 persons killed and 1,084 wounded.
The year 1928-29 was comparatively more peaceful than the year 1927-28. Lord Irwin, by his speeches to the Central Legislature and outside, had given a strong impetus to the attempts to find some basis for agreement between the two communities, on those questions of political importance, which were responsible for the strained relations between them. Fortunately the issues arising out of the inquiry by the Simon Commission which was appointed in 1929, absorbed a large part of the energy and attention of the different communities, with the result that less importance came to be attached to local causes of conflict, and more importance to the broad question of constitutional policy.
The riots of Kharagpur, an important railway centre not far from Calcutta, also resulted in serious loss of life. Two riots took place at Kharagpur, the first on the occasion of the Muharram celebration at the end of June and the second on the 1st September 1928, when the killing of a cow served as a cause. In the first riot 15 were killed and 21 injured, while in the second riot, the casualties were 9 killed and 35 wounded. But none of these riots is to be compared with those that raged in Bombay from the beginning to the middle of February, when, as we have seen, 149 persons were killed and well over 700 injured.
During the year 1929-30 communal riots, which had been so conspicuous and deplorable a feature of public life during the preceding years, were very much less frequent. Only 12 were of sufficient importance to be reported to Government of India, and of these only the disturbances in the City of Bombay were really serious.
The year 1930-31 saw the eruption of the Civil Disobedience Movement. It gave rise to riots and disturbances all over the country. They were mostly of a political character and the parties involved in them were the police and the Congress volunteers. But, as it always happens in India, the political disturbances took a communal twist. This was due to the fact that the Muslims refused to submit to the coercive methods used by Congress volunteers to compel them to join in Civil Disobedience.
The result was that although the year began with political riots it ended in numerous and quite serious communal riots. The worst of these communal riots took place in and around Sukkur in Sind between the 4th and 11th of August and affected over a hundred villages. The outbreak in the Kishoreganj subdivision of Mymensingh District (Bengal) on the 12th/15th of July was also on a large scale. In addition, there were communal disturbances on the 3rd of August in Ballia (United Provinces); on the 6th of September in Nagpur, and on the 6th/7th September in Bombay; and a Hindu-Christian riot broke out near Tiruchendur (Madras) on the 31st of October. In Assam, the communal riot which occurred at Digboi in Lakhimpur District, resulted in deaths of one Hindu and three Muslims. In Bengal, a communal riot took place in the Asansol division during the Muharram festival.
The year 1932-33 was relatively free from communal agitations and disturbances. This welcome improvement was doubtless in some measure due to the suppression of lawlessness generally and the removal of uncertainty in regard to the position of the Muslims under the new constitution.
But in 1933-34 throughout the country communal tension had been increasing and disorders which occurred not only on the occasion of such festivals as Holi, Id and Muharram, but also many resulting from ordinary incidents of every-day life, indicated that there had been a deterioration in communal relations since the year began. Communal riots during Holi occurred at Benares and Cawnpore in the United Provinces, at Lahore in the Punjab, and at Peshawar.
In 1934-35 serious trouble arose in Lahore on the 29th June as a result of a dispute between Muslims and Sikhs about a mosque situated within the precincts of a Sikh temple known as the Shahidganj Gurudwara. Trouble had been brewing for some time. Ill-feeling became intensified when the Sikhs started to demolish the Mosque despite Muslim protests. The building had been the subject of prolonged litigation, which has confirmed the Sikh right of possession. On the night of the 29th June a crowd of 3 or 4 thousand Muslims assembled in front of the Gurudwara. A struggle between this crowd and the Sikhs inside the Gurudwara was only averted by the prompt action of the local authorities. They subsequently obtained an undertaking from the Sikhs to refrain from further demolition. On the 25th August 1935 there was a communal riot at Secunderabad.
In the year 1936 there were four communal riots. On the 14th April there occurred a most terrible riot at Firozabad in the Agra District. A Muslim procession was proceeding along the main bazar and it is alleged that bricks were thrown from the roofs of Hindu houses. This enraged the Muslims in the procession who set fire to the house of a Hindu, Dr. Jivaram, and the adjacent temple of Radha Krishna. The inmates of Dr. Jivaram’s house in addition to 11 Hindus including 3 children were burnt to death. A second Hindu-Muslim riot broke out in Poona in the Bombay Presidency on 24th April 1936. On the 27th April there occurred a Hindu-Muslim riot in Jamalpur in the Monghyr District. The fourth Hindu-Muslim riot of the year took place in Bombay on the 15th October 1936.
The year 1937 was full of communal disturbances. On the 27th March 1937 there was a Hindu-Muslim riot at Panipat over the Holi procession and 14 persons were killed. The month of May was full of communal riots which took place mostly in the C. P. and the Punjab. One that took place in Shikarpur in Sind caused great panic. On 18th June there was a Sikh-Muslim riot in Amritsar. It assumed such proportions that British troops had to be called out to maintain order.
The year 1938 was marked by two communal riots—one in Allahabad on 26th March and another in Bombay in April.
There were 6 Hindu-Muslim riots in 1939. On the 21st January there was a riot at Asansol in which one was killed and 18 injured. It was followed by a riot in Cawnpore on the 11th February in which 42 were killed, 200 injured and 800 arrested. On the 4th March there was a riot at Benares followed by a riot at Cassipore near Calcutta on the 5th March. On 19th June there was again a riot at Cawnpore over the Rathajatra procession.
The Muslim League
The Muslim League was the party of Pakistan’s founders. But it faced multiple fractures soon after the creation of Pakistan in 1947. The party emerged as an early political expression of the gradual growth of a Muslim middle-class in India. The party was inspired by the academic and social activism of the scholar Sir Syed Ahmad Khan who was one of the first major exponents of ‘Muslim Modernism’ in India.
In 1930, Muhammad Iqbal became the party’s president and in an address demanded a separate Muslim state (but one which will exist within an Indian federation). He also the urged lawyer and politician, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, to return to India (from the UK) and lead the League. Jinnah had quit politics after being disillusioned by the rising communal tensions between India’s Hindus and Muslims in the 1920s. He moved to the UK to practice law.
Iqbal glued the Muslim Modernism of the likes of Sir Syed and himself to the more radical currents of Pan-Islamism of that period to formulate an expanded idea of Muslim nationalism in India. Jinnah had returned to India in the mid-1930s and eventually became AIML’s president. During an address to party members in 1940, Jinnah declared that Muslims would be politically and economically undermined in a Hindu-majority India and thus needed to strive towards creating their own country, Pakistan.
The 1945-46 elections were called by the British to constitute a government at the centre and in the provinces. The elections were vital for the League to prove that a majority of Indian Muslims considered it to be the main Muslim party in the country and agreed with the party’s demand for a separate Muslim-majority state.
The League was being directly challenged by the country’s largest Indian nationalist party, the Indian National Congress (INC); and also by radical Islamic parties who had labeled the League as a party of ‘fake Muslims’. The League’s manifesto for the election called for a separate Muslim-majority country but which would also welcome India’s other minorities (Christians, Buddhists, Zoroastrians and Sikhs) as equal citizens. The League also appealed to ‘scheduled class Hindus’, claiming that they would be better off in Pakistan.
The Akhil Bharat Hindu Maha Sabha is one of the oldest organizations of India. It was formed in 1907. Eminent Hindu leaders extended this Organization in 1915 on an All-India basis. The Hindu Mahasabha is a Hindu Sangathan movement. It was a non-secular party, established for safeguarding the issues of Hindus.
Eminent personalities who founded it and who presided over its All India sessions were Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, Swami Sharadhanand, Shankaracharya Dr Kurtkoti , N.C.Kelkar , Lal Lajpat Rai , etc. The party was also represented in Parliament by noted Parliamentarians like Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Prof V.G.Deshpande, N.C.Chaterjee, etc.Several revolutionaries where active members of the party.
In 1925, elections to the Provincial Legislatures were held and nationalists supported by the Hindu Mahasabha were elected in Sindh, Bengal, Punjab, C.P (Central Province)& U.P (Uttar Pradesh) including personalities like Lal Lajpat Rai.