Friday, April 16, 2021

When Muslims and Hindus Worshipped Together

Before Partition, there was nothing unusual about a Muslim family celebrating at a Hindu shrine.

 “Pre-colonial identities were fuzzy, unclear,” says Ali Usman Qasmi, a historian who works at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).contradiction in a Hindu visiting a Muslim shrine or vice versa. The Hindu/Muslim, as we understand them today, was yet to be crystallised. Things began to change with the colonial state, with the arrival of modernity.

“Modernity doesn’t like this fuzziness. Identities needed to be indexed, clearly defined. They had to be determinable. People were pigeonholed according to the preconceived notions of the officers of the colonial state.

While there is no doubt that the Partition and the subsequent hostility between India and Pakistan played a major role in the hardening of the Hindu-Muslim identities, the British colonial state laid the foundation for this process, says Qasmi. The colonial census reports, for example, forced people to choose just one religion instead of reflecting the fluidity of their religious beliefs. The colonial education system, too, played its part, while dividing history into separate, impenetrable categories of “Hindu era” and “Muslim era” in Indian history, constructing the narrative of Muslims as “foreigners” on the Indian subcontinent and Hindus as “Indigenous”.

“There are multiple shades within the Sufi culture,” says Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro, an anthropologist working with the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics in Islamabad, Pakistan. “There are different schools of thought and different philosophical debates. Broadly speaking there can be a division between orthodox and heterodox [aspects not conforming to the orthodox] form. It is the heterodox forms within Sufism that don’t follow conventional rituals. They draw followers and devotees from across different religions and sects. So, you would have Hindus and Sikhs as well, visiting their shrines. These heterodox forms, such as the ‘Malamati’ [Muslim mystic] tradition, have their own rituals, for example around music, singing and clothes.”

Rumi points out that, historically, Sufi shrines provided their devotees with an escape from the dogmatism of rituals, which is why diverse religious communities could interact there. Because of its syncretic traditions, a Sufi shrine was historically not a Muslim-specific place but rather a sacred space open to all religious groups.

There is a long history of defiance of normative gender roles at Sufi shrines. Women and men have historically intermingled in these spaces, while the transgender community has been welcomed. However, as these shrines have become more doctrinaire since the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, many have disallowed the on-site mixing of men and women.

Another part of the adoption of stricter Muslim practices was the removal of Hindu influences from not just the Sufi shrines but from all aspects of religious, social and public life in the country.

“There was a forced amnesia on the part of the state, a planned erasure, which was organised and brutal,” says Qasmi. “The Hindu past was systematically removed.”

Sufi shrines were stripped of their Hindu influences and hundreds of Hindu temples and shrines across the country fell into neglect, resulting in squatters moving in or the buildings being demolished – while others were deliberately destroyed by mobs.

“Many of these abandoned sacred spaces, gurdwaras, temples and smadhs across Pakistan were taken over by refugees of Partition,” Iqbal Qaiser, a historian from the city of Kasur, says. “People divided these vast complexes into several residential quarters and started living there. The government, instead of protecting these historical and religious places, often turned a blind eye towards these places. Of course, you cannot blame the refugees for taking over these shrines. Having lost everything on the other side, they had no option. It was the government’s job to facilitate them and find a mechanism to protect these historical places. But nothing happened. For a lot of refugees, there was no emotional or sacred connection with the spaces they occupied. They were new to these geographies and hence did not fully understand the importance of these places in the context of their villages, towns or cities.”

In December 1992, after a Hindu-nationalist mob brought down the 16th century Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, India, hundreds of Hindu temples across Pakistan, most of which had been abandoned at the time of the 1947 Partition, were attacked in retaliation. The Neela Gumbad Valmiki Mandir, in Lahore – one of the two functioning Hindu temples in the city – was burned down, while Sitla Mandir, also in Lahore and which had been serving as the living quarters for Partition refugees from the other side of the border, was also attacked. As these attacks on historical structures unfolded, government officials quietly looked on.

With the Partition drastically reducing the population of the Hindu community in Pakistan traces of  pre-colonial, pre-modern, fluid traditions began to disappear. The tradition of Muslims revering a Hindu shrine, has continued to some extent in more remote, rural areas.

“Separation from a ‘Hindu India’ is explained as the raison d’être of a Muslim-Pakistan,” says Anam Zakaria, an oral historian who is the author of 'Footprints of Partition and Between the Great Divide.' "...The ‘Hindu’ is the perennial enemy and it is imperative to retain the purity of religion, and of nationhood from it. It is through this reflection, and contradiction of the ‘Hindu other’, that the self is created in Pakistan. Unfortunately, the situation is not much different in India, where the ‘Muslim other’ defines the ‘Hindu Indian’ identity.”

On the other side of the Partition divide, “India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has emerged as a hegemon in Indian politics since 2014 and aggressively implemented its ideology that revolves around the idea of Hindutva,” says Delhi-based author and journalist Sameer Arshad Khatlani.

How colonialism eroded Pakistan’s history of religious fluidity | History News | Al Jazeera

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