Author: Saadut
•10:25 PM

Nationalism in India has been for long used as a convenient long stick by extreme political ideologies, to flog minorities. And the recent controversy on Muslims singing ‘Vande Mataram’ is another extension of that only.

‘Vande mataram’ song was composed in 1882 by Bankimchandra Chatterjee in his book ‘Anandmath’, a mixture of Sanskrit and Bengali, and was first sung in 1896 at a Indian National Congress Session, Calcutta. While ‘Vande mataram’ was used in British India as a rallying cry in many parts of Indian against the British rule, the conflict of its lyrics with the basic tenants of Islam were recognized in pre Independence India even by Indian National Congress. This conflict of religious beliefs was accepted by Jawaharlal Nehru, when during the 1937 meeting of ‘Congress Working Committee’ at Calcutta, a resolution was adopted “The Committee recognizes the validity of the objection raised by Muslim friends to certain parts of the song. While the Committee has taken note of such objection insofar as it has intrinsic value, the Committee wishes to point out that the modern evolution of the use of the song as part of National life is of infinitely greater importance than its setting in a historical novel before the national movement had taken shape. Taking all things into consideration, therefore, the Committee recommend that, wherever Bande Mataram is sung at national gatherings, only the first two stanzas should be sung, with perfect freedom to the organizers to sing any other song of an unobjectionable character, in addition to, or in the place of, the Bande Mataram song.” (A.G. Noorani, Frontline, Jan 2-15, 1999).

Nehru here not only acknowledged the overwhelmingly participation of Muslims in the Indian Independence struggle, but also recognized their religious sensitivities (what he did later to Muslim representation in India is another issue). Verses of ‘Vande Mataram’ are seen in direct conflict with basic beliefs of Islam, addressing India as a goddess, in some stanzas equated with Durga, Lakshmi and Kali (4th stanza “Thou art Durga, Lady and Queen, with her hands that strike and her swords of sheen, Thou art Lakshmi lotus-throned”). One of the basic fundamentals of Islam being the “Oneness of Allah’ (God) and ‘no association, whatsoever, with Him’, such lyrical proclamation in ‘Vande Mataram’ go against that basic belief. For whatever love of his nation, a Muslim cannot be forced (or expected) to equate his country with Goddesses (God).

Over years ‘Vande Mataram’ may have appealed to large sections of people in India, overwhelming majority of them Hindus, but that is because the concept of ‘Goddess India’ already exists with them and because the worship of ‘Bharat Mata’ is not uncommon with them. A ‘Bharat Mata’ temple was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi at Banares in 1936, but that did not wean Muslims away from the Indian freedom struggle. And this worship of ‘Bharat Mata’ by Hindus has continued in India since decades, often depicted as ‘Goddess in a red sari’, with a crown on her head, holding a milk urn in one hand and sheaves of grains in the other.

 ‘Vande mataram’ was part of Bankimchandra Chatterjee's 1882 novel ‘AnandMath’, where the writer has also been known to indulge in an anti Muslim tirade, portraying them in negative. Not only did ‘Anandmath’ aim at demonizing Muslims, it promoted violence against them in many passages. Since the novel was written in the period post Mughal fall and during the emergence of British India, it aims to call for an uprising against the earlier Mughal rulers (and also against the Muslims of Bengal). Sample this passage of ‘Anandmath’ “The rural people ran out to kill the Muslims while coming across them. In the night, some were organized in groups and going to the Muslim locality, they torched their houses and looted their everything. Many Muslims were killed; many of them shaved their beards, smeared their bodies with soil and started singing the name of Hari. When asked, they said, we were Hindus. The frightened Muslims rushed towards the town in group after group.” (Abbey of Delight, the English translation of Anandamath , by Arabinda Das. Pages 161-162).

Surprisingly even though ‘Vande Mataram’ was used as a rallying cry during the Indian Independence movement, the book ‘Anandmath’ itself is not anti British (rather views them as friendly). Sample this
"He: Your task is accomplished. The Muslim power is destroyed. There is nothing else for you to do. No good can come of needless slaughter.
"S: (greatly pained) My lord, if Hindu dominion is not going to be established, who will rule? Will the Muslim kings return?
"He: No. The English will rule."
"S: (weeping hot tears) I will make my Mother rich with harvest in the blood of her foes.
"He: Who is the foe? There are no foes now. The English are friends as well as rulers. And no one can defeat them in battle.” (Page 715, Sources of Indian Tradition, William Theodore de Bary and others; Columbia University Press; 1958)

Sadly the penchant for converting religion into patriotism often ends up in mixing the two to create a right winged potent ideology, and it is here when the fine line between religion and nationalism is erased in a secular democracy. ‘Vande mataram’ is a national song of India and not the national anthem; Muslims have been singing the national anthem for decades. And by objecting to sing ‘Vande Mataram’ because it conflicts with your religious beliefs of ‘Oneness of God’, Indian Muslims cannot and should not be treated as any less patriotic.

For all the rhetoric that right winged parties may be whipping by linking patriotism to singing ‘Vande Mataram’ fact is that many top leaders of BJP themselves don’t know how to sing it.  The Indian republic was created as a political and social unit, accumulating different communities, religions and regions. It does not limit this union to any forced ‘cultural nationalism’ where the minority is forced to follow the majority line. A secular, democratic republic promises all communities, religions and regions (sic) to be equal stakeholders to this political union (which stops at being a social union with such diversity of societies and communities across the length and breadth of India). While Indian ‘nationalists’ aim their guns at Muslims for not signing the ‘national song’, they refuse to see the failure of this Indian inclusiveness when large populations under naxal and Maoist influence in mainland India could be refusing to even sing the national anthem and identify with the national flag. What remedy do the ‘cultural nationalists’ have for them? While Indian ‘political extremists’ and ‘cultural nationalists’ are busy flogging Muslims for whatever reason they can grab, they are ignoring a larger section of their own population that is increasingly being pitted against the state for reasons more serious than just singing a national song.

Should patriotism for Indian Muslims be defined by loving their country as a nation or by worshipping it as a goddess (against their faith)?

Does every Indian, who sings the national song, become patriotic and nationalistic, even if most of them in seats of power would be busy robbing (and selling) the same nation? 

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