Hin­duism tied to In­dia’s geopo­lit­i­cal stand­ing

Global Times - - Asian Review - The au­thor is a se­nior ed­i­tor with the Peo­ple’s Daily, and cur­rently a se­nior fel­low with the Chongyang In­sti­tute for Fi­nan­cial Stud­ies at Renmin Univer­sity of China. ding­gang@ glob­al­times. com. cn. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @ ding­gangchina

When the morn­ing breeze from the river lifted up Shaila’s black veil, Shekhar was dumb­founded to see such a pretty face. He con­tin­ued star­ing straight at her un­til the girl no­ticed the burn­ing stare com­ing from me­ters away and swiftly put down her veil.

The 1995 In­dian movie Bom­bay started from this chance en­counter. Yet the ro­man­tic jour­ney be­tween Shekhar, a jour­nal­ism stu­dent and the son of an or­tho­dox Hindu in south­ern In­dia, and Mus­lim girl Shaila even­tu­ally in­volved the bloody clashes be­tween Hin­dus and Mus­lims that broke out in Bom­bay at the end of 1992.

In real life, al­most 1,000 peo­ple were killed dur­ing the ri­ots. In the film, the cou­ple’s home is burned down by ri­ot­ers and their par­ents lose their lives in the fire.

Au­di­ences at the time were deeply touched by the courage of the di­rec­tor and scriptwriter to dis­play this painful mo­ment in In­dian his­tory through such a lov­ing story just three years af­ter the ri­ots. The movie trig­gered ex­ten­sive dis­cus­sions and caused peo­ple to re­flect on re­li­gious di­vi­sions.

Since the par­ti­tion of In­dia in 1947, re­li­gious con­flicts like the one por­trayed in Bom­bay have con­tin­ued to pro­duce tragedies in many re­gions of the coun­try.

When I watched the movie dur­ing a trip to In­dia not long ago, a ques­tion came to me: Why does it seem that Mus­lims in In­dia have re­mained largely apart from the rad­i­cal­iza­tion that has hap­pened to Mus­lim groups in other parts of the world?

In­dian Mus­lims sel­dom have ex­treme or­ga­ni­za­tions com­pared with groups in many other Asian coun­tries. In the south­ern part of the Philip­pines, ex­trem­ists backed by Is­lamic State have turned their oc­cu­pied cities into hor­ri­ble places. In south­ern Thai­land, ter­ror at­tacks staged by Mus­lim ex­trem­ists take place al­most ev­ery week.

I be­lieve the an­swer may lie in the facets of the coun­try’s other ma­jor re­li­gion: Hin­duism.

Like many other re­li­gions, Hin­duism has its ex­treme side, but for the most part its more mod­er­ate side has the strong­est in­flu­ence. Per­haps it is this more mod­er­ate in­flu­ence that has helped es­tab­lish In­dia’s last­ing co­he­sion and is one of the rea­sons that the coun­try has not sep­a­rated.

Most tourists to In­dia en­joy trav­el­ing to the golden tri­an­gle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, dur­ing which time they mostly visit the ar­chi­tec­ture of the Mughal Em­pire. In­di­ans of­ten take pride in the Mughal Dy­nasty, but this pe­riod of his­tory was es­tab­lished by Mus­lims, not Hin­dus, though there was Hindu in­flu­ence.

In the long his­tory of In­dia, Hin­duism has gone far be­yond a re­li­gion to be­come a life­style and so­cial in­sti­tu­tion. Both its ex­treme and tol­er­ant sides have con­sti­tuted the foun­da­tion for its re­la­tion­ship with Mus­lims and this dual char­ac­ter is go­ing to ex­ist for a long time.

The re­sult of this re­la­tion­ship has made In­dia a bar­rier for the spread of rad­i­cal Is­lam on the global geopo­lit­i­cal land­scape. In Asia as a whole, Is­lam forms an arc that in­cludes the Philip­pines, In­done­sia, Malaysia, south­ern Thai­land, south­ern Myan­mar, Bangladesh, Pak­istan and Cen­tral Asian coun­tries. There are ten­sions at var­i­ous de­grees at junc­tions in this arc where it en­coun­ters other re­li­gions and eth­nic­ity, but a dent ex­ists in the In­dian por­tion of this arc.

The world has taken no­tice. The lack of Is­lamic ex­trem­ists in In­dia has helped de­ter­mine its role in Asia and has been taken into con­sid­er­a­tion by the US, Japan, Rus­sia and Euro­pean coun­tries when it comes to their Asia poli­cies.

In the fu­ture, In­dia is sure to con­tinue to stand out in geopo­lit­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance when it comes to in­creas­ing re­li­gious and eth­nic con­flicts around the world. Where China is con­cerned, this sig­nif­i­cance should not be ig­nored.

Illustration: Liu Rui/ GT

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