Peoples of different races and cultures have migrated to India over mountains and across seas, bringing with them a range of varying ideals and customs. For years, these different peoples have been able to balance their languages, race, religion, and attitudes within the country and remain peaceful and harmonious. Yet within the last one hundred years, disunity, disharmony, and disintegration have been intensifying
among differing Indian communities (Pande 52).
Hindus, constituting eighty percent of the population of India, believe in a journey of the soul that undergoes a series of reincarnations, eventually leading to salvation. Purity of the mind and soul is needed to accomplish this goal and one's karma, or actions in life, determines one's reincarnation. Good karma, the good actions one performs in one's life, results in being born into a higher being; bad karma leads to reincarnation as a lower being. Besides believing in reincarnation, Hindus worship a number of Gods. The three main manifestations of the omnipresent God are Brahma the creator, Vishnu the protector, and Shiva the destroyer (http://www.travel.indiamart.com/religion-culture/index.html).
The novel A Passage to India by E.M. Forster takes place at the peak of the British colonial era and illustrates the
religious tensions that underscore Indian life. In the novel, Ronny is the City Magistrate of
Chandrapore and observes many examples of unrest between Hindus and Muslims. Yet instead of allowing Hindus and Muslims to solve their problems between themselves, the British intervene. As the Muslim holiday of Mohurron is approaching, many Chandrapore Mohammedens are building
celebratory paper towers too large to pass under the branches of the pepul tree. So if a tower becomes entwined in one of the trees, a Muslim climbs one of the branches and cuts it off, eventually leading to protests by Hindus and a religiously-charged riot. While the Muslims suggest that their procession take another route, the Hindus insist that the towers be shorter (Forster 103). Ronny is sure that if he were not present to preside over such disagreements, there would be bloodshed.
British presence offset the balance of power between the two religions of Islam and Hinduism, leading to future unrest.
India had always been a country occupied by people of two separate religions, but there had never existed any deep cultural differences between the Hindus and Muslims. Hindus and Muslims shared in the development of Hindi and enjoyed studying each other's religion and philosophies. They spoke the same languages, wore similar clothes, and furnished their houses in the same style. Also, their occupations and industries were a part of one economic system (Pande 52). Before the British occupation both Islam and Hinduism
enjoyed representation in the government. Islam possesed enough political power in India's government never to feel the need to organize
its powers separately. Yet the appearance of a third party, the British, broke their cultural unity and led each to organize themselves separately. When the British introduced their Western education into India, they reduced the study of language, literature, and philosophies between Hindus and Muslims. Instead, Hindus and Muslims learned about British language, literature, and philosophies. As a result, mutual understanding of each other's ideals diminished and each became alienated from the other (Pande 51). Yet with the rise of British power and
their occupation of India, came a decline in Islam's power and authority. These circumstances put Islam in a depressing and powerless position further widened by the growing animosity between the British Raj and the Muslim people; Muslims believed that the British favored the Hindus. Lord Ellenbourough, a British ambassador to India, declared in official communications to London that "the race [Muslims] was fundamentally hostile to us, and our future policy is to reconcile with the Hindus." Muslim suspicions were boosted by European attacks on Muslim countries, such as their
opposition to against Turkey in the First World War. Muslims also saw Britain leading a Christian crusade against Islam, which cemented their opinions that the British favored Hindus over Muslims (Pande 52). So when India became independent of Britain, the once united Hindus and Muslims had organized themselves into two separate communities residing in one nation (Pande 53). The British had created a wedge between the two religious communities that could not be removed, even after the British left India.
The novel A Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh illustrates the separation felt by Hindus and Muslims. The novel takes place in the summer of 1947, immediately after the partition of Pakistan from India. Pakistan was created as a country for Muslim refugees and million of Muslims were being displaced from their homes and sent on trains to the new country
Pakistan. In the novel, a Sikh boy loves a Muslim girl. Sikhism, the third largest religion in India, was born of the intention to bring together the best of the Hindu and Islamic religions. Guru Nanak, who rejected the hegemony and the socio-economic divisions of the Hindu Brahmanical society, founded Sikhism. Sikhs are opposed to caste distinctions: they believe that all men and women are born equal,
and therefore people from all social castes eat together (Religion). In the novel, when a group of Sikh boys kills a moneylender, an innocent Sikh boy and a stranger are accused of his murder. The stranger is suspected to be a Muslim and that is why he is arrested for the crime despite contrary evidence. When the police of India realize he is a Hindu and not a Muslim, they set the man free. The police had been ready to accuse the stranger of the crime just because of their belief he is a Muslim (Singh 40).
Even now the partitioned countries of Pakistan and India cannot peacefully coexist. Each of the country's leaders, General Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee respectively, met unsuccessfully at Agra in July 2001 in an attempt to settle their differences. The major conflict at Agra was the status of the disputed territory of Kashmir. India and Pakistan have been arguing over Kashmir since the British relinquished their power over India in 1947. At that time, a Muslim prince ruled the predominately Muslim Kashmir. Yet India retained two-thirds of the country while Pakistan held on to the other third. Since that time, three out of the four wars that India and Pakistan have fought against each other have taken place in Kashmir, causing the death of thousands of Kashmiri civilians. The Kashmir conflict is very personal because India and Pakistan were once part of the same country. They possess the same food and major languages, and the battle over Kashmir strikes the heart of each country's sense of self. India does not want to surrender Kashmir just because it possesses a Muslim majority and Pakistanis are adamant in their desire to absorb Kashmir's Muslims because of their constantly shrinking country. Its own people have separated Pakistan into different countries: The Bengali Muslims of East Pakistan split the country to become Bangladesh in 1971 (Chawla 26).
At the Agra Summit, India hoped that Pakistan would prevent further infiltration into Kashmir by its people, while Pakistan wanted India to reduce its large military presence there. Vajpayee also wanted the talks to include trade, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the return of prisoners of war. Musharraf said: "No Pakistani leader could accept continued Indian control over most of the disputed territory of Kashmir and expect to stay in power." He also claims no one in his country would accept the Line of Control that maintains the status quo: India keeps the part of Kashmir it holds and Pakistan does the same (Prasnnarajan 27). Yet Vajapayee is also being pressured by his country to take a tough stance on the Kashmir problem. Neither side is willing to compromise on ownership of the Kashmir territory for fear of upsetting his respective constituents.
Chawla, Prabhu, Raj Chengappa and Shishir Gupta. "Hit and Run."
India Today 30 July.