The Sound of Horse Hoofs

In the famous Bollywood movie Sholay, the dacoit Gabbar Singh warns that if a child in his area so much as squeaks during the night, his mother forces him into quietude out of the fear of Gabbar Singh.

The sound of horse hoofs. Wild men from rugged countries up north sweeping down into the plains of India. Rampaging, pillaging, killing, raping, converting. On and on for anywhere between six to eight hundred years. Any resistance they met from the peaceful plains people would be crushed ruthlessly.

One Muslim dynasty is set up, only to be replaced by another Muslim dynasty. Never a pan-Indian Hindu one. Hindus are mocked as weak, vegetarian, dastardly, pagan; the victors portray themselves as strong, brave, harbingers of an enlightened, egalitarian faith.

The sound of horse hoofs is ingrained in the mind of every Hindu child while still in its mother's womb. It is a sound that is passed on from generation to generation. The British were initially hailed by Hindus as liberators from Muslim supremacy. For what the Hindus could not do themselves, throw off the Muslim yoke, the British did for them.

As the Muslim rulers levied tougher and tougher sanctions on the Hindus, many converted. There were poll taxes (the hated Jaziya), taxes to visit their places of pilgrimage, additional taxes to do trade. Crimes, both criminal and civil, were pardoned upon conversion to Islam. A Muslim could abduct a Hindu woman and get away with it, but woe betide a Hindu man doing the same.The lowliest of low Muslims would never countenance marrying into the highest of the high Hindus.

So the Hindus lumped it. For six to eight centuries. Other than forcible conversion, converts also came from the untouchable class of Hindu society, who oppressed for aeons, could instantly become masters of their former oppressors upon conversion. It was they, it can be argued, who developed the biggest feeling of angst against their former co-religionists. Being part of the King's religion conferred protection and privileges, and why not use them for payback.

And so the Hindu and Muslim divide deepened. Of course there was an enlightened ruler or two like Akbar who liked Hindus and Hinduism, and was free of prejudice. But even as he is hailed as a hero by modern-day Hindus, many Muslims label him a deviant. Their hero is Aurangzeb, who is devil-incarnate in the collective Hindu psyche.

Submissive as Hindus became, they were able to adapt to their third-class status during Islamic rule, and cling on to their religion and culture. But they could not stop the partition of the country, their beloved Bharat, in 1947. Muslims, who by then, had become a quarter of the population, felt that they would become subservient to Hindus in a democracy. So they rebelled, demanded their own country, and got it.

While the departing British laid some guidelines on who would get what area, a free for all broke out. Kashmir, ruled by a Hindu king, but with a majority Muslim population, acceded to India after significant coercion. Pakistan tried similar tactics in Junagadh and Hyderabad, where Muslims ruled Hindus, but failed. Kashmir has remained a wish bone stuck in Pakistani throats ever since. For Indians, it is a matter of pride that they were able to hold on to territory which they had always regarded as their own. Kashmir holds added significance for Indians. It serves as a basinet against the horse hoofs. Remember the sound that is ingrained in the Indian psyche from time immemorial. In a supreme irony of sorts, the most revered man today in India is a practicing Muslim, Abdul Kalam. He created India's missile defense system and played a significant role in developing the country's nuke capabilities. For drumming out the the sound of horse hoofs forever from Indian eardrums, he was conferred India's highest civilian award, and then elevated to the presidency.

If India was a presidential form of government, and were Kalam to run for the presidency as an executive office, he should win easily. Even at 81. Throughout the length and breadth of the land, Hindus adore him, worship him. He has given them hope, in fact near-certainty, that the horse hoofs will never arrive at their doorsteps, and even if someone tries any misadventure, they would not be able to cross India's threshold.

Such then is the power of imagery. Of course, Hindu supremacists in India have grabbed the opportunity of Hindu ascendancy to bully Indian Muslims. They accuse them of being Pakistani sympathizers, of breeding so fast that they will outnumber Hindus, of being inherently violent. They disdain any contribution that Muslims might have made to India, even when the Taj Mahal stares at them in their face. Now these Hindus want to turn the tables. They want, in fact have, reduced Muslims to second-class citizens, discriminate against them in hiring and aspiration, and cannot countenance inter-marriage with them. For all they are concerned, India's Muslim population, 15 percent of all, can rot, go to hell, to Pakistan, to the Gulf, wherever. At most, they can consider co-opting them back into the Hindu fold. And whenever violence breaks out, they know how to show who's boss.

What the Hindus forget is that it is easy being a bully as an overwhelming majority. They should also introspect that if they are so strong, why couldn't they overthrow any of the Muslims rulers who lorded over them? Even then, the Hindus had the numbers behind them. They cry for a modern-day Hindu Aurangzeb, forgetting that it was the original's baleful policies that led to the extinction of Muslim rule in India. Will their King of Hindu Hearts also lead India to violence and destruction?

And let not today's Hindu overlords forget that it is in fact a devout Muslim man who has given them protection against the horse hoofs, against China, against any external aggression. They too idolize this man, openly, but disdain his religion. They want every Muslim to be like him, but every Muslim is not blessed with his genius or his sense of service, just as every Hindu is not. And if they ask him what he wants in return, he will tell them that he gave them their security umbrella not to propagate hate and bullying, but to develop India, holistically, without fear or favor.