Muslim and Hindu

The Sensitive Areas

A decade has passed since the struggle of the Indian subcontinent to free itself from British imperial rule was crowned with success. For half a century or more before emancipation, nationalists of both the great religious communities had stridently asserted that communal antipathy was illusory - a mere creation of the British Raj, allegedly following the old Roman maxim of "divide and rule." History since independence has shown with tragic clarity that antagonism between Muslim and Hindu is much more deeply rooted than in an oppressor's stratagem. For the ink was not yet dry on the 1947 charter of sovereignty before what had been one great single nation under British rule became split into two sullenly hostile countries, Pakistan and India.

However regrettable, this state of affairs is not really surprising. Long before the British conquered India, the Hindus had resented their Muslim Mogul masters and those who by conversion followed the same faith. The Muslim for his part had all the scorn of the warrior for those less martial than himself, not untainted with an intellectual inferiority complex vis-à-vis those commercially and politically more astute than he. With this historic background it would have required more courage, tolerance, and statecraft than any leaders in Delhi or Karachi have yet shown to heal the hereditary strains between the two great communal factions.

Instead, as each year passes, friction grows.  What began with a squabble about the division of assets after partition, and went on to bitter conflict over the future of disputed princely states such as Hyderabad, Junagadh, and Kashmir, has now spread to the struggle for limited, precious irrigation water which literally spells life or death for millions upon millions of poverty-stricken, undernourished, illiterate peasants.

Externally, too, a wide gulf has yawned. Pakistan, West and East, with barely a fifth of the population of her larger neighbor, cut asunder by over 1500 miles of Indian territory, fearful of ultimate Indian subjection and absorption, has in her search for allies gone much further than she otherwise might have in openly siding with the West in the global struggle against Communism. For although Pakistan's opposition to Communism is genuine, there is no doubt that to the average Pakistani, India, not Soviet Russia or Red China, is the number one foe.

India, superior in manpower and resources, is fundamentally resentful of, in her view, the quite unnecessarily continued existence of the only nation that stands between her and the complete hegemony of the Indian subcontinent. Nehru is not alone in the ambition to see his country leading a great Asian uncommitted third force between warring Capitalist West and Communist East. Inclined toward Communism to meet the social and political demands of his teeming peoples, he does not openly break with the West in shrewd calculation that only thence can flow the capital and technical know-how to ensure his country's economic survival and its development. Pakistan, firmly linked with one side, the West, is a hindrance to this tightrope policy.

In Kashmir, hostility has reached near flash point. Today an uneasy peace is maintained between the two zones of rival occupation only through the vigilant presence of UN officers and troops ceaselessly patrolling the demarcation line.

In the Indian-occupied sector of this unhappy state, with a handful of local stooges backed by Hindu and Sikh troops keeping in subjection 3 million resentful Muslims, conditions remind one of life in one of the Soviet satellites. As you walk down a street in Srinagar, the state's capital, a man sidles up to you, mutters something in barely intelligible English, and warily presses a crumpled piece of paper into your hand. Nearby stand a couple of police. On the other side of the road .a detachment of grim-faced soldiers marches along. Behind you casually strolls your own particular shadow, the man who seems always to be hanging around the lobby of your hotel when you come down from your room, looking at nothing in particular; who always decides to take a walk when you do; and who always, too, stops aimlessly when you pause on your way.

When you get back to the privacy of your own room, you look at the scribbled message which you were handed: it is either a plea for outside intervention of the forces of freedom, or a letter to a friend or relative across the border, which the writer knows would never pass the censor if posted the ordinary way. A few minutes later your telephone rings, and a voice hysterical with fear asks whether a few opponents of the regime may come and talk privately with you. Hours later, a handful of tired, nervous men crowd into your room, insisting on searching every corner for hidden microphones before they talk. They are late because the police, knowing of their plans through wire tapping, have forbidden all taxis, the only transport available, to bring them, and so they have had to walk several dusty miles. Their story is sickeningly familiar in this day and age - a tale of persecution, repression, midnight arrests, and aggrandizement of the local "Big Brother."

 Officials do not deny that thousands of Indian soldiers and gendarmery are stationed in the state to help preserve an outward calm. (Reliable estimates put the figure at 125,000-one soldier to every dozen adult inhabitants of occupied Kashmir.) A rigid censorship exists. All public assemblies and gatherings, except regime-sponsored ones, are banned. The prisons are full to overflowing, and those behind bars include twenty-five or more political leaders - among them a former prime minister - who are being detained under a local law which permits imprisonment without charge or trial, on executive order alone, for periods of up to five years.

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