The 1920s may be regarded as a crucial watershed in the history of inter-communal conflict in northern India. Communal rioting saw a sudden upsurge in this period , playing a key role in the political dynamics that later culminated in the Partition of India.
One of the most salient developments in the 1920s was the launching of the shuddhi movement by the Arya Samaj to bring into the Hindu fold various groups considered outside the pale of what had now come to be defined as ‘Hinduism’, including untouchables and, later, Muslim, Christian and even Sikh communities.
The Arya shuddhi campaign provoked Muslim leaders and groups to respond, and this took the form of various tablighi or Islamic missionary initiatives intended to counter the Arya Samaj’s conversion drive and, going further, to attempt to spread Islam among non-Muslims as well. Yogi Sikand
- Muslims would have to take the form of conversion of entire Muslim social groups if it was to really succeed.
- As a prelude to the actual launching of this ambitious missionary drive, towards the end of the nineteenth century Maharaja Ranbir Singh, the Hindu ruler of the largely Muslim state of Kashmir, is said to have commissioned the preparation of a 21-volume encyclopaedia by the name of Ranbir Karit Prayaschit Mahanibandh ['Ranbir's Great Essay on Repentance'], which argued the case and suggested strategies for the mass conversion of all the ‘Neo-Muslim communities’ [nau Muslim aqwam] of India to ‘Hinduism’.
- This book, Muslim leaders were to later allege, had been secretly circulated among leading Hindus so that the Muslims remained unaware of the plot.
- The first attempts by the Aryas at mass conversions of Muslim groups date to 1908, when Arya missionaries began touring the area around Deeg in the Bharatpur State in eastern Rajputana, calling upon Muslims there to renounce Islam, which, they alleged, had been forcibly imposed on their ancestors.
- In 1910, shuddhi sabhas were set up in several places in these districts, and although it was claimed that they had converted some 1000 Malkana Muslims to the Hindu fold, they were wound up the following year.
- As in the case of Deeg, the Aryas are said to have met with little success, being successfully countered by the intervention of local Muslim bodies working in association with the Anjuman Hidayat-ul Islam, a Delhi-based Muslim missionary organization.
- The shuddhi campaign among the Malkanas, which was launched in early 1923, reached its peak by the end of 1927, by which time some 1,63,000 Malkana Muslims are said to have been brought into the Hindu fold.
- Shuddhi emerged as a powerful mobilizational symbol and tool to consolidate Hindu ranks, helping galvanize the process of the construction of a pan-Indian Hindu community rigidly set apart from the rest. It is hardly surprising that Shradhhanand, the leading force behind the Malkana shuddhi, was also the most ardent advocate of sanghathan, the consolidation and militarization of all Hindudom.
- As testimony to the success of the shuddhi campaign in mobilizing and consolidating the Hindus, both Aryas as well as the Sanatanis who had initially been vehemently opposed to shuddhi, as one, transcending deep-seated caste, sectarian, racial, linguistic and regional divisions, the Tribune of Lahore, in its editorial of 2 May, 1927, remarked:
- ‘The shuddhi… propaganda is no longer the exclusive concern of the Arya Samaj; an overwhelming majority of the Hindus are identified [with it]‘. Yogi Sikand and http://www.jstor.org/pss/4406586
The Shuddhi, Sanghathan movements by Lala Lajpat Rai
[A] The aggressive Hinduism preached by the Arya Samaj was not political in its conception. That it has been strengthened by political considerations cannot, however, be denied.
[B] This is an appropriate place for examining the origin and bearings of the Shuddhi movement of which we have heard so much of late. The movement is as old as the Arya Samaj or even the Sikh religion. The Arya Samaj claims that the religion preached by it is universal religion, and aims at bringing the whole world under its banner. In this respect its claims are as ambitious and wide as those of Christianity and Islam. There was a time when the more orthodox section of the Arya Samaj used to proclaim from the housetops that they were non-Hindus; and that they were free to eat and drink and marry with non-Hindus; and that even Hindus should undergo a certain amount of Shuddhi before they could be admitted into the Arya Samaj.
The other section, which was believed to be more political-minded, was opposed to all these claims of the Mahatma party of which Swami Shraddhanand (then Lala Munshi Ram) was the head. Shuddhi with the latter was purely the ritual of conversion, i.e., admission into their Church. It had no political significance whatsoever. For a time, Lala Munshi Ram’s party maintained this attitude, and some of them attempted to put into practice what they believed in theory. It was then that the now-famous Dharmpal was made a hero. Soon after, however, they found that by insisting on this idea and putting it into practice they were bound to lose the practical sympathy of the Hindu community. This they could not afford to do, as it was the general Hindu community that greased the various mills they [] were running. So better counsels prevailed, and they changed their attitude.
[C] I know it as a fact, however (as I was an active member of the Arya Samaj then), that serious efforts were made even then. to bring the Malkana/21/ and other Rajputs of the United Provinces and Rajputana into the fold of the Arya Samaj. Some were actually so brought at Aligarh and in the neighbouring districts. The Malkanas, however, did not want to be “Aryas”; what they desired was to be re-admitted into their own caste, and brotherhood on equal terms. To this the orthodox Rajputs would not agree. So the matter remained in suspense for a number of years, until the orthodox Rajputs consented to take them in. What was at the back of the latter’s mind in this change of attitude, is also clear. It was the communal demands of the Muslim community, the policy of Mian Fazl-i-Husain and the Multan riots,/22/ which created the necessary atmosphere. The principle of Shuddhi has now been accepted by the Hindu Mahasabha, and I am free to confess that the idea at the back of this decision is partly political, pardy communal, and partly humanitarian, the latter element being more in evidence in the Shuddhi of the untouchables.
[D] It was, it must be confessed, only natural that the Muslims should be exasperated at this change in the attitude of the orthodox Hindus, because the change opens out an entirely new chapter in Indian history. The question raised by the movement is a fundamental one, and although one can understand and appreciate the Muslim point of view, one can see no way of stopping the movement as long. as non-Hindu agencies are free to carryon their proselytizing work. The movement has come to stay, and this fact should be philosophically accepted. That it has direct political bearings cannot be denied, and the only way to minimise its importance is to do away with communal representation. For the present, the decisions arrived at by the Delhi Unity Conference may be accepted as the final word in the matter./23/
[E] At this stage we might discuss the Sangathan [...] movements too. The Sangathan movement also (or to call it by its proper name, the Hindu Sabha movement) represents an old idea. The object was present to the mind of the founder of the Arya Samaj. But the Samaj signally failed to realise it, as it went [] on developing its sectarian proclivities. I remember that when I was a student of the Lahore Government College in the early eighties, a Hindu Sabha was formed at the house of Raja Harbans Singh of Sheikhupura in Lahore. That Sabha died in its infancy. Then the movement was revived towards the end of the last century at the house of the late Lala Balmokand, Reis, Lahore. Even this organization, however, remained almost lifeless until the late R. B. Lal Chand put life into it.
It has benefitted individual members, but it has done no good to the Hindu community as a whole. It had two formidable rivals: on the political side the Indian National Congress, on the socio-religious side the Arya Samaj. Fixed between these two mill-stones, it was never able to lift its head sufficiently high to be a success. The present movement is a reaction of the Hindu-Muslim situation. There is nothing in its aims and objects or its constitution that need make it anti-Muslim, but to be frank, the fact that it is anti-Muslim is the only thing that keeps it alive.
The Khilafat Committees which were originally established to support the Khilafat agitation have regularly and systematically carried on a religious propaganda to which is directly traceable a part, at least, of the present bitterness between Hindus and Muslims. At Cocanada, it was given out that the Khilafat Committee would be used to organise the Indian Muslims./24/ Tanzim is its other name. It is obviously anti-Hindu.
[F] Personally, I would welcome both the movements, i.e., the Sanghathan and the Tanzim, if they could unite the different sections of the Hindus into one organization, in one case, and all the different sections of the Muslims, in the other; for then it would be a comparatively easy thing for the two main organizations to come to terms with each other. But the task is hopeless. In my judgment the only purpose which the two movements are likely to serve is to increase the already existing estrangement between the two communities. The Muslim movement is also intended to keep the Pan-Islamic movement going. One cannot help noticing, and noticing with regret, that while the Muslims do not open their purses for the relief of Indian sufferers from famine, floods, earthquakes, etc., and that while very little Muslim money is spent to improve the educational and economic condition of [] Indian Muslims, thousands and lakhs [=hundreds of thousands] are sent abroad under one name or other. The phenomenon is confined to India. One finds no evidence of it in other Muslim nations like Egypt, Turkey, Morocco, Sudan, Syria, etc., etc.
[G] As far as internal organization is concerned, both movements are bound to fail. The canker of sectarianism is as fatal in one case as in the other.
[H] In the case of Sanghathan, the Arya Samaj and the Sanatan Dharam Sabha will not allow it to flourish and succeed. They do not seem prepared to transfer any of their functions or influence to the Hindu Sabha. In the case of Tanzim, the different Muslim sects will not unite to let it be a success. Both the movements will, however, be much advertised though, to keep alive anti-Muslim feeling in one case, and the anti-Hindu feeling in the other.
/21/ The Malkanas, who lived mostly in the U.P. districts of Agra, Aligarh, and Muthra, were originally Hindu Rajputs. They had accepted Islam but followed Hindu social customs. Arya Samaj missionaries made efforts to reclaim them to [the] Hindu fold, and Muslim missionaries worked in opposition to them.
/22/ Serious Hindu-Muslim riots took place at Multan in September 1922 in consequence of a dispute between the two communities arising out of the Muharram procession.
/23/ The part of the Resolution passed at the Unity Conference on 26 September 1924 dealing with Hindu-Muslim relations contained the following clause with regard to proselytising work–
‘That every individual or group is at liberty to convert or reconvert another by argument or persuasion, but most not attempt to do so, or prevent its being done, by force, fraud, or other unfair means, such as the offering of material inducement. Persons under 16 years of age should not be converted unless it be along with their parents or guardians. If any person under 16 years of age is found stranded without his parents or guardians by persons of another faith, he should be promptly handed over to persons of his own faith. There must be no secrecy about any conversion or reconversion.’
/24/ This was decided at the Khilafat Conference held at Coconada in Dec. 1923.