THE DOMINANT STEREOTYPE of the Muslim in India presents him as naturally aggressive. The Jihad movement led by Syed Ahmad Barelvi against the British in the early 19th century; Syed Ahmed Khan’s menacing overtone when he pointed out that Muslims knew how to fight to defend their interests; the Khilafat Movement and the Moplah riots; the 1946 Direct Action Day: all these episodes reinforced the image of a violent Muslim, which contrasted with a pacific—if not weak—Hindu.
This opposition crystallised under the aegis of Mahatma Gandhi who, in the context of the post-Khilafat Movement riots, declared that the Hindu “as a rule is a coward” and the Muslim “as a rule is a bully”. Gandhi’s ahimsa, which borrowed largely from the Bhagavad Gita, has been associated with Hinduism and its local cousin, Jainism. Certainly, there were Muslim satyagrahis from as early as the 1920s, when Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the “Frontier Gandhi”, started the Red Shirt movement in the North-West Frontier Province, but the identification of Hindus with non-violence and the Muslims with violence—something that had much to do with the opposition between vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets—continued to prevail.
Last month, Swami Aseemanand’s confession initiated a reversal of the dominant stereotypes. The saffron-clad Sangh Parivar leader admitted that Hindu nationalists were responsible for six bomb blasts that killed more than 120 Muslims. While these attacks were ostensibly in response to Islamist bombs, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak Sunil Joshi, a key figure in this extremist group, had started to use explosives in 1999-2000 against Muslims—before the series of Islamist attacks, which begun in 2001.