By Ding Gang (30 August 2017) – When the morning breeze from the river lifted up Shaila’s black veil, Shekhar was dumbfounded to see such a pretty face. He continued staring straight at her until the girl noticed the burning stare coming from meters away and swiftly put down her veil.
The 1995 Indian movie Bombay started from this chance encounter. Yet the romantic journey between Shekhar, a journalism student and the son of an orthodox Hindu in southern India, and Muslim girl Shaila eventually involved the bloody clashes between Hindus and Muslims that broke out in Bombay at the end of 1992.
In real life, almost 1,000 people were killed during the riots. In the film, the couple’s home is burned down by rioters and their parents lose their lives in the fire.
Audiences at the time were deeply touched by the courage of the director and scriptwriter to display this painful moment in Indian history through such a loving story just three years after the riots. The movie triggered extensive discussions and caused people to reflect on religious divisions.
Since the partition of India in 1947, religious conflicts like the one portrayed in Bombay have continued to produce tragedies in many regions of the country.
When I watched the movie during a trip to India not long ago, a question came to me: Why does it seem that Muslims in India have remained largely apart from the radicalization that has happened to Muslim groups in other parts of the world?
Indian Muslims seldom have extreme organizations compared with groups in many other Asian countries. In the southern part of the Philippines, extremists backed by Islamic State have turned their occupied cities into horrible places. In southern Thailand, terror attacks staged by Muslim extremists take place almost every week.
I believe the answer may lie in the facets of the country’s other major religion: Hinduism.
Like many other religions, Hinduism has its extreme side, but for the most part its more moderate side has the strongest influence. Perhaps it is this more moderate influence that has helped establish India’s lasting cohesion and is one of the reasons that the country has not separated.
Most tourists to India enjoy traveling to the golden triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, during which time they mostly visit the architecture of the Mughal Empire. Indians often take pride in the Mughal Dynasty, but this period of history was established by Muslims, not Hindus, though there was Hindu influence.
In the long history of India, Hinduism has gone far beyond a religion to become a lifestyle and social institution. Both its extreme and tolerant sides have constituted the foundation for its relationship with Muslims and this dual character is going to exist for a long time.
The result of this relationship has made India a barrier for the spread of radical Islam on the global geopolitical landscape. In Asia as a whole, Islam forms an arc that includes the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, southern Thailand, southern Myanmar, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Central Asian countries. There are tensions at various degrees at junctions in this arc where it encounters other religions and ethnicity, but a dent exists in the Indian portion of this arc.
The world has taken notice. The lack of Islamic extremists in India has helped determine its role in Asia and has been taken into consideration by the US, Japan, Russia and European countries when it comes to their Asia policies.
In the future, India is sure to continue to stand out in geopolitical significance when it comes to increasing religious and ethnic conflicts around the world.
Where China is concerned, this significance should not be ignored.
The author is a senior editor with the People’s Daily, and currently a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @dinggangchina. This article first appeared in The Global times on 30 August 2017.