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Although India is usually generalized into one large country, the actual demographics of the country are incredibly diverse. The country itself is home to 22 official languages and many flourishing religious communities such as Hinduism, Jainism, Islam and many more. However, many of the religions practiced in India relate to one another on some level, usually stemming from their Vedic roots. This is not always the case, with the example of Islam, which was brought to India over time from dispersion of people from the Middle East.
To begin, when looking at India from a medieval context, prior to the migration of Islam to the Indian subcontinent, one can analyze the relationship between Hindus and Jains. Over time teachers took Vedic practices and altered them to create new religious approaches to Hinduism, thus creating religions such as Jainism or Hinduism. (Davis, 13) Both of these religions were established in the Magadha region by those in the warrior class who renounced to seek enlightenment. (Davis, 14) To an extent, during this time period, Jain scholars and monks allowed some integration with the Hindu society. There is evidence in competition between Jains and Brahmans, which is a recurring motif in many western Indian narratives, but despite that the two groups coexisted peacefully and prospered.
There are many discrepancies between the two, with Hindus not accepting and Jain text and vice versa. Buddhism and Jainism were essentially formed by the rejection of the Hindu Vedic texts. One of the major discrepancies between the two is the belief in Vedic sacrifices, where Jains believe that it is the Hindus having to resort to violence, is not acceptable in following the path to enlightenment. With all this being said, overall, Jains and Hindus have coexisted in India for approximately 2500 years without much violence. This could also be due to the fact that Jain population pales in comparison to the Hindu population in the subcontinent, so their presence was noted, but they were never viewed as a threat to Hinduism.
When thinking about the Jain-Hindu relations, it is important to note that Hindus have not always lived in religious harmony amongst other religious groups in the region. Hinduism is quite often times seen as a peaceful religion, however throughout history this has not always been the case. Prior to partition in 1947, Middle Eastern armies invaded the Indian subcontinent with Islamic warrior elites establishing their authority in new parts of India where there would inevitably be conflict. (Davis, 33) Initially, the relations between the two communities coexisted, with the Muslim leaders developing a more lenient attitude towards Hindu subjects. Brahmans were essentially viewed as the equivalent of Christian monks and Turkish and Mughal rulers even gave endowments of land and granted tax exemptions for certain Hindu, Jain and Zoroastrian religious foundations. (Davis, 33)
However, after the British left India in 1947 the continent split into the nations of the Muslim Pakistan and a majority-Hindu India in a violent partition which cost the lives of approximately one million people. These events that have occurred post-partition have led to the formation of militant Hindu and Islam in India today, Which has resulted in India has witnessing intermittent violence triggered by underlying tensions between sections of the Hindu and Muslim communities. According to the secularists, centuries of cohabitation have resulted in the combination of Hindu and Islam into India’s cultural heritage that cannot be separated without violence. On the other hand, Hindu nationalists believe that it is due to Islam’s intolerance that has led to the destruction and slaughter of Hindus.
We can see these tensions exemplified in the specific instance of the Ayodhya temple. Hindus believe that a mosque was built on the location where Rama was born, and due to this there should be a Hindu temple there rather than a mosque. This event has stirred up a lot of violence and rioting in India between the two communities. During a political rally in 1992 the Babri mosque was destroyed by Hindu extremists and since then the rights to the land have been disputed in Supreme Court, with them still coming to no specific consensus on it to this day. In addition to this, all of the people who are in Ayodhya fighting over the mosque were ‘imported’, Hawley explains in his essay. They were not from the area and had no physical relation to the temple either. (Hawley, 2) To an extent it is believed that these series of events have been a ploy to create tensions in order to cash in on the Hindu vote rather than the actual spiritual and religious nature of the structure.
At one point there was a brotherhood of the two religions, but after partition and British provoking this schism, the relationship between the two has plummeted downhill resulting in desecration of temples, riots, and even death. The communities of the two still continue to coexist, with people of both religious backgrounds living amongst each other. While members of these communities do get along, it is the militant groups and government agencies exploiting the tension that are allowing for the violence to ensue in India.
As evident, much of this violence did not ensue until after the British withdrew from India in 1947. Given the violent nature of the British rule while in India, their retreat was quick and relatively violence free, ironically. However, to this day in the Indian Subcontinent Partition is a central part of the identity for these communities, both Muslim and Hindu. It is evident that India has experienced much turmoil in the past and present through religious conflict and discrepancies. However, despite all of this, there are many Muslim-Hindu-Jain communities which continue to coexist peacefully throughout the subcontinent.
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