When India achieved independence in August 1947 and was partitioned -- into India, West Pakistan (now just Pakistan) and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) -- there was horrific violence between Muslims leaving India and Hindus leaving what was becoming Pakistan.
In many ways, this was out of character for Indians. Hindus and Muslims, though cultural and theological rivals, often had lived in harmony -- and sometimes in close proximity -- for centuries. But the very idea that India should be reserved for Hindus and that Pakistan should be for Muslims seemed to help create a contentious climate in which violence was almost inevitable. It was one of the saddest periods in the history of the subcontinent.
And today, by the way, the Hindu-Muslim divide is far from complete, especially in India, which is home to millions of Muslims. In fact, India either already has surpassed or soon may surpass Indonesia as the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, though Hindus still, by far, make up a majority of India's population.
All of that is background to the creation of a new organization designed to promote the reunification of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The India Reunification Association (IRA) came into existence last week, founded by a childhood friend of mine, Markandey Katju, a former justice on India's Supreme Court.
Markandey and I were schoolmates for a time at Boys High School in Allahabad (now Prayagraj) when my family spent two years in India in the 1950s. My father was part of a University of Illinois agriculture team there.
As chairman of the new IRA, Markandey writes this on the organization's website: "The idea of Indian reunification (i.e. reunification of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) under a secular government, is an idea whose time has come, not that this reunification will take place immediately, or even in the near future. We are sowing a seed which will take 10-15 years of patient work by patriots to grow into a fruit bearing tree. However, if we do not plant the seed now, we will not get fruit even after 10-15 years. Many of us may not live to see the day when the tree bears fruit, but our reward will be that we have worked for it."
He also notes this about the history of Hindu-Muslim relations in India: "Before 1857 there was no communal problem, and Hindus and Muslims used to live peacefully together like brothers and sisters. Hindus used to join Muslims in celebrating Eid and Muharram, and Muslims used to join Hindus celebrating Holi and Diwali."
Even as a former part-time resident of India, I don't have a large stake in this effort -- which, to be sure, is controversial on the subcontinent. But I applaud it and hope that at the very least it provides an opportunity for Hindus and Muslims there and everywhere to enter into healthy and respectful relationships over the long haul.
Islam, after all, is the second largest religion in the world, and Hinduism is third. If they can coexist in peace not just as residents of neighboring countries but as citizens of the same nation, what a terrific model that will be for interfaith understanding around the world.
Markandey, just so you know, is a confirmed atheist, but he certainly grasps the importance of inter-religious peace and harmony, although for him that's not the only reason to reunify India. His note on the IRA website explains that further.
So I hope that Indians and Pakistanis will consider this seriously and not let the idea be another source of conflict between them.
(The image above is from the IRA website and shows what a reunified India would look like. The photo at right was taken of Markandey and me a couple of years ago in California.)
* * *
AND THEN GOD CREATED. . .COCONUTS
What was God thinking in the creation process? Twitter has all the answers, of course. Twitter always has all the answers, except when it doesn't. But here is a collection of tweets that explain God's creative thinking process for dogs, bees, spiders, parrots and more. If you take all this seriously, God needs to do a little more work on your brain.