In its earlier days the East India Company, being solely interested in economic expansion, but also aware of the religious sensitivities of the subcontinent, discouraged missionaries from coming to India. Later, as the government became more stable, their policies changed and they supported the missionaries who arrived in the subcontinent to convert people to Christianity.
The government believed that if the people converted and became Christians, it would be relatively easier to govern them on the basis of sharing the same religious beliefs.
The missionaries condemned the religions of the subcontinent and persuaded people to embrace the Christian faith. They openly preached in public places like Lahore`s Anarkali bazaar. Their activity intensified when in 1837, a German missionary known as Karl Pfander arrived in the subcontinent at a time when the Muslim community had lost its political power, vitality and energy.
He believed that the society was backward and degenerate, so it would be easy to convert people to Christianity, which was in his view an advanced and progressive religion. But his argument was refuted by Dr Nazir and Maulvi RehmatAli in public discussions and a disappointed Pfander left India in 1857.
The activities of the missionaries alarmed people who began to feel insecure about their religious beliefs. The Hindu and Muslim religious leaders came forward to defend their religion through munazra or public debates held in dif`f`erent cities, where people would gather to listen to religious scholars criticising each other`s f`aith while defending their own religion. These debates created a religious consciousness among the masses while elevating the social status of the religious scholars within the community.
Religious activity was further enhanced when religious organisations such as the Arya Samaj for the Hindu community; and the Tablighi Jamaat and Tanzim for the Muslim community, were founded in order to protect their respective religions. To reach out to the masses, newspapers, magazines, and pamphlets were published to highlight the truth of their avowed faith.
Hostility and conflict increased between the communities and riots broke out that continued up to partition in 1947.
As some Hindu or Muslim leaders converted to Christianity, the respective communities grew even more insecure. Another factor which further promoted religious identity was the f`irst census of 1881, which reported the numbers of people belonging to various religious communities. In this way, for the first time, the concept ofreligious majority and minority was created; later becoming a matter of conflict for the district council and municipal elections. Being a religious minority, the Muslims were concerned about not being able to win elections.
This prompted Sir Syed Ahmad Khan to oppose the democratic system; a policy adopted and followed by other Muslim leaders.
Eventually, the two-nation theory emerged as a result of religious consciousness among the Muslims. When the Hindi-Urdu conflict heated up, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan became convinced that the Hindus and Muslims could not become a nation as their religion and ways of life were quite distinct from one another.
Later on, he exploited religious ideals to winpopularity among the Muslims.
On the other hand, Savarker, a Hindu leader, presented the idea of Hindutva, according to which, the subcontinent was not a homeland for Muslims and Christians, but only the Hindus.
The fundamentalist views further exacerbated intolerance and hatred, creating disorder and chaos in the society.
Sadly, even after partition, the consciousness of religious identity has become a source of continuing hostility which has fragmented the entire fabric of society.
In Pakistan, religious identity further split into sectarian consciousness plunging the society into what seems like a never-ending
Open Letter for Pakistan