Dhimmitude in India

Dhimmitude is a relatively recent concept among Islamic scholars though it has played a major role in the history of Islam. It was brought into focus by the pioneering work of the Egypt-born scholar Bat Ye’or. (Her penname, which means ‘Daughter of the Nile.’) Dhimmitude may be seen as the state of mind induced in the victims of Islamic terror, more particularly in the minds of the non-Muslim subjects in countries under Islamic rule. Like the famous ‘Stockholm Syndrome,’ which afflicts hostages by turning them into defenders of their kidnappers, dhimmitude also has the effect of turning the victims of harsh Islamic rule into its defenders; there is an unconscious fear that criticizing them might make their condition worse.

The state of Dhimmis under Muslim ruled states arose from the need of Islamic rulers to deal with non-Muslim subjects in their realm. It may be described as follows. In an Islamic state, the Word of God (The Quran) and the Acts of Muhammad (The Hadits) lay down the rules—sacred as well as secular—for all people and for all time. These are binding on believers as well as non-believers. This may appear strange until one recognizes that the ultimate goal of Islam is to bring the whole world under its sway. The instrument for achieving world domination is Jihad, and the legal code for ruling the Islamic lands (Dar ul-Islam) is the Sharia— loosely translated as the Islamic legal canon. The Sharia treats some non-Muslims living in Dar ul-Islam as dhimmis (‘protected flock’), whereby they are granted limited protection as second-class citizens under debilitating conditions. The Egypt-born Bat Ye’or has made a detailed study of the state of the Jews and Christians as Dhimmis, and the peculiar ‘Dhimmi Civilization’ that it gave rise to. (This may be compared to the ‘Slave Civilization’ in the United States before the Civil War.)

The behaviour pattern of a good part of the non-Muslim world today is explained by dhimmitude. This is particularly the case in India, where the wounds inflicted by centuries of Islamic rule on a large segment of the Indian intelligentsia and the political class have been so debilitating that they continue to live in a state of constant fear. This has left its stamp even on the writing of history as the distinguished historian R.C. Majumdar found out. In his words:

The official history of the freedom movement starts with the premise that India lost independence only in the eighteenth century and had thus an experience of subjection to a foreign power for only two centuries. Real history, on the other hand, teaches us that the major part of India lost independence about five centuries before, and merely changed masters in the eighteenth century… The Hindu leaders deliberately ignored patent truth and facts of history… They live in a fancied fraternity and are sensitive to any expression that jars against the slogan of Hindu-Muslim bhai-bhai… That is to say, political freedom in India has not brought about spiritual freedom; politicians and the intelligentsia still act like oppressed colonial subjects when asked to face the truth about their country’s Islamic past. This is typical dhimmitude. To comprehend this, we need to go back to the early period of Islamic conquests, which resulted in countries under non-Muslim rule (Dar ul-Harb) coming under Islamic rule (Dar ul-Islam). Recognizing that a newly conquered land is bound to have a substantial non-Muslim population, the Sharia provides for laws to govern them. They essentially become dhimmis. At first, it was meant only for ‘People of the Book’— or Jews and Christians, soon including Zoroastrians because Iran was rapidly conquered by the Arabs. Somewhat later, when Islamic rule came to parts of India, Hindus were given grudging recognition as dhimmis though, as idolaters, they were not entitled to it. But the expediencies of politics and governance forced Islamic rulers of India to bend the rules of the Sharia against the blandishments of the clergy.

This brings up an interesting issue: the idolatrous Hindus whose choice under Sharia was limited to ‘Islam or death,’ were much more successful in resisting the onslaught of Islam than the ‘protected’ Jews and Christians. Even the Zoroastrians of Persia, then a great empire ruled by the Sassanids, had to migrate to Hindu India to keep their faith alive. Hindus and Hinduism proved much more resilient than these ‘Religions of the Book’ and their adherents.

The Hindus never stopped fighting the imposition of Islam and finally defeated it though at great cost in terms of both land and people. It is a battle that still rages. It accounts also for the extraordinary hatred of Hindu India borne by Muslim ‘leaders’ in India and Pakistan—for it is a living reminder of Islam’s failure. This suggests that one is better off having Islam as enemy than ‘protector’. The protector inevitably turns predator and eventually consumes its protected flock.

All this has left an indelible mark on the psyche of the Indian intelligentsia, especially the media. This dhimmitude, which is rooted in fear of Muslim violence, is what is really behind much of the secularist attitudes and posturing. No one would take the spiritual pretensions and justifications offered by Islam apologists seriously but for the lurking fear of large-scale violence.

It is this dhimmi state of mind that makes secularist ‘leaders’ engage in purely communal activities, and granting concessions in the name of secularism. Some examples help bring this out. Last year alone 125 crore rupees were given to Haj pilgrims. This is a consequence of the Haj Bill introduced in 1959 by the ‘secular’ Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. What is no less scandalous is the diversion of funds from Hindu temples to mosques, brought to light by Sri Sri Ravishankar of The Art of Living Center. In the state of Karnataka Hindu temples generate Rs 40 crores. The government gives them back only 50 lakhs. The mosques on the other hand generate only about 50 lakhs, but get Rs 8 crores from the government! This means the government is in effect taking money from temples and diverting it to mosques and madrasas. This is in spite of the fact that Karnataka has no major pilgrimage centers. The diversion of funds from temples to mosques, madrasas and waqf boards is much greater in Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, which have major temples like those at Tirupati and Guruvayoor. This is voluntary dhimmitude, for the Muslims never demanded any such largesse.

Artistic double standards

Here is another example. When some Hindu groups objected to M.F. Husain for painting Hindu goddesses in the nude, the secular intellectuals including the media defended his ‘artistic freedom’ do as he wished. But in 2002, a newspaper office in Bangalore was vandalized by a Muslim mob for publishing a perfectly innocent cartoon of Prophet Muhammad in its children’s section. And the newspaper apologized to the attackers. Imagine the victim apologizing to the assailants! Other papers in Bangalore—and at other places—have also apologized on similar occasions. So ‘artistic freedom’ means freedom to offend Hindu sensibilities only! This also is nothing but a manifestation of dhimmitude.

This brand of ‘dhimmi secularism’ not only distorts the truth, but also rationalizes cowardly behavior as the following example shows. Some years back the ‘secularists’ turned the killing of the Christian missionary Graham Staines and his sons into a national and international affair by blaming Hindu organizations. In 2002, a Christian youth Paul Raj and his Muslim wife Sameena were brutally murdered by the girl’s family because he did not convert to Islam. There was no public denunciation of this act of savagery either by the secularist politicians, the media or even Church officials. The Church officials would not even go near their orphaned child. It was finally adopted by a Hindu NRI family, which arranged for its care and upbringing. The same Church officials held public meetings and loudly denounced Hindu organizations, without any evidence, when a few windows in a church in Mysore were smashed by hooligans.

Dhimmitude in the Christian world

Dhimmitude can lead to absurdities as when a leading Indian politician attributed the advaita propounded by Sri Shankaracharya to Koranic inspiration! Even this pales into insignificance when compared to the behaviour of religious leaders in the West. Pope John Paul II, during his visit to Egypt and Jerusalem, respectfully attended Muslim service without saying a word about the horrors inflicted on Coptic Christians.

Likewise in India, he took the Indian Government to task for mainly imaginary atrocities against Christian minorities, while maintaining stony silence over the daily massacre of Christians in Islamic countries like Pakistan and Indonesia. This was taken a sordid step further by Church ‘leaders’ in India when they colluded with Muslim fundamentalist organizations like the Pakistan-based Deen-dar-Anjuman in engineering Church bombings with the sole purpose of discrediting the Vajpayee Government. They seem driven by their hatred of the ‘heathen’ Hinduism as much as their Western counterparts have been by historic anti-Judaism. This has made them go on a propaganda spree in the West, denouncing Hinduism and the Indian Government, and inviting the US and the European Union to pressure on India to put an end to Hindu nationalist movements.

This is compounded by the growth of an extraordinary state of mind in a section of the Christian community in India. This group, made up mainly of followers of some American evangelical denominations (like Jehova’s Witnesses) but not limited to them believes that after defeating Iraq the United States will attack India and impose Christian rule. This fantastic belief appears to be part of the teachings of these religious groups founded on apocalyptic visions. This neurosis seems to be heightened by the rise of Hindutva, which it sees as the handiwork of anti-Christs who have arisen just before the Second Coming of Christ. This too lies at the center of their insane belief system.

In the long run, all this could have catastrophic consequences for Christians in India. The Hindu-baiters and the propagandists will not be there to defend them when there is the inevitable Muslim backlash against Christians in the wake of America’s war against terrorism, which the Muslims of the world see as a crusade against Islam. In the circumstances, the Christians’ best safeguard is the goodwill of the Hindus, but their state of mind of extreme dhimmitude seems to have made them antagonize the Hindus in the hope that the Muslims will reward them for their act!

This indicates that Christian organizations, beleaguered by declining fortunes in the ‘Christian’ West, are prepared to go to any length just to survive. The Church lives in constant fear of losing Rome to Islam as it lost Jerusalem to the Arabs in the first millennium and Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in the second. This existential fear is not helped by the presence of Islamic armies in Kosovo, a hundred miles from Trieste on the Italian border, aided and abetted by NATO and the US with their lopsided priorities. In the long run, this dhimmi state of mind poses a greater threat to the world than the Islamic warriors. And as a state of mind rather than anything physical (like Jihad), it is also harder to combat.

(Winston Churchill is quoted as saying: “An appeaser is one who keeps feeding a crocodile in the hope it will eat him last.” This is part of the dhimmi mindset also, especially among Christian leaders worldwide.)

That this is not just of historical interest but also of profound contemporary significance is clear from the general policy of appeasing Islamic sentiments being followed by the West. As Bat Ye’or observes: “Today, the United States and Europe compete for the favour of the Muslim world by once again abandoning the victimized peoples to its mercies. The Gulf War against Saddam Hussein on the question of oil interests (1991) was redeemed by the destruction of Yugoslavia and the creation of new centers of Islamist influence in the heart of the Balkans… The war to annihilate Serbia was intended to punish the crimes of Milosevic and his regime, but the media campaigns endeavoured to calm the anti-Westernism in the Muslim world and of Muslim immigrants in Europe. It also helped to gain forgiveness for the war on Iraq by a strong pro-Muslim counterbalancing policy in the Balkans.” Even the terrorist state of Pakistan has profited from the West’s dhimmi mentality. Had India been a small country instead of a major power occupying a strategic position, she might have shared the fate of Serbia to ‘redeem’ the destruction of the Taliban in Afghanistan. But there is no room for complacency here, based on the naïve belief that the West will follow a moral course. The West too is not free from dhimmitude.


All told, Bat Ye’or’s concept of dhimmitude is an inspired insight that sheds light on how whole communities and even nations may be manipulated by fear and greed. Or as Brigadier Malik of Pakistan put in his seminal The Quranic Concept of War (sponsored by General Zia ul Haq, the Founding Father of Talibanism): “Once a condition of terror into the opponent’s heart is obtained, hardly anything is left to be achieved… Terror is not a means of imposing decision upon the enemy; it is the decision we wish to impose upon him.” Dhimmitude is nothing but negationist accommodation rooted in fear.

As far is India is concerned, she is still under the spell cast by two ghosts from her imperialist past. One is Macaulayism imposed by European imperialism and the other dhimmitude forced by Islamic rule. The latter is proving to be far more lasting and debilitating to the national psyche. As long as these ghosts keep their hold on the people and the institutions of India, the country, though politically free cannot be spiritually free. And as long as dhimmitude is seen to work, the Muslims, their leadership in particular, will continue to harbour imperial visions. They will see every move towards equality and every growth towards nationalism as an assault on their fundamental right. India will become truly free only when this imperialist mind-set and dhimmitude are both rooted out. This is the challenge before the next generation.


Dictionary of Islam (1885, reprinted 1999). Compiled by Thomas Patrick Hughes. RUPA & Co, New Delhi.

Bat Ye’or Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide (2002).

Translated from the French by Miriam Kochan and David Littman. Farleigh Dickinson University Press, Associated Universities Press, Cranbury, NJ, USA and Gazelle Book Services, Lancaster, England.

Goel, Sita Ram (1999). The Calcutta Quran Petition, 3rd edition. New Delhi: Voice of India.

Malik, Brigadier S.K. The Quranic Concept of War, with a Foreword by General Zia-ul-Haq (1979). Wajid Ali’s Limited, Lahore, Pakistan. Indian edition by The English Book Store, New Delhi.


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