Geopolitics

What About Saudi Arabia?

Let us first put things into perspective. The native population of Saudi Arabia is around 20 million. The population of Bombay is 20 million. The population of the biggest State of India Uttar Pradesh is 200 million, which is ten times the native population of Saudi Arabia.

It is estimated that there are 1.6 BILLION Muslims scattered all over the world. The total population of Saudi Arabia is merely 1.25% of the global Muslim population.

Of course Saudi Arabia is home to two of the three holiest sites in Islam. The ritual of Haj existed even before the time of Prophet Muhammad. Muslims are not exactly going to Saudi Arabia for Haj, they are going to Mecca and Medina which at this point of time happen to be a part of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Is Saudi Arabia the Vatican of Islam? Much of the perception in the West and of course among Hindu liberals is based on their understanding of Christianity. They try to find parallels between religions. If Catholics have the Vatican then Muslims have Saudi Arabia. The heart of Islam. However this is not true. The primary learning hub for Muslims have kept shifting through the history of Islam. At one point it was Baghdad, at another time it was Cairo and yet at another time it was Persia. Even the subcontinent produced some of the most influential scholars and schools of Islam.

Islam has been a very successful ideology which is followed by every fourth person in the world across races, tribes and nations. Today there isn’t any single center for learning. There are many centers each competing for the mind of Muslims.

Saudi Arabia is not a flag bearer of Islam. No Muslim country is. Saudi Arabia is a nation state with its own citizenship laws. A Muslim wont automatically become a citizen of Saudi Arabia. Indian PM Narendra Modi described India as the natural home for Hindus, Israel grants citizenship to Jews from all over the world. Saudi association with the global Muslim community is limited to the ritual of Haj. Apart from that Saudi Arabia has its regional associations, regional power struggles and regional aspirations.

Saudi Arabia does not take a confrontational attitude even with nation states that are extremely hostile towards their Muslim population. Narendra Modi, who is accused of being complicit in the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 received highest civilian award from the Saudi Government. Saudi Arabia puts its national interest ahead of everything else. Saudis do what any nation state would do to further its national interests.

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PM Narendra Modi receiving highest civilian award from Saudi King

The West had keen interest in Saudi Arabia because the West needed oil. Even today the West in general and US in particular closely allies with Saudi Arabia to exert influence in the region. Many liberals in the West accuse Saudi Arabia of exporting Islamic extremism but ignore the fact it is their own Governments that are arming Saudi Arabia. Either the West is complicit with Saudis in exporting Islamic extremism or the liberals are simply demonizing Saudi Arabia because of the age old stereotypes that they have constructed about the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia is a conservative country. For example no other Muslim country has restrictions on female drivers. Saudi Arabia is also a very fast urbanizing society. In the past two decades the country has made good progress in empowering women. Saudi women have better access to healthcare, literacy rate is 100%, there is record rise in female workforce participation, new laws against domestic violence have been introduced and there has been a weakening of guardianship laws. Saudi women even have 20% seats reserved in their national parliament.

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Saudi Arabia is the favorite punching bag for Islamophobes and Liberals alike. Of course Saudi Arabia, like any other country in the world, has many flaws. Of course they can do better on empowering their women, of course they can do better on empowering their citizens via democracy, of course they can stop public hanging of criminals. Capital punishment is not unique to Saudi Arabia. China, India and US all have the provision for capital punishment. In fact India is notorious for killing thousands of people every year inside its jails without a trial. China can do more to promote democracy. US can abolish death penalty. There is nothing uniquely bad about Saudi Arabia, a comparatively tiny population, to be singled out for constant criticism.

This constant criticism of Saudi Arabia has less to do with human rights or gender parity concerns and more to do with anti Muslim bigotry. You will often hear from people that Islam does not allow women to drive. The fact is that only Saudi Arabia does not allow women to drive. 98% of Muslim women around the world have no restrictions on driving. When Saudis eventually allow their women to drive, and that time is not too far, the saddest people on the planet would be the anti Muslim bigots. They don’t really care about any Muslim, women and children included. Most would take quiet pleasure in seeing Muslim women and children suffer.

The other group of people who excessively criticize Saudi Arabia are those who have sectarian loyalties. And there is no dearth of Muslims who would selectively target Iran on the basis of their own sectarian loyalties. Indian Muslims should be careful. Liberals are not criticizing Saudi Arabia, their target is the Indian Muslim.

Saudi Arabia is just a convenient straw-man argument. They want to bully you. Do not get bullied. Bully them back with questions regarding their own country, their own religion. India fares far worse than Saudi Arabia on almost every gender and social indicator. Check UN’s gender index. Check UN’s human development index.

If they can bully you for what happens in a country thousands of miles away then surely you can hold them to account for what happens in India. If they can hold Islam and all Muslims accountable for a country where 1.25% of all Muslims live then surely you can hold Hinduism and all Hindus accountable for what happens in India where 95% of all Hindus live.

As Kenneth J. Long observed in his Book ‘Contemporary Anti Muslim Politics, Aggressions and Exclusions’:

“It is fascinating that Westerners generally fail to consider comparisons of Muslim postcolonial societies  to comparable non-Muslim ones. Hindu-dominated India for example generally fares far worse than its Muslim counterparts when it comes to issues of gender equality. India’s rape rate is far worse, female foeticide is a much bigger problem, female literacy is at least as prevalent, and female membership in governance is equally underrepresented; all without much victimization by foreign intervention in the last handful of decades.”   ~ Kenneth J. Long

Lastly, as a Muslim it is OK to have concerns related to Saudi Arabia, you may even have serious differences with what they believe in. It is OK to discuss these issues within the privacy of your trusted circles. Do not throw fellow Muslims to the vultures because after they are done with so called “wahabis” they are coming for you.

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The Hijabs are Coming

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If aliens ever come to planet earth will we try to understand their culture or start calling them names for the way they appear?

In this blog I discuss the arguments around the Muslim head gear and the social issues surrounding it.

How can a modern enlightened state to allow its people to follow their evil cultural practices?

Had we not forcefully stopped the Hindu religious practice of Sati women would still be killing themselves after the death of their husband. Why should Muslims have any objection if the state forcefully stops women from donning the hijab/niqab/burqa. The argument that women voluntarily wear some form of the Islamic headgear is not enough to make it legitimate. After all some Hindu women voluntarily killed themselves in the name of Sati.

If the above passage made sense to you then let me explain why it should not.

  • Two cultural practices cannot be equal just because they are cultural practices. It would be same as saying a Burqa is same as the bikini because both are pieces of clothing.
  • While a modern state cannot allow every cultural practice a modern state cannot prohibit a legitimate cultural practice just because it is a cultural practice. Every cultural practice needs to be evaluated independently.
  • The cultural practice of donning a headgear is in no way comparable to the cultural practice of a woman being killed or choosing to die after the death of her husband.

Let us now test the argument that that Sati and Burqa are both oppressive and hence they can be equated. Sati did not stop because there were laws against it. There is absolutely nothing that a state can do if the woman decides to commit suicide after the death of her husband. The Hindu woman has decided that she will no longer follow this barbaric practice and hence the end of Sati.

On the contrary there is empirical evidence that most Muslim women wear the headgear voluntarily as a part of their cultural identify and do not see it as either barbaric or oppressive. Had this been the case there would be no Muslim women in the western world wearing the hijab. Turkey aggressively tried to enforce a secularist culture. Hijab clad women were banned from universities and after several decades of secularism most Turkish women still prefer some form of Islamic head covering.

Well how can you say that they voluntarily choose to wear the headgear when they are conditioned to wear the headgear since they are children?

Good question. There is no society in the world in which parents do not influence their children. You are most likely to identify yourself as a Hindu if you grow up in a Hindu family in India. You are most likely to identify yourself as an atheist if you grow up in an atheist family. You are most likely to identify yourself as Muslim if you grow up in a Muslim family. And when you identify yourself as a Muslim the Hijab may come as part of that cultural identity.

Thousands of women convert to Islam every year around the world and they are more likely to wear the Islamic headgear as compared to someone who was born in a Muslim family. This is a clear indicator that is not always about cultural conditioning but about a legitimate cultural choice.

The Islamic headgear is as cultural as it is Islamic. You will hardly find anyone wearing a burqa in Turkey. Unlike the subcontinent burqa was never a part of the Turkish Islamo-cultural identity. People often become more protective about their cultural identity when they see that it is under threat. A Hindu is more likely to search for his cultural roots after migrating to the west. The idea is to preserve and protect the culture in face of the pressures to conform to the dominant culture that surrounds you.

Why the fear of Hijab?

Once can understand people’s discomfort with the face covering niqab because face is an important of identity and it can be quite confronting to talk to someone “face to face” when there is only one face available in the conversation. Then there are security concerns. A person wearing a balaclava or a helmet cannot be allowed into bank so why a niqab clad woman should be allowed inside a bank in the name of culture? These are legitimate concerns and should not be seen as an attack on culture.

The attack on the Hijab is however a completely different matter. The idea is the force the woman to conform to the ideals of the dominant culture. For e.g. you will rarely see Oprah Winfrey in her naturOprah-Winfreyal Afro hair. She has to look whiter than white. How many white women that you see around you choose the afro hairstyle? Hardly any. How many African American women do you see with blonde wigs and straitened hair? Many. The minority should conform to the dominant culture of the majority or else get ready to be ridiculed, mocked and shunned from the civil society.

In the western societies the debate about the Islamic headgear is as much about the Western Identity as it is about the Islamic identity. There is no reason for these two identities to clash. There are hundreds of examples where hijab clad women have made it big in their professional careers. Muslims must also do their bit by discouraging the practice of niqab. Feminist extremism challenging the cultural identity of Muslim women is having exactly the opposite of the desired effect.

Islam is not going away, Muslims are not going away. There will more and more Hijabs around us in the future. The choice is ours. Either we can remain in a perpetual state of confrontation or we can just accept it as a part of multicultural society and move on. The Hijabs are coming.

The Secular Veil

In this blog post I discuss the origins of secular thought, its meaning in different contexts and its understanding in India.


To understand secularism we need to understand its origins. The secular thought emerged in Europe as a challenge to the Church’s authority over State. To illustrate this point let me present an example from early 16th century England. King of England, Henry The Eighth was not just the head of the State but he was also the guardian of the Roman Catholic Church. England was a Roman Catholic country and the King was expected to uphold the values of the Roman Church.

King Henry was married to Catherine of Aragon and as it happens so often the King fell in love with another lady named Anne Boleyn. Of course King Henry being the defender of the Church could not divorce Catherine without the permission of the Pope. The Pope refused. Love of course knows no bounds. The King divorced the Roman Catholic Church, established his own Church and appointed himself as its head. The power of the Church diminished and the power of State increased.

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The divorce between the Church and the state was long and bitter. One of the most popular site of pilgrimage in England was Hailes Abbey. This magnificent complex was built in the thirteenth century and was famous for holding ‘Relic of the Crucifixion’, a drop of blood which attracted pilgrims and wealth from all over England.

To discredit the Church King Henry ordered an inquiry into the authenticity of the holy blood which was “found” to be nothing but clarified honey with saffron. The church was closed down and with time the magnificent complex turned into ruins. Thomas Cromwell, a trusted lieutenant of King Henry looted several monasteries and made the Church subservient to the State. This was the beginning of the concept of Secularism. It was not just the separation of the Church and the State but a complete domination of the State over the Church.

It is important to note that the Secular thought did not emerge in response to the inequalities that existed in the society due to co-existence of different cultures. For the socio-political purposes English society was one community with all the people sharing the same religion and culture. The idea of secularism was simply to subjugate the Church.

With time different countries adopted different models of secularism. Some became tolerant and pluralistic while others committed unimaginable atrocities in the name of establishing a religion free society. Stalin declared a war against religion, the schools were forced to teach atheistic literature and Churches were demolished or converted into pubs. It is estimated that around 20 million Christians were killed due to the atheist policies of the Soviet state. Pol Pot, also an atheist banned all religions in Cambodia. Half of the Charn Muslim population was killed and thousands of Christians were slaughtered.

The fundamental idea behind the atrocities committed by Stalin or Pol Pot was to impose an artificial homogeneity in society by forcing people to follow the policies of the state as moral, legal and ethical guide. The attempt to destroy all identities (religious, ethnic, social etc) and establish one supreme national identity is what led to the human misery that has no precedent in the history of humanity.

In India Secularism is widely understood (or misunderstood) as a pluralistic principle that respects different religions, cultures and traditions that exist in India. The State of India supports and celebrates religion. The government spends millions for the organization of religious festivals and it is common to find pictures of deities or even temples inside government offices. Public holidays are based on religious festivals, important projects are started after consulting astrologers for the auspicious timing. All Government projects begin with a religious ceremony. Religion and State are intertwined.

India is a unique country where caste and religious distinctions have existed for hundreds of years. It is these distinctions and diversity that shape the idea of India. Unity in diversity is what I was taught in school. The founders of India understood these intricacies and they came up with a unique model for India. A common criminal law with no influence of religion while a personal civil law that allowed allowed different Indian cultures and tradition to coexist.

Today the pluralistic idea of India is under threat from two quarters. The right wing extremist forces who want to take away minority rights in the name of their twisted idea of Hindutva hegemony (beef ban, anti conversion laws etc) and the secularists (of the Stalin and Pol Pot variety) who want to take away minority rights in their attempt to impose an artificial homogeneity in the society.

Interestingly the “secularists” who want to diminish minority rights in the name of secularism never complain about the intertwined nature of Religion and State in India. If they are true to their secular belief of separating State and Religion then they should complain about the huge funds allocated for organizing religious festivals or about the pictures of deities in government offices. If they oppose personal laws then they should also oppose caste based reservation because in principle caste based reservations also reinforce the caste identity. They are not bothered about all these issues because they are using secularism as a veil to hide their deep seated prejudice against minorities.

Secularism is what you make of it. Just like religion the idea of secularism has been abused to commit horrendous crimes against humanity. The extremists who use the name of secularism to enforce their moral and ethical standards on the society are no different to the religious extremists who do the same. The soul of India is Hindu and the soul of Hinduism is Sarv Dharm Sambhav (Acknowledgment and acceptance of diversity). Since the vast majority of people in India see secularism as pluralism it is important to use the word ‘plural’ instead of ‘secular’. This will take away the veil of secularism behind with self proclaimed secularists hide their bigotry.  Any attempt to destroy the soul of India either by right wing extremists or by secular extremists must be countered with reason.

The Ghost Of Saddam

What went wrong? 

President Obama had his own “Mission Accomplished” moment. Speaking on the occasion of last US troop withdrawal from Iraq, President Obama stood alongside Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki and declared:

“What we have now achieved is an Iraq that is self governing that is inclusive and that has enormous potential”

Soon after US withdrawal from Iraq Maliki ordered the arrest of Vice President Tarek Al Hashimi who was a part of the unity Government in Iraq as a representative of Sunnis. Tarek Al Hashimi fled Iraq but he was sentenced to death in absentia. This was a clear message that Sunni minorities will have no role in the power structures of Iraq. What began after that was a series of unrelenting attacks against the Sunni minority in and around Baghdad.

The Shiite militia were brutal. Daily Sunnis were turning up dead in the streets of Baghdad. Maliki also enraged the Sunni tribesmen who had earlier played a vital role in defeating Al Qaeda in Iraq. In the final act of barbarity Maliki ordered the killing of hundreds and hundreds of Sunni protesters in the city of Haweeja. It was brutal. Maliki was trying to suppress dissent in the same way Saddam suppressed the Shiites during his regime.

Praveen Swami’s claim that IS is trying to polarize the society is not accurate. The civil society of Iraq was not only polarized but was already at war before IS appeared on the scene and exploited the situation for its nefarious designs.

Will India play a role in resolving the Iraq crisis? 

It is unlikely that India will directly get involved in resolving the Iraqi civil war. So far India does not see IS as a big enough threat to its national security to warrant the deployment of its army in the most volatile region of the world. The Government of India has maintained its silence over the fate of 39 Indian citizens believe to be trapped inside Iraq.

The civil war in Iraq continues in the backdrop of the cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. India has cordial relations both with Iran and Saudi Arabia. Indian boots on Iraqi soil will inadvertently antagonize one or both regional powers involved in the conflict.

What are the risks?

Even the most well equipped army in the world suffered around 37,030 casualties in Iraq including 4807 deaths of soldiers. Even with the most well-intentioned presence, India cannot rule out casualties if India deploys its troops in Iraq. The slow trickle of casualties could become a political problem for the Indian Government just like it became a problem for the Bush administration. It is also possible that right wing Hindutva extremists may incite riots against the Muslim minority of India by exploiting the consequences of war in Iraq.

India like other countries should try monitor the sympathizers who want to go to fight for IS or for the Shiite militias. Battle hardened militants returning from conflict zones are the most immediate threat to India and other countries. It is urgent and important that India brings in laws similar to the laws brought by Australia that makes it illegal for citizens to travel to conflict zones without a very good explanation.

Why is the Western alliance not beating back IS?

There can be many possible explanations. The West does not want to sacrifice more blood and treasure in Iraq. The rich Sunnis from Saudi Arabia and other Sunni countries may have convinced the US administration that destroying IS completely will bring back the tyranny of Iran backed Shiite militias and hence US may be more interested in the policy of containment rather than complete decimation of IS. The Sunni militants are also battling the Assad regime is Syria and US wants to see Assad go. In a bid to trigger a negotiated settlement US forced Nuri Al Maliki to step down but by then it was too late. The West does not have any easy solution to the Iraq-Syria conundrum.

What drives IS?

Praveen Swami has quoted a Quranic verse which legitimizes violence during war. Now it doesn’t really take Quran for people to carry out violent acts during war. Quran or no Quran, wars are always violent and brutal. The question is why is IS so barbaric? To understand this question we need to understand what exactly is IS? The armies in the middle east are not trained to fight external aggression. They are trained and armed to contain dissent in the masses as we have recently witnessed in Egypt. The dictators of the middle east employ their armies to mass murder and torture civilians. IS is made up of ex Saddam loyalists and the remnants of the Iraqi army. They were also trained to be brutal towards civilians. They are doing what they were trained to do.

The people of Iraq, especially the Sunni tribesmen are not fanatical which is evident from the fact that they played a key role in defeating Al Qaeda in Iraq. They welcomed IS seeing it as the only choice against the brutality of Shiite militias but this deal with the devil has created a monster that is now threatening the entire region. Eventually people will rise against the brutality and barbarism of IS. What price will Iraqis pay for reviving the ghost of Saddam? Only time will tell.

PS: I strongly recommend interested people watch this brilliant documentary by Martin Smith on the miscalculations by the West that allowed IS to grow.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/rise-of-isis/

France At Crossroads

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Can Charlie Hebdo cartoons be seen as satire or simply tasteless insults? This question has divided the journalist community. There has been an intense exchange of emails at the Al Jazeera office discussing this issue. The Arab journalists are of the opinion that Charlie Hebdo cartoons were in bad taste and were maliciously drawn to humiliate Muslims. They wanted the news to focus on the wider issues of Islamophobia in the European society and the role that western intervention in the Middle East has played in the radicalization of these youths.

The key is to look at the biographies of these guys – contrary to conventional wisdom, they were radicalised by images of Abu Ghraib not by images of the Prophet Mohammed

Executive producer Salah-Aldeen Khadr:

The western journalists wanted to limit the focus on journalistic freedoms.

We are Aljazeera.  So, a polite reminder:
#journalismisnotacrime
Kind regards
Jacky Rowland

In the broader context there are many forces at play that are motivating the radicals. People who say it is only about freedom of speech want to take the focus away from the foreign policies of western governments and the people who only talk about foreign policies take focus away from the fact that religion and society has played a role in the radicalization of these youths. Before being killed by the security forces one of the attacker was interviewed by a French journalist. The attacker talked about “insult to prophet” and about the western intervention in Middle East and Afghanistan.

Can we deny the fact that some of the prominent Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan criminalize blasphemy against Islam? Even legitimate criticism of some of the practices carried out in the name of religion is considered blasphemy. In Pakistan such laws are used to settle score with opponents or to persecute the people belonging to the minority community. In the Indian state of Kerala a Christian teacher’s hands were cut off by extremist elements because they believed he insulted the prophet. There is a problem and denial wont help fix it .

The media and the international community must also acknowledge that Islam is the most frequently criticized religion in the world. There are thousands of blogs, anti Islamic websites and books that are dedicated to the criticism of Islam and its prophet.  Most Muslims, practicing or non practicing, are at the receiving end of Islamophobic abuse on the internet. A recently published article showed how Facebook and Twitter are being used to threaten and abuse Muslims across the world. In spite of facing such hate attacks, an overwhelming majority of Muslims are going about their lives normally ignoring the profanities directed at them. The virtue of patience is repeatedly emphasized in the Quran and most Muslims are practicing that. Of course some Muslims need to reform themselves so do the people who vilify all Muslims on the basis of race and religion.

Now let us look at the other side of the issue. France has a large population of migrants mostly from north African Muslim countries. France has the largest population of Muslims in the European Union. France was among the few prominent countries that had opposed the Iraq war.

Most of the French Muslims were born in France. They don’t associate themselves with Morocco or Algeria, the countries of their ancestors. The only country they can associate themselves with is France. The migrant community of France has played an important role in the development of modern France. The French society welcomed the hard labor of the migrants, adopted their food and expected them to assimilate in French values of freedom, equality and liberty.

With the economic downturn in Europe there has been an increase in the anti migrant sentiment. Increasingly the migrants are being subjected to all forms of racism and discrimination. Out of 6 million Muslims living in France hardly 2000 wore the Burqa. Yet France found an urgent need to ban the Burqa. The newsroom discussions focused on how the Islamic values (of migrants) do not fit with French values. France became a “liberal” country like Saudi Arabia where the Govt decides what clothes people can wear.

The French have a very low threshold of tolerance when it comes to antisemitism. Charlie Hebdo which is now being celebrated as the icon of liberal values sacked one of its staff for making an antisemitic joke and the state of France jailed him. France also happens to be the only western country to ban pro Palestine rallies.

When it comes to Islamophobia the French have a completely different value system. The right to publish vile, racist and xenophobic cartoons becomes the fundamental value of France that “uncivilized” migrants wont understand. I refuse to accept that these were the values that modern France was formed on.

There is a difference between satire and profanity. Satire intends to trigger a thought process that may help people see things from a different perspective. Profanity is designed to offend and humiliate. Who would pay to buy Charlie Hebdo magazine except those who enjoy tasteless and mindless humiliation directed at the weaker sections of the society?  Would they be making vulgar cartoons of the soldiers who died fighting for France? No. Because that will hurt the sentiments of the French.

The French Muslims love France and its people. One gave his life protecting the very same people who were publishing vile cartoons to humiliate his community and the other risked his life to save lives in a super market.

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Republishing vile racist cartoons wont make France a stronger nation. To recover from this tragedy as a stronger nation the French must reclaim the values they hold dear. Freedom, Equality, Liberty and Justice have no meaning in a society that applies these principles selectively.

What Happened To The Hindu Population of West Pakistan?

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It has long been argued by the right wing Hindutva ideologues that:

  • After the exchange of population between India and Pakistan in 1947, 15% of the total population of West Pakistan was Hindu.
  • Since 1947 the population share of Pakistani Hindus came down drastically from 15% to the present day 1.6%.

In a recent article published on various websites Prof. Saswati Sarkar wrote:

“let me first start with startling facts that should have by now been well known to an Indian audience in normal course. When Pakistan was created in 1947, Hindus constituted about 15% of the population of West Pakistan (current Pakistan); by 1998 it is about 1.6% [1] – the population has declined by about 90% in about 50 years. This decimation is the outcome of sustained legal and social discrimination ever since the creation of Pakistan.”

~ Professor Saswati Sarkar , Dept. of Electrical and Systems Eng., University of Pennsylvania

To support this claim Professor Saswati Sarkar has provided a link to the Hindu American foundation website here. But do these startling claims made by the Hindu American Foundation and Prof Sarkar stand up to scrutiny? In this article I will present various documentary evidences to try and understand the reality of the population numbers of Hindus in present day Pakistan.

Three academics from some of the best educational institutions in the world came together to study the migratory flow of populations after the partition of India. In their paper they wrote this:

“In Pakistan, since we know ex-post that almost all Hindus/Sikhs moved, it is easy to identify the potential movers in 1931, and say with some confidence that Muslims in Pakistan in 1931 compromise the non-movers in 1931. We cannot say this for India and Bangladesh since only some Muslims/Hindus moved. The percentage Hindus/Sikhs in Pakistan dropped from 17% in 1931 to 2% in 1951. The minority numbers for India and Bangladesh are 12% to 9% and 29% to 21%. Clearly a large number of Muslims stayed back in India and a large number of Hindus stayed back in Bangladesh (until 1951).”

(Page 7, Footnote 9)

The Partition of India: Demographic consequences by Prashant Bhardwaj, Asim Khwaja & Atif Mian (Exhibit A)

This is by far the best academic study that I could find on the subject. In this study the academicians have covered a wide range of issues that impacted migration during the partition of India. This paper is based on the district wise tabulated data of 1931 census of undivided India and the 1951 census of India and Pakistan.

As per the 1931 census, Hindus and Sikhs had a total share of 17% of the total population in the districts that later became West Pakistan. There is no reason to believe that this population ratio changed until the partition in 1947.

To verify the census figures I had to look for another source of data against which these figures can be compared. I searched through newspaper archives to look for migration figures from the time of the Partition to get an idea of the number of Hindus and Sikhs who left West Pakistan.

According to this Reuters report (Exhibit B) published in 1953 a total of 7.5 million Hindus and Sikhs migrated from East and West Pakistan and settled in India by 1951. As per the census carried out by India in 1951 a total of 2.5 million Hindus entered into India from East Pakistan (Bangladesh). This means that out of the total migration of 7.5 million people into India, 5 million entered from West Pakistan and the remaining 2.5 million entered from East Pakistan.

Exhibit B

This figure can also be corroborated from another news published in 1949 (Exhibit C). The ministry of rehabilitation established to help the refugees took a census and estimated the number of refugees from West Pakistan to be 5 million. Notice the number of migrants from East Pakistan (Bangladesh) were around 2 million in 1949 and this number swelled to 2.5 million by 1951.

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Exhibit C

The number Hindus and Sikhs who left West Pakistan were replaced by almost the same number of Muslims who left India. This means that the overall population of West Pakistan remained the same. This is supported by the initial reports of migration that were published in December 1947 (Exhibit D). As per this report out of the total 8.5 million people who crossed Punjab border 4,362,000 were non Muslims. Later this number swelled to 5 million as migrations continued.

Exhibit D

As per the census of 1951 the total population of West Pakistan was around 34 million. 5 million Hindus and Sikhs who left West Pakistan would have made 14.7% of that population.

The study claims that 2% of Hindus still remained in Pakistan even after Partition. Lets add 2% to the 14.7 % and the final figure comes to 16.7% which is very close to the 17% as claimed in the paper presented by the academicians. The numbers add up.

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Exhibit E

The reporting of that time reflected the fact that almost all Hindus of Pakistan lived in East Bengal. There was only a tiny minority of Hindus that existed in West Pakistan (Exhibit E).

According to the 1998 census figures of Pakistan the total population share of Hindus is 1.85%  including the scheduled castes (not 1.60% as claimed by HAF). Prof Sarkar also argues that many Hindus in Pakistan hide their religious identity due to fear of persecution. So according to her claim the population share of Hindus may be much higher than 1.85%.

Going by this report many Dalit Hindus have converted to Christianity in Pakistan due to the efforts of missionary groups. This is plausible because we have seen similar conversions in India. This means that 1.59% Christian population of Pakistan also includes some erstwhile Hindus.

Looking at the numbers and the supporting documents we can safely conclude that the the population share of Hindus in present day Pakistan has not shown a decline as is being claimed by the Hindutva ideologues.

It is very important to highlight the plight of minorities in Pakistan who face discrimination and persecution and this must done on the basis of facts. There are many authentic reports that can be used to support the fact that minorities face hardships in Pakistan. Misrepresentation of facts does not help the cause.

The Shadow

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With increasing communal hostilities in the Indian society, this article tries to explain the drivers and the related consequences.  

The Solemn Promise

This year the world marked the twentieth anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide. Addressing a ceremony to mark the occasion, United Nations Chief Ban Ki Moon said that the world would never again allow genocide to tear apart a nation. Describing it as one of the darkest chapters in human history he acknowledged that the world could have done much more to save the lives of nearly 800,000 Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus who were mass slaughtered by the extremist Hutu majority.

Academics who have carefully studied the anatomy of genocide have concluded that genocide is a process which develops in multiple stages and can be prevented if early signs are detected and preventative measures applied. The international community has made a solemn promise that it will “never again” allow genocide like Rwanda. The international community must remain vigilant.

Early Signs

While each ethnic conflict is different to the other there are common conditions necessary for an ethnic conflict to occur. In his book ‘Modern Hatreds: The Symbolic Politics of Ethnic War’, Stuart J. Kaufman has described three necessary conditions of ethnic war; Myths justifying ethnic hostility, fear and opportunity. According to Kaufman, myths and their incorporation in every sphere of Hutu society laid the seeds of hate against Tutsi minority. These myths led to collective fear psychosis which eventually led to the Rwandan genocide.

In this article I will explain how these necessary conditions of ethnic war are being met in India and what can be done to avoid a potential conflict.

Structural communal prejudice fuelled by myths

Just like Pre-Genocide Rwanda, communal prejudice against religious minorities has now become a structural feature of Indian society. This state sponsored and institutionalized prejudice helps the elites to fulfil their political aims and gives a sense of collective identity to the masses. The origin of this prejudice lies in the myths which have been carefully nurtured by the majoritarian forces in India over decades. Myths fuel prejudice and prejudice gives rise to new myths.

The myth of origin and ancestry

The majoritarian forces in India believe that Indian Christians and Muslims do not naturally belong to India in spite of centuries of common history and co-existence. Rwandan Hutus who formed 85% of the population believed that the minority Tutsis were foreigners who had no right to be in Rwanda even after centuries of co-existence.

“The artificial attempt to create a homogeneous society unfolds as a consequence of the acceptance of genocidal intent” ~ Jason J Campbell

The myth of the sacred homeland

The majoritarian forces in India believe in the sacredness of homeland. Any citizen who doesn’t attach divinity to the homeland is considered as the “enemy within”. A Muslim refusing to sing songs that attribute divinity to the homeland is portrayed as a traitor who would betray the nation for the sake of religion. In Pre Genocide Rwanda there were many Hutus in the Government and in the general population who strongly believed that Tutsi minority was the “enemy within”.

The myth of the golden age

Majoritarian forces in India believe that ancient Indian civilization was a world leader in cultural and scientific advancements and this golden age came to an end when barbarians from the west invaded India and forcefully converted Hindus to Islam. For a thousand years they say they were enslaved and now the time to reclaim lost glory has arrived. They hold the present day Indian Muslims responsible for the events of medieval era.

The myth of suffering

This is the most potent of all myths. The idea that the majority is suffering due a small minority evokes powerful emotional response. Since Rwandan independence in 1962 the Tutsi minority was made the scapegoat for every crisis that was faced by the country. In India the Hindutva forces claim that Muslim minority is appeased at the expense of Hindus because 13% Muslims decide the winner in India’s elections. They see this as continuance of centuries of subjugation by the foreign forces. This suffering can only end when a Government representing Hindu interests takes over and the minority Muslims are shown their place.

Social and political exclusion

Helen Fein is a historical sociologist who has written extensively on genocide and collective violence. She says:

 “One condition that may predict genocide in the making is the practice of denying groups access to political and/or economic positions. In Germany prior to Nazi rule, the Jews were only marginally integrated politically. Economically Jews were overrepresented in the professions, but traditionally had been excluded from the guilds and civil service. The anti-Semitism that denied Jews access to political office, education and the professions eroded slowly during the 19thcentury, only to remerge at the end of the century; Prior discrimination and prejudice made the Jews a convenient target for Nazi ideologues”.

A survey conducted by the Government of India found that the presence of Muslims in top government jobs was minuscule, 3% in the Indian Administrative Service, 4% in the Indian Police Service and 1.8% in the Indian Foreign Service.

Even in the private sector there is an active effort to push Muslims towards causal labour jobs. In 2004-05 around 41% Muslims in Gujarat were involved in service sector which came down to 31.7% in 2009-10. In 2004-05, 59% Muslims were self-employed which came down to 53% while in case of salaried services the proportion of Muslims come down from 17.5% to 14% during the same period. It is also to be noted that Muslim share in causal labour increased from 23% to 32% during the same period (Source: CounterCurrengs.org)

The situation has become so bad that many Indian Muslims have to pretend to be Hindus to find employment.  Housing discrimination has also become common. A Muslim is not allowed to buy or rent a property in a Hindu majority area. In a rare case a Muslim family was allowed to live with Hindus only when they agreed to change their names and get their house “cleansed” through a Hindu religious ritual.

In recently held Assembly elections only 8 Muslim candidates were elected from the 589 seats that went for election. That is less than 2% representation. Major political parties avoid Muslim candidates because they know that people won’t vote for a Muslim.

 Development as legitimization

The fundamental assumption of the Development ideology is that the state’s sole objective is the pursuit of economic development. The Habyarimana regime masterfully played the Development card in Rwanda. He even changed the name of his party to National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development. While the Habyarimana regime kept selling the myth of Development, the pogroms against minority Tutsis continued. Those involved in the pogroms were never brought to justice. Today in India this model is popularly known as the Gujarat Model.

Mass media as tool of mobilization

In Africa of the1990s, radio was the most popular form of mass communication. A radio station named ‘Television Libre des Mille Collines’ (RTLM) was setup to broadcast hate messages against the Tutsi minority. Many observers now hold the opinion that this Radio station played a vital role in the Rwandan genocide. Ironically the stated aim of this radio station was to “to create harmonious development in Rwandese society”. This radio station was funded by wealthy Hutu businessmen, Hutu extremists and some members of the Government. Today in India the role of RTLM is being fulfilled by social media. Secular Hindus and minorities face a barrage of abuse and threats from Hindutva extremists. Journalists are threatened with rape. Mass murder is celebrated. During pogroms hateful messages and rumors are propagated. This is what a senior journalist affiliated with the Hindutva ideology tweeted during communal violence in Assam.

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Rewarding Pogroms

Anti-Tutsi pogroms in Rwanda started years before the genocide. Every pogrom was explained as a spontaneous and uncontrollable reaction. After every Anti-Tutsi pogrom the perpetrators went back to live their normal lives. There was no accountability. This led Hutu extremists to expect that they can keep killing large number of Tutsis without any consequence. Today in India mass violence against minorities is not only being ignored but it is being rewarded by major political parties. The Indian police force has often been accused of being biased against minorities. The courts have failed to bring the perpetrators of violence to justice. This has created a culture of impunity.

Role of mainstream media

The international community failed to understand that Rwandan conflict because journalists in their attempt to appear “balanced” presented it as an equal racial conflict between Hutus and Tutsis. In reality the Tutsi minority was facing massacre after massacre. Similarly the Indian mainstream media in its attempt to appear “balanced” presents the communal conflict of India as an equal conflict. Hundreds of Muslims were killed and thousands displaced during the Muzafarnagar violence yet in its attempt to appear balanced the media condemns one extreme statement from Amit Shah along side one extreme statement from Azam Khan creating a false equivalence.

Resolution

According to Kaufman ethnic war can be prevented by changing hostile myths. The Government has to take proactive measures to recast nationalist myths. The extremists should be given a clear message that they will face the full force of the law if they indulge in distribution of hateful propaganda or violence. This is unlikely to happen if the far right extremists come to power in India. In such conditions the international community must closely observe the situation in India. The world simply cannot afford to sit idle as a genocide unfolds.