History

Yes, It Makes No Sense To Compare Religious Majoritarianism In India And Pakistan

 

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Of course Pakistan is not an ideal place to be a minority. This piece is no defense of Pakistan’s record on minority rights. Pakistan can and should do much better. Now that we have cleared this bit, let us compare the situation of minorities in India with the situation of minorities in Pakistan. I write this piece as rebuttal to an essay written by one Sadanand Dhume.

In his piece Dhume has expressed concern over the direction in which India is going with respect to minority rights. However his argument still revolves around the notion that India may have its shortcomings but it makes no sense to compare an inherently pluralistic society like India to an inherently intolerant and monolithic society like Pakistan.

Dhume refers to Pakistan’s Shia population as a minority and I accept that categorization. Shias make up to 15% of the Pakistani population. 2% are Hindus and 1% are others. The population makeup of minority and majority populations in India and Pakistan is very similar.

Now let us examine some of the claims made by Dhume:

Among many other absurd theories peddled by Hindutva ideologues there is a popular myth that Hindu population of West Pakistan at the time of Partition was around 22% which came down to 2% due to slow ethnic cleansing carried out by the State of Pakistan over 70 years.

Dhume writes:

In undivided British India, in 1941, the areas that constitute today’s Pakistan were about 78% Muslim; the rest of the people were Hindu, Sikh and Christian. Today Pakistan is 97% Muslim…By contrast, in India the Hindu majority has declined gently from 85% of the population in 1951 to a shade under 80% today. In short, religious minorities have shrunk dramatically in one country while growing over time in the other.

Fact Check

There were in fact 17% non Muslims in West Pakistan and 83% Muslims. At the time of Partition most of them moved to India and less than 2% were left in Pakistan. So Pakistan started with a 2% Hindu population. Indian Punjab had over 30% Muslims and after the Partition only 2% Muslims remained on the Indian side of  Punjab. This was a population exchange. Not ethnic cleansing as is often argued by Hindu extremists. Today the Hindu population share of Pakistan is slightly higher than what they started with just after the partition. For a detailed research on the subject please refer to this blog.

Dhume is however right about the increase in the population share of Muslims in India. He is wrong when he puts this fact as evidence of Muslims’ well-being in India. There are three reasons due to which Muslim population has grown faster than Hindu population in India.

  1. Most Muslims are poor. People in the lower income bracket have more children. In Dhume’s own country, USA, a third of all families (33%) are classified as low income families. 44% of all children in US come from these families.
  2. Muslims have a lower rate of female foeticide as compared to Hindus.
  3. Due to certain unhygienic practices, Hindus have higher infant mortality rate. Muslim children in India are 17 percent more likely to survive infancy than Hindus

Even Pakistan’s Hindu population has grown at a faster rate as compared to their national average because most Hindus in Pakistan belong to lower income groups.

Dhume went on to make a rather bizarre claim. He reckons that minorities in India are treated better than minorities in Pakistan because Indian cricket team wears a “neutral blue” outfit rather than wearing a Saffron colored Hindu outfit. Sometimes appearances can be deceptive, still Dhume does not come across as a person who would believe North Korea is more democratic than USA just because North Korea calls itself ‘Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’.

Beyond this point I write on Muslims are really treated in India. It is a long and harrowing read.

A recent study published by PEW ranked India fourth after Syria, Iraq and Nigeria in a list of countries where social hostilities involving religion is very high.  Here I list a number of issues faced by Muslims in India that are not faced by Hindus in Pakistan being a minority.

Hindus in Pakistan do not face massacres and mass rapes like Muslims face in India on a regular basis. Nellie, Bhagalpur, Mumbai, Gujarat, Muzzafarnagar are just few of the many examples that can be found in recent history. To constantly live with the feeling that one day, due to some event not connected to you, a mob will attack your house, rape and kill you and your family is a miserable way to live.

Hindus in Pakistan are not constantly held responsible for the crimes done by Hindus in other parts of the world. Muslims in India are answerable for any crime committed by a Muslim anywhere in the world.

India exerts constant pressure on its Muslim minority to prove loyalty to the Nation via majoritarian themes. Allegiance to the national anthem or the national flag is not good enough. A Muslim has to deify the nation into Bharat Mata and Sing hymns for the deity. Vande Mataram or else…

In India Hindutva extremists openly call for the rape of Muslim women, even ask people to dig out dead Muslim women from their graves and rape them, such people are rewarded by the masses during elections.

There is no pressure from the Pakistani society to take away the rights granted to Hindus under the Hindu Personal Law. In India there is massive pressure from the Hindu society to bring in Uniform Civil Code that will dissolve the Muslim Personal Law and ask Muslims to abide by the customs that Hindus deem correct for them.

Pakistan does not put restrictions on the dietary habit of Hindus and other Non Muslim citizens of Pakistan. A Non Muslim citizen of Pakistan is free to consume alcohol and eat pork. In India beef is banned in many states because beef is consumed mainly by Muslims and Dalits.

The politics of Pakistan is not focused on Hindus. You will hardly find any talk shows on Pakistani channels discussing Hindu matters. The Hindu society of Pakistan is not constantly under pressure from the media or the politicians. In India almost every issue can be linked to the Muslim minority. Hindu majority of India is obsessed with Muslim issues. Even the population explosion of India is blamed on 14% Muslims and not on 80% Hindus of India.

Muslims in India are regularly jailed for years (sometimes for decades) on terrorism charges fabricated by the police. Eventually they are released by the courts due to lack of evidence but are never compensated for the decades lost in prison.

There are hundreds and thousands of internally displaced Muslims in India who have lost everything during majoritarian mob violence, these people settle in slums. The Govt provides no assistance in their resettlement.

Every few days a new video emerges in India where a Hindu mob is seen lynching a Muslim man, where a Hindu mob appears to unleash brutal violence against Muslim families including women, children, elderly and the disabled.

There are hundreds and thousands of Hindu extremists on Indian social media who threaten and abuse Indian Muslims in the most vile and vulgar ways.

As Aakar Patel puts it:

That is the main thing that would have disturbed me as a Muslim, I think. Having lived through the reality and understood it, one would then be confronted with this relentless, middle-class Hindu focus on Muslims as the problem. See any story in The Times Of India and go through the comments written by readers. I have been writing in Pakistan’s papers longer continuously than any other Indian and I assure you that either they are editing their nastiness out of reader comments, or we Indians have some truly vile people in our midst and they are not a small minority.

In Pakistan those who attack minorities are seen as terrorist. In India the media uses terms like ‘activist’ or ‘vigilante’ or in one case ‘animal rights group’ to describe people who brutally lynch innocents on the streets of India, record their act on camera and proudly post it on social media for everyone to see.

On the creation of Pakistan Dhume writes:

Pakistan was carved out of British India in 1947 for an explicitly communal reason: as a separate homeland for Muslims based on the belief that Indian Muslims constituted a distinct nation, and that Hindus and Muslims could not live together in peace as compatriots.

Savarkar and Golwalkar are considered to be the most eminent ideologues of the Hindutva ideology that rules over India today. Both Savarkar and Golwalkar through their extensive writings supported the Nazi action against Jews. Golwalkwar wanted to carry out a holocaust against Indian Muslims. He even prepared a district-wise plan for the extermination of Muslims.

The two nation theory and the idea of a homogeneous Hindu Rashtra was first peddled by Hindus. The Muslim leadership remained divided over the idea of Pakistan. In fact most Muslims rejected the idea of Pakistan and chose to live in an India which they believed would remain pluralistic and secular.

Finally I would like to agree with Dhume that it is borderline ludicrous to compare India with Pakistan on minority rights. In fact it is ludicrous to compare India with any other country on minority rights.

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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.

Licenced To Kill

Hashimpura

The Indian “justice” System lived up to its reputation again and acquitted the 16 police personnel accused of the massacre of 42 Muslims at a water canal near Meerut in 1987. This was an expected verdict in the system that has so often failed to give justice to the minorities in India. Be it 1984 anti Sikh pogrom or the numerous anti Muslim massacres, the “justice” system of India eventually finds a way to exonerate the killers. Who killed those 42 Muslim youths in Meerut? No one. The families of these 42 victims waited for 28 long years only to be told that no one killed their loved ones.

This is not an isolated incident. This is a part of the larger pattern where police regularly takes part in the killing of people from the minorities. In the aftermath of the 1984 anti Sikh pogrom police was given a free hand to target Sikh youths. Many innocents were picked up from their homes at the middle of the night and executed in cold blood. At the break of dawn media took the pictures of their bodies and presented them as “trophies” lying on the outskirts of the villages, killed in an “encounter” by the “brave hearts protecting the nation”.

During the Gujarat pogrom when Muslims were being butchered by barbaric mobs the Gujarat police ended up killing more Muslims than those who were attacking them. The Sri Krishna committee report looking into the police brutalities of 1992 anti Muslim massacre in Mumbai said:

The response of police to appeals from desperate victims, particularly Muslims, was cynical and utterly indifferent. On occasions, the response was that they were unable to leave the appointed post; on others, the attitude was that one Muslim killed, was one Muslim less.

Police officers and men, particularly at the junior level, appeared to have an in–built bias against the Muslims which was evident in their treatment of the suspected Muslims and Muslim victims of riots. The treatment given was harsh and brutal and, on occasions, bordering on inhuman, hardly doing credit to the police.

The bias of policemen was seen in the active connivance of police constables with the rioting Hindu mobs, on occasions, with their adopting the role of passive on–lookers on occasions, and, finally, their lack of enthusiasm in registering offenses against Hindus even when the accused was clearly identified and post-haste classifying the cases in ‘A’ (True but not detected) summary.

— Report of the Justice B.N. Srikrishna Commission  on the

 Mumbai riots of 1992–1993

In the aftermath of the 2005 terrorist attack on the trains in Mumbai, police rounded up random Muslims and paraded them in front of the media. Even prisoners of war (POW) cant be treated in this way according to the Geneva convention and here we had innocent Indian citizens being paraded in front of the media just because they belonged to the minorities. Instead of beaming pictures of innocent civilians being paraded by police the media could have questioned the police method but it chose to be an active partner in the persecution.

The police media nexus in persecution of minorities becomes more evident when pictures of Muslim youths are beamed across the nation using TV channels hours after a terrorist atrocity takes place. The same police that has failed to nab the killers of Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar and Shahid Azmi suddenly becomes so efficient that it has the complete story within hours along with the photos of the accused.

Sohrabuddin was killed in police custody and his wife was raped before being killed. Of course she is not the “Nirbhaya” for those speak against violence against women in India because Muslims are second class citizens who are usually “asking for it”. Hundreds of Muslim youths are languishing in jails on fabricated terrorism charges. Some of them have been found innocent after spending more than a decade in jail. No media organisation beamed their photos on their channels after they were found innocent.

Police brutality against minority is not a thing of the past. Recently in Dhule, Maharashtra police was caught on camera assaulting Muslim civilians and vandalizing their property. Six people were killed in police firing and the subsequent inquiry by the police found that the force used for excessive but “necessary”. No action against police was initiated by the Congress Government in Maharashtra.

After the terrorist attack on a Mosque in Hyderabad police fired on those protesting against the attack and killed nine Muslims. First police fired on those who came out of the mosque and then targeted those who came to the rescue of those injured in firing. To add further insult to injury innocent Muslim youths were arrested in the Mecca Masjid blast case. Innocent Muslims were also jailed in the Malegaon blast case in which Muslims were targeted by Hindutva affiliated organisations.

Police in India is not so trigger happy when it comes to controlling protesters who are not entirely Muslims. In 2012 there were violent protests against Delhi rape in the heart of New Delhi. Police vehicles were set alight and protesters scuffled with police. Police used every non lethal method available to them while controlling the mob and the only fatality recorded was that of a policeman. Two years prior to that 102 Kashmiri Muslims we killed by the police for protesting against the murder of innocent Kashmiris using the notorious “fake encounter” method. The police in India has a simple unstated rule, if the protesters are Muslims then shoot to kill.

Of course it would be unwise to expect justice for those killed in Kashmir because the India has a special law AFSPA that gives immunity to the armed forces if they commit atrocities against civilians of Kashmir or the North Eastern regions. Repeated demand from Kashmiris and people of North East to repeal the draconian AFSPA has been rejected by Delhi. The only difference between AFSPA and non AFSPA regions it that the perpetrators who commit atrocities against minorities do not have to go through the lengthy court process before getting clean chit as we can see in the case of Hashimpura massacre.

The Hashimpura massacre verdict giving clean chit to the accused policemen wont help Congress that is desperately trying to get a foothold in Uttar Pradesh. Hashimpura massacre took place under Congress rule and after 28 years of grueling wait there was no justice. It would be a tall task for the Congress to get back the confidence of the Muslim community in Uttar Pradesh that has abandoned the Congress and with good reason.

The Indian police is often seen as corrupt by large sections of the Indian society but they get overwhelming support when they brutalize the minorities. Police personnel come from a society in which large sections are extremely prejudiced and hateful towards minorities and this reflects in the functioning of the police. While the society cannot be changed overnight, India can certainly take measures to hold police to account. So far no Government in India has shown such inclination. As long as India gives impunity to its forces for violence against minorities, India will continue to remain a very dangerous place to be a minority.

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.

The Harvest of Hate

The general elections of 2014 are expected to decide the future course of Indian politics and society but what do these elections mean for the minorities of India? Not much, because no matter who forms the government the minorities cannot expect to see any significant change in their social status. Discrimination against minorities is institutionalized. Anyone who tries to argue for the basic human rights of minorities is either branded an appeaser or a terrorist depending on the religious background of the person.

Election time is also a time of high anxiety especially for the Muslim minority. What is often termed as polarisation of the society is in fact the demonisation of the Muslim minority. During elections there is an increased risk of Muslims becoming victims of a manufactured riot in which murderous mobs rape and kill minorities with impunity forcing them to take shelter in “temporary” relief camps where they are forced to live permanently. Even those who are not directly impacted by the riot choose to relocate to ghettos to get a false sense of security.

The painful death of 34 children due to harsh weather did not even register in the collective conscience of the nation. Delhi, which saw massive protests against rape remained unconcerned about the horrendous rapes in Muzaffnagar, a place hardly 100 Kms away from Delhi. The society gives a quiet approval to the rapes that happen during riots. Narendra Modi who is likely to be the next Prime Minister of India took it to a new level of vulgarism by demonising the victims who were sheltering  in the relief camps of Gujarat. In a speech he asked his audience “What should we do? Run relief camps for them? Do we want to open baby-producing centers? Hum paanch, humaare pachhees. [We five, our 25]”

Most of those those who take part in the killings and rapes go back to their families and lead a normal life without ever being held accountable for the heinous crimes they have committed. Law and order is suspended until the authorities are satisfied that the mobs have satisfactorily vented their anger. The leaders who manufacture these riots gain maximum political mileage out of the misery of the victims and attain a godlike aura, a larger than life image among their followers.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee hit the headlines for delivering a venomous speech during violent Assam elections in 1983 in which he said “had foreigners come into Punjab, they would have been cut to pieces” and within hours thousands of Muslims were cut into pieces, all Indians. Atal Bihari Vajpayee went on to become the Prime Minister of India and was known as the moderate face of the BJP. During Vajpayee’s tenure as the Prime Minister Gujarat witnessed state wide killing of minorities which was justified by Vajpayee as a reaction to the killing of Karsevaks by saying “kisne lagayee aag? (who lit the fire?),”.

Narendra Modi the chief Minister of Gujarat has been the harvesting the benefits of hate since 2002. Just after the Gujarat pogrom Modi organised a Gaurav Yatra (pride march) to celebrate the killings. He protected and rewarded the killers. Maya Kodnani who orchestrated the murder of 95 people, many of them women and children, was appointed as Minister for Women and Child Development of Gujarat.

Rajiv Gandhi justified the anti Sikh pogrom of 1984 by saying “when a big tree falls, the earth shakes”. He became the Prime Minister of India with Congress getting absolute majority in the parliament. P V Narsimha Rao was the Home minister when the anti Sikh pogrom took place. He too went on to become the Prime Minister of India and during his tenure Babri Masjid was demolished triggering nationwide riots.

Ironically the political parties that are accused of appeasing the Muslim minority of India have done little or nothing to get justice for victims of communal riots. Narendra Modi systematically destroyed the evidence related to the pogrom of 2002 in full media glare and yet Congress chose to be a mute spectator. The Srikrishna commission appointed to investigate the Mumbai riots found bias against the minorities. The recommendations of the commission were rejected by the Shiv Sena and ignored by the Congress. More than 20 years have passed since the massacres and the victims are still waiting for justice. 

Congress sprung a surprise in 2004 by defeating BJP. Manmohan Singh was appointed as the Prime Minister of India. There was renewed hope that India will finally move on from the politics of hate. Ten years down the line the seeds of hate are being sown again. This time the riot organisers have technology on their side. Videos and images of violence from Pakistan are being used incite hate against minorities. Will the haters have bumper harvest or will their efforts fail? We will soon know.

V S Naipaul, The prejudiced genius

Views about the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal was constructed in the seventeenth century by the Mughal emperor Shahjahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. While the Taj Mahal remains one of the most admired piece of building architecture in the whole world, the fact remains that it is nothing more than a glorified tomb. Over the years there have been many who have described the Taj Mahal as “the greatest symbol of love” and there have also been many who have described it as a “symbol of decadence”.

Nobel laureate V. S. Naipaul describes the Taj Mahal as wasteful and decadent. There is nothing new in this criticism. Such views have existed from the time the Taj Mahal came into existence. In fact, Shahjahan’s son and successor, Aurangzeb, who is known for his orthodox Islamic views, was totally against the construction of such structures. Aurangzeb desired in his will that no more than eight rupees were to be spent on his tomb.

It would be intellectually dishonest to label Mr. Naipaul’s views on the Taj Mahal as bigotry or prejudice.  Of course the Taj Mahal was wasteful when it was constructed but today it attracts tourists from all over the world.

Support for Hindu extremism

Commenting on  the destruction of the Babri Mosque by Hindu extremists, Naipaul said  “Ayodhya is a sort of passion, Any passion is to be encouraged. Passion leads to creativity.” This was extremely shocking to come from a person of the stature of  Mr. Naipaul considering the fact that thousands of Indians had died in the riots that followed in the immediate aftermath of the Babri mosque demolition and thousands more died in the unrelenting terrorist bombings that followed the riots.

Mr. Naipaul’s support for Hindu extremism does not end with the praise of the Babri mosque demolition, he also expressed support for the RSS and the VHP on the anti-Muslim 2002 Gujarat pogrom. For this, Mr. Salman Rushdie described Mr. Naipaul as “a fellow traveller of fascism and (that he) disgraces the Nobel award”.

Endorsing concocted history

Not surprisingly, Mr. Naipaul also endorses the skewed view of the history that is promoted by the Hindu extremists where everything is either black or white. According to this view the “Great Hindu Civilisation” was “invaded and destroyed by Islam” and many Hindus forcefully converted.

It is a well documented fact that the subcontinent consisted of many “Hindu Kingdoms” that invaded each other to expand their territories. There was no concept of pan-Hinduism, people swore  their loyalty to the King. Apart from these internal conflicts between the Hindu Kingdoms, there were invasions from the Persians and the Greeks that pre-dates Islam.

The seventh century saw the rapid rise of Islam, most regions to the west of subcontinent became Muslim. These regions also saw great technological advancements in ship building and war machinery. Little wonder that that the technologically superior armies invaded the technologically inferior armies of the subcontinent with great success. The battles continued with different Muslim Kings fighting each other just like the Hindu Kings fought each other. It was about empires, not religion.

Even in the modern world we see countries that are technologically advanced invading the technologically inferior countries to establish control over the region and to increase their wealth. This has been the case with humanity since time immemorial.

Instead of looking at these invasions as the natural result of technological advancements of one empire over the other, Mr. Naipaul echoes the views propagated by Hindu extremists that these invasions only took place for the forceful conversion of Hindus to Islam.

Hinduism in Asia

The Hindu civilisation extended from the far reaches of Indonesia to the borders of Persia. Mr. Naipaul acknowledges the fact that Indonesia and Malaysia were in fact regions where people followed Hinduism and Buddhism before embracing Islam. But he fails to acknowledge the fact that these countries were never invaded. His limited knowledge of Islam vs Hinduism is based on the skewed understanding of sub-continental history and not the history of the Hindu civilisation as a whole.

Islam in India

Just like the Indonesians, almost all the Muslims of India are the descendants of Hindus. It is believed that the people from Malabar coast who came in contact with the Arab traders were the first Indians to embrace Islam. But the majority of the conversions took place a result of the expansion of Muslim empires. Some Muslim invaders didn’t come with just the weapons, they also brought thinkers and philosophers who created a unique fusion of the Hinduism and Islam called Sufism. This made the transition easy for those who wanted to get out of punishing caste hierarchies. Some were coerced and forced to accept Islam and some converted only because their King had embraced Islam.

Mr. Naipaul fails to acknowledge these complexities and aligns himself with Hindu extremists who promote a biased version of history in order to polarise the society.

Prejudice trashing genius

There is little doubt that Mr. Naipaul is one of the greatest writers of our era. He has indeed made a great contribution towards arts and literature but his alignment with the extremist elements hurts his credibility. Mr. Girish Karnad was right in his criticism of Mr. Naipaul because great men should expect great scrutiny.