Francois Gautier Writes
Publication: Hindu Views International
Date: May 7, 2003
India’s image in the West has never been so bad. We foreign correspondents have been propagating in the last few weeks a picture of an intolerant Hindu majority, ruthlessly hunting down the Muslim minority. Not only has it falsified public opinions abroad about India, but it has put pressure on Governments to bring out so called Human Rights reports on Gujarat, whereas they have no right to interfere in India’s affairs, given the fact that it is one of the very few working democracies in Asia. Would the British, who left a mess wherever they colonized, dare to interfere in such a way in China’s affairs, whose human rights record is a million times worse than India?
This is unfair: those of us who have lived long enough in this country, know that not only Hindus have historically been extremely tolerant, accepting the fact that God manifests himself at different times under different forms, but also that, in spite of the bureaucratic hassles, the dirtiness and the heat, we Westerners are living in a paradise of freedom, compared to what would be our lot in China, for instance:- we can criticize as much as we want, slander even, without fear of reprisal.
As a foreigner having covered India for 25 years, I am shocked by the ambivalence of our standards when it comes to Hindus. There were 400.000 Hindus in Kashmir in 1947 – and only a few hundreds today. All the rest have been made to flee through terror in the late eighties and early nineties. I remember when Muslim militants would stop buses all over Kashmir and kill all the Hindus, men women and children, none of the foreign correspondents and diplomats protested about human rights the way they are doing now after the Gujarat riots. There are 400.000 Hindus who are refugees in their own land, an ethnic cleansing without parallel in the world.
Why are none of us interested in highlighting this fact? Do we know that Hindus themselves have been for centuries the targets of genocide at the hands of Muslim invaders and that today in Bangladesh or Pakistan they are still at risk? In Assam, Tripura, or Nagaland, Hindus are being chased out by Bangladeshi illegal immigrants and terrorized by separatist groups, such as the Bodos or the Mizos, while local governments often turn a blind eye. Are we playing our role, which is to inform, educate our fellow countrymen, who are generally totally ignorant about India? Many of us are using the word “genocide” to describe the riots in Gujarat, or even making comparisons with the Holocaust. But do we tell our readers that Jews in India were never persecuted and lived and prospered in total freedom till most of them went back to Israel? The same cannot be said about my country France, where even today they face problems. We do not care to balance our articles: we take an isolated incident such as the murder of ‘Graham Staines’ or the riots against Muslims in Gujarat, and we make it look, as it is a whole, telling our readers abroad that Christians and Muslims are persecuted in India.
When the Ayodhya mosque was brought down, it was as if eternal shame had descended upon India: “death of secularism, Hindu fundamentalists have taken over the country, a Black Day in the history of our democracy”, we screamed ad infinitum… However unfortunate the ‘Ayodhya’ episode was, nobody was killed there; but the terrible Bombay lasts which followed, orchestrated by Indian Muslims, with the active help of Pakistan and the silent approval of Saudi Arabia, which took the lives of hundreds of innocent Hindus, never warranted the kind of moral indignation which followed the rioting against Muslims in Gujarat.
Why does nobody bother to say that maybe, the tolerant, easy going middle class Hindu, is so fed-up with being made fun of, hated, targeted, killed, and bombed, that he is ready to take to the streets? If you dare say that there are 850 millions Hindus in this country and not only they represent the majority culture, but they have a tradition of tolerance and gentleness and they cannot be the fundamentalists that the Press makes them out, you are immediately branded as an RSS Spokesman or a VHP lover. Why this primitive labels?
In the West we are not ashamed to call ourselves a Christian civilization: the American President swears on the Bible when he takes office and look also how all European children, be them Italian or German, are brought-up on the values of Christianity and the greatness of Greek philosophy. It would be impossible, in France for instance, for the Muslim minority – immigrants from France’s ex-colonies such as Algeria or Morocco to Impose their views and culture on the government. In fact, Muslim girls are not allowed to wear a veil when they go to French school: “you are in France, you have been given the French nationality, so behave like a French first and like a Muslim in second”, they are told bluntly. Would that be possible in India? Does any Indian, except the much-maligned RSS, have the courage to ask Muslims to be Indians first and Muslim second? Or tell Catholics and Protestants that they have to revert to a more Indianized Christianity, such as the one that existed in ‘Kerala’ before the arrival of the Portuguese Jesuits? And see how stridently Muslims and Christians – backed by most of the foreign Media * react when the Human Resources Minister, Dr Joshi, wants to teach Indian children a little bit of the greatness of their culture!
I know that many of the foreign correspondents arrive here with an aspiration to understand India and report fairly. The problems is that there is no way we are going to know India if we stay in Delhi, or fly all over the place, staying in five star hotels, to do features which give justice to a civilization which is 5000 years old. It is also true that in Delhi, an arrogant, superficial city, we are never in contact with the real India and always hears the same stories in the Journalists parties, or diplomatic cocktails, about secularism, the ‘Sangh Parivar’ or Human Rights in Kashmir. We should take some time off the political situation and go out to the South, which is much more gentle and easygoing than the North.
Do for instance some features on ‘Kalaripayat’, the ‘Kerala’ martial art which gave birth to ‘Kung fu’ and ‘Karate’, or on Ayurveda, the oldest medical science still in practice; or see for oneself the extraordinary ‘Ayappa festival’ in the mountains bordering ‘Tamil Nadu’, or witness the one million Christians who descend every year on the “Lourdes” of India, Velangani on the Coromandel coast. There you will discover that the genius of India, its tradition of tolerance, hospitality and gentleness lies in rural areas, amongst the humble people – and not in the arrogant westernized cities that have lost contact with their own roots. Or else, do an Art of Living Basic course and learn first hand India’s ancient traditions of meditation and ‘Pranayama’… For the truth is that if you want to know and understand this country in some degree, you have to LIVE India from the inside.