Category Archives: analysis

Correspond to values

Correspond to values
Author: Francois Gautier
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: April 30, 2002
Dear friends – India’s image in the West has never been so bad. We, the 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 this falsified public opinions abroad about India, but has also 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 colonised, dare to interfere in such a way in China’s affairs, whose human rights record is a million times worse than India’s? This is unfair: Those of us who have lived long enough in this country, know that not only have Hindus 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, for instance, China. Here we can criticise as much as we want, slander even, without fear of reprisal.

As a foreign journalist having covered India for the last 25 years, I am shocked by the ambivalence of our standards when it comes to writing or reporting on Hindus. There were 400,000 Hindus in Kashmir in 1947; there are only a few hundreds left today. All the rest have been made to flee through terror in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. I remember the time when Muslim militants would stop buses in Kashmir and kill all its Hindus occupants – 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 instance of ethnic cleansing without parallel in the world.

Why are none of us interested in highlighting these facts? Do we know that Hindus themselves have been for centuries the target of a genocide at the hands of Muslim invaders, and that today in Bangladesh and Pakistan they are still at risk? In Assam, Tripura, and Nagaland, Hindus are being outnumbered by Bangladeshi illegal immigrants and terrorised by pro-Christian 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 and 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 that they 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’, ‘Black Day in the history of our democracy’, we screamed…

However unfortunate, the Ayodhya episode was, nobody was killed there; but the terrible Bombay blasts 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, bombed, that he is ready to take to the streets?

If you dare say that there are 850 millions Hindus in this country and that they not only represent the majority culture, but also a tradition of tolerance and gentleness, and they cannot be the fundamentalists that the Press makes them out to be, 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 civilisation: The American President swears on the Bible when he takes office and look also how all European children, be they 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, 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 Muslims second? Or tell Catholics and Protestants that they have to revert to a more Indianised 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 Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi wants to teach Indian children a little bit of the greatness of their culture!

I know that many foreign correspondents arrive here with an aspiration to understand India and to report on it fairly. The problem 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 civilisation which is 5,000 years old. It is also true that in Delhi, an arrogant, superficial city, we are never in contact with the real India, and always hear 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 so much more gentle and easy-going than the North.

Write, for instance, some features on Kalaripayat, Kerala’s martial art that gave birth to kung fu and karate; or on Ayurveda, the oldest medical science still in practice; or see for yourself the extraordinary Ayyappa festival in the mountains bordering Tamil Nadu; or witness 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 westernised 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.

Toughness pays

Toughness pays
Author: Francois Gautier
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: November 29, 2003
Have you ever taken an El Al flight from Mumbai? The security is drastic: You are asked a hundred questions by young men and women, Indians, but of Jewish origin, whose parents emigrated from the first century onwards after the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem, to find refuge in India where they prospered and lived in peace till many of them went back to Israel in 1948 (indeed, India is probably the only country in the world where Jews have not been persecuted).

Why did I visit Israel? Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of the 144 countries-wide Art of Living movement, had been invited by the Government of Israel, thanks to the efforts of Rabbi Cooper and Dr Balitzer from Wisenthal, US-based foundation. All along our trip Rabbi Cooper and Dr Balitzer proved invaluable. I was tagging along because I have always believed that India and Israel have to come together. For 40 years after Independence, India did not have relations with Israel. Yet, India and Israel have much in common – both can learn a lot from each other. Like Indians, Israelis are one of those “elected people of God” – of whom Sri Aurobindo speaks in his book the Hour of God – who have managed to keep their spirituality alive in spite of oppressions, invasions and genocides.

Indians and Israelis also share a serious problem with Muslim fundamentalists. And India could learn a few lessons from the way Israel handles this problem, however much it is criticised by the Western media. Unlike India, which since Independence has chosen to deal with this problem in the Gandhian spirit, that is, by compromising most of the time with Islamic intransigence (if not giving in); Israel has showed that toughness first, followed by negotiations, pays better. Basically, the concept of “land for money” is something that India could learn from: In 1967, Israel was under threat of getting engulfed by its fanatical neighbours, so it stole the initiative by crushing them in a lightning Six-Day War and kept some land which it used later as bargaining chips with Egypt and Syria.

FACT (Foundation Against Continuing Terrorism), which I launched this year, was taking to Israel an exhibition on Kashmiri Pandits, one of the biggest genocides of the 20th century at the hands of Islamic terrorism, to see how it could be put up at different places in Israel to create public awareness there. Because of the hostility of Arab countries to Israel, El Al cannot overfly any of them and a journey which should take four hours takes, instead, seven hours, nearly the same time as a flight to Europe. We landed in Tel Aviv early in the morning. Tel Aviv is a modern city on the Mediterranean coast. It is much more relaxed than Jerusalem, as it is less subject than the capital to suicide attacks. People there speak several languages, girls look gorgeous and the affable Indian ambassador, Mr Raminder Jassal, who has done so much to improve Israeli-relations, hosted for Sri Sri Ravi Shankar a gracious meeting with the Indian community in Israel.

The drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is short, but the impressions are striking: The landscape is dry, rocky and arid and one wonders whether this land is worth fighting for. But Jerusalem is a beautiful city, perched on a hill, all constructed in white stone. As we arrived, the city was shining against the setting sun of a cool November evening. The King David Hotel, whe-re we stayed, is probably one of the most beautiful hotels in West Asia: Old world, stately and entirely furnished in mahogany. It also has a history of violence, as it once housed British troops and was bombed by Jewish activists. The rooms offer a view of the old city of Jerusalem and everything looked so peaceful.

Peaceful? Not really: As soon as you step out, you can feel fear: Suicide bombers can strike any time, anywhere and our security would not even allow our car to stop near a bus, for fear of it being blown up! It is Friday evening and we went to the Wailing Wall on this most holy Shabbat day. It is an impressive sight: Hundreds of young men and women, in ancient velvet black coats and funny fur hats, locks falling one each side, face the wall swaying back and forth while chanting an age old prayer that their forefathers have repeated for centuries. Sri Sri too touched the wall reverentially and concentrated for a few minutes: Two very ancient spiritualities met.

As in Ayodhya, Muslims have placed their mosque on the most sacred space of the Jews, exactly where their ancient temple was built. The golden mosque stands there as a perpetual taunt, as an unending expression of aggression. After the Seven-Day War, the Israelis control the entire area. But it remains very tense: As a mark of respect to Islam, we want to meditate in the mosque, but we are facing the wrong direction and the imam takes objection when he sees the rishi from India in a dhoti and kurta with long flowing beard and tells our security men that “Infidels” are not allowed to worship there. Luckily there are not many faithful at this time and an incident is avoided.

We met a number of dignitaries. The President of Israel, a soft-spoken gentleman, who is very worried about the Palestinians suicide bombers – “No religion condones that kind of barbaric act,” he told us; the mayor of Jerusalem, who proudly showed us the magnificent view of Jerusalem from his office terrace; Mr Shimon Peres, Nobel Prize winner and Israel’s best known face, who preaches tolerance – but even he condemns the suicide bombers; or the deputy Prime Minister of Israel, Mr Sherenzki, a well-known dissenter from the erstwhile Soviet Union who is seen as a hawk by observers, but appears very gentle to us.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar talked about all the marvellous work his volunteers are doing amongst India’s poor villages: Bringing housing, hygiene, human values, and harmony in diversity. He also speaks about the stress and post-trauma Art of Living courses – a combination of pranayama, meditation and relaxing techniques – done to great success in Iraq and Bosnia, and how they could also be taught in Palestine and Israel. When asked about terrorism, Sri Sri said: “The problem is that children should be taught a little about each religion, so that they develop a broader perspective.” If the Taliban had known even a little about the Buddha, he added, they would not have destroyed the Bamian statues.

I was surprised to note that whenever I mentioned Kashmir, neither of our interlocutors blinked: Kashmir did not mean anything to them, although it faces more or less the same problem that Israel does at the hands of the Arabs. Even, Mr Sherenzki, the Deputy Prime Minister, looked blank. That is when I realised that an exhibition on Kashmiri Pandits had to come up and we arranged for two venues, one in Tel Aviv, with the possibility of it coming up also at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem. We thus left with a sense that so much more has to be done so that Indian and Israel, two ancient people sharing some of the same spiritual, cultural and contemporary problems, really start understanding each other.

November 2001: A World Upside Down

November 2001: A World Upside Down

” Once you start seeing from the right inner perspective, you will notice that the world appears upside down, as if people were walking on their head”, often commented the Mother of Pondichery. And indeed, if you look at the world today, in this inauspicious beginning of November 2001, what do you see ?

Without any doubt, modern politics is nowadays the torch-bearer of expediency, short-cuts, and falsehood. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, all the world leaders seems to be rushing to Pakistan, to pay obedience and offer their unlimited support to President Mushrarraf, an un-elected leader of an Islamic country that has made of jihad a national enterprise. Of course, they come with their arms full of goodies: rescheduling of loans, waiving of sanctions, billions of dollars in credit, that will serve to buy weapons, a sizeable fraction of which will end-up aimed against the third great “Satan” of Islam, after the United States and Israel: India.

And then, as an afterthought, they hop on to India, to give the ever smiling and innocuous Mr Vajpayee a moral discourse on how he should behave himself and make friends with Islamabad, regardless of the fact that Pakistan keeps arming, training, sheltering and encouraging Kashmiri separatists to kill innocent Indians. Is that not a world turned upside down ?

The American war on Afghanistan also looks completely wrong: you do not win a war by bombing from the safety of supersonic planes flying at 10 kms above the ground. There is nothing much left to bomb in Afghanistan anyway, except a few innocent civilians. You do not fight terrorism with terrorism, as Bush is doing, by using Pakistan to “neutralize” the Taliban, which Islamabad created. You do not bomb on the one hand, while feeding the civilians on the others; not only are leaders always product of their own people, as Hitler and Germany amply demonstrated, not only does a nation always pay for its own past karma, as the Dalaï-lama constantly reminds us, but many of these refugees are probably supportive of the Taliban. You do no think that by killing one man – Bin Laden – you will eliminate Muslim fundamentalism, which is today a world phenomenon. You do not ignore, a huge pro-western democracy – India – which has been the victim for centuries of bloody and terrible Muslim invasions and today fights a lonely battle in Asia against Muslim fundamentalism. You do not enroll the help of China, as many of the western leaders are trying to do (Chancellor Shroeder, for instance, is there now, after his visits to Pakistan and India), probably the Taliban’s biggest investor and friend (and sworn enemy if India, even if it fools Delhi by pretending otherwise). China has only one goal today : diminish the United States as a superpower, so that it can spread its hegemony, first on Asia – Taiwan, Tibet, the Spartlys islands, parts of India (Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh) – and then onto the world. It is true that the United States remains a beacon of goodwill and freedom on our planet, but because of materialism, they have lost their kshatriya spirit which they demonstrated during the first and second world war, when they saved twice Europe from the German hegemonic spirit. Today, they show not only the inability to fight and sustain casualties, but a fear that borders on paranoia. It is also true that a greater majority of Muslims are peaceful law-abiding citizens, but then history has always shown us that it is the violent politically- active minority which sways in the end the silent majority and takes control -witness Kashmir.

Is India faring better? Not at all, what do we see today in India ? Instead of seizing upon this opportunity after the 11th September attacks to strike at terrorism and take bold steps against Muslim fundamentalism, which the world would have, if not approved, at least not condemned, its leaders are just mouthing the eternal empty threats, which do not frighten anybody anymore, or coming out with the most obvious platitudes, such as the Prime Minister declaring on October the 30th, that “we will fight terrorism with tourism”, at a time when everybody knows that tourism is in the dumps ! Muslims in many parts of India are showing their support to Taliban and Afghanistan, by rioting on fridays after the prayers, burning cars and public property, attacking police, as it has been the case in Malegaon, Maharashtra. All over the world today, a spade is called spade when it comes to Muslims manifesting their support to fundamentalism, even in England, which has long turned a blind eye to the fundamentalist cancer spreading in its heart. But what happens when it occurs in India ? Newspapers, such as the Hindu or Indian Express, report it briefly, saying “one community attacked another”, or label it “communal” riots. What communal riots? Are we going to make the Hindus responsible for Muslim burning cars and rioting? Poor Hindus! One newspaper (the Hindu) even brought up the Ayodhya factor in its October 30th issue covering of Malegaon ! Is it not the world upside down? The whole problem is also about Indian journalism, which devotes pages and pages when it comes to attacking its own culture, or lambasting the “saffronization” of India, but reports in only a few lines and without adverse comment, the fact that 800 Muslim-owned hotels in Mumbai, including 5 stars, have decided to boycott American and British products to show that “we no longer tolerate the attacks on innocents in Afghanistan” (Indian Express, October 31, page 9). Is it not the world turned upside down ?

On the external front, India tolerated the terrible mutilation of its soldiers by Bangladeshis early this year, so as not too embarrass the government of the “friendly” Sheikh Hasina, which was facing an election. Unfortunately, she lost by a huge margin, and the unfriendly Begum Khaleda Zia is now in power, with the consequences that once more, a massive pogrom against Hindus has taken place, raping of women and girls, killing innocent and a new exodus of Bangladeshis in the already overcrowded and sensitive North-east. But what does the Government do? Nothing, except sending Brajesh Mishra to Dacca ! It would be enough for Delhi to close the tap of the Ganges water for three days to bring Bangladesh to its knees and thus protect the innocent Hindus of Bangladesh. But no, India, is eternally obsessed to appear goody-goody and has learnt no lesson from its perpetual humiliation at the hands of Muslims and Chinese.

Does not the BJP understand that it was voted to power on the promises of radical changes in the country and a government which would respect the aspirations of the 850 million Hindu community, which feels it has been cheated, despised, neglected, hounded, ridiculed, by 45 years of Nehruvianism ? But the BJP has been too busy looking “secular” and making useless moves such as the Bus trip to Lahore, or the Agra summit, both of which failed, because Pakistani intransigence, to do anything. It is true that once in power, you look at things from a different perspective and you are bogged down by an amorphic and often hostile bureaucracy. But what about the changes in the Constitution, the privatization of Indian Airlines and Air India, the cutting down of the arrogant and useless VIP security, or the whittling of the bureaucracy ? Nothing ! Do they not realize that they are going to be hounded out of power at the next elections and that India will be back to square one ? That today may be is its last chance to make good with its pledges? Do they not realize that no country in the world has any respect for India, that Japan has the discourtesy of sending an ex Prime Minister, whom Vajpayee should never have received himself, to ask India to “exercise utmost restraint”; or that France, towards which India made so many overtures in the last few years, is only dispatching its External Affairs Minister now (he will, of course, also pay a visit to Pakistan) ?

The Mother of Pondichery was right: every time you open a newspaper, or switch on your TV, if you are a little introverted, you will notice that the world is walking on its head and that if it keeps on doing so for a little longer, it will totally lose its balance and lead us to pralaya.

FRANCOIS GAUTIER