Category Archives: daily pioneer

Mother of memories

Author: Francois Gautier
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: March 19, 2003

At a time when we see politicians, journalists, philosophers, and even spiritualists utter only what is “politically correct”, at a time when nobody really dares to call a spade a spade – whether it is the Chinese threat to India, the 20 millions Bangladeshis illegally staying in this country, or the bypassing of India as a democratic superpower by the West – it is time we went over what the Mother of Pondicherry, whose 125th birth anniversary falls this year, said on these subjects so long ago, but all of which is still very pertinent today.

What the Mother uttered is extremely interesting for several reasons. First, she was French, and embodied the best qualities of France: Forthrightness, courage and this same fearless frankness which kindled the French Revolution and heralded an era of democracy in Europe: “Liberti Igaliti, Fraterniti.” Second, the Mother was not only the spiritual companion of India’s great prophet, Sri Aurobindo, but also her most faithful disciple. Sri Aurobindo once said that nobody could match the surrender of the Mother. Thus, naturally, she espoused Sri Aurobindo’s ideals on India, particularly the political vision which he formulated, when he was the most ardent nationalist and revolutionary, an episode of his life which even some of his disciples have buried, forgetting that Sri Aurobindo had reenacted the Bhagavad Gita’s extraordinary message: That force and violence can also sometimes be dharma, duty. Indeed, many of Sri Aurobindo’s disciples have forgotten that he let his own brother fabricate bombs in his house.

Third, the Mother is also Durga. And it is under this form that her children still pray to her: “Mother Durga! Giver of force and love and knowledge, terrible art thou in thy own self of might, Mother beautiful and fierce. In the battle of life, in India’s battle, we are warriors commissioned by thee; Mother give to our heart and mind a Titan’s energy, to our soul.” Thus the Mother is extremely forthright and clear in her sayings and writings on the problems India is facing today at the hands of Pakistan, China, Bangladesh or the US. This is particularly true in her Agenda, her intimate conversations with her French disciple, Satprem, where she expressed herself freely.

On Bangladesh, the Mother said on the eve of the 1971 war with Pakistan: “Can you imagine that along with the refugees, Pakistanis have entered India, and they have poisoned wells and rivers. Some of them were caught in the act. It’s dreadful.” Then, Satprem asks: “But Mother, shouldn’t the problem of India and Pakistan be settled once for all?” And this is the Mother’s unequivocal answer: “That’s what I was hoping for. But they’ve made…such a mess with this whole Bangladesh affair, it’s dreadful – dreadful. Now, they have found a solution: The Americans are trying to come to an agreement with the Chinese – to help Pakistan massacre people. That’s the last straw!” (July 17 1971). She had also faith in the Indian Army, and much less faith in the Government. What she said 30 years ago could be applied even today: “The Army is ready to fight up there on the borders of India and Bangladesh, but it is forever waiting for the Government to give the order” (September 15 1971).

Has anything changed today? Bangladesh has not only forgotten that it owes its freedom to Indian soldiers, but has also turned inimical to India, giving shelter to Islamic separatists groups. And who can forget the horrible way India’s BSF soldiers were mutilated by the Bangladesh Rifles? It would be enough for India to close the Farakka dam for three days to bring Bangladesh to its knees, or for a few Mirages to fly over Dhaka. But as usual Indian leaders are trapped in the goody image of the big brother and the “Army is forever awaiting the Government’s orders”.

The Mother was equally forthright on Pakistan. When Satprem tells her: “Mother, it is obvious that India is the symbol of the New World in formation, so India must be ‘one’ symbolically, in order for the New World to see the light of day;” the Mother answers succinctly: “Yes.” Satprem continues: “Consequently, Pakistan has to disappear”. “But, of course,” is the Mother’s reply! And she adds: “India already missed one chance. But now… it shouldn’t miss this one” (April 7, 1971). And when she learns that the USSR is putting pressure on India to negotiate with Pakistan, she exclaims raising her arms: “Everything has to be started all over again.” We know the situation today: Every time the Indian Army has painfully made gains, the Indian Government, whether of the Congress or the BJP, has surrendered it. The latest was the mobilising of the entire Indian Army along the border with Pakistan at great cost, to finally call them back under pressure from the US. That day, Islamabad knew that it could get away with anything.

But it is probably for China that the Mother reserves her strongest words. Satprem: “The latest argument is that Pakistan wants India to declare war so she can call China to her aid.” Replies the Mother: “In any case the Chinese are on Pakistan’s side as they are already there in Pakistan.” Satprem: “Mother, don’t forget that India betrayed Tibet! When Tibet was invaded by the Chinese, India kept its mouth, ears and eyes shut and did nothing to help the Tibetans.” Mother: “Quite some time ago I had a vision of China invading India, even South India. And that would be the worst of catastrophes. It will probably take centuries before things can return to normalcy (silence). And the Chinese are very intelligent (Mother goes within for a long time).”

Today this might seem a little far-fetched, except that the Chinese are still claiming huge chunks of India such as Arunachal Pradesh or Sikkim, and have given the nuclear capability to Pakistan and are blocking India’s entry as a permanent member of the UN, whereas they got theirs because of India’s support. Yet, we still see Indian leaders talking about “the everlasting Indo-Chinese friendship”.

Finally, the Mother, although she had great hope from America, did not mince her words. Satprem: “Mother, do you know that the President of the United States (Nixon) is going to China?” Mother: “Yes, can you beat that!” Satprem: “They also have quietly started giving economic aid to Pakistan again; they are doing it discreetly, but they are doing it. Their intention is to put Pakistan back on its feet.” Mother: “They’re mad! India missed the first chance; it missed the second chance; now we don’t know when it will come again” (Mother strikes her forehead, then shakes her head several times). Today, we see that the United States, instead of choosing India – a democratic, pro-west, secular country – as a frontline state for its war on terrorism, has favoured Pakistan, a non-democratic, non-secular and often anti-west nation. How can Mr George Bush be so short-sighted? It is not Iraq he should target, but Pakistan!

Let us all then remember the Mother’s strong words (which might displease some of her disciples, who would rather, as Satprem aptly says, “lock Mother and Sri Aurobindo in their Samadhi, so that they can go on with their little spiritualised routine, instead of putting their vision into practice”) on the year of Her 125th birth anniversary. Let the strong spirit of Durga and Sri Aurobindo pervade India and make us the Kshatriyas of the 21st century.

The wall between

Author: Francois Gautier
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: March 5, 2003

There are two giants in Asia – China and India. And when the two are compared, India always comes out unfavourably. Look at the statistics: China gets over US $40 billion as foreign direct investment, while India gets only $2 billion. China had an export turnover of $322 billion in 2002, while India’s will not exceed $40 billion in 2002-03. China’s official defence budget in 2000 was $14.5 billion. In 2001 it was $17.05 billion. The actual figure could be about three times higher at $50 billion. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China, which has 40 members in the 160 member Central Commission, is insisting on a 17 per cent increase in the defence budget next year. China is moving, and moving fast.

Yet, the irony is that India is a democracy, while China isn’t; India is pro-West, while China is deeply suspicious of the West, particularly of the United States; India has been the soft target of Muslim fundamentalism, while China has ruthlessly clamped down on its own Muslim separatism. Yet the West remains totally enamored of China, while completely bypassing and ignoring India, its innate ally in Asia.

In 1948, China understood that its natural competitor in Asia was India, because India could not only match it in terms of manpower, but also in sheer skills and brains. It hit upon a very simple idea to keep India tied-up: It would support Pakistan militarily, even going to the extent of providing Islamabad with nuclear technology, so that it could have its own Islamic atomic bomb. Today, China supplies 70 per cent of military aircraft and main battle tanks (MBT) to Pakistan. Every missile project in Pakistan has been initiated through active Chinese or North Korean assistance and is India specific. The Kargil conflict even saw long lines of Chinese trucks along the Karakoram highway carrying military equipment to Pakistan.

By taking over Tibet, Beijing also made sure it would strategically overlook India. It also kept it destabilised by continuously claiming Indian territories such as Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. Beijing protested the loudest when the BJP exploded its nuclear device in 1998, but this is pure hypocrisy: China has today an estimated stockpile of 400 nuclear warheads ranging from 5 mt to low kt warheads. It has a wide range of missiles from 158 km range CSS-8 weapon systems to the CSS-4 with a range of 13,000 km. According to the CIA, China has transferred one-third of its nuclear arsenal to Nagchuka, 250 km away from Lhasa, a region full of huge caves, which the Chinese have linked together by an intricate underground network and where they have installed nearly 100 Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), many of them pointed at Indian cities. China is also rapidly modernising its blue water navy to achieve its aim of “power projection”. It has a large submarine force of some 71 submarines, though it lacks enough aircraft carriers. China’s immediate naval agenda is to control the sea-lanes of the Indian Ocean, along which a major share of world trade and oil is transported. The US estimates that China would be its main rival by 2015.

China has also been supplying arms to India’s neighbours Burma, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, in order to increase its influence in these countries. To the east of India, China’s close links with Burma has helped it to increase military activities in areas bordering the Bay of Bengal. The Chinese have also built a signal monitoring station in the Coco Islands. They have opened up the old Burma-China road as well as the Irrawady river for traffic. These will facilitate rapid troop movement as and when required. The Chinese navy has already started using Myanmar as a base for operations in the Bay of Bengal and the Malacca Straits. To the south of our country, China is trying to acquire naval facilities in Sri Lanka. To the north of India, China has considerably improved its military infrastructure.

In Tibet, China has constructed some 13 air bases and is laying the Gormo-Laksha oil pipeline to ease its problem of supplying fuel to its forces in Tibet. The problem of supply will further ease with the construction of a rail link to Lhasa on which work is reported to be in progress. On top of that, China still occupies one-third of Ladakh which it took during the 1962 conflict. China has thus thrown an iron ring around India’s neck. Unfortunately, generations of Indian leaders starting with Nehru have decided that India and China are natural brothers in Asia, the infamous “Hindi-Chini-Bhai-Bhai”.

Shortly before China’s attack in 1962, the Indian Army Chief of Staff had drafted a paper on the threats to India’s security from China, along with recommendations for a clear defence policy. But when Nehru read the paper, he said: “Rubbish. Total rubbish. We don’t need a defence plan. Our policy is non-violence. We foresee no military threats. Scrap the Army. The police are good enough to meet our security needs.” We know the results of this very foolish assessment.

Even today, barring Defence Minister George Fernandes, who alone had the courage to say that China is India’s enemy Number 1, everybody keeps mum. Yet the truth is that Pakistan is a small country which has lost all the wars it has initiated against India. Even a nuclear war would be a holocaust for Pakistan, while India would survive. What Indian leaders do not understand is that it is not China that has to be appeased to contain Pakistan; but rather, ultimately, it should be Pakistan that has to be appeased (in the true sense of the term: making peace with) to contain China. Because everything – bar religion – unites India and Pakistan: Their customs, languages, culture, ethnic stock, history. Whereas India and China have very little in common, except Nehru’s elusive dream of a socialist brotherhood.

Unlike Pakistan, China is a huge country, powerful, self-confident, crafty and it beat India hollow the only time the two Asian brothers fought. How come the BJP, which, before coming to power, was the staunchest friend of the exiled Tibetans, has not had the courage to support Tibets’ independence? It would unsettle the Chinese and give them a taste of their own medicine. For the biggest blunder of Nehru was to betray Tibet, a peaceful, spiritualised nation, which had always acted as a natural buffer between the two Asian giants. In fact, the Dalai Lama’s repeated the offer that Tibet be denuclearised and demilitarised between India and China, makes eminent sense today and Indian leaders should immediately adopt this line.

India’s great sage, Sri Aurobindo, had seen through the Chinese game: “The first move in the Chinese Communist plan of campaign is to dominate and take possession first of these northern parts and then of South-East Asia as a preliminary to their manoeuvres with regard to the rest of the continent, in passing Tibet as a gate opening to India”.

Years of violence

Author: Francois Gautier

Publication: The Pioneer
Date: August 6, 2003Do you know the real history of Kashmir? There is a great deal of misconception among the people about the State: That Kashmir did not always belong to India, or that it is a “disputed area”. This is why we recently at FACT (Forum Against Continuing Terrorism) chose to hold an exhibition at the India Habitat Centre, which was a great success. Here are some of the facts we highlighted through the photographic exhibition.For two thousand years, the Himalayan Valley of Kashmir in Northern India has been the home of learning and wisdom. From this small Valley have emanated masterpieces of history, poetry, romance, fable, and philosophy. Many of the greatest Sanskrit scholars and poets were born and wrote in the Valley. Kashmir flourished under some of India’s greatest rulers such as the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, who reigned between 273 and 233 BC, and is recorded to have founded the old city of Srinagar. It was under his sovereignty that many Buddhist scholars, missionaries, and intellectuals permanently settled in the Valley. Then there was the great Hindu King Harshavardhan (1089 to 1101 AD) who was versed in many languages, was a good poet himself, a lover of music and the arts. He had made his court a centre of luxury, learning and splendour.

Unfortunately, at the beginning of 14th century, a ferocious Mongol warlord, Dulucha, invaded the Valley from its northern side, Zojila Pass, with an army of 60,000 men. His savage attack ended for all purposes the Hindu rule in Kashmir, and Dulucha is said to have destroyed many temples and killed thousands of Hindus. Muslim rule was further tightened in 1389, during the rule of Sultan Sikandar. He banned all celebrations and would not even listen to music. He imposed jizia (tax on infidels) upon Hindus and stopped them from using tilak on their foreheads. Almost all the Muslim chroniclers of that time speak of wholesale destruction of Hindu shrines, including the famed Martand Temple, and forcible conversion of Hindus to Islam. Thousands of Hindus fled southwards to the plains of India to save their religion and holy books, and also to escape the wrath of the Sultan.

Then, after a period of relative tolerance and peace, came the rule of Afghans warlords till 1819 – roughly, a period of 67 years. The very first Afghan governor Abdullah Khan Aquasi, immediately after assuming powers, began his reign of terror. People were looted and killed indiscriminately, and even soldiers began to amass wealth beyond imagination. Fortunately, in 1819, 30,000 soldiers of Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh attacked Kashmir, defeated the Pathans, and Kashmir became a part of Ranjit Singh’s empire for nearly 40 years, providing some relief to Hindus in the process. However, the British defeated the Sikhs and became the undisputed masters of India. Not interested in Kashmir, they sold it in perpetuity for Rs 75 lakh (approximately $150,000) to Maharaja Gulab Singh of the Dogra dynasty. (What wonderful merchants, the British, who sell something which does not even belong to them!)

By treaty, conquest, or inter-marriages, the Dogras created a state comprising five major units, which are fundamentally very different from each other in terms of geography and ethnicity and have further complicated the problems of Kashmir: The territory around Gilgit (today in Pakistan), which belongs basically to Central Asia; Ladakh, which is an extension of Tibet and is peopled at 55 per cent by the Buddhists and 45 per cent by Muslims; the area around Muzaffarabad, which is today in Pakistan’s control, comprises mostly Punjabi Muslims; Jammu, which in essence belongs to Himachal Pradesh and is Hindu in majority; and the Valley of Kashmir, of course, which was Indian Muslim at 95 per cent in 1947.

India gained its independence in 1947 but was disastrously divided by the British, against the advice of saints and seers such as Sri Aurobindo, along religious lines into India and Pakistan. Although many Muslims chose to stay back in India, knowing they would be granted the freedom of practicing their own religion, most Hindus had to flee Pakistan as they were being slaughtered mercilessly. Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir decided to attach his state to free and secular India. Furious, the Pakistan Government invaded Kashmir, and encouraged the Muslim tribal people to carry loot, plunder, death and destruction into the hearths and homes of innocent Kashmiris in general and among Hindus in particular.

Since 1947, Pakistan, aided by China, which also claims parts of Indian territory (well, Mr Vajpayee, you got led up the garden path by the Chinese, like other prime ministers before you!), has initiated three wars to regain Indian Kashmir, and four if you include the Kargil war fought in the icy reaches of upper Kashmir. Worse, the proxy war which Pakistan is today waging on India by arming, training and financing not only Kashmiri separatists, but also Islamic militants from Afghanistan, or even faraway Sudan, has taken the lives of nearly 60,000 innocent people, both Hindus and Muslims.

It should be added that Pakistan decided in the late 1980s that it would be easier to regain Kashmir if all its Hindus were pushed out by a campaign of terror, both in the Valley, where they are a tiny minority and in Jammu where they still have a thin majority. Thus 450,000 Kashmiri Pandits, constituting 99 per cent of the total population of Hindus living in the Kashmir Valley, have been forcibly pushed out of their homes by terrorists. Since 1989, they have been forced to live like exiles in their own country.

People should also be reminded that terrorism in Kashmir is not about separatism alone; it is also an ideological struggle with specific fundamentalist and communal agenda. Terrorist violence aims at the disengagement of the State of Jammu & Kashmir from India and its annexation to Pakistan. It is a continuation of the Islamic fundamentalist struggle.

Finally, I would like to thank all those who contributed to FACT and helped make the exhibition on Kashmiri Pandits at the India Habitat Centre a success. We are pursuing our efforts further. The exhibition will now travel to Bangalore at the end of August. Thereafter, on September 10, we have been invited to Poland for a conference, ‘World Without Aggression’, which will take place in the main Warsaw Congress Hall, which seats 3,000 people, in the presence of the President of Poland and many VIPs.

“Need of the Hour for the Indians in the U.S. is to Unite:”

Author: Francois Gautier

Publication: Pioneer
Date: July 24, 2002

Travelling by air in the United States has become a major headache: You are frisked at least three times, made to remove your shoes and sometimes even to show your calves! Beware if you are an Indian: The manual search of your checked-in luggage is supposed to be decided “at random” by the computer; but ours has been explored at every leg of our US trip, probably because my wife has an Indian passport. In fact, being Indian today in the US can be a hazard: “People come to me and say – go back to Saudi Arabia,” says a New York taxi driver, who is from Punjab. Indeed, the average American cannot make the difference between an Indian and an Afghani, and this is creating a problem for the expatriate Indian community in the US, which prides itself in having fully integrated into the American way of life.

If only American correspondents sitting in Delhi would enlighten their readers in the US, as it is their duty to do; but most of the articles you read about India in America – when there are any, because they are very rare – are derogatory and biased. Two weeks ago, the Boston Globe, one of the most venerable US papers, published a piece by M Greenway, an ex-foreign editor and a regular columnist, which basically said that the US should be more wary of Hindu fundamentalism than Islamic militancy! You cannot write something more fallacious than this, but it was probably based on the input that Greenway gets from the New York Times correspondent (the Globe belongs to the NYT Group). Being in Boston and having met the previous day the Globe’s foreign editor, James Smith, I immediately called him and said that as a French journalist having covered India and South Asia during 20 years for prestigious European newspapers, I would write a rejoinder. Will he please forward it the Oped page editor? He did, but the rejoinder was never published.

A few days later the Houston Chronicle (readership 400,000) published an article ‘Living together’, which told the story of a Muslim man in Gujarat, who was “betrayed” by his Hindu friend and went on to speak about the “pogrom” of Muslims during the Gujarat riots at the hand of Hindu fundamentalists. Right at the end of the piece, the writer mentioned, in passing, that “a little before the riots 58 Hindu militants coming from Ayodhya – where a mosque was razed earlier by Hindu fanatics – were killed by a Muslim mob”. The blame was put on their being “aggressive” and there was not a single mention of the 34 innocent women and children who were burnt. Now, contrary to the Boston Globe story, the lady who did this piece for the Houston Chronicle was in India, in Gujarat even, and she had ample time to get her facts straight. But probably, she intentionally decided to omit the fact that cold blooded Godhra massacre triggered the riots against Muslims in Gujarat.

Do American correspondents and journalists tend to toe the US Government’s point of view? I would tend to think so. I was the other day at a White House press briefing, where a lady, who is the South Asia director of the National Security Council, gave us the usual double talk about India and Pakistan: “Yes, yes, India is doing a good job by being ‘restrained’ (pat on the back for New Delhi); but we must continue to support Musharraf, as he is our safeguard against a fundamentalist/nuclearised Pakistan (pat on the back for Islamabad).”

The US does seem to still have a policy of equating India and Pakistan, a policy which was initiated by the British to divide India and make sure it would never be strong. How else can you explain that Time magazine does a cover story on yoga and the word India is not mentioned even once? Even more baffling is the fact that the Indian diaspora in the US does not protest when Time pens a highly derogatory portrait of Prime Minister Vajpayee and gets away with it without having to apologise. Would they speak this way of Jiang Zemin?

And this raises an important question. How is it that except a few individuals and groups like the VHP, Indian expatriates in the US let articles such as the one in the Boston Globe or the Houston Chronicle pass without reacting to them? Whether they have an American passport, a green card, or an extended visa, Indians are doing extremely well in the US, where they are the most successful and visible community, being engineers, doctors, IT people, and even CEOs. They pay their taxes, send their children to the best universities, where they usually perform extremely well, are lawful, pay their taxes and honour America. Alas, individually they might go to temples, do their prayers and long for India, but there is very little unity amongst Hindus in America – Hindu groups keep fighting or ignoring each other. What is happening in India is thus replicated in the US.

Yet, if Hindus in the US would care to unite, call themselves “Hindu Americans”, which would give them an identity, they would form a formidable lobby, because they have the money, skill and influential positions. Not only would they be able to prop-up India’s image in the US at a time when the average American thinks that India is only poverty and Hindu fundamentalism, but they could influence US decision-makers and persuade American businessmen to invest more in India. They could also pressure the US Government to side more with India in its war against terrorism, as India has been suffering from Islamic fundamentalism for decades.

The need of the hour for the Indians in the US is to unite like the Jews. But is it happening? Last week there was this gala Indo-US friendship dinner in Washington. The cream of Indian expatriates was there, as well as more than 40 US congressman and senators. Most of the Indians there, though, instead of canvassing the senators and putting across India’s point of view, seemed more interested in giving boring self-congratulatory speeches and have their photos taken with US VIPs.

Harvest of faith?

Harvest of faith?

Author: Francois Gautier
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: October 16, 2002

This column is specially addressed to my Christian brothers and sisters of India. At a time when again a Western missionary ministering in India (Father Marian Zelazek who works among leprosy patients in Orissa) has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and when Mother Teresa’s beatification – and later the canonisation – is being speeded-up by the Vatican, it is time to look into the real motives of Christian missionaries working in India.

We all know that Mother Teresa incarnated in the 20th century true Christian charity, helping “the poorest of the poor”, and that she lived a life of nun, with rectitude and service, as Jesus Christ would have liked her to. It also should be said that Mother Teresa did the work that wealthy Hindus and Hindu organisations should have done. After all, there is no denying that it takes a Westerner to pick up the dying in the streets of Calcutta and raise abandoned orphans, a thankless task if there is one. Hindus, even though their religion has taught them compassion for 4,000 years, have become very callous towards their less fortunate brethren and there are not enough Hindu organisations, apart from the Art of Living, the Vivekananda and Ramakrishna missions, or the RSS, doing charitable work as the Christians do. This is despite the fact that there is growing awareness amongst Hindu organisations that it is time to get their act together, that they ought to be doing more for the dispossessed and the poor of the land than they have so far.

Unfortunately – and in spite of herself maybe – Mother Teresa carried a very negative image of India: That of poverty beyond humanity, of a society which abandons its children, of dying without dignity. Alright, it is accepted there is some truth in it. But then it may be asked again: Did Mother Teresa ever attempt to counterbalance this negative image of India, of which she was the vector, with a more positive one? After all, she had lived here for so long that she knew the country as well as any Indian, having even adopted Indian nationality. Surely she could have defended her own country? She could, for example, have spoken about India’s infinite spirituality, her exquisite culture, the gentleness of its people, the brilliance of its children…

Regrettably, Mother Teresa said nothing of the sort. Does this mean that she stood for the most orthodox Christian conservatism? Was it, as some of her detractors said, that her ultimate goal was to convert India to Christianity, the only true religion in her eyes? I cannot believe it, although it is true that she never once said a good word about Hinduism, which after all is the religion of 700 millions people of the country she said she loved, and has been their religion for 5,000 years – long before Christianity appeared. Did Mother Teresa consider, as all good Christians do – particularly the conservatives ones – that Hinduism is a pagan religion which adores a multitude of heathen gods and should be eliminated?

The hardline Hindus argue that there has been no change in Christian or Protestant designs on India since they arrived with the Portuguese and the British, and that Mother Teresa was much more clever than Lord Hastings: She knew that on the eve of the 21st century, it would have looked very bad if she had openly stated her true opinions about Hinduism; so she kept quiet. It seems a bit farfetched but, ultimately, is not her charitable work – whatever its dedication – an indirect method to convert people? For without any doubt, most of the people she saved from the streets did ultimately become Christians. And if you ask those “elite” Indians who knew her well, such as photographer Raghu Rai, a great admirer of her, she always said: “It is now time for you to embrace the true religion.” (Raghu Rai politely declined.)

India today is an emerging super power and Indian Christians, while worshipping the memory of Mother Teresa, should try – by talking around themselves, writing articles and books – to propagate a more positive image of their country. Why does India’s intelligentsia, most of whom are born Hindus, also defend her? These are intelligent, educated people; they must surely have some inkling of Mother Teresa’s negative impact? Does Vir Sanghvi or for that matter Naveen Chawla, Mother Teresa’s ever admiring biographer, understand what she really stood for? That she may have been someone basically hostile to their culture, their religion, their way of life?

Also, do they know that Hindu society has always been the target of Christians since their coming here? Do they understand that they and a thousand of their peers, who belong to the intellectual elite of India and keep praising Mother Teresa (or Father Zelazek), are doing harm to their country and opening it to its enemies? The Christian influence is very strong in India today: It shapes the minds of its young people in a subtle way through its schools, which many of the children of the affluent attend. It moulds the thinking of the tribes it has converted, particularly in the North-East where the missionaries have always covertly encouraged separatism (see the remarkable book Indigenous Indians by the Dutch Scholar, Koenrad Elst).

It is also sad to see the majority of Hindus are unaware of the very negative image of their country and religion which Mother Teresa’s name is carrying. It is even more unfortunate to see that Hindus vote for her as the most popular Indian (as reported by a weekly magazine that recently conducted an opinion poll). Was Mother Teresa really Indian? Did she really love India as an Indian? While we must respect her memory, it is necessary that Mother Teresa’s sainthood or Father Zelatek’s potential Nobel prize be seen in their proper perspective by both Hindus and Indian Christians: By making her a saint, or giving Father Zelatek a Nobel, the Vatican and the West are still perpetuating a kind of condescending, neo-colonial attitude: “We, the Westerners, bring to you, the heathens, the civilisation and the true God.”

Ultimately, when she becomes a saint, Mother Teresa’s spirit will continue to haunt India because she will be worshiped by millions of Westerners for the very negative qualities and aspects that India is trying to emerge out of: Poverty, human despair and lack of self respect.

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.

Nachiketa and India

Nachiketa and India

Author: Francois Gautier
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: May 14, 2003

Last Saturday, few of us were conferred the Nachiketa prize of journalism by the Prime Minister Vajpayee along with Deputy Prime Minister Advani. Because of time pressure, there was no space for individual speeches by the awardees. However, this is what I would have liked to say.

The story of Nachiketa is wonderful. Briefly, it runs thus: Nachiketa, on seeing his father, a Vedic Rishi, give daan (offerings) to the Gods asks: “What about me father? Who will you give me to?” The father answers, more in joke, “I will donate you to Yama (the God of Death).” But Nachiketa takes it seriously and goes to Yama, who is out roaming. When Yama returned after three days, he saw the youngster at his door and asked what he wanted. “I have been offered to you by my father.” “Impossible,” answers Yama, “your time has not come.” Then, to placate him, he offers one boon to him. This is what Nachiketa asks Yama: “Some say that when one dies, one is; and others that one is not. What is the truth?” Yama, the mighty God of Death, answers, “Ask me for anything: Riches, happiness, a hundred years, but not this question.” But Nachiketa refuses to relent. Yama’s answer constitutes India’s eternal truth, one which it alone holds today, and which has been repeated in many of India’s sacred texts, including the Gita: “Only the body dies, O Nachiketa, the soul is immortal and is reborn life after life, till ones reaches perfection.”

Thus Nachiketa stands for forthrightness, courage, and dedication to truth, which should be the hallmark of any journalist worth his salt. I would like to believe that my quest in India has been – even in a small degree – like Nachiketa’s: “What is the real India, behind the cliches? What does India stand for? What can I do to help this great country? I discovered India by living it from within. I was privileged to spend my first seven years at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, where I met many times the Mother and read Sri Aurobindo’s works. Sri Aurobindo, India’s great revolutionary, philosopher, poet and yogi, has been the visible and invisible guidance behind my work. Today, I am also indebted to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living, because he embodies the ancient rishi’s dedication to his country: His work is not only spirituality, but also to bring God into all realms of life, including politics, because in ancient India the rishis were also advisers to kings.

I nevertheless started my journalistic career with the usual cliches about India, which most foreign correspondents mouth: That only a “secular” government like that of the Congress can govern such a diverse country as India; that India’s minorities are “persecuted”; that Hindus could “also” be fundamentalists… But I was again lucky: I began doing photo features in the South. There I discovered that India’s genius, strength and soul lay in rural India; and not in its cities like Delhi where the intelligentsia is often totally cut-off from its roots. The truth I encountered in my travels and interaction with Indians was totally opposite of what I thought: The Congress had divided India along caste and religious lines to survive in power; India’s minorities had taken advantage of a secular Government by getting more privileges than the majority community; Hindus are probably the most tolerant people in the world, not only accepting that God manifests Himself as Krishna, but also as Christ, Buddha, or even Mohammed; Hindus have ironically been the target of one of the most horrible genocides ever perpetrated upon mankind in the name of religion. I also saw that even today they are falling prey to jihadis: Witness the ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri Pandits, far more horrible than the one of the Bosnians; I saw too that Hindus have given shelter to all persecuted minorities in the world: Syrian Christians, Armenians, Parsis, Jews, in history, and the Tibetans today.

So at some point I realised that a marvellous majority like the Hindus, who have such a long tradition of tolerance, gentleness, spirituality and hospitality, needed a Government which reflected these qualities; not the successive governments which have come in since Independence, and have divided India along caste and religious lines, instituted corruption, statism and bureaucracy. And when Dr Murli Manohar Joshi went to Srinagar on August 15, 1990, to raise the Indian flag, I found this pretty courageous and I said so in my articles, although he was ridiculed by the entire Indian Press, particularly by Newstrack, the only news channel in those days. When Mr Advani began his Rath yatra, I thought it was a good idea, because it would rally the Hindus who tend to be politically amorphous, and I said it. At that time nobody – including me – believed that the BJP would ever come to power.

They have now. Nevertheless, it is lonely at the top. Of course, nobody from the French embassy was present at the award ceremony. Had it not been for Christopher Jaffrelot, the man who is most responsible for the bad image of India in France (he is THE world specialist on “Hindu fundamentalism”, something which does not even exist), and partly accountable too for the fact that France is only the 11th largest investor in India, after all the overtures that have been made towards France by the BJP Government in the last five years, the entire embassy would have been present. But I am considered an outcaste by the French embassy and my advice is never sought, even though I have lived here for 34 years.

This raises an important question: Why is it that amongst the 300-odd Western correspondents sitting in New Delhi, there is nobody (that I know) who comes to the same logical conclusion that Hinduism is what makes this country great and that an Indian Christian or an Indian Muslim is different because of the softening influence of Hinduism? After all, many of these correspondents arrive here meaning well, with an aspiration to understand this complex country. Why is it that not only most of them leave in five years, not knowing India better, but that very often they end up hating it (isn’t it, Miss Chipeaux?)? There is Mark Tully, of course, who genuinely likes India, but even he, maybe because he is British, is very muted and discreet when it comes to defending India. The only answer I can find is that it is only when the Indian English language press will become a little less negative, a little more proud of its roots, that the Western correspondents will be positively influenced. Because the first input they get when they open an Indian English language newspaper or switch on television news is negative: Everything is hopeless about this country, when India is a much better bet for the Western world than totalitarian China, or Islamic Pakistan.

Finally, I would like to say that I have donated the Nachiketa prize money to FACT (Foundation Against Continuing Terrorism), which is organising an exhibition on Hindu genocide through the ages, particularly the Kashmiri Pandits, with the backing of All-India Anti-Terrorism Front of Mr Maninderjit Singh Bitta – a courageous man who survived a most horrifying terrorism attack upon himself, to combat vigorously this international scourge.