Category Archives: FACT India

India should pause and act

François Gautier

Source: Expressbuzz
First Published : 30 Jan 2009 02:01:00 AM IST
Last Updated : 30 Jan 2009 08:45:50 AM IST

How many of us remember the young Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam cadres in the mid-Eighties, when they walked freely in the streets of what was known as Madras: young, nice Tamils, who looked more like students than militants? There is no doubt that over the years the LTTE has become a deadly terrorist outfit, eliminating in cold blood anyone it felt was in the way of its aspirations, including other Sri Lankan Tamil leaders.

The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was symbolic of that ruthlessness: he was murdered on the assumption that he would then follow an anti- LTTE policy once back in power after the experience of the IPKF.

Today the Tamils of Sri Lanka are paying a heavy price for the assassination: they are losing the war with the Sri Lankan army, mostly because the Congress of Sonia Gandhi, who has never forgiven them for her husband’s murder, is backing the Sinhalese leadership.

But before the LTTE is wiped out, India would do well to think whether it would serve its geopolitical purposes to have a triumphant Sinhala neighbour. For this, one has to first look at the history of Sri Lanka.

There seems little doubt that a few thousand years ago, India and Sri Lanka were linked by a small strip of land, which can still be seen today from the air: Adam’s Bridge, or Ram Setu. This is how the first Tamils, those who settled in the North, came to Sri Lanka. One has to go back a long time to understand what factors shaped the psyche of the island’s two communities. The decisive factor bears the names of two of the world’s greatest religions: Buddhism and Hinduism.

The first is a gentle, peaceful creed that teaches non-violence and brotherhood, even to enemies. Unfortunately, Ceylon, the “isle of beauty”, has always been a tempting prey for sea-faring invaders.

Successive colonisers, from Arabs to Africans, from Portuguese to Dutch and finally, British, preyed on the tiny, defenceless island.

In the name of Buddhism and because the Sinhalese are by nature a fun-loving people, not only did they hardly resist these invasions, but often their women mingled freely with the invaders. The result can be seen today in the faces of many Sinhalese women folk, with their kinky hair or Arabic features.

As a result, the Sinhalese slowly lost their sense of identity, their feeling of collective being, to the point that when the British came, they collaborated wholeheartedly and had to be handed back their independence on a platter, for want of a real freedom movement.

Today, democracy and western institutions are just a cloak that the Sinhalese wear. Lurking underneath is a sense of hopelessness and a terrible violence. Its politicians have been among the least farsighted of the entire subcontinent: nothing is made in Sri Lanka. Only tea, tourism and Western grants help it survive. On the other hand Hinduism, with its strict caste hierarchy, protected the Tamils from mingling with their invaders. They preserved their identity and culture. The Sinhalese live an easier life in the South, always more fertile than the arid North. As a result, Tamils are often better at studies and more hard working, (although one should not generalise). The British noticed it and often gave Tamils preference for jobs and university grants, angering the Sinhalese, who after all were the majority community.

It is this deep-rooted resentment that is in greater part the cause of the present troubles. When the British left, the Sinhalese quickly moved to correct what they saw as an imbalance, depriving Tamils of most of the rights they had acquired under the British and proceeded to establish a Sinhalese-dominated Ceylon. Every time a Sinhalese politician tried to give the Tamils their just share of power, he was forced to backtrack for fear of Sinhalese resentment.

For years, Tamils bore the brunt of Sinhalese persecution. But one day, too much became too much and Tamil armed groups started springing up to defend their people. To cut short a long story, the LTTE finally emerged as the most ruthless and sole militant organisation.

Yet, in 1988, Rajiv stepped in to mediate between the warring Sinhalese and Tamils. All kinds of insulting epithets have been used to describe the Jayewardene-Rajiv Gandhi peace plan and the IPKF’s role in Sri Lanka, but these are unfair.

The plan was the best that could be done in the circumstances, and the IPKF did not come to conquer, but to help. All the same, India got bogged down in a guerrilla war, with one hand tied behind the back to avoid killing civilians. Ultimately, it had to leave because of pressure at home and Premadasa’s intense dislike of Indians.

Today Tamils are on the verge of being completely overrun. And this raises the question of India’s security.

What will be the consequences of a triumphant Sinhalese majority? Are not Sri Lankan Tamils closer to Indians, culturally, socially and spiritually, than the Sinhalese? Will Sri Lanka, like Bangladesh before it, turn on India once it has achieved, with India’s help, its goals? The Government of India should think twice and remember Rama and Ravana before it allows the Sri Lankan army totally to subdue the north.

fgautier@rediffmail.com

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The Hindu Rate Of Wrath

Illustration by Sorit
OPINION
The Hindu Rate Of Wrath
When the Mahatma’s cowards erupt in fury, it hurts. It isn’t terror. ......

Is there such a thing as ‘Hindu terrorism’, as the arrest of Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur for the recent Malegaon blasts may tend to prove? Well, I guess I was asked to write this column because I am one of that rare breed of foreign correspondents—a lover of Hindus! A born Frenchman, Catholic-educated and non-Hindu, I do hope I’ll be given some credit for my opinions, which are not the product of my parents’ ideas, my education or my atavism, but garnered from 25 years of reporting in South Asia (for Le Journal de Geneve and Le Figaro).

In the early 1980s, when I started freelancing in south India, doing photo features on kalaripayattu, the Ayyappa festival, or the Ayyanars, I slowly realised that the genius of this country lies in its Hindu ethos, in the true spirituality behind Hinduism. The average Hindu you meet in a million villages possesses this simple, innate spirituality and accepts your diversity, whether you are Christian or Muslim, Jain or Arab, French or Chinese. It is this Hinduness that makes the Indian Christian different from, say, a French Christian, or the Indian Muslim unlike a Saudi Muslim. I also learnt that Hindus not only believed that the divine could manifest itself at different times, under different names, using different scriptures (not to mention the wonderful avatar concept, the perfect answer to 21st century religious strife) but that they had also given refuge to persecuted minorities from across the world—Syrian Christians, Parsis, Jews, Armenians, and today, Tibetans. In 3,500 years of existence, Hindus have never militarily invaded another country, never tried to impose their religion on others by force or induced conversions.

You cannot find anybody less fundamentalist than a Hindu in the world and it saddens me when I see the Indian and western press equating terrorist groups like simi, which blow up innocent civilians, with ordinary, angry Hindus who burn churches without killing anybody. We know also that most of these communal incidents often involve persons from the same groups—often Dalits and tribals—some of who have converted to Christianity and others not.

However reprehensible the destruction of Babri Masjid, no Muslim was killed in the process; compare this to the ‘vengeance’ bombings of 1993 in Bombay, which wiped out hundreds of innocents, mostly Hindus. Yet the Babri Masjid destruction is often described by journalists as the more horrible act of the two. We also remember how Sharad Pawar, when he was chief minister of Maharashtra in 1993, lied about a bomb that was supposed to have gone off in a Muslim locality of Bombay.

I have never been politically correct, but have always written what I have discovered while reporting. Let me then be straightforward about this so-called Hindu terror. Hindus, since the first Arab invasions, have been at the receiving end of terrorism, whether it was by Timur, who killed 1,00,000 Hindus in a single day in 1399, or by the Portuguese Inquisition which crucified Brahmins in Goa. Today, Hindus are still being targeted: there were one million Hindus in the Kashmir valley in 1900; only a few hundred remain, the rest having fled in terror. Blasts after blasts have killed hundreds of innocent Hindus all over India in the last four years. Hindus, the overwhelming majority community of this country, are being made fun of, are despised, are deprived of the most basic facilities for one of their most sacred pilgrimages in Amarnath while their government heavily sponsors the Haj. They see their brothers and sisters converted to Christianity through inducements and financial traps, see a harmless 84-year-old swami and a sadhvi brutally murdered. Their gods are blasphemed.

So sometimes, enough is enough.At some point, after years or even centuries of submitting like sheep to slaughter, Hindus—whom the Mahatma once gently called cowards—erupt in uncontrolled fury. And it hurts badly. It happened in Gujarat. It happened in Jammu, then in Kandhamal, Mangalore, and Malegaon. It may happen again elsewhere. What should be understood is that this is a spontaneous revolution on the ground, by ordinary Hindus, without any planning from the political leadership. Therefore, the BJP, instead of acting embarrassed, should not disown those who choose other means to let their anguished voices be heard.

There are about a billion Hindus, one in every six persons on this planet. They form one of the most successful, law-abiding and integrated communities in the world today. Can you call them terrorists?


Be aware of your roots

First Published : 21 Oct 2008 12:40:00 AM IST
Last Updated : 21 Oct 2008 10:40:51 AM IST

 

Francois Gautier

AS a Frenchman, I was coached right from childhood that logic, what we in France call Cartesianism, is the greatest gift given to man. Thus, I taught my students in a Bangalore school of journalism that the first tool of a good reporter is to go by his or her own judgment on the ground, with the help of one’s first-hand experience — and not by second hand information: what your parents thought, what you have read in the newspapers, what your caste, religion, culture pushes you into.

 

Yet in India, logic does not seem to apply to most of the media, especially when it touches anything Hindu.

 

One cannot, for instance, equate Muslim terrorists who blow up innocent civilians in market places all over India, with angry ordinary Hindus who burn churches without killing anybody.

 

We know that most of these communal incidents often involve persons of the same caste, Dalits and tribals, some converted to Christianity and some not.

 

Then, however reprehensible the destruction of the Babri Masjid, no Muslim was killed in the process.

 

Compare this with the ‘vengeance’ bombings of 1993 in Mumbai, which killed hundreds of innocents, mostly Hindus. Yet Indian and western journalists keep matching up the two, or even showing the Babri Masjid destruction as the more horrible act of the two.

 

How can you compare the RSS, a bunch of harmless daddies, with the Indian Mujahideen, a terrorist organisation? How can you make of Narendra Modi a mass killer, when it was ordinary middle-class, or even Dalit Hindus, who went out on the streets in fury when 56 innocent people, many of them women and children, were burnt in a train? How can you lobby for the lifting of the ban on SIMI, an organisation which is suspected of having planted bombs in many Indian cities, killing hundreds of innocents, while advocating the ban of the Bajrang Dal, which burns churches when an 84-year-old Hindu swami and his Mataji are brutally murdered? There is no logic in the perspective of journalists in this country when it comes to minorities. Christians are supposed to make up two per cent of the population in India, but last Sunday many major television channels showed live the canonisation ceremonies of sister Alphonsa, an obscure nun from Kerala.

 

Union minister Oscar Fernandes led an entire Indian delegation to the Vatican ceremony along with the Indian ambassador. It would be impossible in England, for instance, which may have a 2 per cent Hindu minority, to have live coverage of a major Hindu ceremony, like the anointment of a new Shankaracharya.What was NDTV, which seems to have deliberately chosen to highlight this nonevent, trying to prove? That it is secular? But it is absolutely disproportionate.

 

Some might even call it antinational.

 

The headline, ‘India gets its first woman saint’, in many newspapers, Indian and western, is misleading.

 

India has never been short of saints. The woman sage from over 3,000 years ago — Maithreyi, Andal, the Tamil saint from early in the first Millennium CE and Akkamahadevi, the 15th century saint from modernday Karnataka, are but a few examples.

 

What many publications fail to mention in this story is that this is the first woman Christian saint, not the first Indian woman saint.

 

Such a statement is OK when it comes, for instance, from the BBC, which always looks at India through the Christian prism, but when it comes to the Indian media, it only shows their grave lack of grounding in Indian culture and history.

 

The same thing is true of Sonia Gandhi, who seemed, even though the Congress should by all means have already collapsed with 12 per cent inflation, scandal after scandal, a nuclear deal with the US that leaves India vulnerable to the Chinese and Pakistani nuclear threat, and bomb blast after bomb blast, still ruling India with an iron hand. Yet newspapers and TV channels keep praising Sonia Gandhi.

 

And the question must be asked: how is it possible that a nation of a billion people, with some of the best minds on this planet, allows itself to be governed by a non-Indian lady, who, however sincere she may be, is actively overseeing the dismantling of whatever is good and true in India? It would be impossible in France for a Hindu woman, or for that matter a non-Christian person, who is just an elected MP, to govern our country from behind the scenes like an empress. Why is it allowed in India and why is the Indian press so selfrighteous about it ? Finally, when will Indians start being proud of themselves and their own culture and stop looking down on their own society ? This inferiority complex, as expressed by NDTV’s live coverage of the canonisation of sister Alphonsa, is a legacy of the British, who strove to show themselves as superior and Indian culture as inferior (and inheritor of the ‘White Aryans’, a totally false theory). Is it not time to institute schools of journalism, both private and public, where not only a little bit of logic is taught, but where students are made aware of Indian history and the greatness of Indian culture, so that when they go out reporting, they use their own judgment and become Indian journalists, with a little bit of feeling, pride and love for their own country? fgautier@rediffmail.com

Freedom gagged

Freedom gagged (New Indian Express)

This exhibition is not about raking-up the past or “creating communal disharmony”, it is about Indian children, Hindus and Muslims alike, knowing their own past and making sure it does not happen again. Aurangzeb’s shadow and legacy is very much present
BY FRANCOIS GAUTIER

O N the March 7, 2008, in Lalit Kala Academi, Chennai, Assistant Commissioner of Police K N Murali, took off the wall an exquisite miniature painting, which showed the destruction of the Somnath temple (which has been razed six times) and threw it on the ground, shattering it. Then his men started removing all the paintings from the wall, further damaging many of them. On that day, the morale and the reputation of the Tamil Nadu police must have sunk to a new low : of bowing down to their master’s wishes and those of a few fanatics, of forsaking moral decency and all the qualities that a police officer should embody.

The previous day the Nawab of Arcot visited the exhibition and lashed out at FACT volunteers accusing them of “misrepresenting facts.” He was particularly enraged by two miniatures – the first depicted Aurangzeb’s army destroying the Somnath temple and the second showed the destruction of the Kesava Rai temple in Mathura. We are told that he has direct access to the CM’s office and that orders to the police to clamp down on exhibition came down from there. Otherwise, Mr Murali would not have dared to go so far, so brazenly.

Soon, the nawab sent a group of goons, allegedly from TMMK (Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam) and MNP (Manitha Neethi Paasarai) to pick up arguments with the volunteers, most of them elderly women from decent family backgrounds.

They came back again on 7th afternoon when I was there, screaming on, top of their voices in Tamil and in English that this exhibition was absolutely false and that unless it was closed immediately they would come back in force the next day (Friday) to break it down. I tried to reason with them, that these were all documents from Government archives, that I could explain everything to them, that we could even debate on TV, but they shouted even louder and got more threatening. When all these arguments were going on the police did not bother to come up.

(The hall is on the first floor.) Then the goons closeted them selves with Mr Murali, two other officers and Mr Palaniappan, the secretary of the LKA, in his office and when I barged in, Mr Murali told me he was closing down the exhibition. I decided to rush to the Commissioner’s office in Egmore to plead for a stay order.

But meanwhile Mr Murali swung into action: he terrorised the harmless ladies calling them ” stooges of a white dog,” threw two paintings on the ground and ordered his policemen to remove the rest. Then he arrested four volunteers (Mrs. Srarswathi, Mrs. Vijayalakshmi, Mrs.

Malathi and Mr. B.R. Haran) and took them to the Thousand Lights police station. There ACP termed Mr. Francois as a “Foreign Terrorist” and threatened to book the volunteers “for helping and assisting him to incite communal violence in the otherwise peaceful Tamil Nadu.”

What was all the noise about? Lalit Kala Academi was showing an exhibition: “Aurangzeb as he was according to his own records.” This is an artistic exhibition on Aurangzeb, the great Mughal emperor using his own records and firmans (edicts), many of which are still preserved in Indian museums, such as the Bikaner archives.

Aurangzeb was truly a pious Muslim, copying the Koran himself, stitching Muslim skullcaps and enforcing strict laws, according to his own documents, which we were careful to show. How come Aurangzeb is such a hero with the Nawab of Arcot and his henchmen? Forget what he did to Hindus : reimposing the humiliating jiziya tax, forbidding them from riding horses, elephants or palanquins and ordering all temples destroyed (Among them the Krishna’s birth temple in Mathura, the rebuilt Somnath temple on the coast of Gujarat, the Vishnu temple replaced with the Alamgir mosque now overlooking Benares and the Treta-ka-Thakur temple in Ayodhya), he was also a monster to his own family, having his father poisoned, his two brothers killed, and imprisoning his own son.

This exhibition was sponsored by FACT, which I created in 2003, when I received at the hands of the Prime Minister in the Lok Sabha the Natchiketa Award of Excellence in Journalism. With the Prize money, my Indian wife Namrita and myself mounted an exhibition on the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits, four hundred thousand of them having become refugees in their own country.

This exhibition travelled around India and then in the world and was shown in Capitol Hill, Washington, in July 2005, leading to a bipartisan resolution on the Human Rights of the Kashmiri Pandits in the US Congress . Another exhibition on the persecution of Hindus, Christians and Buddhists in Bangladesh was inaugurated in Mumbai on November 18, 2006. We have also a huge show on Shivaji ‘a Hero for Modern, India’ in Mumbai on March 12 in Ravindra Natya Mandir.

A lot of historical research and artistic efforts have gone into the making of this exhibition. It is also an effort to help a dying craft, of the painters of Rajasthan, that of miniature painting. Each original painting, which portrays a historically docu mented incident in the times of Aurangzeb, has been done in the original Mughal style and is signed and dated. Professor V. S. Bhatnagar of the Rajasthan University, Jaipur, has contributed the historical research part.

We are hiring a lawyer to file a case on FACT’s behalf on five counts:

1) Assistant Commissioner of Police K N Murali, took two of the paintings, which showed the destruction of the Somnath temple and threw them on the ground. I hear six more paintings have been damaged and we have no news of the exhibition as it has been sealed. It costs 8 lakhs to do (all original miniature paintings not counting my time).

2) We paid Lalit Kala Academi a lot of money and they cancelled the show.

3) The police took in a police van three innocent ladies to the police station after 6 p.m. which is illegal.

4) The police totally sided with the goons, closeting themselves in the manager’s office for one hour.

5) Mr Murali threatened the ladies repeatedly that they were ‘terrorists.’ 6) Lastly, we will file a case against Lalit Kala Academi for damage to our paintings, infringement upon our freedom of expression and we will demand that they reopen the exhibition in their premises so that the people of Chennai may have the opportunity to make their own judgment about it.

This exhibition is not about raking up the past or “creating communal disharmony,” it is about Indian children, Hindus and Muslims alike knowing their own past and making sure it does not happen again. For Aurangzeb’s shadow and legacy is still very much present in India.

It was there in Kashmir when all the Hindus were forced by terror to leave their homeland; it is there when Indian Muslims help plant bombs in Mumbai trains, Varanasi, or Delhi; it was there in Chennai when a few Muslim rowdies hold at ransom an entire state and its political apparatus. This is why we had that exhibition.

François Gautier is political correspondent in South Asia for ” Le Figaro” for eight years. He is now the editor in chief of Paris-based La Revue de l’Inde (lesbelleslettres.com)

FACT: FOUNDATION AGAINST CONTINUING TERRORISM

FACT: FOUNDATION AGAINST CONTINUING TERRORISM

“in Kashmir, the Hindus had all the monopoly. Now if the Muslim demands are acceded to, the Hindus will be wiped out again.”, wrote Sri Aurobindo in 1940. How prophetic ! Do you know the FACTS about Kashmir? Over 4 lakh Kashmiri Pandits have been forced to flee their homeland. Many Pandit men, women and children have been brutally murdered. About 70,000 languish in makeshift refugee camps in Jammu and Delhi. Scores of temples in Kashmir have been desecrated, destroyed, looted, More than 900 educational institutions have been attacked by terrorists. Properties of Pandits have been vandalised, businesses destroyed or taken over, even hospitals have not been spared. Did you know that this huge human tragedy is taking place in Free India? Kashmir was known as “Sharda Peeth” , the abode of learning. Now the Pandits, the original inhabitants, have been forced to flee. 5000 years of civilization are at stake.

THE ROLE OF PAKISTAN IN KASHMIRI TERROR is clear: terrorism in Kashmir is an ideological struggle with specific fundamentalist and communal Agenda. Terrorist violence aims at the disengagement of the state of Jammu and Kashmir from India and its annexation to Pakistan. It is a continuation of the Islamic fundamentalist struggle. The major dimension of terrorist violence in Kashmir is the terrorists’ commitment to the extermination and subjugation of the Hindus in the state, because Hindus do not subscribe to the idea of separation from India, nor will they allow governance by the tenets of Islam. Kashmiri Pandits have always been in the forefront of the struggle against secessionism, communalism and fundamentalism. Hence this peace loving minority with a progressive outlook became the main victim of terrorist violence

The strategies involved in the terrorists’ operation against the Hindus in Kashmir are simple: the extermination of Hindus, that is Subjecting Hindus to brutal torture, to instil fear among them in order to achieve their submission. To engineer a forced mass exodus of Hindus from the land of their ancestors by way of issuing threatening letters, kidnappings and torture deaths on non-compliance of the terrorists’ dictates and ensure the destruction of the secular and pluralistic character of Kashmiri Society. Attacks, molestations, kidnappings, gang rapes of the women folk of the Hindu Pandits to instil fear and humiliation. Destruction and burning of residential houses of the Hindus who have been compelled to abandon their homes. Looting of their properties and appropriation of their business establishments are undertaken to ensure that they do not return. Attachment of the ancestral and landed property of Pandits Destruction of the social and religious institutions of the Hindus by the desecration and destruction of their places of worship. Appropriation of the property of the Hindu shrines.

BURNING BOOKS, LOOTING OF CULTURE is also a very important part of the plan. Kashmir was the crucible of Knowledge, Spirituality, a hallowed centre of learning and the cradle of Shivaism. Kashmiri Pandits excelled in philosophy, aesthetics, poetics, sculpture, architecture, mathematics, astronomy and astrology. Sanskrit was studied, propagated and spoken by women and men. Scholars and saints such as Kalhan, Jonraj, Srivar, Abhinavgupta, Somanand, Utpaldev, Somdev and Kshemendra created here an intellectual centre of unrivalled repute. Fundamentalism and terrorism have been ruthless in their assault on “Sharda Peeth”, zealous in ravaging its heritage, and consistent only in bloodthirsty intolerance. The destruction of Hindu places of worship, forced conversions of Pandits and death and ignominy to those who resisted, were accompanied by a savage assault on literary activity. This process has been going on since centuries.

Commencing 1998, the assault on learning began afresh. How else to erase 5000 years of civilization? The Jammaat-i-Islami, a fundamentalist organisation, launched a campaign to ransack libraries in the educational institutions and flared ban on books which did not correspond to their ideas about man, world and God. The Kashmir university funded by the University Grants Commission and headed by the Governor of the state was denuded of two thousand books including the works of Milton, G.B. Shaw, Shakespeare, H.G. Wells and tomes on Hindu Philosophy. Book-shops were looted in broad daylight at Batamaloo, Srinagar. The library of the Information Centre run by Government of India was looted and set on fire.

As a correspondent covering India for more than 20 years, I have witnessed the terrible damage that terrorism in Kashmir has inflicted upon people’s lives, their family, their culture, the very fabric of society, not only of the Kashmiri Pandits, but also of the Muslims of the Valley, who after all, are the victims too of Pakistan’s bloody designs. Hence, with two journalist friends, we started a Foundation: FACT – Foundation Against Continuing Terrorism. The first task of FACT has been to mount an exhibition on terrorism, focussing on the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits, so that the people of India, who do not suffer directly from terrorism understand, what it does to others. This exhibition opened in Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road, New Delhi, on 18th of this month and was a great success. It was inaugurated by the acting US ambassador, Robert O Blake, and Mr Bitta, Chairman All India Anti Terrorist Front. More than 25.000 people visited the exhibition till its closing day, on 23rd July. Amongst them; L.K. Advani, Deputy PM, Justice Anand, Chairman National Human Rights Commission, Dr Karan Singh, MM Joshi… It was covered by most English and Hindi national newspapers and reported on by Zee News, Star News, Sahara, DD1, ANI, DD2 and NDTV.

We had also invited Sonia Gandhi, since she has recently emphasized that Pakistan should stop cross border terrorism and because she had a (partly) Kashmiri Pandit husband, who was murdered by terrorists. Unfortunately, Mrs Gandhi declined; and it seems even, according to “inside” sources, that she advised her people to “keep away from the exhibition”. Mr Vajpayee, also invited, did not bother to appear, even after the massacre of the Vaishno Devi pilgrims and the attack on the army camp in Jammu. It would have been good of him to make a gesture towards the community of the Kashmiri Pandits, who after all are Indian citizens and have been criminally wronged.

Thus, we need your support, you the ordinary Indians of India and abroad, and we invite all of you, whatever your class, caste, religion, or ethnic origin, to support witness this wonderful exhibition, a first in the world. It will be next in Bangalore in August, then on to Mumbai. Later, we would like this exhibition to travel to the United States, a country which has recently suffered from terrorism and is leading an unprecedented (and often lonely) war on global terrorism. The American people should understand what India has been going through in the last fifty years. Then on to England, the home of so many Indians, to France, the seat of the Unesco, and Switzerland, where the UN Human Rights commission sits.

François Gautier

Are we cows to be milked?

Are we cows to be milked?

December 01, 2003

Even though statistics show that tourists are coming to India in greater numbers in 2003, smaller countries such as Malaysia get double the amount of tourists, without speaking of China, where everybody is flocking to these days!

As usual, the Indian government is pointing a finger at European countries for putting India on the watch list after the twin blasts in Mumbai, instead of doing some real introspection at what is wrong with its policies and heavily taxing the tourism industry.

I often shuttle between Chennai and Delhi. A return ticket by Indian Airlines or Jet (which is more expensive) between these two cities costs more than Rs 22,000. For that price, I can fly from Paris to New York, which is triple the distance.

And that is economy only: it will cost you a whopping Rs 34,220 return fare for a business class ticket on Jet from Chennai to Delhi. If you have the misfortune to be a foreigner, you will have to pay 30% to 40% extra, depending on the dollar exchange rate, which means you will have to disburse Rs 42,000 for a business class return Chennai-Delhi. For that price you can fly to Europe and back in economy!

This is why, Jet, Indian Airlines, or Sahara, run only two or three flights a day each between New Delhi, the capital of a one billion people nation, and Chennai, a city of five millions souls and the gateway to the South. Even these two flights are not full, in spite of the apex fares.

The French have one flight every 15 minutes between Paris, the capital, and Nice, their gateway to the South. They are always full because all kinds of incentives are offered: return fares, discounts on weekends, off-season fares. You can even fly cheaper on airlines such as Easy Jet: £30 return London-Paris — hardly Rs 2,000!

A one way economy ticket from Chennai to Bangalore will cost you Rs 3,500 on Jet. Of course, Indian Airlines and Jet will tell you it is because they are taxed heavily by the government (fuel, airport charges, etc), but if Deccan Air can take off, it will prove it is the Nehruvian mentality of Indians which makes it difficult to innovate and offer better services to the customers.

The funniest thing is that there is sometimes a 15-day waiting list to travel by train from Chennai to Delhi (or the other way) in second class A/C sleeper, which costs a little over Rs 2,000 and takes 36 hours — that is when the train is not a few hours late or does not have an accident. If Indian Airlines or Jet had the intelligence to offer Chennai-Delhi tickets at Rs 3,000, regardless of the dates, people will gladly shell out another 1,000 bucks, just to avoid the 36-hour trip.

IA could easily fill up six Airbus-320 aircraft a day and make a handsome profit, instead of hiking up its prices four times in the last five years.

The price of a hotel room in a five-star hotel in the four big metropolises is never under $300 for a foreigner, that is nearly Rs 16,000 rupees. I stayed last month in the Warsaw Hyatt, brand new and offering much better amenities than many hotels in India: price $100 net. The Inter Continental in Hamburg, with a superb view on the lake: $200. The 35% so-called luxury taxes levied not only on the rooms, but also on food and drinks, makes for outrageous prices: it’s $300 + 35% taxes, without speaking of Rs 120 for a bottle of pesticide-laden mineral water!

A dinner in a five star hotel is as expensive as in Europe, although, even today, their continental food can’t even compare with a one star restaurant in a minor French town. The 5 star hotels groan and moan that these taxes are levied by the government (supposedly to take from the affluent and give money to the poor, although these levies never reach the needy of India), but why can’t they bear a share of the taxes, instead of slapping it on their hapless customers? After all many of these five star hotels are very old hotels and most of the profits go in their pockets — and not in paying for the loans incurred to buy land and build their hotels.

And what about Indians paying Rs 20 to see the Taj Mahal or at Hampi and foreigners being asked Rs 500? Are we cows to be milked? Does the Indian government think it is going to earn the goodwill of tourists and guarantee their return, when they are discriminated against?

Moreover, the hassles faced by foreigners in India are not only financial. Take visas for instance. In Sri Lanka, all foreigners are automatically handed a one month visa upon their landing at the airport. But not in India. One has to apply to sour faced, underpaid staffers at Indian embassies abroad — and forget about five year visas, even if you have been visiting India for 35 years.

Renewing your tourist visa can also be a nightmare, although one can buy them, I heard, in embassies of neighbouring countries, such as Nepal or Bangladesh.

What about banks? 30 years ago, it took half an hour to change $100 in the State Bank of India, Pondicherry. Today they may have computers, but it still takes half an hour! It is not only government banks, but also private banks. With the prize money of my Natchiketa award for journalism, I started a foundation against terrorism, FACT — Foundation Against Continuing Terrorism.

I was advised to bank with ICICI — and that was a big mistake, although ICICI advertises itself as a friendly customer bank.

It took four months to get a credit card, although there were more than Rs 10 lakhs in the account, I am an accredited journalist with the Government of India, married to an Indian, and a long term resident. Finally, I had to get someone to talk to one of the top directors of ICICI. So much for doing business in India if you are a foreigner. It is still a nightmare: you need an approval for each foreign donation prior to it being put in the bank and it takes one to two months to get it.

You can imagine what it means when many of my donations are of $100, sometimes $50 or $20. Also they turned down cheques made out to FACT, even though it is the name which appears on the letterhead of my Trust. They behaved worse than an Indian government bank.

It is high time the Indian government removes these archaic luxury taxes on hotels, relaxes rules for foreigners and lowers the taxes imposed upon airlines, if India really wants to attract the kind of tourism it deserves. Indian Airlines and Air-India have also to be privatised quickly, otherwise these two heavyweights will never allow fair competition.

For India is a great tourist country which lives for itself. What I mean, is that most other tourist countries put up folkloric and cultural shows, which have long disappeared from their own indigenous way of life, for the purpose of foreigners. In India, Pushkar is a real camel fair, the Meenakshi temple of Madurai is a genuine living temple, garba is still widely danced in Gujarat, Kalaripayat is practiced in Kerala’s villages.

Long live this wonderful, vibrant and unique India.

The author is a French journalist, who has lived for in India 35 years. He is the correspondent in South Asia for Ouest-France, France’s largest circulation newspaper and was awarded the Natchiketa prize of journalism by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Francois Gautier

‘I am shocked at Sonia’s insensitivity’

By François Gautier
Tuesday, 09 September , 2003,

during State Elections 2003

Last week I was in Bangalore where FACT (Forum Against Continuing Terrorism) was hosting an exhibition on the plight of the five lakh Kashmiri Pandits, who had to flee the valley of Kashmir under terror and death and have become refugees in their own country, an ethnic cleansing without parallel in the 20th century, which is totally ignored by the UN, the Amnesty International and the world.

On the same day that we opened our exhibition, Sonia Gandhi, on a whirlwind tour of some of the States where the forthcoming Assembly elections are to be held (Delhi, MP, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Mizoram), stopped over in Bangalore, capital of a State which is governed by her own party.

Now, most VVIPs, such as the President or the prime minister, choose to land late at night in Bangalore, so as not to put citizens at too much inconvenience. Not Sonia, she landed right in the middle of the day and left at the same time the next day, putting an entire city under stress, as the whole road from the airport to the Raj Bhavan had to be closed for nearly two hours.

It is not only ordinary citizens who suffered, but also western executives working in Bangalore – and there are many – or even top people such as the gentle and courteous Aziz Premji, Wipro’s boss. The loss in man hours and business must be counted in dozens of lakhs.

At the Raj Bhavan where she stayed, the security was unprecedented and even ministers had to submit themselves to humiliating frisking and wait for hours to have a brief glimpse of ‘Madam’.

I understand that there is an important security concern with Sonia Gandhi: after all her mother-in-law and her own husband were victims of terrorism – and what a terrible ordeal it must have been for her to go two times through this trauma – but I sometimes wonder: is she that marked a woman? And by whom? Islamic separatists? But her party is often allied with Muslims; Naxalites? Again Marxists in India see her as the ‘Great Saviour against the Common Enemy’; the LTTE? They are too busy negotiating with the Sinhalese and want to shed some of their reputation of terrorism… Who then?

But are not Mr Vajpayee, or Mr Advani, much more at risk? Hindus have more enemies in India than the Congress, who often unites politically with the Marxists, the Christians, and the Muslims to fight the BJP and dethrone it – at all costs, even sleeping with the enemy.

As a foreigner myself and a guest of India, I am a little shocked by Sonia’s insensitivity to Indians. Does she not realise that she owes her status today to the traditional tolerance and acceptance of others by the majority Hindus of this country? Even Mr Vajpayee treats her with a courtesy and a gentlemanliness that she will have a tough time to match if she comes to power. He even had the Bofors report quashed so as not to embarrass her!

Is it really necessary for her to constantly harp on ‘Hindu fundamentalism’, in a country where, whatever happened in Gujarat, Hindus have given refuge to all persecuted minorities in the world – the Christian Syrians, the Jews, the Parsis, the Armenians, the Tibetans today – while being terribly persecuted themselves, be it by the Portuguese or the Muslim invaders?

It would be impossible in a nation like France, to have a leader of the opposition and a possible PM, who is not of French origin – and not a Catholic at that. Even a fifth generation Jew will find it difficult today to become President of France (the topmost post).

I am also a little uneasy, when I see so many Congress leaders, some of them sensitive and highly intelligent, fawn over Sonia Gandhi as if she is the Mother Goddess and the Saviour of India.

What is going, for instance, in the head of Chief Minister Digvijay Singh, who is confident of making it the third time as Madhya Pradesh braces for the Assembly elections this November? Digvijay Singh, who practices meditation and pranayama, backtracked on cow slaughter to toe the party line of Sonia Gandhi, who does not want to offend her Muslim electorate. What are the reasons for Sonia’s hold on such intelligent people? I believe there are three, shakti, the traditional respect for women in Hindu Dharma, which allowed Indira Gandhi to rule this country for 20 years and even permeated to Islamic South Asian countries such as Pakistan or Bangladesh, who all had women PM; bhakti, the natural tendencies of Hindus to worship what they feel is above them – and which the Western Press mistakes for dynasty worship; and the false Aryan invasion theory, which is at the root of all Indian history books, including those who are used here.

What does the Aryan theory say? That most good things in India came from the West with an invasion of white-skinned people, supposedly originating from Ural: Sanskrit, the Vedas, Mathematics, astronomy, philosophy…

This theory has divided India as nothing else, pitting the South against the North, the Dravidians against the so-called Aryans. Yet, many recent archaeological and linguistic discoveries point out that there never was an Aryan invasion and even diehard proponents of that theory, such as Romila Thapar, are distancing themselves from it.

It is even quite possible that the Aryans, who originated in India, went westwards, as Zoroastrianism testifies. Yet the craving for the white skin remains, as Sonia Gandhi’s hold over Indians, rich and poor, inoffensive and mighty, educated and uneducated, seems to testify.

We wish Sonia Gandhi and her venerable party the best of luck for the next Assembly elections, hoping that her gains will be on the strength of her qualities alone, not of the colour of her skin.

(François Gautier is a French journalist and writer, who was for eight years the political correspondent in India and South Asia for ‘Le Figaro’ and now works for Ouest-France, the largest circulation daily (I million copies) in France and LCI, France’s 24 hour TV news channel. He has written several books prominent among them being ‘Arise O India’ and ‘A Western journalist on India’ and ‘India’s Self Denial.

Gautier will write exclusively for Sify.com on the run-up and during the State elections.