Category Archives: Foundation Against Continuing Terrorism

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.

Who cares for the Pandits?

Author: Francois Gautier

Publication: Rediff on Net
Date: July 30, 2004
URL: http://us.rediff.com/news/2004/jul/30franc.htm

Fact, the Foundation Against Continuing Terrorism, was fortunate — thanks to the efforts of

Sunil Bakshi, director of the Indo-European Kashmir Forum — to have organised an exhibition and screened a film on the plight of Kashmiri Hindus called ‘Terrorism Unleashed’ at one of the most prestigious venues in London, the Commonwealth Club, Northumberland Avenue, just off Trafalgar Square.

Pyara S Khabra, a British MP, inaugurated the exhibition. He highlighted the forced exile of Kashmiri Hindus from their homeland due to the continued threat of terrorism and said the Indian government must create a safe haven in Kashmir for the return of Kashmiri Hindus. Pledging his support to Kashmiri Hindus, he assured all present that he would highlight the plight of Kashmiri Hindus in the House of Commons, the British parliament.

Earlier, the exhibition was also held at Brent Town hall, Wembley, on June 27, and at the Clyde hall, Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre, Glasgow three days earlier.

Unfortunately, in spite of a good crowd, the results were not up to expectations.

First, where were the 200,000 Hindus from London and the 700,000 who live in the UK? As usual, most Hindus abroad only look after themselves, giving their children a thorough Western education and ensuring thus that they are lost forever to India. I even saw an Indian man turn his heels as soon as he saw it was something on terrorism and another woman tell me: “Don’t you think it is RSS and BJP?”

We also witnessed firsthand the basic hostility of Amnesty International to the plight of Kashmiri Pandits. Sunil Bakshi had repeatedly sent invitations to them three weeks before the exhibition. I personally called the head of Kashmir at Amnesty International several times as well as Ingrid Massage, the director, Asia & Pacific Program of Amnesty. First she told us they only reported on first hand facts, I replied these were photographs and statistics which nobody could dispute. Finally, after ten phone calls, she said she had too many files on her desk and that she had no time to come, although the exhibtion was a few blocks from her office. So much for Amnesty’s sense of justice.

I personally had a lot of hope in the British press. I thought if they saw the photographs showing innocent Kashmiri Pandits’ children being mercilessly butchered; the beautiful film made by filmmaker Ashok Pandit (who just released Sheen) on the tragic story of a harmless community which through terror have become refugees in their own land; the statistics which nobody can deny: 1 million Kashmiri Hindus in 1900 in the Kashmir valley and barely a few hundreds today; more than 1,200 Hindu temples destroyed — they would be moved. I was sadly mistaken.

One of the few journalists who cared to come to the exhibition was Michael Binyon, lead writer for the prestigious London Times. Michael saw the exhibition and sat during the film without saying a word. At the end he had this to say: “It is very crude, it is not made for the British public, it sounds too much like propaganda.”

I was shattered: here was an intelligent, upper class Britisher who occupies a senior position in the most venerable of British newspapers and he reacts like that! I also understood the spirit put by a few people in institutions such as the Times endure long after these people are dead and that decades later, journalists like Michael Binyon repeat like parrots what their ancestors whisper in their ears.

Michael’s utterances were so colonialist in their essence, so superior minded in their content, that he should have seen it himself, although they were uttered in a very civil manner.

I replied the poor Kashmiri Pandits had never carried a gun in their hands and had to flee the valley like so many sacrificial lambs. But it made no difference to the Times of London or Amnesty International.

Yet, the Pakistani and Kashmiri Muslim community in London, whose religious brothers butcher entire Hindu villages, blow up buses transporting families of Indian soldiers going on leave, get a much more sympathetic hearing from The Times and Amnesty. What a world!

I understood also that in the West, journalists don’t go by facts, do not substantiate their writings by on the ground reporting and search for truth beyond preconceived ideas. No, they go by the politically correct, by what is said at the moment, or what is in fashion in Leftist and intellectual circles. This is not true journalism, this is the worst kind of conceited journalism.

The sad thing is that journalists in turn influence the public at large, so that many of my friends in Europe — good, sincere people — repeat with great conviction things which they do not understand and which are not based on facts: “Hindus are fundamentalists.”

In the end you are left with the realisation that nobody cares about the Kashmiri Pandits, neither abroad nor in India. They are too small a community to constitute a voting bank. They also don’t make their voices heard: they don’t blow up buses full of innocent civilians and don’t fire Kalashnikovs at crowds and, of course, they themselves are a disunited lot and except for a few beings like Sunil Bakshi or Ashok Pandit, nobody sticks his or her neck out.

There remains then a feeling of sadness, of a world upside down, where what sells by millions is Bill Clinton’s memoir which has no interest except his affair with Monica Lewinsky, where the politically correct, the shallow and untrue has the upper hand, and where the voices of the truly downtrodden are not heard. It is a world where those who shout that unless we start accepting each other, unless Islam starts reforming itself and stops killing innocent people in the name of one true God, we are going towards catastrophe, are labelled as dangerous radicals, pro-Hindu and anti- Muslim.

Nevertheless we are continuing our fight. We have the blessings of great souls like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar who inaugurated the exhibition in Glasgow. Many Indians are also giving us their support. Ultimately, truth has to triumph.

Sooner, or later, too, the world will realise that India is a great, liberal, pro-Western nation, its best bet in Asia — not China, which is neither democratic nor liberal nor pro-Western.

It will also realise that the greatness of India lies in greater part in its Hindu ethos, the belief that God manifests Himself at different periods of history through different names. India has to become the spiritual leader of the world, as Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo and today Sri Sri Ravi Shankar prophetised.

The truth about Aurangzeb

The truth about Aurangzeb

Author: Francois Gautier
Publication: Rediff.com
Date: February 16, 2007
URL: http://www.rediff.com/news/2007/feb/16francois.htm

Fact, the Trust which I head, is holding an exhibition on ‘Aurangzeb as he was according to Mughal documents’, from February 16 to 20 at New Delhi’s Habitat Center, the Palm Court Gallery, from 10 am to 9 pm.

Why an exhibition on Aurangzeb, some may ask. Firstly, I have been a close student of Indian history, and one of its most controversial figures has been Aurangzeb (1658-1707). It is true that under him the Mughal empire reached its zenith, but Aurangzeb was also a very cruel ruler some might even say monstrous.

What are the facts? Aurangzeb did not just build an isolated mosque on a destroyed temple, he ordered all temples destroyed, among them the Kashi Vishwanath temple, one of the most sacred places of Hinduism, and had mosques built on a number of cleared temple sites. Other Hindu sacred places within his reach equally suffered destruction, with mosques built on them. A few examples: 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. The number of temples destroyed by Aurangzeb is counted in four, if not five figures. Aurangzeb did not stop at destroying temples, their users were also wiped out; even his own brother Dara Shikoh was executed for taking an interest in Hindu religion; Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded because he objected to Aurangzeb’s forced conversions.

Yet, Percival Spear, co-author with Romila Thapar of the prestigious A History of India (Penguin), writes: ‘Aurangzeb’s supposed intolerance is little more than a hostile legend based on isolated acts such as the erection of a mosque on a temple site in Benares.’ L’histoire de l’Inde moderne (Fayard), the French equivalent of Percival Spear’s history of India, praises Aurangzeb and says, ‘He has been maligned by Hindu fundamentalists’. Even Indian politicians are ignorant of Aurangzeb’s evil deeds. Nehru might have known about them, but for his own reasons he chose to keep quiet and instructed his historians to downplay Aurangzeb’s destructive drive and instead praise him as a benefactor of arts.

Since then six generations of Marxist historians have done the same and betrayed their allegiance to truth. Very few people know for instance that Aurangzeb banned any kind of music and that painters had to flee his wrath and take refuge with some of Rajasthan’s friendly maharajahs.

Thus, we thought we should get at the root of the matter. History (like journalism) is about documentation and first-hand experience. We decided to show Aurangzeb according to his own documents. There are an incredible number of farhans, original edicts of Aurangzeb hand-written in Persian, in India’s museums, particularly in Rajasthan, such as the Bikaner archives. It was not always easy to scan them, we encountered resistance, sometimes downright hostility and we had to go once to the chief minister to get permission. Indeed, the director of Bikaner archives told us that in 50 years we were the first ones asking for the farhans dealing with Aurangzeb’s destructive deeds. Then we asked painters from Rajasthan to reproduce in the ancient Mughal style some of the edicts: the destruction of Somnath temple; the trampling of Hindus protesting jaziya tax by Aurangzeb’s elephants; or the order from Aurangzeb prohibiting Hindus to ride horses and palanquins; or the beheading of Teg Bahadur and Dara Shikoh.

People might say: ‘OK, this is all true, Aurangzeb was indeed a monster, but why rake up the past, when we have tensions between Muslims and Hindus today?’ There are two reasons for this exhibition. The first is that no nation can move forward unless its children are taught to look squarely at their own history, the good and the bad, the evil and the pure. The French, for instance, have many dark periods in their history, more recently some of the deeds they did during colonisation in North Africa or how they collaborated with the Nazis during the Second World War and handed over French Jews who died in concentration camps (the French are only now coming to terms with it).

The argument that looking at one’s history will pit a community against the other does not hold either: French Catholics and Protestants, who share a very similar religion, fought each other bitterly. Catholics brutally murdered thousands of Protestants in the 18th century; yet today they live peacefully next to each other. France fought three wars with Germany in the last 150 years, yet they are great friends today.

Let Hindus and Muslims then come to terms with what happened under Aurangzeb, because Muslims suffered as much as Hindus. It was not only Shah Jahan or Dara Shikoh who were murdered, but also the forefathers of today’s Indian Muslims who have been converted at 90 per cent. Aurangzeb was the Hitler, the asura of medieval India. No street is named after Hitler in the West, yet in New Delhi we have Aurangzeb Road, a constant reminder of the horrors Aurangzeb perpetrated against Indians, including his own people.

Finally, Aurangzeb is very relevant today because he thought that Sunni Islam was the purest form of his religion and he sought to impose it with ruthless efficiency — even against those of his own faith, such as his brother. Aurangzeb clamped down on the more syncretic, more tolerant Islam, of the Sufi kind, which then existed in India. But he did not fully succeed. Four centuries later, is he going to have the last word? I remember, when I started covering Kashmir in the late ’70s, that Islam had a much more open face. The Kashmir Muslim, who is also a descendant of converted Hindus, might have thought that Allah was the only true God, but he accepted his Kashmiri Pandit neighbour, went to his or her marriage, ate in his or her house and the Hindu in turn went to the mosque. Women used to walk with open faces, watch TV, films.

Then the shadow of Aurangzeb fell on Kashmir and the hardline Sunnis came from Pakistan and Afghanistan: cinemas were banned, the burqa imposed, 400,000 Kashmiri Pandits were chased out of Kashmir through violence and became refugees in their own land and the last Sufi shrine of Sharar-e-Sharif was burnt to the ground (I was there). Today the Shariat has been voted in Kashmir, a state of democratic, secular India, UP’s Muslims have applauded, and the entire Indian media which went up in flames when the government wanted Vande Mataram to be sung, kept quiet. The spirit of Aurangzeb seems to triumph.

But what we need today in India — and indeed in the world — is a Dara Shikoh, who reintroduces an Islam which, while believing in the supremacy of its Prophet, not only accepts other faiths, but is also able to see the good in each religion, study them, maybe create a synthesis. Islam needs to adapt its scriptures which were created nearly 15 centuries ago for the people and customs of these times, but which are not necessarily relevant in some of their injunctions today. Kabir, Dara Shikoh and some of the Sufi saints attempted this task, but failed. Aurangzeb knew what he was doing when he had his own brother beheaded. And we know what we are saying when we say that this exhibition is very relevant to today’s India.

May the Spirit of Dara Shikoh come back to India and bring back Islam to a more tolerant human face.

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.

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.