Category Archives: fundamentalism

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

Waking up the Kumbhkaran

Author: Francois Gautier

Publication: http://www.india.com
Date: November 6, 2000

I HAVE had the privilege to live for more than 30 years in India.

To my knowledge, only two foreign journalists have stayed so long in this country: Mark Tully, who as you know was for long the South Asia BBC correspondent and myself.

It has long been my opinion that India is very difficult country to grasp for a foreign correspondent, as it is so different from the West, full of contradictions, paradoxes, baffling parameters, etc. Going from Delhi to Madras, for instance, is like flying from Paris to Athens, because there is absolutely no comparison between the two, as if you have passed from one continent to another. Thus, for a Westerner, say from Europe, where all the countries share more or less the same religion (Christianity), more or less the same ethnic origins (Caucasian), more or less the same food habits (meat) and more or less the same dress code (ties and dresses), India can be a very enigmatic country.

Disinformation about India by the intellectual media
Yet, not only do we find that Western correspondents are generally posted only for three, maximum five years in India – too short a time to really start getting the ABC of the subcontinent; but also, that most of them have – before even reaching India – very strong and biased ideas, prejudices, misconceptions, on the country they are supposed to report about in an impartial and fair manner.

Forget the fact that by the time they leave India, these foreign correspondents have even been more reinforced in their prejudices: the Hindu “fundamentalists”, the “persecuted” minorities of India, the “Human Rights” abuses performed in Kashmir by the Indian Army, plus the usual folkloric the stories about India: the “dashing” maharajas (who are absolutely irrelevant to modern India), the “atrocities” on Indian women (no country in the world as India has given such an important place to its women), or the “horrible” sati and bride burning (an old British trick to show Hindus in a bad light).

I was lucky. First I came to India when I was very young (19), with hardly any prejudices, because I had never really thought about India; I was also immensely fortunate to have spent my first eight formative years in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram of Pondichery, where I met the Mother, a formidable Presence and read at length Sri Aurobindo, India’s modern Avatar, Revolutionary, (the first Congress leader to have advocated India’s Independence, if necessary by force), immense Poet, Philosopher and Yogi (yet totally ignored by today’s Indian youth); I was also extremely lucky that when I started journalism in the early 80s, I did freelancing assignments in rural areas, particularly in the South: Kerala’s extraordinary Kalaripayat, the ancestor of all great Asian martial arts; the beautiful Ayyappa pilgrimage, also in the jungles of Kerala; the Ayanar sculptures in the villages of Tamil Nadu.

And this led to my most important discovery, which endured to this day (and I believe Mark Tully came to the same conclusions – read his books): namely that the genius of India was (and still is) in its villages – and not in the cities — where an arrogant intelligentsia and a more and more westernized youth, have less and less idea about their roots and culture.

Even so, it took me ten years to feel that I was beginning to understand India and to discard the ideas I had somehow picked-up along the way: that the Congress was the best party to lead India out of communalism; that secularism was the best option for the country, given its incredible ethnic and religious diversity; or that the RSS, the VHP and other Hindu groups were “violent” and dangerous. On a more positive note, it also took me ten years to understand what a wonderful culture and civilization Hindu India had been — and still is in some way: how Hinduism never tried to use the might of its armies, as Islam and Christianity did, to convert other nations; how Hindus always recognized the divinity of other religions and never shied from also worshipping in Buddhist temples, Christian churches, or Muslim mosques; how India, since time immemorial, has been the land of refuge for all persecuted minorities of the world: the Jews, the Parsis, the Syrian Christians, or today’s Tibetans.

Only Marxists find fundamentalism in Hindus
It took me ten years to see, that far from being the fundamentalists described by the British and today’s Indian Marxists, Hindus have been at the receiving end of persecution for 1,600 years: first wave upon wave of Muslim invasions, which tried, in the most ruthless and horrifying manner, to wipe-off Hinduism from the face of the earth; then the more insidious European colonisation – but no less harmful – witness the Portuguese who crucified countless Brahmins in Goa, or the British under whose “enlightened” rule 30-million Indians died of famine. And it is not finished: today’s Hindus are still killed in Kashmir, in Bangladesh (see Taslima Nasreen’s book Lajja), Pakistan or Afghanistan.

It also took me a long time to understand that Indians are sometimes their worst enemies: Indian journalists have often taken-up like parrots the slogans coined by the British to divide India and belittle its civilisation; Nehru blindly adopted most of the set-up left behind by the English, without bothering to borrow from India’s ancient genius and, as a result, India’s constitutional, judicial or educational system is totally non-Indian and only produces western clones.