Category Archives: human rights

We have to learn to let live

We have to learn to let live
Monday May 19 2008 09:12 IST

Francois Gautier

IF you walk around Shanti Path in New Delhi, you can see long queues of Indians seeking visas, especially near the American, British and Canadian embassies.Well, I am one Westerner who is ready to queue at Indian embassies to seek, if need be on my knees, a visa to stay and live in this wonderful country which is called India.

Why? Because I believe that beyond the poverty, beyond the immense problems that India has encountered since independence, there is a knowledge here that has been lost to the rest of the world, a knowledge so precious that it makes India unique, a country where it is a great honour to live and work. What is this knowledge that I have encountered at every step since nearly 40 years, I a person of white origin?

First: “I accept you; I accept that you may be White or Black, Red or Yellow, Christian, Buddhist, or Muslim. I accept that God may manifest at different times, under different names, using different scriptures. That God is Krishna, but also Jesus Christ, Buddha or Allah.”

This is an extraordinary statement and a marvellous instrument for world peace at a time when terrorism is striking everywhere in the world in the name of One God.

It is also a Knowledge that only the body dies, but not the soul, which is born and reborn again till it achieves perfection.

A Knowledge that whatever you do has consequences in this life or another. A Knowledge that all human beings are made of Love, even beneath the hate and the killings.

This knowledge belongs not only to the Hindus but also to the Buddhists, the Jains, Christians and Muslims of India. Once upon a time, the Syrian Christians of Kerala, though faithful to the word of Jesus Christ, incorporated some of the basic tenets of Hinduism, such as reincarnation and karma. Once, Sufis such as Dara Shukoh, Shah Jahan’s eldest and preferred son (who should have become emperor instead of Aurangzeb), while remaining true Muslims, could translate the Upanishads and step into a temple without thinking they were committing a mortal sin.

I am thus horrified at what happened in Jaipur and has happened again and again in the last few years in different parts of India; how the Hindu community which has given India this incredible knowledge, which has accepted in its midst all ethnic groups, religions, refugees, Parsis, Jews, Armenians or Tibetans, is so cruelly targeted.

To kill children in a Hanuman temple, one of the gentlest Gods of Hinduism, is a crime that should be punished by immediate death. Yet I am perplexed at how little this present government does to fight terrorism. Every time there is a deadly blast, it seems to go through the same farce: the Centre condemns “this despicable act of terrorism”, appeals for communal harmony, gives some money to the family of victims so they keep quiet, and promptly buries the whole thing, never finding the terrorists.

Look in comparison at how quickly the perpetrators of the London train bombings were caught, or those of the Madrid train bombs, whereas those of the Mumbai train blasts are still free.

The other thing that baffles me is that this government, or the previous one for that matter, keeps accusing some “outside” countries, either Pakistan or Bangladesh, every time there is a terrorist attack.

But there is no way well-coordinated, well-timed criminal acts such as the one in Jaipur or the Mumbai train blasts can be planned, without not only local support, but also a bit of hatred against Hindus among some of the local Muslim population. Why do Indian Muslims not come out more openly to condemn these acts of terrorism? The impression, wrongly created, is that there is some support for these acts among Indian Muslims.

Yet nowhere but in India can communal harmony be achieved. For nowhere in the world is there a “something else” that unifies them beyond ethnic origin and religion. Take pranayama, the science of respiration, perfected by Indians over three millennia.

“Does the breath have any religion,” asks Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living movement. “Is the air we breathe around us, Muslim, Christian, or Hindu?” Indian Muslims have to keep their faith and the beauty of their practices and beliefs. But the question to be asked is: “What kind of Islam do you want to practise? An Islam that looks westwards and swears by a scripture meant for people living 1,500 years ago in a language that is not Indian? Or do they want to practice an Islam that accepts the reality of other Gods, and does not target children in Hanuman temples.

Do India Muslims want to worship Babar, a man who lived by the power of violence, or do they want to imbibe the qualities of Ram, who gave up all riches and honours because he thought his brother deserved the throne more than him?

Do Indian Muslims want to participate in this great adventure that is India of the 21st century? Do they want to feel that they are part of India, proud to be Indian?

The author, who is the editor-in-chief of the Paris-based La Revue de l’Inde, can be contacted at

Religion of man

Religion of man

Author: Francois Gautier
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: December 25, 2002

Famous French writer and politician Andre Malraux once said that “unless the 21st century is spiritual, then it will not be”. What he meant was that the world has now come to such a stage of unhappiness, of stress, of natural resources wastage, of religious and ethnic conflicts, that it seems doomed – ecologically, politically and socially. So unless the 21st century allows a new spiritual order to take over – not a religious order, mind you (because religion has often proved too narrow and dogmatic) – then we are all going towards self-destruction, Pralaya. And the September 11, 2001, tragedy has reminded us that time is pressing and that we are desperately and badly in need of spiritual regeneration.

As the founder of the Art of Living Movement, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, says: “I see a crisis facing the world today. It is fundamentally one of identification. People identify themselves with limited characteristics such as gender, race, religion and nationality, forgetting their basic identity as part of the universal spirit. These limited identifications lead to conflict. There are wars happening throughout the world today in the name of religion.”

What is the solution, then? I will quote again Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: “Every individual is much more than the sum of these limited identifications. The highest identification we can make is that we are part of Divinity, and second to that, we are human beings and members of the human family. In divine creation, the whole of the human race is united. Along with this proper identification of ourselves, the right vision of who we really are, we need to return to the values that are the essence of all major traditions. These shared values need to be reintroduced in society today.”

What the world needs today is to find a third way, which is neither of capitalism, nor of communism. Communism has long collapsed all over the world. China pays only lip service to it and it is only in India, Kerala, or Bengal, that we see leaders and intellectuals believing in its virtues. Capitalism is not the answer to all the world’s woes that the Americans think; with it comes a lot of inequality, selfishness, a disregard for the poorer sections of society and the forgetfulness of true spiritual values. It also engenders avarice and greed. No, what we are looking for now is a something we could call a “spiritualised socialism”, as envisioned by India’s revolutionary poet, philosopher and yogi, Sri Aurobindo.

A Hindu temple, a Christian church or a Muslim mosque, have no meaning unless they also act as social centres, helping the poor, giving away money, houses, imparting education and hygiene. Indeed the Art of Living foundation does just that with its volunteers going in thousands of villages all over the world and selflessly bringing Hygiene, Housing, Harmony and Human values. It is true that there are countless NGOs doing the same job wherever there is poverty and conflicts, but unless they pass on along with their material help some spiritual values, they are failing in their task.

How can the people of India contribute to this wonderful goal of spiritual regeneration and shared human values? Indians have always recognised unity in diversity through the concept of the avatar: God manifests himself at different times, in different countries and places , under so many different names.

Thus, they have always granted everybody the right to worship God under any form.

This is a very precious spiritual – not religious – knowledge, and which, even the most humble Hindu peasant spontaneously practices. Indeed, a recent report by the UNESCO pointed out that out of the 128 countries where Jews lived up to 1948, in only one country, India, they were not persecuted!

What India has therefore gifted to the world is not a religion but a living spirituality, of which we can even distinguish certain forms in the West at present: Hatha-yoga, copied and imitated by thousands of gymnastic and aerobic movements; meditation practiced by millions of Americans and Europeans, many of them Christians; or pranayama, which is taught by the Art of Living Foundation and can be practiced by anybody, whatever their nationality and religion. Indeed, for the past two decades, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has transformed the lives of millions of people around the globe with his Basic Course, a combination of simple yet extremely powerful breathing and relaxation techniques, that eliminate stress, handle negative emotions, improve health and help ordinary folks to enjoy life to its fullest.

But we can do much more than that: Let us all move away from political or religious ideologies to show our support for the revival of human values such as honoring one’s own traditions while respecting diversity, compassion, non-violence and honoring the wisdom of age-old traditions. Let us also move away from the rites and rituals of religions.

As Sri Sri Ravi Shankar again says: “Religion has three aspects – value, ritual and symbol. The moral and spiritual values are common to all traditions. The symbols and practices, those rituals and customs that form a way of life within a religion, are what distinguish one tradition from another and give each their charm. The symbols and practices are like the banana skin, and the spiritual values – the quest for truth and knowing deep within us that we are part of divinity – are the banana. People in every tradition have thrown away the banana and are holding on to the skin.”

May the 21st century herald then a new era in humanity, an era of accepting each other and understanding one another’s culture. May the spiritual regeneration of the world begin now. Let India show the way, by throwing away the banana skin and holding on to the banana only.

(Francois Gautier on India and the spiritual regeneration of the world)

Hinduism is India

Hinduism is India
Author: Francois Gautier
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: April 17, 2002
Since the Gujarat riots, it looks as if a battle between two radically different Indias is happening right now, under our own eyes; and the outcome of this battle will decide what kind of India we will have in the 21st century. India’s human rights groups, many of India’s finest intellectuals, the communists, the Congress, many politicians – in fact a major chunk of India’s elite population – assert in the strongest terms that on one side you find an India which is communal, mistreats, or even kills minorities; tries to impose its majority feelings and way of life on the others and is generally attempting to create a Hindu state; on the other, they continue, you have the secular and democratic forces of this country, the journalists, activists, catholic priests, Muslim liberals, who truly believe that circumstances have come to such a boil after the Ayodhya episode and the Gujarat massacre, that India has to be saved from Hindu fundamentalists for its own good.

This is on the surface, because history shows us that what appears as truthful, is often false and misleading and what popular opinion holds as false is time and again the truth, which is attacked by dark forces by decrying it, denying it, or belittling it. Thus, if you examine closely the theory of the good secular Muslim/ Christian/Marxist, versus the bad/dangerous/ fundamentalist Hindu, you are bound to come-up against several deep contradictions. First, historically, Hindus have been the least fundamentalist people in the world: Never trying to impose their creed upon others by the power of the sword, like Christianity or Islam, or even by the non-violent means of preaching, like Buddhism. Hinduism has also proved over the ages its infinite tolerance towards other religions, giving refuge to all persecuted minorities in the world, whether Parsis, Syrian Christians, Jews, or Tibetans today.

Second, Hindus have been particularly targeted in the last 15 centuries: Louis Frederick, one of France’s most respected, balanced and respected historian, called the Muslim invasions of India “cataclysmic”. Indeed, these invasions have left a deep scar of fear in the Hindu psyche and most of India’s modern problems – Ayodhya, Kashmir, or the dangerous enmity with Pakistan – are a left-over from these murderous assaults on Hinduism. Moreover, Hindus in India are not only an object of mistrust and contempt from many, but they are also chased from their own ancestral lands. There were one million of them in Kashmir in 1900, and 300,000 in 1947 – but only a few hundred today. Hindus have become refugees in their own land. In Assam, Tripura, or Nagaland, Hindus are being outnumbered by Bangladeshi illegal immigrants and terrorised by pro-Christian separatist groups, such as the Bodos or the Mizos, while local governments often turn a blind eye. Hindus are killed and raped in Bangla desh, were persecuted under the Taliban and are treated as second class in Pakistan.

It is true that the secular voices in India are often sincere, talented people who really want to preserve their country against the forces of communalism. One cannot fault a Shabana Azmi, an Arundhati Roy, a Medha Patkar, or eminent journalists like Dilip Padgaonkar with frivolity. These are people who are already famous or rich enough not to have to hog the limelight. They believe that they are putting their fame, or their pen, at the service of true secularism. But then, they have to ask themselves the question how it is that they have the freedom to criticize and to write whatever they please. In China, a country which many of them admire, they would already be in jail or thrown out of the country; in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, they might even get killed. It is time that India’s intellectual elite realised how much they owe to Hinduism, both in terms of the ethos of tolerance in this country, its immense culture, and its spirituality

It is also true that one has witnessed in the past few months a sudden hardening of the secular forces against Hinduism. Not only in India, but abroad; not only with Indian journalists, but also amongst the Western correspondents. In France, for example, all the major newspapers have carried again and again particularly nasty stories against Hindus. Recently, one of the leading French newspapers asked General Musharraf this pointed question: “Why does the world protest against the killings of the Palestinians by the Israelis, but stays silent when thousands of Muslims are killed in India?” And this gave Musharraf his golden cue: “It is not only Muslims who are targeted in India he answered, but also Sikhs and Christians…India pretends to be the biggest democracy in the world, but it is only a bluff…”

Why this sudden hardening against what the secular forces like to call “Hindu fundamentalism”? Throughout their history, Hindus have had numerous enemies: Arabs, British, Portuguese, and today Marxists, Muslims and Christians seem to have united against the common enemy. All of them, today and yesterday, felt that Hinduism was the only stumbling block to a wholly Islamised India, or a wholly Christianised India, or a wholly Marxist India. And indeed they were right: It is because of Hinduism that for seven centuries India endured bloody after bloody invasions and still remained Hindu in its majority; it is because of Hinduism that India was never fully Christianised, as so many countries colonised by the British, the Portuguese or the French were; it is because of Hindus that Marx could never get a real foothold throughout India: It is because of Hindus that westernisation, the civilisation of Coca Cola, MTV and MacDonald, is having a tougher time in India than it has had elsew here in Asia or the developing world.

And, ultimately, India has to decide: Does it want to lose its soul at the hands of the secularists and become a country like dozens of others in the developing world: Westernised, globalised, christianised, standardised? Or does it want to remain unique, special, different, with a remarkable culture which has survived centuries of invasions and colonisation? It is thanks to this uniqueness that a Hindu is different from anybody in the world, or even that an Indian Muslim is different from a Saudi Muslim, or an Indian Christian different from a European Christian. Yes, there is truly a battle between two Indias at the moment; but it is not the secular versus the communal, or the good Muslim versus the fanatical Hindu. It is a battle between a spiritualised India and de-spiritualised, devitalised, dehumanised India.

The truth is: If India loses its dharma at the hands of India’s enemies, there will disappear the only real spirituality left in the world. Once upon a time, true spirituality, which is the antithesis of religion, roamed the wide world: From Egypt to Mesopotamia, from China, to Greece. But today, the world is peopled by intolerant religions that still decree that their God is the only true one. Christianity is willing to put up millions of dollars of “charity ” money to convert thousands of innocent tribals in the North-East of India, thereby cutting them from their roots and culture; Islam has men and women, who in good faith (look at the beautiful and innocent faces of some of the Palestinian women suicide bombers) are willing to kill and get killed to impose Allah’s ways on an erring world. If we continue in this manner, we are going towards self-destruction, pralaya. I can only finish by quoting what the Mother of Pondicherry once said: “India must be saved for the good of the world, since India alone can lead the world to peace and a new world order.”

(Francois Gautier’s column shall appear as ‘The French Connection’ every alternate Wednesday)

Where’s India’s holocaust museum? – Francois Gautier

Where’s India’s holocaust museum? – Francois Gautier

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December 26, 2006

It has not been done with a spirit of revenge look at Israel and Germany today they are on the best of terms; yet, facts are facts and contemporary Germany had to come to terms with its terrible actions during World War II.

Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists have also suffered a terrible holocaust, probably without parallel in human history. Take the Hindu Kush for instance, probably one of the biggest genocides of Hindus. There is practically no serious research ever done about it and no mention in history books. Yet the name Hindu Kush appears many times in the writings of Muslim chroniclers in 1333 AD

Ibn Battutah, the medieval Berber traveller, said the name meant ‘Hindu Killer,’ a meaning still given by Afghan mountain dwellers. Unlike the Jewish holocaust, the exact toll of the Hindu genocide suggested by the name Hindu Kush is not available. ‘However,’ writes Hindu Kush specialist Srinandan Vyas, ‘the number is easily likely to be in millions.’

A few known historical figures can be used to justify this estimate. The Encyclopaedia Britannica recalls that in December 1398 AD, Taimurlane ordered the execution of at least 50,000 captives before the battle for Delhi; likewise, the number of captives butchered by Taimurlane’s army was about 100,000.

The Britannica again mentions that Mughal emperor Akbar ordered the massacre of about 30,000 captured Rajput Hindus on February 24, 1568 AD, after the battle for Chitod, a number confirmed by Abul Fazl, Akbar’s court historian. Afghan historian Khondamir notes that during one of the many repeated invasions on the city of Herat in western Afghanistan, which used to be part of the Hindu Shahiya kingdoms ‘1,500,000 residents perished.’ ‘Thus,’ writes Vyas, ‘it is evident that the mountain range was named as Hindu Kush as a reminder to the future Hindu generations of the slaughter and slavery of Hindus during the Moslem conquests.’

Or take the recent plight of the Kashmiri Pandits. Over 400,000 Kashmiri Pandits have been forced to flee their homeland. Many Pandit men, women and children have been brutally murdered. About 70,000 still 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? Burning books, looting culture is a very important part of the plan as we have seen during early Muslim invasions, where Buddhist centres of learning were ruthlessly burnt and razed to the ground.

Kashmir was also the crucible of knowledge, spirituality, a hallowed centre of learning and the cradle of Shivaism. It was known as Sharda Peeth, the abode of learning. Kashmiri Pandits excelled in philosophy, aesthetics, poetics, sculpture, architecture, mathematics, astronomy and astrology. Sanskrit was studied, propagated and spoken by women and men. Scholars like Kalhan, Jonraj, Srivar, Abhinavgupta, Somanand, Utpaldev, Somdev and Kshemendra created 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.

As a correspondent covering India for more than 20 years, I have witnessed the terrible damage terrorism in Kashmir has inflicted upon people’s lives, their families, their culture, the very fabric of society, not only of the Kashmiri Pandits, but also Muslims in the valley, who after all, are 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, which opened at the Habitat Centre, New Delhi, on July 18, was a great success. More than 25,000 people visited the exhibition till its closing day, on July 23. Among them were Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani, Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission Justice A S Anand, Rajya Sabha MP Dr Karan Singh, Union Minister Murli Manohar Joshi… It was covered by most English and Hindi national newspapers and reported on the television channels.

Our aim is manifold: we would like to take the present exhibition all around India and all over the world, particularly the United States, where most symposiums on Kashmir, including some organized by the US State Department, are peopled mostly by Pakistanis, Muslims and US-based Indians who are anti-Hindu.

We would also like to start another exhibition on forced Christian conversions in the Northeast. Ultimately, we would like to build a Hindu/ Sikh/Buddhist Indian Holocaust Museum based in New Delhi, or in Bangalore. It will record not only the genocide of Hindus Sikhs and Buddhists at the hands of Muslim invaders, but also the terrible persecution of the Portuguese (hardly mentioned in Indian history books) and British nobody knows for instance that 20 million Indians died of famine between 1815 and 1920, because the English broke the agricultural backbone of India to get raw materials like cotton, jute etc. We need your support for this Indian Holocaust Museum.