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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

Cricket the vampire

Cricket the vampire

Forget about the cricket scam! If the Indian government would legalise betting, not only might it lessen scams, but the state would also reap huge profits. Most of the black money, cheating, smuggling, etc, happening in India is triggered by obsolete laws enacted by Nehru, which were meant to tax the rich to benefit the poor, but which in the end made the rich richer (with black money) and the poor poorer (with white money).

If only this present government would understand that it has huge popular support to make changes — forget what the secular press says — it could take bold decisions in liberalising, privatising and above all trusting the people of India. This would help the country make giant strides forward.

The government should also press forward in cuts of subsidies, also a legacy of Nehru. The present drought, for instance, is partly a result of water mismanagement, such as the farmers pumping for 24 hours without a thought for the water table, because water and electricity are free. Of course, the NDA’s allies will scream, for demagogic purposes, but they should understand that the BJP government will be in power for decades to come — with or without them. It may be because India’s time has come; or it could very well be that India’s time has come because the BJP government is in power.

But to come back to cricket, think of it thus: here is a game which is a colonial legacy of the British. It is meant to be played in cool weather on green meadows with a few spectators who shout “jolly good” from time to time, while sipping lemonade. It is not a game for a tropical country, where you have to stand for hours under a blistering sun in trousers, while frenzied fans scream their approval — or displeasure.

It is true that cricket has its beauty and that it can become engrossing once you have penetrated its subtleties. But it has become an obsession in India and has created a nation of overweight “armchair” sportsmen, who think only about cricket while neglecting their own body. Above all, cricket has totally vampirised all other sports.

There is so much (black) money in cricket that sponsors, TV networks and even the government have concentrated only on that game. The truth is that India is nowhere internationally in sport and its standard is pathetic, if not downright ridiculous, in all games, except for two more British legacies: tennis and hockey.

But look at China which in a span of 30 years has become a sports superpower in all disciplines, including nontraditional ones like swimming. Why can’t India, which gave to the world hata-yoga, which has been copied all over the West, or even pranayama, which is now spreading like wildfire, thanks to the Bangalore-based Art of Living, have a coherent and comprehensive programme which would build world-class athletes in two decades? Because of cricket!

The Indian government should restrict the number of international matches played by its cricketers both within and outside India. This will ensure automatically that cricketers get less sponsorship and have to concentrate on home turf.

The government should also evolve a bold and clear plan for developing all sports, trying as much as possible to bypass bureaucracy who stifle and kill all good plans (it would maybe make sense to privatise some of the areas such as training).

Then only will India become a sports superpower. It has the manpower, it has talent, it has brains; it could even apply its ancient knowledge of hata-yoga and pranayama to training and produce supermen, who would not use anabolics like the Chinese are rumoured to do.

P.S: A reporter from Outlook was asking `apropos’ the controversy of the Indian president’s visit to France: “How is it that the French press behaved in such a disrespectful way during his visit, when there is such a strong tradition of French academic interest in India — people like Christophe Jaffrelot or Sanjay Subrahmanyam, for instance?” The answer is: the French press behaved in the way it did with the president because of people like Jaffrelot and Subrahmanyam.

These “India specialists” in France are continuously highlighting, in the articles they write for respected newspapers such as Le Monde or in history books on the subcontinent, untouchability in India, or how this country is still caste-ridden, or the rise of Hindu fundamentalism, or how the Muslims and Christians are persecuted in India … Very rarely do they bother to mention that this country has an unparalleled history of tolerance, having given — and still giving (to the Tibetans, for instance) — refuge to all persecuted minorities of the world; that it is the Hindus who actually have been at the receiving end of persecution for 10 centuries; or that India is a unique democracy in the world, given its difficult diversity, a rampart of pro-westernism and a bulwark against the Islamisation of Asia. It is thus strange that when Jaffrelot comes to India to release his Hindu Nationalism which has greatly contributed to India’s wrong image in France, he is feted by most of the Indian press.

The billion is not quite Indian

The billion is not quite Indian

Officially India’s population crossed the one-billion mark last week, although some UN agency had unilaterally declared that this landmark was reached last August, so that it could conveniently coincide with India’s Independence Day.

The story was first taken up by êiThe New York Timesêr and the whole of the foreign correspondents corps followed suit. All the major European newspapers did full-page stories on how India, already poor and afflicted with debilitating problems (corruption, or the ubiquitous caste system the French love to talk about) had even more mouths to feed. The usual negative and condescending talk about India which sells so well abroad.

All the reasons have been paraded, then and now: the failure of India’s successive family programme, the inertia of the bureaucracy, the backwardness of its people, the underprivileged condition of women in India (although Indian women have known, in ancient Hindu India, much more freedom than their sisters in medieval Europe or Islam). But not a single newspaper, whether foreign, or Indian, bothered to mention that one of the reasons India crossed so quickly the billion mark is that there is, according to official (but secret) records (compiled by governments which were non-BJP), at least 18 million (1.8 crore) Bangladeshis in India today! Most of them are illegal migrants, but many of them have acquired fake papers through devious means — and sometimes even with the connivance of the local administration like in West Bengal.

Did you know that India shares 4096 km of border with Bangladesh and that it is nearly impossible to guard, as it costs Rs one crore per km to protect this border: metalled roads, so that patrols can quickly survey it, barbed wire, watch towers etc? That there are 41 battalions of BSF, precious manpower, which is tied down along the Bangladesh border?

That the government has only managed to fence 788 km out of 4,000 and that Rs 1,500 crore is spent every year on guarding it? Or that Bangladeshi infiltrators come up to Bombay, or even Delhi, where they form important communities which have voting power — hence their wooing by politicians and the silence that different governments maintain (even the BJP, apart from the courageous Assam Governor, who was immediately branded a “nationalist” by the Press)?

That even though the BSF managed to catch 60,000 illegal Bangladeshis last year, very few Bangladeshis are ever sent back, as officially the Bangladesh government, which covertly encourages it, says that there is no illegal immigration to India? And finally that Bangladesh may lose 20 per cent of its land in the next few years, because of erosion and constant flooding. And where will these people go?

It would be nice to say that Hindus in Bangladesh are prospering. Butit is the reverse which has happened. There were 28 per cent Hindus in Bangladesh in 1941, 10.5 in 1991 and less than 9 per cent today. Pogroms, burning of temples, specially after Ayodhya (see Taslima Nasreen’s book Lajja) have all ensured that Hindus also flee Bangladesh. What is the solution to the illegal immigration of Bangladeshis? It is true that it is not done with a bad intention: most of these immigrants come to India in search of better salaries and conditions of life. But ultimately, the Indian and Bangladeshi governments should co-operate so that quotas for work permits can be issued along with identity cards — and proper census kept.

There is another factor which has been kept under silence by the Press, both western and Indian, most of the Hindus — even the poorest in today’s remote Tamil villages — have understood that it is better to have less children: thus many women get operated after three or four kids. The Christians, of course, have been the first to embrace family planning in India, because they are among the best educated. The same thing cannot be said about the Muslims, the great majority of whom are poor. Thus Muslims in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar have often six or seven children.

Of course, if you dare mention this fact in India or abroad, you are immediately branded anti-Muslim. The problem is not with the Muslims as human beings — the refinement and hospitality of many Muslims in India is often unparalleled — but with their scripture, which was devised 1,400 years ago for the conditions and people existing then and which do not apply any more and have never been adapted to modern times.

So next time someone mentions that India’s population has reached the billion mark, just tell them: “No, there are 982 Indians and 18 millions Bangladeshis”!

India, the land of refuge

India, the land of refuge

It is common for India’s enemies — whether outsiders or, unfortunately, Indians themselves — to harp on the “rise of Hindu fundamentalism in India” (while mentioning Muslim fundamentalism in passing) and the growing intolerance of “fanatical” Hindu movements (the RSS, VHP, and the Bajrang Dal) towards India’s minorities. This has become an accepted proposition among the India specialists, historians, and foreign correspondents.

Yet, everyone seems to forget that, for thousands of years, India has been the land of refuge for all persecuted minorities of the world, whether the Jews after the sack of their temple in Jerusalem, Arab merchants, Parsis from Persia, Syrian Christians, Armenians, or the early Sri Lankan Tamils fleeing Sinhalese persecution.

Nobody mentions that not only is this tolerance a Hindu tradition, because Hinduism has always accepted the divinity of other Gods, but also that, in return for their goodness, Hindus have been for 2,000 years the target of innumerable persecutions, whether at the hands of Christians (the Portuguese, for instance, who razed temples and crucified Brahmins in Goa) or, of course, Muslim invaders (like Timur who, in 1399, is said to have killed 100,000 Hindus in a single day).

And which religion in the world can boast not only of never having invaded another nation to impose its faith upon its inhabitants, but also never tried to convert anybody, even by peaceful means (as the Buddhists did)?

Today, India is still a land of refuge. Witness the Tibetans, persecuted by the Chinese, who have been able to recreate on Indian soil a mini-Tibet (in Dharamsala and other places), where they enjoy full freedom and even the right to travel abroad with Indian documents. Today, almost the whole worldknows that, from 1950 onwards, when the Chinese invaded Tibet, 1.2 million Tibetans have been killed, either directly (through shooting, death squads and torture) or indirectly (in concentration camps, prisons, and famines). As many as 6,254 monasteries, most of them ancient, have been razed to the ground.

Sixty per cent of religious, historical and cultural archives have been destroyed. A quarter million Chinese troops are occupying Tibet. One Tibetan out of 10 is still in jail. There are today in Tibet 7.5 million Chinese settlers for six million Tibetans — in many places such as the capital, Lhasa, Tibetans are outnumbered two to one. Yet, the western world is so wary of China, where they have invested huge amounts of money, that they keep being blackmailed by Beijing and very few world leaders dare to receive openly the Dalai Lama, the living symbol of Tibet’s non-violent resistance to Chinese holocaust.

Recently, India upheld this tradition of granting asylum, when it allowed the Karmapa, third in the Tibetan spiritual hierarchy, to stay in India, after he fled occupied Tibet. Initially, there was some suspicion that Karmapa might have been sent by the Chinese to sow disorder amongst Tibetan refugees, as there was another boy who claimed to be the Karmapa (he lives inFrance).

But the Dalai Lama, whom the Indian Government trusts, has vouched for the boy’s integrity and the 14-year-old Karmapa himself, mature beyond his years, has told many (including this writer) that he fled Tibet “because he felt that he would be more and more used by the Chinese for propaganda purposes and because he refused to make statements against the Dalai Lama, asthe Chinese wanted him to”. For the moment, the boy is more or less confined to a small monastery near Dharamsala, but is eager to settle in the Rumtek monastery of Sikkim, the traditional seat of the exiled karmapas. The Indian Government is hesitant to let him go there, as it does not want to offend theChinese, when border talks are on and the President is in China.

But it should not be hesitant. For, the history of India-China relations since 1947 shows that it is always India which has shown goodwill towards the Chinese and always the Chinese who pretended goodwill while stabbing India in the back. Nehru’s policy of `Hindi-Chini-bhai-bhai’ was a disaster: China attacked India by surprise in 1962 and took away 20,000 square kms of its territory.

Today, China has transferred one-third of its nuclear arsenal to Nagchuka, 250 kms away from Lhassa, a region full of huge caves which the Chinese have linked together by an intricate underground network and where they have installed, according to US estimates, 90 intermediate-range intercontinental ballistic missiles. Tibet is of a great strategic military importance to China as, being on a high plateau, it overlooks Russia and India. But Russia is no more a danger to China. Thus it is towards North Indian cities that most of the nuclear missiles are pointed!

By letting the Karmapa settle in Rumtek, India will show that Sikkim is an integral part of its territory and that the Chinese should forget about its territorial claim on Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. India should have learnt by now that the only way to deal with China is firmness. India should also help Tibet to regain its freedom, because as the Dalai Lama has often pointed out, a free demilitarised and denuclearised Tibet would be the idealbuffer zone between the two giants of Asia: India and China. 

Is `Refugee’ a secular film?

Is `Refugee’ a secular film?

Have you ever heard of a secular film? If there is such a thing, `Refugee’ must be the one! You have the hero, Abhishek Bachchan, a selfless and brave Indian Muslim, who has a Hindu guru, a rare happening today for a Muslim; you have the Bangladeshi Muslim refugees, who are the real heroes of the film — simple, good-natured folks who only want to live in peace in the land of their choice. You have the tough but good-hearted Indian BSF officer, who happens to be played by a Christian, Jackie Shroff. You have the nice Pakistani Ranger, acted by Sunil Shetty, a Hindu, as opposed to the bad Pakistani infiltrators.

But `Refugee’ is also a bit of a devious film and whoever wrote the script knew very well what he was doing, as it takes advantage of the innocence of the average viewer to put across a few messages which are sometimes of adoubtful nature. First, notice that the real villains of the film are not the Pakistani infiltrators — after all, like those who infiltrated into Kargil. In 99, you could term them as “patriotic”, as they believe their scriptures preach a jihad on India and that dying for that cause will take them to heaven. No, no, the real villain is the Hindu character, who in the very first scene of the film offers a passage to Pakistan to the hapless Bangladeshis. He is certainly not patriotic and is ready to betray anybody, including his own race, for dirty money. And notice how he says “Ram, Ram”, when he contacts the Bangladeshis — an allusion to the `karsevaks’ who brought down the Ayodhya mosque and maybe a hint that many worshipers of Ram could be crooks. Observe how this Hindu criminal is finally justly killed by a Christian and a Muslim, a not so subtle indication that Muslims and Christians are united against the scheming Hindus.

`Refugee’ is also full of symbols which may look innocuous to the millions of naive villagers. Have you remarked, for instance, how the Bangladeshi refugees prostrate themselves on the ground when they reach the stone which marks the Pakistan border? Is Pakistan then the Promised Land? Or have you noticed how the heroine, a Muslim, sights her lover from an abandoned Hindu temple during a night halt in the desert? It must be one of the very few temples left by the invading Muslims, who razed thousands of Hindu temples, and are still at it today in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Then there is also the Sufi festival in Rajasthan, where both Muslims and Hindus pray together. Fine, but the scene is a bit misleading: it used to happen in the old times, as Hinduism has always accepted the divinity of other religions and a Hindu, even today, does not mind praying at a church or a mosque. True, the Sufis, because of the influence of Advaita, had softened their brand of Islam. But Hazratbal, the last real Sufi shrine in Kashmir was burnt down by Pakistani and Afghan militants and the traditional Sunnis look down on that kind of mixing up with Kafir Hindus.

There is one symbol though, which makes a good point, even if it is not done in a credible manner: the child of the heroes is born on a no-man’sland, with the help of Pakistanis and Hindus and under the benevolent guard of the BSF and Pakistani officers who have forgotten their enmity. Indiansand Pakistanis are indeed brothers and sisters, as everything — language, customs, culture, color of their skin, food habits, music — except religionunites them. Visionaries have always said that, as long as Pakistan and Indiado not reunite, in whatever manner, there will be wars. But it will certainly not happen in a filmy manner such as depicted in `Refugee’. First, Islam has to abandon its intolerant credo, and stop sending militantsinto Kashmir. The rest will then follow naturally.

The film is, of course, brilliant. The photography of the Rann of Kutch is superb. Kareena Kapoor acts as if it were her second nature. The music is enchanting and there is something endearing about Abhishek Bachchan. But all this cannot hide the fact that there is something rotten about Hindi films nowadays. We know how many of them were (and are still?) financed not only by black money, but also by blood money, which happens to be mostly in thecontrol of the Muslim underworld, in India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, DawoodIbrahim being the most known figure, but certainly not the only one. We knowtoo that there is a lot of extortion and blackmail going on inside the industry and crimes have been committed recently.

On top of all this, Hindi cinema is moving towards suicide: how long can you go on feeding the masses films that have hardly any script at all and which always cater to the dramatic side of the Indian ethos, however many beautifully choreographed songs and dances in more and more exotic locales they contain? It is time that Hindi cinema does a bit of introspection and that its script-writers, actors, musicians, choreographers, all talented people and often from Muslim backgrounds, start thinking about bringing the masses a little more than escapism and some pride in the country, as they did during the Kargil war.