Tag Archives: human rights

India, the land of refuge


By Francois Gautier

Indian Express – June 5, 2000

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 Buddhistsdid)?

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 world knows 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, the-re 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 in France). 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, as the Chinese wanted him to”. For the moment, the boy is mo-re 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 gothere, as it does not want to offend the Chinese, 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 ideal buffer zone between the two giants of Asia: India and China.

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

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Marxism and the Saffron wave

Marxism and the Saffron wave

The other day I visited a tribal village, which was only 20 kms away from Bhubaneswar. The poverty I witnessed there was appalling: no drinking water, no proper housing, the children to whom we distributed food packets were sickly looking, undernourished, dirty and badly clothed.

The whole village was in a kind of wasteland, where one could not see a single tree, or any newly planted sapling. Paresh Nayak of Odisha International told me that thousands of crores had been sanctioned by the government in this area, for housing, development, or afforestation, but every single paisa goes in the pockets of corrupt officials, from top to bottom.

In fact the only organisation which is trying to do something — and which was responsible for the food distribution as well as the sole tribal school in the whole area — is the much maligned Washington-based IDRF, which is supposed, according to the Western and Indian press, to only ‘fund Hindu fundamentalism.’

Nevertheless, when one witnesses such awful and unfair poverty just a few minutes away from the nouveau riche glitter of Indian arrogant cities, one cannot but think that all the Arundhati Roys, Praful Bidwais, N Rams, Shabana Azmis, Prannoy Roys and other die hard Marxists are right: only a revolution will bring fairness and justice to the poor and downtrodden of India.

In fact, one can even go further: when people like myself, who keep defending a certain spiritual idea of India, the greatness of Hindu culture and ethos, are suddenly confronted by that ‘other’ reality of this country, our lofty drawing-room idealism is blown away by what we see, whether in Bhubaneswar, in Uttar Pradesh, or Tamil Nadu. If I were born an untouchable or a downtrodden, there is no doubt in my mind that I would have become a Naxalite — given my militant propensities!

And if tomorrow missionaries descend upon the village I just visited in Orissa and open a dispensary, a school, then a church, why shouldn’t these poor tribals convert to Christianity, when their own more fortunate Hindu brothers and sisters not only never cared after them for centuries, but stole the money which was meant for them?

Yet, all my years in India have taught me that there is a third way, which is neither of capitalism nor of communism. One could call it ‘spiritualised socialism,’ as envisioned by Sri Aurobindo and today practiced by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living. A Hindu temple or a Hindu organisation has no meaning unless it also acts as a social centre, helps the poor, gives away money, houses, imparts education and hygiene.

Indeed the Art of Living foundation does just that with its volunteers going in thousands of villages all over India and selflessly bringing hygiene, housing, harmony and human values. It is true that there are countless NGOs all over India doing the same job, but unless they pass on along with their material help some spiritual values pertaining to India’s ancient culture, they are failing in their task.

Finally, I would like to tell my Marxist friends that instead of crying themselves hoarse over the BJP’s victory in Gujarat, of screaming about the ‘saffronisation of India,’ or the ‘fascist trend set by these results,’ they should look at it in a different manner. If this is a Nazi trend, then the millions of Gujarati Hindus: upper and middle class, low castes and tribals, who voted for Narendra Modi, are all Nazis.

Yet the Indian voter has always shown that he is smart and that he usually casts his ballot in a certain way because he wants to put across a message. What if Gujarat was the first sign that tolerant, peace-loving Hindus who for centuries have accepted other religions and ethnicities and allowed them to practice and prosper in peace (UNESCO recently released a report saying that out of 128 countries where the Jews lived up to 1948, in only one — India — were they not persecuted), are fed-up of being made fun off, sullied, harassed, killed, their temples sprayed with bullets and grenades, their train burnt, their Parliament attacked, their markets blown up, their women raped?

What if it was a warning to the Muslims of India that the majority community of this country will no more allow the burning of innocent children and women, for the only crime that they are Hindus? What, however reprehensible their acts was, if peace-loving Hindus have shown, for the first time, that they can retaliate in kind and that Islam doesn’t have a copyright on hatred, bloodshed and mad violence? At a time when India’s government is the laughing stock of the world — as shown by the contempt that much smaller countries such as Malaysia, Portugal or Saudi Arabia have shown to India by refusing to extradite criminals — the common Hindu is telling his government, his countrymen, whether they are Hindus, Christians or Muslims, and the world, that he has had it…