Tag Archives: intellectuals

Ramachandra Guha and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Ramachandra Guha represents the typical Indian intellectual: brilliant, totally westernized – and who looks down on anything Hindu – because he has inherited from the British colonization a gigantic inferiority complex about his own culture and spirituality. And like many of his brothers and sisters of India’s intelligentsia, he feels nowhere better than in the West. This can be gathered from his Oslo diary published in the Outlook magazine of 20th October, where he says, and I quote : “…After two weeks in Oslo, my hosts send me off to Svalbard, deep into the Arctic CircleI spend four enchanting days in and around the little town of Longybein, located at 78° N. I have the privilege of sampling the northernmost bar, the northernmost cafe, the northernmost supermarket, and the northernmost souvenir store in the world “… Then he adds – and this shows that this Macaulayan fixation is transmitted since many generations from father to children: “The person most envious of my trip is my daughter, who has read evocative descriptions of Svalbard in the novels of Philip Pullman”. Wow: I am a born Frenchman, brought up in some of the best European schools, I vaguely known of Philipp Pullman (do you?), but have never heard of that he wrote about the archipelago of Svalbard” (have you?). <!– @page { size: 8.5in 11in; margin: 0.79in } P { margin-bottom: 0.08in } –>

Once he has proved his credentials of a connoisseur of western literature and lover of western atmospheres, Guha, because he is in Norway, home of the Nobel Peace Prize, chooses to attack Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of the Art of Living movement, who has been the most nominated Indian in the last three years: “After my talk, a lady comes up and introduces herself as a doctor, and an advisor to the Peace Institute. The names I had mentioned were all very good, she said, but surely it was time that the peace prize went to an Indian? She mentions the name of a fellow townsman of mine (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar), a man who has grown long hair, given himself four fancy initials (HH/SS), and whose name is also that of a very great exponent of the sitar”. And of course, Guha tells her gleefully: “I suggested to the doctor that if not giving Gandhi the prize was a scandal, awarding it to my fellow townsman would be an even bigger scandal”. How typical of these Indian intellectuals, who are always spitting on their own culture, specially if it is Hindu-related.

Yet, there is no doubt that Guruji, as he is known to his followers, qualifies for the NPP – in fact he does tenfold time the work of a Mother Teresa or a R.K Pachauri: he not only performs charity work in many of India’s villages, he also promotes pesticide and fertilizer free farming, takes orphans from Kashmir or the North-East in his ashram, and his volunteers do relief work, both at the physical and psychological level, whether in Bihar during the floods, in Iraq or in the US during the recent cyclone. Sri Sri is also trying to revive single handed, the ancient Vedic tradition by training young priests in a Gurukkul which blends ancient knowledge, with modern thought, while promoting Ayurveda as the medicine of the 21st century. He is attempting as well to mediate in many conflicts, in Kashmir, Sri Lanka, or between the Christians and Hindus. And lastly he has revived and modernized the ancient science of pranayama.

Of course, Guha is an unabashed admirer of the Norwegian Peace Committee: “The Nobel Peace Prize is itself a splendid example of Norwegian internationalism, in keeping with the country’s ethos of generous aid to poorer countries, not to mention its efforts to resolve ethnic conflicts around the world”. But not everybody in Europe would agree with him : Norwegians have sometimes the reputation of being staunch, left-leaning Protestants, who often have a condescending view of Asia. Thus, when they award prizes, they are necessarily influenced by a Christian vision of the world and an idealistic left-leaning sympathy. For, as most Europeans, they have been brought-up in the belief that democracy and philosophy started with Greece and that a Humane civilization, began with Jesus Christ. And of course, they have a covert – or at best unconscious – suspicion, if not of India, at least of Hindus, who for them remain the heathen, the pagans which the missionaries of yesteryears, and unfortunately those of today too, have created in the minds of many westerners.

They can only agree with Mr Guha: how can they then, give their Peace Prize to a Hindu?

François Gautier

A French journalist’s view on India and its media

27th March 2002

Source: PRdomain

India is a country of wonderful people — warm, hospitable, tolerant. Its intellectual elite — in New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai or Bangalore — are good friends to have: fun-loving and always cordial with westerners.

gujararIntellectually, the journalists and writers of this country are often witty, brilliant, speak good English, and write even better. In fact, quite a few of them — Arundhati Roy, Vikram Seth, Upamanyu Chatterjee and others — have become households names in the English literary world and have brought a good name to India. Roy has even shown us that one can be a successful writer and also work for a social cause — even going to the extent of going to jail for that.

Yet, there is something that I have never understood. Although most of India’s intellectual elite is Hindu, the great majority of them are Hindu haters — and it even seems sometimes that they are ashamed to be Hindus.

They always come out with the same clichés on Hindutva, the saffron brigade, the Hindu ‘fundamentalists,’ and if you listen to them you get the impression that India is in the hands of dangerous Hindu fundamentalists and that the Christian and Muslim minorities of India are being cruelly persecuted.

Recently, Courier International, a very prestigious French magazine, which is read by diplomats and politicians, published a special issue on ‘Hindu fundamentalism’ with a cover photo of RSS members doing their lathi drill. The ignorant westerner who read it must have had the impression that India indeed is in the grip of fascist, Nazi-like Hindu groups and that civil liberties are curtailed here. When the editor-in-chief of that magazine was contacted, he pointed out that all the pieces had been translated from articles written in the Indian press by Indian journalists.

If I did not know India, I would tend also to believe what I read about India in the western press: a nation torn by caste discrimination, poverty, corruption, Hindu extremism and natural calamities. But after living more than 30 years in this country, my experience is totally different: Hindus are probably the most tolerant people in the world — they accept that God manifests Himself under different forms, at different times, according to the needs and mentality of each epoch: Krishna, Christ, Mohammed, Buddha…

gujararThus they always allowed throughout the centuries religious minorities who were victimised in their own countries to settle in India and to prosper and practice their religion: the Syrian Christians, in fact the first Christian community in the world; the Jews, who have been persecuted all over the world (including in my own country, France), but were left in peace in India; the Armenians; the Parsis; and today the Tibetans…

As a westerner, living in India, apart from the obvious bureaucratic hassles, the slowness of everything and the dirt, being here has also been a dream: I have never been mugged in 33 years, no policeman has ever asked me my papers in the street (see what happens to you if you are dark-skinned and without a tie in the metro in Paris) and I have always been made welcome even in the remotest villages of India.

As a journalist, it is even better: I do not have to ask permission to go out of Delhi and submit the subject and route of the features I propose to do outside the capital; and I do not get kicked out of India, even if I criticise its government — all this contrary to China, which even then remains a more coveted post for a foreign correspondent than India.

It is true that for a western journalist, coming to India can be a baffling experience. The diversity (going from one state to the next is like passing from one country to another); the language is different, so is the food, the habits, the political set-up; the complexity of India’s political life, its heavy subtleties; the incredible religious, social and ethnic diversity…

So what does the new correspondent do, when often he has at heart to do justice to the country he has been asked to report about? He turns to his Indian fellow journalists for enlightenment. Regrettably, the f

irst input he is given by his Indian colleagues is very negative: the black mark of Ayodhya on India’s secular fabric; the heavy hand of the army in Kashmir; the terrible caste abuses in Bihar; or the Taliban-like Bajrang Dal.

And this is why if you read the western reports on India, however good their style is, however well-meaning they are, they all say the same thing with infinite monotony and often nastiness). Again, it is absolutely factual that there are unforgivable things done in India in the name of caste; that the disparity between rich and poor is shocking; that affluent Hindus have very little concern about their less fortunate brethrens, or else have no respect for their environment.

But it is also true that there is so much positive things to be written about India: so many great people, so much tolerance, so much talent, so many fascinating subjects. Nevertheless, western journalists seem only to concentrate on the negative. His is the vicious circle of journalism and India: the negative goes from the Indian journalist to the western journalist… and comes back to India under the form of unfriendly reporting.

The recent Sabarmati burning followed by the rioting in Gujarat showed again the veracity of that phenomenon. Here you had 58 innocent Hindus, the majority of them being women and children, burnt in the most horrible manner, for no other crime but the fact that they want to build a temple dedicated to the most cherished of Hindu Gods, Ram, on a site which has been held sacred by Hindus for thousands of years.

When a Graham Staines is burnt alive, all of India’s English press goes overboard in condemning his killers. But when 58 Graham Staines are murdered, they report it without comment. No doubt, the revenge that followed is equally unpardonable. No doubt, Indian and foreign journalists who rushed to Gujarat, wrote sincerely: after all they saw innocent women, children and men being burnt, killed, raped.

Which decent journalist, who has at heart of reporting truth, would not cry out against such a shame? But then history has shown us that no event should be taken out of context, and that there is in India, among the Hindu majority, a simmering anger against Muslims, who have terribly persecuted the Hindus and yet manage to make it look as if they are the persecuted.

And once again, the western press coverage of the Gujarat rioting comes back to haunt India: Hindus targeting Muslims; fundamentalism against innocence; minority being persecuted by majority… But when will the true India be sincerely portrayed by its own journalists, so that the western press be positively influenced?

(Gautier is the correspondent in India and South Asia of Ouest-France, the biggest circulation French daily [1 million copies], and for LCI, a 24-hour TV news channel. He is also the author of Arise O India and A Western Journalist on India)

NEGATIONISM AND GUJARAT

In the wake of the recent events in Gujarat, we have to look again at what Belgian scholar Koenraad Elst, has called “negationism”, which means ” the denial of crimes against humanity”. In modern history, the massacre by the Turks of 1,5 millions Armenians, or that of the 6 million Jews by the Nazis, the several millions of Russians by Stalin, or the 1 million Tibetans by the Chinese communists, are historical facts which have all been denied by their perpetrators in a thousand ways: gross, clever, outrageous, subtle, so that in the end, the minds of people are so confused and muddled, that nobody knows anymore where the truth is.

We have seen recently how some of the Muslim intellectuals, part of the English media and many western correspondents have negated the Sabarmarti Express burning by a Muslim mob: a few of them said it happened because the kar-sevaks insulted the Muslim vendors in Godhra, or even molested a young Muslim girl; others implied that it was the RSS which engineered the burning of the train (!); others have said that the kar-sevaks had it coming to them because they were “fanatic Hindus” (were the 38 innocent women and children who died in the most horrible manner, also fanatic Hindu “fanatics”?). The same thing happened during the 1993 Bombay riots, engineered by Muslims: it was – still claim many Indian intellectuals – “because they were outraged by the destruction of the Ayodhya mosque” (but whatever the rightfulness or wrongfulness of the razing of Babri Masjid, nobody was killed there, whereas hundreds of innocent Hindus were killed by the bombs planted by Indian Muslims, with the help of Pakistan and the connivance of Saudi Arabia).

In the same way, after the Akshardam temple massacre, quite a few editorialists, such as Shekhar Gupta, in his September 28th piece in the Indian Express, or Saeed Naqvi in the same paper, implied (as did Musharraf, by the way) that the massacre of innocent Hindus would not have taken place if there had not been pogroms by the Hindus against Muslims earlier in Gujarat. One could answer to Mss. Gupta and Naqvi that if it is new for Hindus to kill Muslims, there is nothing novel about Muslims killing Hindus, although this particular aspect has been constantly negated by most historians. On, thinks of course of Indians, such as Romila Thapar, but also foreign India-specialists such as Gaboriau or Christophe Jaffrelot, who have persistently written in official books and in prestigious newspapers that Muslim invasions in India were not as bloody as “nationalist” Hindus say, that Babar was a fine poet, that India was attacked because the “cunning” Brahmins had hoarded gold and jewels in their temples, or that Aurangzeb was not the butcher made out by “fundamentalists” Hindus.

It is thus good from to time to be reminded of the truth: in India, because of the staunch resistance of the 4000 year old Hindu faith, the Muslim conquests triggered one the worst genocides ever witnessed by humanity. Entire cities were burnt down and their populations massacred. Each successive campaign brought hundreds of thousands of victims and similar numbers were deported as slaves. Every new invader made often literally his hill of Hindu skulls. Thus the conquest of Afghanistan in the year 1000, was followed by the annihilation of the entire Hindu population there; indeed, the region is still called Hindu Kush, ‘Hindu slaughter’. The Bahmani sultans in central India, made it a rule to kill 100.000 Hindus a year. In 1399, Teimur did better: he killed 100.000 Hindus IN A SINGLE DAY. Professor K.S. Lal’s, in his “Growth of Muslim population in India”, has estimated that the Hindu population decreased by 80 MILLION between the year 1000 and 1525.

Negationism means then that this whole aspect of Indian history has been totally erased, not only from history books, but also from the consciousness of Indian people. Hasn’t M.N. Roy written “that Islam has fulfilled a historic mission of equality and abolition of discrimination in India, and that for this, Islam has been welcomed in India by the lower castes”. “If at all any violence occurred, he goes on to say, it was a matter of justified class struggle by the progressive forces against the feudal Hindu upper classes..” Jawaharlal Nehru himself said of Mahmud Ghaznavi, the destroyer of thousands of Hindu temples, who according to his chronicler Utbi, sang the praise of the Mathura temple complex, sacred above all to all Hindus… and promptly proceeded to raze it to the ground: “Building interested Mahmud and he was much impressed by the city of Mathura, where there are today a thousand edifices as firm as the faith of the faithful. Mahmud was not a religious man. He was a Mahomedan, but that was just by the way. He was in the first place a soldier and a brilliant soldier”…

Whereas the Jews have constantly tried, since the Nazi genocide, to keep alive the remembrance of their six million martyrs, the Indian leadership, political and intellectual, has made a willful and conscious attempt to deny the genocide perpetrated by the Muslims. No one is crying for vengeance. Do the Jews of today want to retaliate upon contemporary Germany? NO. It is only a matter of making sure that history does not repeat its mistakes, as alas it is able to do today: witness the persecution of Hindus in Kashmir, whose 250.000 Pandits have fled their homeland, or the present genocide of Hindus in Bangladesh. No collective memory should be erased for appeasing a particular community.

But at the same time, their historical crimes should not be denied by conveniently using the Gujarat riots, the one time in recent history where Hindus did actually retaliate against Muslim for atrocities committed.

And ultimately the real question is: Can Islam ever accept Hinduism? Can the Indian Muslim minority ever agree to be governed by the Hindu majority, even though they have more rights and freedom than in most Islamic countries ? Can Pakistan ever accept India ? Listen to what Sri Aurobindo had to say sixty years ago: “You can live with a religion whose principle is toleration. But how is it possible to live peacefully with a religion whose principle is “I will not tolerate you? How are you going to have unity with these people?.The Hindu is ready to tolerate; he is open to new ideas and his culture and has got a wonderful capacity for assimilation, but always provided India’s central truth is recognized”..

We will never be able to assess the immense physical harm done to India by the Muslim invasions. Even more difficult is to estimate the moral and the spiritual damage done to Hindu India. But once again, the question is not of vengeance, or of reawakening old ghosts, but of not repeating the same mistakes. Unfortunately, the harm done by the Muslims conquest is not over. The seeds planted by the Moghols, by Babar, Mahmud, or Aurangzeb, have matured: the burning of the Sabamarti express, the continuing destruction of temples in Kashmir, Pakistan or Bangladesh (see Prafull Goradia’s remarkable book “Hindu Masjids”), or the Akshardham massacre are the proof that many of the India’s and Pakistan’s (and Bangladeshi) Muslims have forgotten that they were once peaceful Hindus, forcibly converted to a religion they hated.

FRANCOIS GAUTIER