Tag Archives: terrorism

Years of violence

Author: Francois Gautier

Publication: The Pioneer
Date: August 6, 2003Do you know the real history of Kashmir? There is a great deal of misconception among the people about the State: That Kashmir did not always belong to India, or that it is a “disputed area”. This is why we recently at FACT (Forum Against Continuing Terrorism) chose to hold an exhibition at the India Habitat Centre, which was a great success. Here are some of the facts we highlighted through the photographic exhibition.For two thousand years, the Himalayan Valley of Kashmir in Northern India has been the home of learning and wisdom. From this small Valley have emanated masterpieces of history, poetry, romance, fable, and philosophy. Many of the greatest Sanskrit scholars and poets were born and wrote in the Valley. Kashmir flourished under some of India’s greatest rulers such as the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, who reigned between 273 and 233 BC, and is recorded to have founded the old city of Srinagar. It was under his sovereignty that many Buddhist scholars, missionaries, and intellectuals permanently settled in the Valley. Then there was the great Hindu King Harshavardhan (1089 to 1101 AD) who was versed in many languages, was a good poet himself, a lover of music and the arts. He had made his court a centre of luxury, learning and splendour.

Unfortunately, at the beginning of 14th century, a ferocious Mongol warlord, Dulucha, invaded the Valley from its northern side, Zojila Pass, with an army of 60,000 men. His savage attack ended for all purposes the Hindu rule in Kashmir, and Dulucha is said to have destroyed many temples and killed thousands of Hindus. Muslim rule was further tightened in 1389, during the rule of Sultan Sikandar. He banned all celebrations and would not even listen to music. He imposed jizia (tax on infidels) upon Hindus and stopped them from using tilak on their foreheads. Almost all the Muslim chroniclers of that time speak of wholesale destruction of Hindu shrines, including the famed Martand Temple, and forcible conversion of Hindus to Islam. Thousands of Hindus fled southwards to the plains of India to save their religion and holy books, and also to escape the wrath of the Sultan.

Then, after a period of relative tolerance and peace, came the rule of Afghans warlords till 1819 – roughly, a period of 67 years. The very first Afghan governor Abdullah Khan Aquasi, immediately after assuming powers, began his reign of terror. People were looted and killed indiscriminately, and even soldiers began to amass wealth beyond imagination. Fortunately, in 1819, 30,000 soldiers of Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh attacked Kashmir, defeated the Pathans, and Kashmir became a part of Ranjit Singh’s empire for nearly 40 years, providing some relief to Hindus in the process. However, the British defeated the Sikhs and became the undisputed masters of India. Not interested in Kashmir, they sold it in perpetuity for Rs 75 lakh (approximately $150,000) to Maharaja Gulab Singh of the Dogra dynasty. (What wonderful merchants, the British, who sell something which does not even belong to them!)

By treaty, conquest, or inter-marriages, the Dogras created a state comprising five major units, which are fundamentally very different from each other in terms of geography and ethnicity and have further complicated the problems of Kashmir: The territory around Gilgit (today in Pakistan), which belongs basically to Central Asia; Ladakh, which is an extension of Tibet and is peopled at 55 per cent by the Buddhists and 45 per cent by Muslims; the area around Muzaffarabad, which is today in Pakistan’s control, comprises mostly Punjabi Muslims; Jammu, which in essence belongs to Himachal Pradesh and is Hindu in majority; and the Valley of Kashmir, of course, which was Indian Muslim at 95 per cent in 1947.

India gained its independence in 1947 but was disastrously divided by the British, against the advice of saints and seers such as Sri Aurobindo, along religious lines into India and Pakistan. Although many Muslims chose to stay back in India, knowing they would be granted the freedom of practicing their own religion, most Hindus had to flee Pakistan as they were being slaughtered mercilessly. Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir decided to attach his state to free and secular India. Furious, the Pakistan Government invaded Kashmir, and encouraged the Muslim tribal people to carry loot, plunder, death and destruction into the hearths and homes of innocent Kashmiris in general and among Hindus in particular.

Since 1947, Pakistan, aided by China, which also claims parts of Indian territory (well, Mr Vajpayee, you got led up the garden path by the Chinese, like other prime ministers before you!), has initiated three wars to regain Indian Kashmir, and four if you include the Kargil war fought in the icy reaches of upper Kashmir. Worse, the proxy war which Pakistan is today waging on India by arming, training and financing not only Kashmiri separatists, but also Islamic militants from Afghanistan, or even faraway Sudan, has taken the lives of nearly 60,000 innocent people, both Hindus and Muslims.

It should be added that Pakistan decided in the late 1980s that it would be easier to regain Kashmir if all its Hindus were pushed out by a campaign of terror, both in the Valley, where they are a tiny minority and in Jammu where they still have a thin majority. Thus 450,000 Kashmiri Pandits, constituting 99 per cent of the total population of Hindus living in the Kashmir Valley, have been forcibly pushed out of their homes by terrorists. Since 1989, they have been forced to live like exiles in their own country.

People should also be reminded that terrorism in Kashmir is not about separatism alone; it is also an ideological struggle with specific fundamentalist and communal agenda. Terrorist violence aims at the disengagement of the State of Jammu & Kashmir from India and its annexation to Pakistan. It is a continuation of the Islamic fundamentalist struggle.

Finally, I would like to thank all those who contributed to FACT and helped make the exhibition on Kashmiri Pandits at the India Habitat Centre a success. We are pursuing our efforts further. The exhibition will now travel to Bangalore at the end of August. Thereafter, on September 10, we have been invited to Poland for a conference, ‘World Without Aggression’, which will take place in the main Warsaw Congress Hall, which seats 3,000 people, in the presence of the President of Poland and many VIPs.

West and Islam

Author: Francois Gautier

Publication: Pioneer:
Date: July 10, 2002
Boston, Massachusetts – American newspapers publish daily commentaries by eminent Muslims, who all want to prove that Islam is a tolerant creed, that the Taliban were an isolated aberration, and that Osama bin Laden is desecrating the scared non-violent tenets of Islam with his terrible deeds.

It is in such times that it is useful to remind the world, particularly the United States – which has chosen as a frontline state for its war on terrorism, a nation which breeds terrorism – that while Pakistan is an aberration of what Islam has stood for since its inception in the 7th century, India is a living example of a peace loving nation, tolerant of other creeds, ethnic groups and religions. Most Western history books, for instance, eulogise the Mughal period in India as a time of refinement and enlightenment, and many of them say that Aurangzeb was a strict but just emperor. What is the truth?

Aurangzeb (1658-1707) did not just build an isolated mosque on a destroyed temple, he ordered all temples to be destroyed and had mosques built on a number of cleared temples sites. All other Hindu sacred places within his reach equally suffered destruction. A few examples: Krishna’s birth place temple in Mathura, the rebuilt Somnath temple on the coast of Gujarat, the Vishnu temple replaced with the Alamgir mosque now overlooking Varanasi and the Treta-ka-Thakur temple in Ayodhya. The number of temples destroyed by Aurangzeb is counted in 4, if not 5 figures. According to his own official court chronicles: “Aurangzeb ordered all provincial governors to destroy all schools and temples of the pagans and to make a complete end to all pagan teachings and practices.” Aurangzeb did not stop at destroying temples, their users were also wiped-out; even his own brother, Dara Shikoh, was executed for taking an interest in Hindu religion and the Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded because he objected to Aurangzeb’s forced conversions.

We can see, Romila Thapar and Percival Spear’s statement of a benevolent Aurangzeb is a flagrant attempt at negationism. Even the respectable Encyclopedia Britannica, in its entry on India, does not mention in its chapter on the Sultanate period any persecutions of Hindus by Muslims, except “that Firuz Shah Tughlaq made largely unsuccessful attempts at converting his Hindu subjects and sometime persecuted them”.

Many orthodox Indian Muslims still cling to the Deoband school, which says that India was once “Dar-ul-Islam”, the house of Islam, and should return to that status. The Aligarh school, on the contrary, led by Mohammed Iqbal, propounded the creation of Pakistan. What particularly interests us in the Aligarh school is the attempt by Muslim historians, such as Mohammed Habib, to rewrite the chapter of Muslim invasions in India. In 1920, Habib started writing his magnum opus, which he based on four theories: One, that the records (written by the Muslims themselves) of slaughters of Hindus, the enslaving of their women and children and razing of temples were “mere exaggerations by court poets and zealous chroniclers to please their rulers”. Two, that they were indeed atrocities, but mainly committed by Turks, the savage riders from the Steppes. Three, the destruction of the temples took place because Hindus stored their gold and jewels inside them and therefore Muslim armies plundered these. Four, the conversion of millions of Hindus to Islam was not forced “but what happened was there was a shift of opinion in the population, who on its own free will chose the Shariat against the Hindu law (Smriti), as they were all oppressed by the bad Brahmins…”

Unfortunately for Habib and his school, the Muslims invaders did record with glee their genocide on Hindus, because they felt all along that they were doing their duty; that plundering, enslaving and razing temples was sanctioned by their religion. Indeed, whether it was Mahmud of Ghazni (997-1030) – no barbarian; although a Turk, he patronised art and literature and would recite a verse of the Quran every night after having razed temples and killed his quota of unbelievers – or Firuz Shah Tughlak (1351-1388) who personally confirms that the destruction of Pagan temples was done out of piety and writes: “On the day of a Hindu festival, I went there myself, ordered the executions of all the leaders and practitioners of his abomination; I destroyed their idols, temples and built mosques in their places.” Finally, as Belgian historian Konraad Elst points out, “Muslim fanatics were merely faithful executors of Quranic injunctions. It is not the Muslims who are guilty but Islam.”

It is not only Indian historians who are negationists, but also Western historians and India-specialists. We know that the first historians of India, the British, twisted India’s history to suit their theory that they had come to civilise a race which was not only inferior to them, but was also supposed to have been heavily influenced in its philosophies or arts by European invaders (read the Aryans or Alexander the Great).

However, but what is less known is that today many Western historians not only still cling to these outdated theories, but also actually, more or less willfully, mislead their public, which is generally totally ignorant and takes these “knowledgeable” comments about India as the absolute truth. Many of these India-specialists are not only Left-leaning, but they are also specialists of the Mughal period of Indian history, which is to say that they are sympathetic to Islam’s point of view on India, while they often consider Hindus fanatics.

It is time Indian historians looked again at their own history and wrote it based on the latest archaeological and linguistic discoveries, so that the West is better able to understand India.

Toughness pays

Toughness pays
Author: Francois Gautier
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: November 29, 2003
Have you ever taken an El Al flight from Mumbai? The security is drastic: You are asked a hundred questions by young men and women, Indians, but of Jewish origin, whose parents emigrated from the first century onwards after the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem, to find refuge in India where they prospered and lived in peace till many of them went back to Israel in 1948 (indeed, India is probably the only country in the world where Jews have not been persecuted).

Why did I visit Israel? Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of the 144 countries-wide Art of Living movement, had been invited by the Government of Israel, thanks to the efforts of Rabbi Cooper and Dr Balitzer from Wisenthal, US-based foundation. All along our trip Rabbi Cooper and Dr Balitzer proved invaluable. I was tagging along because I have always believed that India and Israel have to come together. For 40 years after Independence, India did not have relations with Israel. Yet, India and Israel have much in common – both can learn a lot from each other. Like Indians, Israelis are one of those “elected people of God” – of whom Sri Aurobindo speaks in his book the Hour of God – who have managed to keep their spirituality alive in spite of oppressions, invasions and genocides.

Indians and Israelis also share a serious problem with Muslim fundamentalists. And India could learn a few lessons from the way Israel handles this problem, however much it is criticised by the Western media. Unlike India, which since Independence has chosen to deal with this problem in the Gandhian spirit, that is, by compromising most of the time with Islamic intransigence (if not giving in); Israel has showed that toughness first, followed by negotiations, pays better. Basically, the concept of “land for money” is something that India could learn from: In 1967, Israel was under threat of getting engulfed by its fanatical neighbours, so it stole the initiative by crushing them in a lightning Six-Day War and kept some land which it used later as bargaining chips with Egypt and Syria.

FACT (Foundation Against Continuing Terrorism), which I launched this year, was taking to Israel an exhibition on Kashmiri Pandits, one of the biggest genocides of the 20th century at the hands of Islamic terrorism, to see how it could be put up at different places in Israel to create public awareness there. Because of the hostility of Arab countries to Israel, El Al cannot overfly any of them and a journey which should take four hours takes, instead, seven hours, nearly the same time as a flight to Europe. We landed in Tel Aviv early in the morning. Tel Aviv is a modern city on the Mediterranean coast. It is much more relaxed than Jerusalem, as it is less subject than the capital to suicide attacks. People there speak several languages, girls look gorgeous and the affable Indian ambassador, Mr Raminder Jassal, who has done so much to improve Israeli-relations, hosted for Sri Sri Ravi Shankar a gracious meeting with the Indian community in Israel.

The drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is short, but the impressions are striking: The landscape is dry, rocky and arid and one wonders whether this land is worth fighting for. But Jerusalem is a beautiful city, perched on a hill, all constructed in white stone. As we arrived, the city was shining against the setting sun of a cool November evening. The King David Hotel, whe-re we stayed, is probably one of the most beautiful hotels in West Asia: Old world, stately and entirely furnished in mahogany. It also has a history of violence, as it once housed British troops and was bombed by Jewish activists. The rooms offer a view of the old city of Jerusalem and everything looked so peaceful.

Peaceful? Not really: As soon as you step out, you can feel fear: Suicide bombers can strike any time, anywhere and our security would not even allow our car to stop near a bus, for fear of it being blown up! It is Friday evening and we went to the Wailing Wall on this most holy Shabbat day. It is an impressive sight: Hundreds of young men and women, in ancient velvet black coats and funny fur hats, locks falling one each side, face the wall swaying back and forth while chanting an age old prayer that their forefathers have repeated for centuries. Sri Sri too touched the wall reverentially and concentrated for a few minutes: Two very ancient spiritualities met.

As in Ayodhya, Muslims have placed their mosque on the most sacred space of the Jews, exactly where their ancient temple was built. The golden mosque stands there as a perpetual taunt, as an unending expression of aggression. After the Seven-Day War, the Israelis control the entire area. But it remains very tense: As a mark of respect to Islam, we want to meditate in the mosque, but we are facing the wrong direction and the imam takes objection when he sees the rishi from India in a dhoti and kurta with long flowing beard and tells our security men that “Infidels” are not allowed to worship there. Luckily there are not many faithful at this time and an incident is avoided.

We met a number of dignitaries. The President of Israel, a soft-spoken gentleman, who is very worried about the Palestinians suicide bombers – “No religion condones that kind of barbaric act,” he told us; the mayor of Jerusalem, who proudly showed us the magnificent view of Jerusalem from his office terrace; Mr Shimon Peres, Nobel Prize winner and Israel’s best known face, who preaches tolerance – but even he condemns the suicide bombers; or the deputy Prime Minister of Israel, Mr Sherenzki, a well-known dissenter from the erstwhile Soviet Union who is seen as a hawk by observers, but appears very gentle to us.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar talked about all the marvellous work his volunteers are doing amongst India’s poor villages: Bringing housing, hygiene, human values, and harmony in diversity. He also speaks about the stress and post-trauma Art of Living courses – a combination of pranayama, meditation and relaxing techniques – done to great success in Iraq and Bosnia, and how they could also be taught in Palestine and Israel. When asked about terrorism, Sri Sri said: “The problem is that children should be taught a little about each religion, so that they develop a broader perspective.” If the Taliban had known even a little about the Buddha, he added, they would not have destroyed the Bamian statues.

I was surprised to note that whenever I mentioned Kashmir, neither of our interlocutors blinked: Kashmir did not mean anything to them, although it faces more or less the same problem that Israel does at the hands of the Arabs. Even, Mr Sherenzki, the Deputy Prime Minister, looked blank. That is when I realised that an exhibition on Kashmiri Pandits had to come up and we arranged for two venues, one in Tel Aviv, with the possibility of it coming up also at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem. We thus left with a sense that so much more has to be done so that Indian and Israel, two ancient people sharing some of the same spiritual, cultural and contemporary problems, really start understanding each other.