Dr. Koenraad ELST, speaking in The Hague, 7 Feb. 2004, at the Agni conference on the persecution of Hindus in various countries .
1. A brief overview of the problem
One up-to-date instance of the full-fledged AIT developed in this book is by linguist Asko Parpola and archaeologist Christian Carpelan: “The cultural counterparts to Proto-Indo-European, Proto-Uralic and Proto-Aryan. Matching the dispersal and contact patterns in the linguistic and archaeological record”, p.107-141. They confirm the widely accepted theory that the IE language family originated in Southwestern Russia and spread from there, with its Indo-Aryan branch penetrating India ca. 1500 BC.
“Religious cleansing” is the deliberate removal of a targeted religious community from a given territory.
In India, the practice is mainly associated with Muslim rule and the persecution of the Hindus in the name of Islam, vividly remembered in its instances of West Pakistan 1947, East Pakistan 1971 and the Kashmir Valley 1990. Yet, it didn’t start with the Muslim conquests themselves, from the conquest of Sindh by Mohammed bin Qasim in AD 712 onwards. Conquerors imposed Islamic rule by force, and some also tried to impose conversion to Islam on the population, but the physical removal of non-Muslims from a given region mostly took place only at a later stage, because it required the presence of a Muslim population already sharing the territory with the Hindus and participating in their expulsion. Even then, in most cases, the Hindus were not told to leave (as were the Kashmiri Pandits in 1990), but the social pressure and sometimes sheer terror against them made them opt for either conversion or emigration, which equally amounted to the liquidation of Hinduism in the region.
The first part of South Asia to be cleansed of Hinduism was Afghanistan. The 10 th century saw a life-and-death struggle there between Muslim invaders and the local Hindu population and dynasty. In this case, the replacement was not just religious, of Hindus by Muslims, but also ethnic, viz. of Indo-Aryans by Iranians. The fact of an at least partial physical replacement of the native population by invaders is attested by the linguistic shift. Until then, in much of the present-day Pashtu-speaking region of Pakistan and Afghanistan, an Indo-Aryan Prakrit was spoken (remember how the Sanskrit grammarian Panini was a native of Peshawar). It was replaced with Pashtu, an Iranian language.
The mountain range Hindu Koh received the nickname Hindu Kush , a nickname which has stuck to become the official name. It means “slaughter of the Hindus”, in reference to the night in 1399 when the frost killed a hundred thousand Hindu slaves on transport to Central Asia.
In the mountainous region, however, an old quasi-Vedic Paganism persisted, which is why the region was called Kafiristan , “land of the Pagans”. In the 1890s, with British support, the king of Afghanistan sent an expedition to convert the Kafirs to Islam by force and renamed the region Nuristan , “land of light”. Only on the British side of the border, in the Chitral region of the Northwest Frontier Province, did some Pagans survive. Under Pakistani rule, the number of these so-called Kalash Kafir s has dwindled to less than four thousand. Two years ago, Jordi Magraner, a Catalan scholar settled among them and working for their cultural memory and survival, was murdered by Islamic activists. It seems that the Pakistani government now deliberately reins in attempts to convert the Kalash Kafirs because they can serve as a human-rights showpiece and as a tourist attraction.
During the era of British but especially that of Soviet influence, the cities of Afghanistan saw a certain amount of immigration of Hindu entrepreneurs, eventually amounting to several tens of thousands. Most of them were expelled again by the Mujahedin who chased out the Soviets in 1992, or after 1996 by the Taliban. Under Taliban rule, the remaining hundreds of Hindus in Kandahar, who had taken to inconspicuous dress in order not to stand out among their Muslim neighbours, were forced to wear a yellow strip to make themselves recognizable.
The first part of what is now India to see the near-disappearance of the Hindu presence is probably Kashmir, where practically all castes were forcibly converted to Islam by the 14 th century. Most of the Kashmiri Brahmins emigrated, some to return in quieter times, most to settle for good in Panjab and as far as Maharashtra and Goa. Those few who toughed it out, never forgave their fellow Kashmiris their so-called treason. When Kashmir reverted to Hindu control under the Sikhs and then under the Dogra dynasty in the 19 th century, the Kashmiri Brahmins reportedly opposed plans by the Maharajas to reconvert the Kashmiri Muslims to Hinduism.
Their descendants were to regret this purism. In 1947, local Muslims joined hands with Pakistani invasion troops in massacring the Hindus in the Pak-occupied territories, where all traces of the hoary Hindu presence were annihilated. In 1990, a terror campaign under the motto, “kill one to expel a thousand”, led by Pakistani militants but supported by a critical mass of the local Muslim population, managed to chase out practically the whole of the Kashmiri Pandit population from the Kashmir Valley. Even the supposedly Hindu-nationalist governments led by the BJP in 1998-2004 didn’t achieve (nor even seriously try to achieve) the resettlement of the Pandits in their native state.
The single most dramatic instance of religious cleansing took place in 1947, removing the Hindu presence completely from West Panjab, Pak-Occupied Kashmir, the Northwest Frontier Province and parts of Baluchistan and Sindh. The official number of victims, Hindus and Muslims counted together, is usually given as 600,000. We may assume that for the sake of not exacerbating communal animosity, the governments of both India and Pakistan minimized the true figure, which may well be one or two million.
After the fact, the main thrust of literary and historiographical elaborations of the Partition atrocities was to posit equal guilt between Hindus and Muslims. Of course, you could anecdotically counterbalance actual cases of Muslim cruelty with actual cases of Hindu or Sikh cruelty against Muslims. But the over-all fact remains that Partition with all its concomitant horrors was unilaterally imposed upon the unwilling Hindus and Sikhs by the Muslim League. If there was a superficial symmetry in migration patterns, there was an asymmetry in the motives of the migrants: whereas Hindus and Sikhs from West Panjab or the Northwest Frontier fled a land they had never wanted to leave, Muslims from Uttar Pradesh or Bihar moved to the promised land of their own creation. Also, the atrocities on Hindus aimed at eliminating them either by massacre or by forced emigration had started in the projected Pakistani regions months before any similar anti-Muslim atrocities started on the Indian side of the projected new border.
Another false escape clause, systematically propagated by the Congress regime, was that Partition had been the handiwork of the British rather than of the Muslim League. This is totally untrue: the last Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, had only been mandated to organize Partition under pressure from its seeming inevitability or its emerging status as a “lesser evil” in comparison with the orgy of violence which the Muslim League was threatening to unleash. But the original British position had been articulated by his two predecessors, Lord Linlithgow and Lord Wavell, who had told the Muslim League leadership in clear terms that they were proud of their Indian empire and were in no mood to let anyone dismember it even if it were to pass out of British hands. While other parties including the British rulers and some Hindu leaders (Rajaji, Morarji Desai, Sardar Patel, Ambedkar and finally also Mahatma Gandhi) merely acquiesced in Partition as a lesser evil, it was purely the will and determination of the Muslim League which imposed the division of India upon an unwilling majority.
1.4. The Bangladesh war
On the borders of what was to become East Pakistan, Hindu-Muslim violence in 1947 was far smaller in scale. What happened there was that after a relatively peaceful transition to independence, the Partition process of religious cleansing took place anyway but drawn out over decades. During this “prolonged Partition”, there has been a constant trickle of Hindu refugees from East Bengal to India, which became a flood in times of crisis. The biggest crisis was of course the Bangladesh war of 1971, when the Pakistani army and its Bengali and immigrant-Bihari collaborators hunted down Hindus along with Muslim Bengali nationalists. The official death toll as claimed by the Bangladeshi government was 3 million; foreign observers settle for 1.5 million. All disinterested observers agree that Hindus were the first and largest among the victim groups. As for the Muslim victims, they were not killed by Hindus but by Pakistanis and their Jamaat-i-Islami collaborators who killed them for not being Muslim enough.
After 1971, East Bengal made a fresh start as a secular state, and many refugees returned in the hope of a decent life. But soon Islamization policies returned to the country, along with discriminations and pogroms against the minorities. Consequently, Hindus as well as Christians and Buddhists from Bangladesh have gradually moved to India. This picture is muddied a bit by the seemingly parallel but actually quite distinct phenomenon of mass Muslim emigration from Bangladesh to India for purely economic reasons. Estimates approved by the Indian government put the number of Bangladeshi Muslims illegally staying in India at over 20 million. Most border regions of West Bengal and the North-Eastern states, originally allotted to India rather than to East Pakistan precisely because they had Hindu majorities, now have large Muslim majorities. Hindus are under pressure to leave there, too.
1.5. Small-scale cleansing throughout India
In many pockets of Muslim concentration in India, non-Muslims are slowly cleansed out. This is sometimes done in an unplanned manner, but in most cases one can discern the rudiments of a strategy behind it. In some southern cities, major Hindu temples have been isolated from their constituency of worshippers after Muslims strategically bought up all the real estate around the temple. In Ahmedabad, Hindus have practically been driven out of the old city.
In such an important economic centre, the planning by Muslim Gulf-based mafias was obvious. One Muslim, or his Hindu stooge, would buy up a house in a Hindu neighbourhood, overruling the Hindu owner’s misgivings by offering a price far above the market value. This would eventually prove to be a very profitable investment. The next stage is that life for Hindus is made uncomfortable, initially in perfectly legal ways, e.g. a halâlbutchery is opened in the middle of a vegetarian community where people find the mere smell of meat nauseating. Then invariably follows eve-teasing of Hindu girls, acts of disrespect to elderly Hindus, some petty but in-your-face robbery. The first Hindus now put up their house for sale, and again the mafia coffers are available to ensure a decent price, though now not much above market value anymore. Muslim youngsters start hanging out in larger numbers, holding out the threat of rape, and finally commit an actual rape. A bogus Hindu provocation of Muslim sentiments is enacted and a communal riot ensues. The conviviality of the Hindu Bania neighbourhood now good and well destroyed, Hindus start panic-selling their houses. Finally, the whole neighbourhood falls into Muslim hands for a song. The mafia dons distribute the loot among their supporters.
1.6. Cleansing of Hindus by Christians
Ever since their first arrival in India as refugees, probably in the 4 th century, the Syrian Christians in Kerala had integrated peacefully into Hindu society. They took their place in the caste system at a fairly high rank, and never troubled their neighbours with campaigns of conversion. This changed with the arrival of the Portuguese from 1498 onwards. They made attempts to expel all Hindus from Goa and other territories they held. However, being constrained by their limited numbers and their commerce-oriented treaties with native rulers, they could never implement their plans in full and ended up tolerating a continued Hindu presence within their domains.
Under British rule, missionary activities were curtailed or kept within limits, because the administrators wanted to avoid communal conflagrations. It was only in some of the tribal regions that the missionaries were given a free hand to Christianize entire communities. Even then, they were held on a tight leash. It is only in independent India that the missionaries were given all manner of privileges to the point that they felt emboldened to participate in illegal political activities including armed separatist struggle in the North-Eastern states of Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur and Tripura.
In Fiji, the colonial government gave a free hand to the missionaries, so that the native population was completely converted to Christianity and is now generally hostile to the Hindu immigrant population. This has led to the repeated ousting of an elected Hindu Prime Minister, to social boycotts and discrimination in job recruitment, and to frequent vandalism against Hindu temples.
The Christian-dominated parts of India’s North-East have witnessed several instances of Hindu-cleansing. Hindu organizations like the Ramakrishna Mission and the RSS have been targeted for elimination from the region through pressure or violence. In the 1990s, tens of thousands of Riang tribals who rejected conversion were expelled from Christian-dominated Mizoram. The death toll of Hindus eliminated by Christian separatists dwarfs that of the much-publicized Hindu violence against Christians, which has killed only a handful since 1947, including in the supposed “wave” of anti-Christian riots in 1998-99. The killing of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons by Orissa tribals who were angry at the divisive effect of conversions on their society, was front-page news in the whole world and remains a constant point of reference in the dominant discourse on communalism. By contrast, when shortly after that, four RSS workers were kidnapped by Christian separatists in the North-East and their mutilated bodies were subsequently found, it was hardly reported in the Indian press and not at all in the international media.
1.7. Cleansing of Hindus by Buddhists
In a bid to counter the grim and wide-ranging Hindu case against Islam as a destroyer of Hindu lives and culture, Marxist historians have propagated the claim that Hindus had done likewise to Buddhists: destroying their religious establishments and killing the inmates. This claim has gained wide currency, including in Buddhist countries where it impedes the natural solidarity between Buddhists and Hindus. However, this claim is entirely fictitious.
Even a very general knowledge of Indian history already shows that any instances of Hindu persecution of Buddhism could never have been more than marginal. After fully seventeen centuries of Buddhism’s existence, from the 6 th century BC to the late 12 th century AD, most of it under the rule of Hindu kings, we find Buddhist establishments flourishing all over India. Under king Pushyamitra Shunga, often falsely labelled as a persecutor of Buddhism, important Buddhist centres such as the Sanchi stupa were built. As late as the early 12 th century, t he Buddhist monastery Dharmachakrajina Vihara at Sarnath was built under the patronage of queen Kumaradevi, wife of Govindachandra, the Hindu king of Kanauj in whose reign the contentious Rama temple in Ayodhya was built. This may be contrasted with the ruined state of Buddhism in countries like Afghanistan or Uzbekistan after one thousand or even one hundred years of Muslim rule. Indeed, the Muslim chroniclers themselves have described in gleeful detail how they destroyed Buddhism root and branch in the entire Gangetic plain in just a few years after Mohammed Ghori’s victory in the second battle of Tarain in 1192. The famous university of Nalanda with its fabulous library burned for weeks. Its inmates were put to the sword except for those who managed to flee. The latter spread the word to other Indian regions where Buddhist monks packed up and left in anticipation of further Muslim conquests. It is apparent that this way, some abandoned Buddhist establishments were taken over by Hindus; but that is an entirely different matter from the forcible occupation or destruction of Buddhist institutions by the foreign invaders.
However, while Hinduism has a very good record in tolerating and patronizing Buddhism, the reverse is not entirely the case, especially in the modern age. In Myanmar in the 1960s, the Hindu immigrant population, mainly Tamil labourers and traders settled there under British rule, was formally expelled. As far as I know, this was less for religious than for ethnic and anti-colonial reasons.
Likewise in Bhutan, Nepali-speaking Hindus are being expelled in a classical instance of a sons-of-the-soil reaction against foreign settlers. The Tibetan Bhutanese explain their actions by pointing to the case of Sikkim, where Nepali-speaking Hindu immigrants had become the majority and decided democratically to liquidate the state’s sovereignty and Tibetan identity and to join India. This does not justify the atrocities committed against the Hindus in Bhutan (atrocities on a scale revealed here by eye-witnesses which most of us had not deemed possible in such a seemingly idyllic nation), but it provides a sobering background to a dramatic development which would otherwise seem incomprehensible.
In Sri Lanka too, Sinhalese resentment of the Tamils, who may be either Hindus or Christians, was initially less for religious than for ethnic reasons, particularly the conflict over language policy. Under British rule, the Tamils had been privileged, and the Sinhalese tried to turn the tables on them by declaring a Sinhala-only official language regime. But Buddhist monks soon added a religious dimension to the incipient conflict by vandalizing Tamil Hindu shrines. The conflict developed into a full-scale civil war which, in spite of major recent peace moves, is not fully over yet.
1.8. Hindu-cleansing in Africa
Many Hindus in Great Britain and the USA are refugees from another instance of Hindu-cleansing, viz. their expulsion from the East-African countries of Uganda and Tanzania shortly after docolonization. The Hindu presence itself was perceived as a legacy of colonialism. In neighbouring Kenya, Hindus have so far been able to live with peace and dignity, though there too, some nativist political parties promise to expel them. Likewise in South Africa, the acceptance of the Hindu presence by other communities cannot be securely taken for granted. The Communist-nativist group Pan-African Congress has a slogan: “There is only one place for Indians in South Africa, and that is the Indian Ocean.” Likewise, the Hindus of Trinidad and Tobago, of Surinam and of Guyana typically have a tense relationship with the (mainly christianized) Africans there.
In each of these cases, the main grievance of the Africans against the Hindus seems to be economical: the Hindus allegedly monopolize business and don’t feed the accumulated wealth back into the host society. This is in essence the same resentment which exists against successful Lebanese traders in West Africa, European settlers in Zimbabwe, or earlier the Jewish communities in Europe. There may also be a cultural aspect, though. Hindus are perceived as haughty, cunning and selfish. Conversely, Hindus themselves privately describe Africans as promiscuous, disorderly, lazy and unclean,– and the Africans are sufficiently aware of this. For them, there is a markedly greater distance in lifestyle from the Hindus than from the Muslims.
1.9. Hindu-cleansing in Europe?
In Europe, it is oddly by amalgamation with the Muslim population that Hindus risk being expelled one day. There is little or no resentment against Hindus as such. They are practically absent from the crime statistics and they don’t push any separatist or otherwise provocative political demands. Very few Europeans would ever vote for an anti-immigrant party on the basis of their experiences with their Hindu immigrant neighbours.
Islam, by contrast, is a central concern of the national-populist parties, though not in a uniform manner. The extreme Right, which by definition is only a fringe tendency, cherishes fantasies of a Euro-Islamic alliance against a perceived American-Zionist world hegemony. This is a parallel development with what you see in the extreme Left, where Muslim immigrants are considered a substitute for the proletariat as a force capable of destroying the system. Less marginally and more consequentially, the fast-growing populist Right, by contrast, takes an alarmist view of Islam and dramatizes all Islam-related “affairs” such as the ongoing hijâb controversies. In some cases, viz. the true-blue racists who want to send all coloured immigrants back, this focus on the problems posed by Islam is only a rhetorical cover for a more general anti-immigration drive regardless of the religion of the immigrants.
One could imagine a scenario where native resentment of the Muslim immigrant population reaches such a pitch that all Muslims are driven out, in a reversal of the expulsion of European settlers and their native “collaborators” in Algeria in 1962. In such a case of extreme polarization between native and immigrant, one could further imagine that the distinction between Muslims and other immigrant groups gets blurred, and that Hindus are cleansed out as well. For the time being, we dare surmise that this scenario remains imaginary, but if ethnic tension rises, nobody knows what can happen.
2. Why does nobody know or care about the plight of the Hindus?
2.1. Distortion of the terms underlying the information
When we want to understand a social problem, we need a language capable of expressing the data and underlying concepts describing the problem. In India, political incidents frequently pit Hindu nationalism, or even just plain Hinduism and plain nationalism, against so-called “secularism”. In practice, this term denotes a combine of Islamists, Hindu-born Marxists, Christian missionaries and americanized adepts of consumerism who share a hatred of Hindu culture and Hindu self-respect. What passes for secularism in India is often the diametrical opposite of what goes by the same name in the West.
Genuine secular states have equality before the law of all citizens regardless of religion. By contrast, India has different civil codes depending on the citizen’s religion. Thus, for Christians it is very hard to get a divorce, Hindus and Muslim women can get one through judicial proceedings, and Muslim men can simply repudiate their wives. The secular alternative, a common civil code, is championed by the Hindu nationalists. It is the so-called secularists who, justifying themselves with specious sophistry, join hands with the most obscurantist religious leaders to insist on maintaining the present unequal system.
Likewise, there exists a legal inequality in matters of temple management, pilgrimage subsidies, special autonomy for states depending on their populations’ religious composition, and the right to found religious schools; and this inequality is defended by the so-called secularists because it is invariably to the disadvantage of the Hindus. The Hindu nationalists favour the secular alternative of equality regardless of religion.
In India, shari’a -wielding Muslim clerics whose Arab counterparts denounce secularism as the ultimate evil, call themselves secularists. Just as the English word deception differs in meaning from its French counterpartdéception (= disappointment), the word secularism has a sharply different meaning in Indian English as compared to metropolitan English.
When we consider “secularism” as an intellectual movement rather than as a juridical concept, “secularism” means that religion is treated as a human construct rather than the product of a divine revelation. It implies a frank and critical investigation of the claims of religion. In this respect, the failure and dishonesty of Indian secularism is even more radical. Its discourse on religion is extremely and wilfully superficial. It shields from criticism even the most obscurantist religious beliefs or institutions, provided they are non-Hindu (and even in attacking Hinduism, its criticisms of even legitimate targets tend to be crassly superficial). For instance, almost every self-styled secularist, from former President A.K. Narayanan to the editors of the newspapers, has sworn by the story that Christianity was brought to India by the apostle Thomas. In the West, not just secularists but even Catholic universities like the one where I studied have dropped this myth. But in India, the secularists are its most determined upholders.
Indian secularism is systematically dishonest in its assessment of the religions hostile to Hinduism. Thus, after the murder of Australian Protestant missionary Graham Staines, which resulted from the well-attested resentment of the tribals against the divisive effect of conversion on their communities, the secularists massively denied that the Christian missionaries are in India for purposes of conversion. In reality, the project of converting all mankind is intrinsic to the Christian religion. In Catholic school, I always learned that the missionaries provide medical and educational services primarily in order to make the targeted communities receptive to conversion. Staines’ own bulletin to his Australian sponsors (which his supporters tried to conceal from the official investigators) proved he was doing conversion work. In 1999, the Southern Baptist Church reconfirmed that Hindus are doomed unless they become Christians. In the same year, the Pope himself came to Delhi to say in so many words that the Church intends to “reap a rich harvest of faith” in India. Yet this authoritatively attested fact is still dismissed by vocal secularists as a figment of Hindu paranoia.
2.2. History denial
Our perception of current events is largely conditioned by our knowledge and understanding of the past. The facts concerning the persecution of Hindus in the pre-modern age were a matter of consensus until recently. For contemporary political reasons, the Congress movement under Mahatma Gandhi and especially under Jawaharlal Nehru thought it opportune to minimize or deny this painful history. They invented a history of Hindu-Muslim bhai-bhai totally at variance with the information given in the primary sources. The job of rewriting history in this sense was subsequently taken up in right earnest by the post-independence generation of vocal Marxist scholars, who gained firm control of the guiding history institutions under Indira Gandhi (r. 1965-77 and 1980-84).
For those unfamiliar with modern Indian history: the Marxists, already pushy for acquiring as much power in the institutions as they could grab, were handed a near-monopoly on institutional power in India’s academic and educational sector by Indira Gandhi ca. 1970. Involved in an intra-Congress power struggle, she needed the help of the Left. Her confidants P.N. Haksar and Nurul Hasan packed the institutions with Marxists, card-carrying or otherwise. When, during the Emergency dictatorship (1975-77), her Communist Party allies threatened to become too powerful, she and her son Sanjay removed them from key political positions but, in a typical instance of politicians’ short-sightedness, they left the Marxists’ hold on the cultural sector intact.
In the old Soviet tradition, the Marxists at once set out to falsify history and propagate their own version through the official textbooks. In spite of recent instances of brutal Marxist-Muslim conflict (Iran 1979, Afghanistan in the 1980s), one of their priorities was to paint a rosy picture of Islamic rule in India, c.q. to impede criticism by blurring the very notion of “Islamic rule”. This somewhat anomalous Marxist-Islamist alliance should be understood in the Indian context of a joint anti-Hindu front uniting all the minorities, a typical instance of the old Marxist “common front” policy.
After coming to power in 1998, the BJP-dominated government has made a half-hearted and not always very competent attempt to effect glasnost (openness, transparency) at least in the history textbooks. They ordered the writing of new history textbooks for the schools. This led the Marxists to start a furious hate campaign against the so-called “saffronization” (hinduization) of history. Most of the new textbooks have rightly been criticized for being written in poor English and riddled with errors,– the result of both the Hindu movement’s long-standing anti-intellectual prejudice and the systematic exclusion of aspiring pro-Hindu scholars from the institutions by the ruling Marxists. The one major exception, however, is precisely the volume on the Muslim conquest and rule, Medieval India (class XI) by Prof. Meenakshi Jain, an impeccable text systematically based on primary sources.
Since some ignorant dupes of these Marxists denounce as “McCarthyist” anyone who points out their ideological inspiration, it deserves to be emphasized that “eminent historians” like Romila Thapar, R.S. Sharma and Irfan Habib are certified as Marxists in standard Marxist sources like Tom Bottomore’s Dictionary of Marxist Thought . During the official historians’ Ayodhya temple/mosque dispute in 1991, the pro-mosque team’s argumentation and several other anti-temple pamphlets were published by the People’s Publishing House, a Communist Party outfit. One of the recent textbook innovations most furiously denounced as “saffronization” was the truism that Lenin’s armed seizing of power in October/November 1917 was a “coup d’état”. And in early 2003, while they were unchaining all their devils against glasnost , the Marxists ruling West Bengal deleted from a textbook a passage in which Mahatma Gandhi’s biographer Louis Fischer called Stalin “at least as ruthless as Hitler”. Such are the true concerns of the “secularists” warning the world against the attempts at glasnost in India’s national history curriculum.
History falsification comes in different forms and has concentric lines of defence and attack. At the time of unlimited “secularist” self-confidence and belligerence, this went as far as to deny that any Islamic persecution or oppression of Hindus had taken place. When that proved untenable, it was claimed that intolerance had admittedly existed but that it had been unrelated to Islam, that it was a general phenomenon typical of the medieval period. As if a tick of the clock, viz. the arrival of the so-called Middle Ages, could cause the widespread destruction which India suffered. In reality, the age had nothing to do with it. Tolerance remained the rule in medieval Hinduism: for all its untouchability and other flaws, it did tolerate Syrian Christians, Parsis and Jews in its midst (who, unlike in their countries of origin, also learned to tolerate one another in India), and the lively debates between its own numerous sects rarely if ever spilled over into physical confrontations. The problem was not the age but the Islamic doctrine of conquest and self-righteousness. Unfortunately, secularists have developed a habit of staring past uncomfortable historical facts, particularly those disturbing the newly claimed progressive image of any anti-Hindu group or movement or religion.
2.3. False reporting
When it comes to contemporary religious conflict, the same refusal to face facts is in evidence. Distortive or even totally false reporting on communally sensitive issues is a well-entrenched feature of Indian journalism. There is no self-corrective mechanism in place to remedy this endemic culture of disinformation. No reporter or columnist or editor ever gets fired or formally reprimanded or even just criticized by his peers for smearing Hindus. This way, a partisan economy with the truth has become a habit hard to relinquish. And foreign correspondents used to trusting their Indian secularist sources have likewise developed a habit of swallowing and relaying highly distorted news stories.
Usually, the creation of a false impression of the Indian communal situation is achieved without outright lies, relying rather on the silent treatment for inconvenient facts and a screaming overemphasis on convenient ones. After the BJP came to power in 1998, India should have witnessed a genocide of the minorities, gas chambers and what not, at least if you believed the predictions made by the secularists in the preceding years. Nothing of the kind happened, and the secularists didn’t dare to pretend that events were bearing out their prediction. So in the next two years the secularists tried to make the most of what few incidents did take place, giving them a significance which no sober observer could have attributed to them.
In particular, all manner of small incidents within the Christian community were at once blamed on the evil hand of Hindu nationalism. In Kandhamal, Orissa, a Christian man murdered a girl and her little brother. At once, a cry went up in the secularist and Christian media that Hindu nationalists had perpetrated the crime. When the official investigation revealed the true story, viz. that the murderer was a Christian himself, it was reported only marginally in Indian papers and not at all in the international media, which had eagerly carried the initial allegations.
Likewise, in the Central-Indian town of Jhabua, a quarrel among mostly christianized tribals led to the rape of four nuns. With no Hindu nationalists in sight, the media decided nonetheless that this was an act of Hindu nationalist cruelty against the poor hapless Christian minority. Though the official investigation confirmed the total innocence of the Hindu nationalists in this affair, their guilt has been consecrated by endless repetition in the media. While the media in India couldn’t prevent the truth from quietly making itself known, the international media have never published a correction, and the story of “four nuns in Jhabua raped by Hindu nationalists” now keeps on reappearing as an evergreen of anti-Hindu hate propaganda.
Similarly, a series of bomb blasts against Christian churches in South India was automatically blamed on the Hindu nationalists. In that version, the story made headlines around the world: Hindu bomb terror against Christians. Hindu organizations alleged that it was a Pakistani operation, a blame-shifting exercise which only earned them ridicule and contempt. Yet, when two of the terrorists blew themselves up by mistake, their getaway car led the police to their network, and the whole gang was arrested. It turned out to be a Muslim group, a section of the Deendar Anjuman , with headquarters in Pakistan. But this was not reported on the front-pages in India nor made the topic of flaming editorials; and in the international media, it was not reported at all. In the worldwide perception of Hindu nationalism, the false association with raping nuns and bombing churches has stuck.
So, moral of the story: feel free to write lies about the Hindus. Even if you are found out, most of the public will never hear of it, and you will not be made to bear any consequences. Striking first is what counts. Any second round in which the truth comes out, will hardly be noticed. Indeed, conditioned by the initial lie, many readers and viewers will deride the correction as an attempt at “denial” of the grim facts which “everybody knows well enough”. And the audience abroad will never even be informed that there has been a correction.
2.4. Riot vultures
These days, noisy secularists lie in waiting for communal riots and elatedly jump at them when and where they erupt. They exploit the anti-Hindu propaganda value of riots to the hilt, making up fictional stories as they go along to compensate for any defects in the true account. John Dayal is welcomed to Congressional committees in Washington DC as a crown witness to canards such as how Hindus are raping Catholic nuns in Jhabua, an allegation long refuted in a report by the Congress state government of Madhya Pradesh and more recently in the court verdict on the matter. Arundhati Roy goes lyrical about the torture of a Muslim politician’s two daughters by Hindus during the Gujarat riots of 2002, even when the man had only one daughter, who came forward to clarify that she happened to be in the US at the time of the “facts”. Harsh Mander has already been condemned by the Press Council of India (decision 14/106/02-03 dd. 30 June 2003, Dr. Krishen Kak vs. Times of India ) for spreading false rumours about alleged Hindu atrocities in his famous column Hindustan Hamara ( Times of India , 20 March 2002). Teesta Setalwad has reportedly pressured eyewitnesses to give the desired incriminating testimony against Hindus in the Gujarat riots.
All of them have given exaggerated death toll figures (“more than 2,000 Muslims”, in reality about 800, next to over 250 Hindus whom they never mention) and characterizations (“genocide”) of the Gujarat riots, which in fact paled in comparison with the communal confrontations which took place in the two decades before the cathartic post-Demolition riots of December-January 1992-93. With their depiction of India as a country where the minorities live in constant fear for their lives, a story eagerly believed abroad, these riot vultures do a lot of damage to their country.
Dealing with communal confrontations at face value has never solved the problem. Most secularist writings on the Gujarat riots manage to leave madrassa education unmentioned. How serious are you about weeding out Hindu-Muslim riots if you don’t want to address the permanent source of religious hatred among Muslims, the very cause of Partition and of jihad ?
Secondly, Gujarat has not been claiming attention all by itself. An intensive effort by the usual suspects has kept attention as much as possible away from other scenes of communal violence. In the past months, how many people have been killed by Christian separatists in the Northeast, by Communists in Kerala or Andhra or Nepal, by Muslims in Bangladesh or Jammu? As for Gujarat itself, how many Hindus have been killed by Muslims even after Godhra? The secularists have been acting as if attacks on Muslims in Gujarat are the only communal flashpoint. This is typical of hate discourse: apart from pure lies, the main technique consists in exclusively highlighting the – sometimes admittedly real – crimes of the targeted group and keeping instances of its innocent victimization out of view.
But I will agree in general terms that this was mostly a Hindu retaliation for the Godhra massacre, and for all the earlier occasions of Muslim aggression. Gujarat and especially Ahmedabad have witnessed a sustained low-level terror campaign against the Hindus. With their Gandhian tradition of fleeing and turning the other cheek, the Gujaratis had amassed considerable resentment against the Muslims, and after Godhra it all came out.
By all means, preserve the Godhra articles and columns in a special folder, one day they will be the object of a spectacular case study in the human capacity for doublethink. Though disgusting, it was at the same time quite funny to watch the extreme inventiveness of the secularists in blaming the victims. They were very annoyed that the Gujarat carnage was so unambiguously started by Muslims with their massacre of Hindu pilgrims, mostly women and children. So, they falsely started describing the victims as “extremists” and inventing stories of how these Hindu children had kidnapped a Muslim woman into their riding train. That canard was borrowed from an Islamist website. There is never much difference between secularist reporting and Islamist propaganda anyway, which is why Indian theocratic Islamists call themselves “secularists”. The latest is their “report” claiming that the Hindus in the train had themselves lit the fire, in a gigantic mass suicide. I suppose free speech includes the right to speak nonsense.
For four years after the BJP’s accession to power in 1998, in spite of numerous massacres of Hindus by Muslim terrorists, the Indian Muslims were left alone. Hindus had often refused to be provoked into taking their anger out on their Muslim neighbours, e.g. after the Mumbai blasts of March 1993, all remained quiet. Hindus again showed remarkable restraint after Islamic terrorists killed forty BJP activists, allegedly “Hindu Nazis”, in Coimbatore in 1998. But unlike the Nazis in 1938 with their Kristallnacht killing nearly a hundred Jews in reaction to the murder of a single German diplomat, the BJP did not retaliate in kind at all. Hindus have been killed with great frequency in Jammu, even the parliament buildings in Srinagar and Delhi were attacked, yet the Muslims remained unharmed. So, the secularists were losing credibility day by day. They needed the Gujarat carnage, and they thanked Heaven when it finally materialized. They were suddenly back in business, getting invited all the way to Washington to tell their scare stories.
2.5. Foreign complicity
Most of the foreign India reporters borrow not just data, but also opinions and judgments from their Delhi contacts without critically examining them. On top of these borrowed distortions, they themselves also manage to disregard pertinent data which stare every normal observer in the face. Thus, practically every Hindu activist whom I have interviewed between 1990 and 1998 brought up the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits, murdered or expelled from their homeland, as a telling illustration of the true religio-political power equation in India. But most publications purportedly analyzing Hindu nationalism in the 1990s manage to overlook this expulsion of Hindus from a part of India. They have to if they want to uphold the image of India as dominated by an overbearing Hindu majority threatening a hapless Muslim minority.
The foreign correspondents also systematically misunderstand and misrepresent the relationship between Hindu vanguard organizations and the common people. It is increasingly clear that genuine acts of anti-Muslim or anti-Christian violence are often the handiwork of desperate but unorganized locals. Membership of an organization like the Vishva Hindu Parishad, by contrast, offers them the hope of participating in a larger countersubversive strategy and thereby keeps acts of desperation in check.
It has to be admitted, however, that Hindu nationalist organizations have played into the hand of the disinformation campaigners. For too long, they have spurned the intellectual and mediatic struggles. On the plea that “you don’t need arguments to love your mother”, meaning Mother India, the Hindu nationalists had always neglected intellectual work and favoured a mindless activism. Instead, they have adopted a boy-scout attitude of doing one’s best and disregarding the opinions of the inactive and the hostile people. This way, they have left the field wide open for their sworn enemies, who have been getting away with their hate-mongering accounts for decades. Correcting this deeply uneven power equation in the control over public opinion proves to be a hard and long-term job.
The problem which Hindus face when they want to mobilize support for their oppressed brothers and sisters, is that nobody even seems to have heard of any oppression of Hindus. The news about this large and widespread problem gets sidetracked and minimized and ultimately silenced somewhere along the way. Yet, whether the story is heard in the international media and especially in the centres of power, is a very consequential matter. Thus, a country like Bangladesh is heavily dependent on international aid, and is therefore susceptible to being pressured into correcting its human-rights performance if only the donors knew about the human-rights violations there. Getting the information across to world opinion is, thus, of vital importance. That is why I would like to thank the organizers for at least making a serious effort to that end by holding this conference.