Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Vote for Genocide

...The mobs carried iron rods, knives, clubs, and combustible material, including kerosene. They used voters' lists, allegedly provided, by the Congress Party politicians themselves, to identify houses and business establishments owned by---The mobs swarmed into---neighborhoods, arbitrarily killing any---they could find. Their shops and houses were ransacked and burned. In other incidents, armed mobs stopped buses and trains, in and around Delhi, pulling out---passengers to be lynched or doused with kerosene and burnt...

...Before they could realize what was happening, a huge mob broke down the door of their house and dragged all the men folk out. Before their eyes, their husbands were torched to death, women sexually abused and houses set on fire...

...I saw with my own eyes my husband being taken out and then set on fire. After all the men in the house were set afire, the mob then targeted the women who were hiding. They were dragged out and sexually abused. I saw one of my relatives being raped. And the mob did not spare me and molested me...

You may think that I am talking about the Godhra riots, and it would be no fault of yours. Because, in India, violence is only committed by the Sangh Parivar against Muslims - or so the English news media would have you believe. The statements above describe what happened a full 18 years before Godhra in the anti-Sikh riots of 1984. According to official sources, some
2,733 Sikhs were massacred in what can only be called a pogrom though H. S. Phoolka, a high court lawyer who has been representing the riot victims and is a representative of the November 1984 carnage justice committee, claims that the figure is closer to 4,000. In New Delhi alone, about 600 cases of arson, killing and rioting were registered (The Jain-Aggarwal committee had recommended about a thousand), but police closed half of them, ostensibly for lack of evidence. Police complicity was also alleged (investigated by the Kapoor-Mittal committee). Hundred were rendered homeless, and thousands fled the North, where the riots were concentrated. The anti-Sikh riots were the worst religious riots in India since independence in 1947. In May 2009, a petition filed by advocate MS Butalia said that hundreds of anti-Sikh riot cases were still pending in the court, 25 years after the fact. Several members of Parliament belonging to the Congress Party have been accused in these cases - HKL Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar, Dharam Das Shastri, and Jagdish Tytler. The Nanavati Commission (2004!), in addition to finding evidence against these MPs, also held the then police commissioner SC Tandon directly responsible for the riots.

[DIVERSION 1: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) told a court in September 2009 that witnesses who deposed against former union minister Jagdish Tytler for his alleged role in a 1984 anti-Sikh riot case are unreliable and made false statements to implicate him. "During investigation, only two persons came forward to depose against Tytler and both Surinder and Jasbir Singh are unreliable. They have made false statements to implicate Tytler," Additional Public Prosecutor Sanjay Kumar contended before Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Rakesh Pandit. Kumar further contended that Surinder, who died recently, gave contradictory versions of the 1984 incident allegedly involving Tytler.

The CBI, which had on April 2 sought to close the case against Tytler claiming there was no sufficient evidence against him, had questioned the jurisdiction of a magisterial court and sought the matter to be transferred to a sessions court. The agency claimed as the matter involved the offence of murder, it should be transferred to the sessions court. The court, however, was not convinced with CBI's arguments and decided to hear the closure report]

The anti-Sikh pogrom broke out after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of the Indian National Congress had been assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards in retaliation for Operation Blue Star, in which Indian troops stormed the Golden Temple (one of Sikhism's four most sacred sites) to flush out Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale (As a side note, it is interesting to remember that Bhindranwale was Indira Gandhi's man against the Shiromani Akali Dal and he had actively campaigned for the Congress Party in the 1979 general elections). The excessive and perhaps not properly planned use of force by the Army resulted in more casualties than were strictly necessary. For example, the attack was timed to coincide with an annual Sikh festival. Further, although Lt. Gen. Sinha had advised against the tactics of the Operation, the Government replaced him with Gen. Arun Vaidya and went ahead anyway (it was indeed possible to execute the mission with more care as Operations Black Thunder I & II proved). The official casualty figures were 83 dead and 248 wounded for the Indian Army and 492 dead and 86 wounded for the Sikhs (unofficial figures stand at about 500 Army and 5,000 Sikh dead and wounded). Brahma Chellaney, the only journalist who managed to stay behind despite the media blackout, telexed 780 militants and civilians and 400 troops killed in fierce gunbattles. Chellaney also reported that “several” (later confirmed at eight to ten) suspected Sikh militants had been shot with their hands tied.

In response to the riots, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi made a statement at Boat Club in New Delhi
on 19 November 1984, on the birthday of Indira Gandhi, "Some riots took place in the country following the murder of Indiraji. We know the people were very angry and for a few days it seemed that India had been shaken. But, when a mighty tree falls, it is only natural that the earth around it does shake a little." Indeed! It was only in 1998 that Sonia Gandhi expressed regret (but stopped short of an apology) for the happenings of 1984, perfectly timed, of course, for the general elections barely a month ahead. The reality of the sentiment is made clearer by the statements of some of the victims: "I made desperate attempts to locate my husband, but there was no news. Today, I cannot even claim compensation as I don't have any evidence or certificate showing that my husband is dead," said one Sail Kaur, who had lost 12 members of her family in the violence. Seventy-year-old Mitha Singh was able to get a compensation of Rs. 350,000 in 1999 only after several rounds of the city court. Singh lost his only son who was burnt alive in their factory that day. For Gurdeep Singh, memories of his mother are still strong. Even after 25 years there is no news of his mother, Vimlesh Kaur, who disappeared after the riots.

These terrible events have long been forgotten in India because it is more convenient to pick on someone like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) whose public relations skills are appalling if not non-existent. The Godhra Affair has been in the spotlight of the "secularist" press for the past seven years. The violence was sparked off by a Muslim mob of more than 500 stopping and storming the Sabarmati Express on its return from Ayodhya. The assailants burned 59 Hindus passengers, mostly women, children and seniors, alive. In immediate retaliation, riots erupted across Gujarat in which 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed. Police firing claimed the lives of 93 Muslims and 77 Hindus (this militates against the notion of police complicity). Thousands of Hindus and Muslims were preemptively arrested.

The Indian Supreme Court, strongly critical of the state government's investigation and prosecution of those accused of violence during the riots, directed police to review about 2,000 of the 4,000 riot related cases that had been closed citing lack of evidence or leads. Following this direction, police identified nearly 1,600 cases for reinvestigation, arrested 640 accused and launched investigations against 40 police officers for their failures. After a local court dismissed the case against her assailants, Bilkis Bano appealed to the Supreme Court through the National Human Rights Commission. The Supreme Court granted the motion and transferred the case out of Gujarat - charges were filed in a Mumbai court against nineteen people as well as six police officials and a government doctor over their role in the initial investigations. In January 2008, eleven men were sentenced to life imprisonment for the rape and murders and a policeman was convicted of falsifying evidence. Eight people, including a VHP leader and a member of the BJP, were convicted for the murder of seven members of a family and the rape of two minor girls in the village of Eral in Panchmahal district.

The Nanavati Commission of 2008 exonerated the Gujarat Government, given evidence of the acquisition of 140 litres of petrol hours before the arrival of the train and the storage of the said petrol at the alleged key conspirator's, Razzak Kurkur, guest house. This was further corroborated by forensic evidence showing fuel was poured on the train compartment before being burnt. The alleged mastermind was said to be the cleric Maulvi Husain Haji Ibrahim Umarji and a dismissed CRPF officer by the name of Nanumiyan, from Assam, who had instigated the Muslim crowds. Furthermore, two Kashmiris, Gulamnabi and Ali Mohammed, were in the same guesthouse for a fortnight prior to the event speaking about the Kashmir liberation movement. The CPM and the Congress party both came out railing against the exoneration of the Gujarat government by the commission citing the timing of the report (with general elections months away) as evidence of unfairness. Congress spokesperson Veerappa Moily commented at the strange absolvement of the Gujarat government for complacency for the carnage. He also said the report reinforced communal prejudices. In 2005, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was denied a visa to the United States upon the strong lobbying of "secularist" groups.

Without getting into tit-for-tat arguments or into a spiralling blame game, a few things are clear from an examination of these two cases of violence against religious minorities: (1) Muslims are more important than Sikhs, (2) the Congress can do no wrong, (3) when in doubt, it is convenient and safe to blame the Sangh Parivar, (4) Congress MPs are above the law, (5) justice means the subordination of every community's interests to those of the Muslim community. If the law were applied equally to all sections of society, this discrepancy in the way Sikh cases have been handled in the aftermath of the 1984 riots as compared to the Muslim cases in the aftermath of Godhra would not have existed. Further, there has been constant pressure on the Central Government to 'mete out justice' in the Godhra Affair but no such pressure exists in the case of the anti-Sikh riots. In fact, the Government has worked quite hard against publicising the events of 1984 - in the case of the film Amu, a story about a 21-year old Indian-American who visits India only to get flashbacks of the 1984 riots she had been made to forget in America, the censor board refused to pass the film. The Board cleared it only with six politically motivated cuts, including a 10-minute cut and the removal of all verbal references to the riots. Says Ellora Puri, a Political Scientist at the Punjab University in Chandigarh, "Indian social commentators - media, cinema, writers or academia - have been fairly amnesiac about the 1984 Sikh killings."

This is not the only thing India's social commentators have been amnesiac about - the Emergency (June 25, 1975 - March 21, 1977)
is another dark chapter in Indian history that had best not be disturbed. Other than the rampant corruption in Indira Gandhi's regime, she was also accused of sanctioning (1) Wanton detention of innocent people by police without charge or notification of families, (2) Abuse and torture of detainees and political prisoners, (3) Use of public and private media institutions, like the national television network Doordarshan, for propaganda, (4) Forced vasectomy of thousands of men under the infamous family planning initiative, and (5) Arbitrary destruction of the slum and low-income housing in the Turkmen Gate and Jama Masjid area of old Delhi. It is not easy to find exactly how many people perished during the 21 months of Congress dictatorship, and given Indian policy on the declassification of documents and opening of archives, we may never know. However, a glimpse of life in Emergency Rule India can be had from TV Eachara Varier's heart-rending memoir, Memories Of a Father.

This is the Party we are asked to vote for, the Party that will save us from the Hindutva brigade - it is like the Soviets telling the Poles in 1939 that they will save them from the Germans! These are the double standards we are meant to acquiese to or we are communalists, fascists, and Hindu fundamentalists (regarding the inaccuracy of these terms, refer to my post, Lotus Blooming, of August 23, 2009). In terms of damage to the people, to communities, and to the individual, in terms of damage to institutions and to the rule of law, the Congress Party has done more and more thoroughly than any BJP Government can ever do - and we are still restricting the topic to domestic affairs. There is an expression in Konkani - when someone is angry beyond comprehension, one says that one is so angry that it feels like one's liver is being boiled. I find it very apt in this instance. But then again, are we not complicit too? I do not remember anyone, whether it be Human Rights organisations, Lok Ayukt, or other political parties, raising these issues.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

зараза (zaraza) - Marxists, the Indian Edition

There used to be a time when being labelled as a Marxist was the death knell. Many of us have lived through McCarthy's America and not many of us liked it, primarily because the assumptions and inferences drawn from the accusations were preposterous and unsubstantiated. But what if the accusations and implications were true? How would we have looked upon the McCarthy era then? Well, it will be difficult to find out now in America, but transpose the situation to India, and in the typical fashion of the subcontinent, complicate things a bit. Imagine a situation in which Marxists were indeed the fifth column, weakening law and order and the state at every turn. In other words, think of the very situation Senator Joseph McCarthy was (ostensibly) worried about or trying to pre-empt.

The Communist movement in India is still quite strong. Despite the failure of the Soviet Union, Indian Communist leaders have started talking about an Indian strain of communism just as Mao had interpreted Marx to suit Chinese needs. Marxists also have a commanding presence in Indian academia and media - GS Gandhi, then a columnist for the Pioneer, described Mao Tse-tung as "a great revolutionary, an able strategist, a poet and a philosopher," and called him "above all a soldier-saint who led his country to salvation." Harkishen Singh Surjeet, General Secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) until 2005, regularly posed with portraits of Lenin and Stalin much like one would expect of Fidel Castro. Marxist (or sympathetic to Marxist) presence exists in many of India's leading newspapers and magazines. British journalist Premen Addy warned in the London Review of Books not to take certain journals such as the Economic and Political Weekly and Frontline as voices of genuine radical dissent after Frontline columnist and CPI-M leader EMS Namboodiripad described Mahatma Gandhi as a Hindu fundamentalist. Addy wrote, "should the country's Communist Parties achieve exclusive power at the national level, neither journal is likely to promote the right of dissent it enjoys in India today."

Marx thought none too highly of religion, and Hinduism was no different for him. Predictably, Marx thought that Hinduism was the ideology of an oppressive and outworn society, and he did not accept the notion that India was a country properly speaking, merely a stretch of land with a meek conglomerate of people passively waiting for the next conqueror. Marx's Indian sychophants have stayed true to this view - they reject the very concept of India as a national unit. In a 1993 interview with Le Monde, Romila Thapar cheerfully predicted that India would not be able to stay togehter for much longer. CPI-M leaders Jyothi Basu and Ashok Mitra had declared around the same time, in the aftermath of the Ayodhya controversy, that if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power at the centre, West Bengal would secede from the Union, and that India was never the solution anyway.

In every conflict, they have stood on the anti-Indian side - betraying the Quit India activists to the British, supporting the Pakistan scheme in 1945-47, supporting the separatist Razakar militia in Hyderabad State in 1948, and siding with China in 1961-62. In fact, just before war broke out in 1962, the Communists had declared that China's Chairman was India's Chairman. The CPI's official stand was pro-China, and many of the leaders ( B. T. Ranadive, P. Sundarayya, P. C. Joshi, Basavapunnaiah, Jyoti Basu, and Harkishan Singh Surjeet) openly called the conflict as one between a socialist state and a capitalist state. The Naxalite problem in India was started by Maoist elements in the Indian Communist Party. In 1967 a peasant uprising broke out in Naxalbari, in northern West Bengal. The insurgency was led by hardline district-level CPI-M leaders Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal. The hardliners within CPI-M saw the Naxalbari uprising as the spark that would ignite the Indian revolution. The Communist Party of China hailed the Naxalbari movement, and more pro-naxal elements split from the CPI, particularly in Andhra Pradesh.

The uncompromising opposition by Marxists in India to Gandhi's "cherished Hindu convictions" meant that communsits were cut off in a considerable measure from the mainstream of patriotic struggle. While in other Third World countriess, Marxists have supported cultural anti-colonialism and encouraged national pride, Indian Marxists are generally opposed to anti-colonial dvelopments in the cultural sphere. The knee-jerk anti-Western bias the CPI-M and its followers still exhibit has hampered the smooth running of the State machinery on many occasions, the most recent being refuelling rights for the United States Air Force on their way to the Persian Gulf, the friendly visit by an American warship to Madras, and the much talked about nuclear deal between India and the US.

Needless to say, every corner of the country they have touched has wilted away. Amulya Gandhi was forced to admit in 1998, "The Marxist rule of the last two decades has been an unmitigated disaster for West Bengal. Marxism has ensured that West Bengal will become an industrial desert. By blocking investment, both indigenous and foreign, the red trade unions have ensured that the number of unemployed remains high, providing endless supplies of revolutionary cadres from the ranks of the lumpen proletariat." At the academic level, many Indian Marxists have managed to portray themselves to the international academic and journalism communities as privileged commentators on Hindu communalism. It is ironic and deeply disturbing, not to mention the questions it raises about Western academia, that a movement which still swears by Lenin and Stalin (the Maoists chose to abandon Parliamentary procedure and take to the jungles as Naxal rebels) is hailed in Western universities as a guardian of civil polity against the encroaching barbarism of Hindu revivalism. However, the unreserved admiration of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao is not noteworthy.

The postmodern form of Marxism, quite popular in academia, denies the very notion of objective knowledge. It assumes that knowledge is conditioned by one's social belonging, insisting that all research in the social sciences has a political agenda. Implied is that once one has identified a scholar as a representative of the wrong interest group, his/her arguments are ipso facto wrong. This feeble pseudo-intellectual trick has worked with the Indian Right because, unfortunately, the idea of a Right-wing intellectual is a bit of a misnomer in India. Marxists have occupied and held the public sphere without challenge for at least the past 35 years and it is near impossible to assail them today. Marxist control of the English news media in India and key instituitons such as the Indian Council of Historical Research and the National Council of Educational Research Training have given them a disproprtionate voice and influence on Indian self-perception and image in the world. Interestingly, a standard Soviet work, A History of India, by K. Antonova, G. Bongard-Levin, G. Kotovsky (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1979) has been far more sympathetic to the Indian perspective than homegrown Marxists. In the words of a wise Roman,

"A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear. The traitor is the plague."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Vilifying MS Golwalkar

I am not a fan of Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar - I am at a loss to think of anything good Guruji has done. But, call me a liberal if you want, even a condemned man deserves a defence, especially when the attacks on him are by completely ignorant pseudo-secular elements who know less about pluralism than they do about fornication. Golwalkar has been made out to be a Prophet of hate based one one or two select quotes taken from his early work, We, Our Nationhood Defined:

From this standpoint, sanctioned by the experience of shrewd old nations, the foreign races in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e. of the hindu nation, and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race; or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment - not even citizen's rights.

Now, clearly, it is entirely irrelevant that Golwalkar himself repudiated this work later on (and even withdrew the book from print in 1948), as is the fact that this was no better than could have been expected under Islamic law even in more liberal regimes such as the Ottoman Empire. Or for that matter, depending upon occasional mood swings, no better than Jews in Christian Europe could expect (I will refrain from mentioning how life was under communism, in the glorious People's Republic of China or Eastern Europe). However, this statement, and others like it from this work, have been used repeatedly to vilify Golwalkar. It might also strike the unbiased reader here that anyone who expects the thoughts of a person to remain unchanged throughout his life either has a political axe to grind or is mind bogglingly obtuse.

So what else did Golwalkar say or write in the thirty-six years he lived after the publication of the book that would damn him
forever? Though Golwalkar's published speeches and writings run into many hundreds of pages, only a few dozen of these pages deal with Islam. His image in the seclarist press was that of an anti-Muslim fanatic, yet the interest he took in the 'Muslim problem' was very limited and never motivated him to a serious study of the subject. As a result, his interviewers usually forced the subject and most of quotations of Golwalkar's on Islam are from interviews, published as appendices in his books, Bunch of Thoughts and Spotlights or as a separate pamphlet, Guruji and the Muslim Problem. His utterances invariably revolved around the alleged Muslim disloyalty to India. Golwalkar routinely referred to Muslims as foreigners who used India as a sarai. This is not entirely unprovoked given, for example, Muhammad Iqbal's poem Shikwa in which he writes, No matter if my idiom is Indian,my spirit is that of Hijaz. Or the poet Hali's famous couplet which read,

راستے ہندوستان , ای گلستان بخزن ؛ بہت دیں رہ چکے ہم تیرے بدیشی مہمان
(Farewell, O Hindustan, a garden in which autumn never comes, We, your foreign guests, have lived here long enough).

In his 678-page book, Vichaardhaara, Golwalkar devotes barely 15 pages to a discussion of Muslims in India. His objections are purely of a nationalist nature and not religious. His concerns were of Muslim loyalty to the state they now live under. As examples, he cited numerous incidents in history when Muslim generals betrayed HIndu kings, one of the most famous such event being at the Battle of Talikota on January 23, 1565 when two Muslim generals withdrew their forces from battle, reducing Rama Raya's army by 150,000 men. Golwalkar was indeed not fond of Muslims by any stretch of the imagination - the Partition and the electoral success of the seccessionist Muslim League had embittered him, particularly when millions of Muslims opted to stay behind in India despite the creation of Pakistan. Golwalkar always worried of a fifth column now that Muslims in India had organised and understood the value and power of their vote.

Unexpectedly though, Golwalkar supported the Gandhian and secularist view that the Hindu-Muslim conflict in 1921-47 culminating in the Partition was purely a British machination unrelated to the political doctrine of Islam. Golwalkar opined that if India reconquered Pakistan, the Hindu-Muslim problem would not continue because Hindus and Muslims had lived in one land, albeit with a few problems, for hundreds of years - the problem was the British policy of divide and rule. Once the British were ejected from the subcontinent, there would be no one to rake up mischief. As he wrote in Vichaardhaara, "the Muslims must realise that we are all one people and it is the same blood that courses in all our veins. They are not Arabs or Turks or Mongols. They are only Hindu converts." (Spotlights, 43) This does not mean that Golwalkar wanted to reconvert Muslims - Hinduism has never sought converts, and Golwalkar was no different. "Indianisation does not mean making all people Hindus. Let us realise and believe that we are all children of the soil coming from the same stock, that our great forefathers were one, and that our aspirations are also one. That is all, I believe, the meaning of Indianisation...The main reason for Hindu-Muslim tension is that the Indian Muslim is yet to identify himself fully with India, its people and its culture (Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf told an audience of Indian Muslims in Delhi in 2005 that they should be Indians first and Muslims second). Golwalkar's position that Islam is not the problem but Muslims is contrary to the traditional Hindu criticism of the followers of Muhammad. For Golwalkar, Muslims who cause trouble in India are necessarily Pakistani agents - thus Indian Muslims are not a problem.

This sentiment is not restricted to merely events of long ago. On a burning social and political issue like the Uniform Civil Code, Golwalkar's thoughts are surprising: A reformist's attitude is all right. But a mechanical leveller's attitude would not be correct. Let the Muslims evolve their own laws. I will be happy when they arrive at the conclusion that polygamy is not good for them, but I would not like to force my views on them. Implied is that Golwalkar had no quarrel with any class, community or sect wanting to maintain its identity so long as that identity does not detract from its patriotic feeling (Anderson and Damle, Brotherhood in Saffron, p.83). "Let Muslims be more devout Muslims. We will help them to be more devout" he wrote in Spotlights (p.48).

So why do I not like Guruji? He does not appear, contrary to what the "secular" brigade have been screaming, the next genocidal dictator. I am not fond of Golwalkar because he was an anti-intellectual - despite teaching at a university as a biology professor, every time he would see an RSS man reading, he would ask them if they had nothing sueful to do for the Sangh. Although many RSS members are today doctors and engineers, it is not because of their belief in intellectual pursuits but because of the status such degrees bring to the holder in India. Golwalkar was dismissive of the humanities and valued only practical and functional academic interests such as the sciences. Thus, he did not encourage disciplines that stressed critical and multi-dimensional thinking and deeply distrusted anyone who had such a background. He felt that too much focus on cerebral activities divorced people from ground realities and paralysed their ability to act. Following his lead, many RSS people have rhetorically asked, "What good was ever done by intellectuals?" This attitude also stems in part from the droves of Marxist intellectuals whom the RSS see as traitors. These intellectuals dominate Indian cultural life quite easily because there has been no challenge for control of the public space by the RSS or any Hindu unit. Sadly, although most communities have representation in India - Muslims, Christians, scheduled castes - it is Hindus, the majority, who remain unrepresented. What is worse, given some of the crass outbursts of some of the lower levels of the RSS or VHP, defending Hinduism has become a malodorus activity. If there is no viable opposition to multiple personal laws, the Haj subsidy, and Marxist attempts to take over temples, it is because the space for Hindu interests has been occupied by an ineffective and lethargic organisation who remain out of politics for the most part. Sant Kabir expressed it best in his doha:

घी के तो दर्शन भले
खाना भला न तेल
दाना तो दुश्मन भला
मुरख का क्या मेल

Monday, September 21, 2009

We, The (Secular?) People of India...

Aristotle would probably never have been in the proper frame of mind to write Categories had he lived in India, for India has made a pig's breakfast of many Western categories. Take nationalism, for instance - India is disunited by language and religion, deriving no cohesive identity of even an imagined nation as has been the general experience. Religion and science is another blurred boundary for Indians as prominent scientists still refer to horoscopes and have quirky superstitions about solar eclipses. India has yet another distinctive accolade that defies just about any other human experience - an oppression of the majority in a democratic state.

The rise of an angry Hindu politics over the past two decades has been the direct result of the denial of rights by the Indian Government to the 80.5%-majority Hindu population in relation to other religious denominations. These discriminatory policies (some of them Constitutional) have been a major bone of contention for Hindus. If India claims to be secular (stated explicitly in the preamble to the Constitution), then let it completely disregard religious classification. On the other hand, if it wishes to hold on to religious communalism (not recommended by this author), let it legally define areas in which religious law can take precedence over secular law and apply it equally and fairly to all communities. The record in India, as it stands today, is of allowing all sorts of liberties and financial incentives for any religious group except Hindus, thereby denying the majority population rights that are granted to every other religious group in the country. Of course, it is sometimes pointed out that not all Hindus think of themselves as Hindus (or are apathetic to their classification as Hindus) but legally, if the Government of India has seen it fit to use religion as a category of consideration for disbursing its bounty and applied it universally to all non-Hindu groups (without regard to whether they consider themselves as Muslims or Christians or some other denomination), then it should be equally applied to Hindus as well. At the risk of pondering over the obvious, let us look more closely at some of these discriminatory laws - this state of affairs is largely unknown outside of India because the Western press takes the easy option of accessing the Indian English press rather than refer to vernacular presses (even within India, more people than one would think are unaware because of the highly successful infiltration of anti-Hindu elements into top positions in Indian social life).

* * * * *
Article 25: (1) Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion.

Explanation I.—The wearing and carrying of kirpans shall be deemed to be included in the profession of the Sikh religion.
Explanation II.—In sub-clause (b) of clause (2), the reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist religion, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construed accordingly.
* * * * *

A law promising the freedom of religion is not, in principle, problematic. However, the aggressive proselytisation by some religions causes social fractures in a community. The right to propagate a religion was added to this Article by the Constituent Assembly under strong pressure from Christian groups in India as well as the United States. The right to peddle one's religion is an unequal right because Hindus, Zoroastrians, Jews, Buddhists and Jains do not seek converts while Christianity and Islam do and giving both these groups the right to do so is like giving wolves and sheep the right to eat one another. Some countries have banned proselytising (Islamic countries, for example), claiming that conversion causes social instability and breakdown of order. In the Indian experience, this has indeed been true with converts to Islam and Christianity as the new initiates are told to shun their old ways, including interaction with the local community. Anthropologists like Joseph Troisi and Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf have studied the impact of Christianity and Islam on tribal societies and concluded that it does indeed lead to separatism within the community as common rituals and customs are suddenly discarded by one group.

Of course, not all tribes experience such difficulties. Tribes encountering Buddhism or Hinduism have learned to coexist with their new neighbours and even on occasion of conversion to the different faith, they have remained integrated within the fabric of their own communities, the Khowas of Kameng being a good example and standing in stark contrast with the Nishis of Subansiri. In the latter case, the disruptions were severe enough that the state government of Arunachal Pradesh enacted in 1978 their Freedom of Religion Act which allows people to freely practice their religion and convert if they wish to but bans missionary work in the state. This law, like many others in India, has a record of being more honoured in the breach than the observed.

* * * * *
Article 26: Subject to public order, morality and health, every religious denomination or any section thereof shall have the right—

(a) to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes;
(b) to manage its own affairs in matters of religion;
(c) to own and acquire movable and immovable property; and
(d) to administer such property in accordance with law.
* * * * *

This Article, again sounding universal, is used discriminatorily against Hindus. The state has tried time and again to usurp Hindu
temples, ashrams, and charities citing corruption as the reason. Somehow, this does not seem to apply to institutions of other religions. For example, no state government has yet acted against the wakf boards guilty of stealing over 400,000 acres of land. As Outlook magazine reported, "It is collectively the biggest land scam in India's history. a national resource that should have been developed for the welfare of the community, as it is meant to. Instead, this resource has been mortgaged, sold and encroached upon with the connivance of the very institutions and individuals responsible for safeguarding it. This is an investigation into a systemic rot. The Wakf boards in most states of India are repositories of corruption, in league with land sharks and builders. They continue to get away with the daylight robbery of their own community because, whenever there is any demand for scrutiny, they crudely take cover behind the 'Islam in danger' sentiment." In 1990, however, in response to the Kerala High Court verdict that only Hindus who believe in God or temple worship should be allowed to stand as candidates in elections of temple boards, the state government amended the 1950 Travancore-Cochin Religious Institutions Act to define Hindus as anyone born into or converted to Hinduism and therefore eligible for election to the Devaswom Boards - in direct violation of Article 26 that guaranteed religious groups the right to manage their own affairs. Subsequently, the Boards were filled with Marxist stooges of the CPI-M. As Congress spokesman Karunalaran said to reporters, Those who have no faith in temples could destroy them from within if they were given the right to run them."

The claim that temple funds were being misused and therefore the government had to step in is utter nonsense, for anyone in any country know that government involvement in a venture does not ensure the lack of corruption but facilitates it. Public Sector Units across India are rife with nepotism and corruption and yet the CPI-M is quiet on that front. The real reason for absorbing the temples is that temple trusts have large reservoirs of money from donations given by the millions of pilgrims that visit every year. The temples in question have a revenue of at least six billion rupees and assets of around two and a half tonnes of gold. Upon appeal, the Supreme Court decided in favour of the communists, arguing that the property of the temples was that of the deity and management rights are not hereditary to brahmins. In essence, one may own one's house but the government will tell one how to run it.

In the interest of fairness, it must be pointed out that according to the six schools of Hinduism, one can be a monist, monotheist, henotheist, polytheist, or even atheist and be a Hindu. Thus, a Marxist may well have the right to be a member of the Devaswom Board. Common sense would dictate, however, that those inimical to the intent of an organisation should probably not run it or
even be allowed to join. After all, one does not see the CPI-M extend an invitation to Ratan Tata to be a member of their Politburo.

This situation is not unique to Kerala - in the 1983 case of Kashi Vishvanath Temple vs. Uttar Pradesh, the Supreme Court declared, "The Hindus are not a denomination, section, or sect under the Constitution. They cannot under Article 26 claim the fundamental right to maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes, to manage their own affairs in matters of religion, to own and acquire movable property, and to administer such property in accordance with law." It does not get much clearer than this.

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Article 30: (1) All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.

44th Amendment (1978):

(1A) In making any law providing for the compulsory acquisition of any property of an educational institution established and administered by a minority, referred to in clause (1), the State shall ensure that the amount fixed by or determined under such law for the acquisition of such property is such as would not restrict or abrogate the right guaranteed under that clause.
(2) The State shall not, in granting aid to educational institutions, discriminate against any educational institution on the ground that it is under the management of a minority, whether based on religion or language.
* * * * *

In principle, this law protects communities from being assimilated or subsumed into others, and as a result, hundreds of institutions based on language and religion have sprouted up all across India, keeping many communities that might have otherwise died off vibrant. In implementation though, this right is denied Hindus. Take for example the attempt by the communist government of West Bengal to take over the Ramakrishna Mission schools in 1980. The Ashram finally tried to reclassify itself as a non-Hindu organisation (an effort defeated by its own board) to escape from the clutches of the state government. Although the Supreme Court finally saved the Ramakrishna Ashram schools from being nationalised, it was not under Article 30 but under an old Bengal state law. The implication of this is that Hindu organisations are not protected under Article 30, even though the Article makes no distinction between Hindus and non-Hindus. A further consequence of this law is that if anybody wants to run a school that imparts Islamic or Christian theology, the Central and State Governments will be giving it grants and meeting much if not all of the school's expenses. However, if the school imparts Hindu education, such as an invocation to Saraswati (the Hindu Goddess of Knowledge), the school would have to look for funds elsewhere. Furthermore, all private schools and institutions have to reserve seats for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes but not minority institutions. Private institutions need to obtain permission of the Chief Educational Officer before appointing outsiders and can be de-recognised by the state if any of its rules are violated. Minority institutions cannot be de-recognised and are under no obligations in hiring from the authorities. And most seriously, Hindu institutions have no fundamental right to compensation upon cumpulsory acquisition of its property and assets by the state that minority insttituions do. Very few people have challenged this state of affairs, not even the BJP - AB Vajpayee, the longest serving Member of Parliament, is yet to speak on the issue. However, former Governor of Jammu & Kashmir, Jagmohan, has urged the Centre to look at the "unhealthy and unwholesome implications of Article 30." To be fair, some figures in minority communities have also spoken out against Article 30, stating that the special privileges enjoyed by the minorities should be extended to the majority as well.

* * * * *
Article 370: (1) Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution,—

(a) the provisions of article 238 shall not apply in relation to the State of Jammu and Kashmir;
(b) the power of Parliament to make laws for the said State shall be limited to—
(i) those matters in the Union List and the Concurrent List which, in consultation with the Government of the State, are declared by the President to correspond to matters specified in the Instrument of Accession governing the accession of the State to the Dominion of India as the matters with respect to which the Dominion Legislature may make laws for that State; and
(ii) such other matters in the said Lists as, with the concurrence of the Government of the State, the President may by order specify.

Article 371A: (1) Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution,—

(a) no Act of Parliament in respect of—
(i) religious or social practices of the Nagas,
(ii) Naga customary law and procedure,
(iii) administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Naga customary law,
(iv) ownership and transfer of land and its resources, shall apply to the State of Nagaland unless the Legislative Assembly of Nagaland by a resolution so decides;
(2) Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, for a period of ten years from the date of the formation of the State of Nagaland or for such further period as the Governor may, on the recommendation of the regional council, by public notification specify in this behalf,—
(c) no Act of the Legislature of Nagaland shall apply to Tuensang district unless the Governor, on the recommendation of the regional council, by public notification so directs and the Governor in giving such direction with respect to any such Act may direct that the Act shall in its application to the Tuensang district or any part thereof have effect subject to such exceptions or modifications as the Governor may specify on the recommendation of the regional council
(d) the Governor may make regulations for the peace, progress and good Government of the Tuensang district and any regulations so made may repeal or amend with retrospective effect, if necessary, any Act of Parliament or any other law which is for the time being applicable to that district.

Article 371G: Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution,—

(a) no Act of Parliament in respect of—
(i) religious or social practices of the Mizos,
(ii) Mizo customary law and procedure,
(iii) administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Mizo customary law,
(iv) ownership and transfer of land, shall apply to the State of Mizoram unless the Legislative Assembly of the State of Mizoram by a resolution so decides
* * * * *

The above provisions of the constitution do not, prima facie, sound like discrimination against Hindus. However, the import of these provisions is that the states of Jammu & Kashmir, Nagaland, and Mizoram are not subject to Indian laws unless their state legislature ratifies them. It also happens that these states are three of the eight states (Nagaland, Mizoram, Jammu & Kashmir, Lakshadweep, Arunachal Pradesh, Punjab, Manipur, and Meghalaya) in which Hindus are in a minority (Mizoram - 3.55%, Nagaland - 7.7%, Jammu & Kashmir - 29.63%) and the dominant religion is either Islam or Christianity. In the other five, the religion is either animistic, Sikhism, or related closely to Hindusim (such as Maibaism in Manipur). The result of this law is that, in Kashmir for example, non-Kashmiris cannot purchase land, get loans or grants from state institutions, or vote in the state. To be fair, this law was passed by Maharaja Hari Singh before independence, but it has meant that over 100,000 Hindu and Sikh refugees from what is now Pakistan were not given state citizenship and treated as refugees rather than as countrymen. Today, the law helps maintain the Muslim majority of the state, particularly after the exodus of large numbers of Kashmiri brahmins from the state in 1989 and 1990.

Other Forms of Discrimination


Since 1995, the Government has been busily setting up the National Minorities Development & Finance Corporation and its state chapters. With initial seed money of Rs. 5 billion (Rs. 8.5 billion by the end of 2008), the Corporation seeks to advance the interests of minorities by giving them loans, micro-credit, create avenues for self-employment, educational opportunities, and assist them with other ventures. This is undoubtedly a noble aim, but why is it limited only to minorities? Should the Government not aspire to do this for all its citizens equally? There is no mention of all this aid being disbursed on a need-basis; the only criterion for eligibility is that you must be a Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, or Parsi. The priority within the minority segment of the population will be based on economic status, with anyone below double the poverty line being given the highest priority. So in essence, if you were a Hindu making less than Rs. 20,000 per annum, you would not receive aid whereas a minority making Rs. 40,000 per annum would.


The Minorities Commissions produce reports from time to time which cannot be suppressed from Parliament due to the statutory status of these Commissions. The demands in some of these reports is nothing short of brazen – one report asked that 1985 be designated the Year of Minorities and Weaker Sections, while another report demanded that no proof of nationality should be required from Muslims upon appointment to a job (this was in context of around ten million Bangladeshi refugees flooding into India as a result of the atrocities committed by the troops from West Pakistan in 1971 in what was then East Pakistan, many of whom did not wish to return and stayed on as illegal immigrants).

Lack of a Uniform Civil Code

The lack of a Uniform Civil Code is the ultimate marker of inequality. By law, Hindus (and the cluster of religions deemed Hindu-esque) and governed by a set of secular laws (the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, the Hindu Succession Act of 1956, the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act of 1956, and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act of 1956) while Muslims fall under the jurisdiction of the Muslim Personal Law (Sharia) Act, the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act of 1939, the Wakf Act of 1913, and the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act of 1986 (Shah Bano Amendment). Christians are granted their own marriage customs but their
divorces fall under the Indian Divorce Act (1869). A little known fact is that the Constitution of India states quite explicitly in Article 44 that “The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.” It is one of the great mysteries of India, right up there with the Rope Trick, why the overwhelming majority of Indians are completely accepting of successive Indian governments violating the Constitution of the land and brand the one regime that did want to follow the Constitution (the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1998-2004) as communal and fascist. Over the years, there have been cases in which Hindu men converted to Islam solely to practice bigamy. This situation has been deplored by the Islamic clergy while they simultaneously sanction Muslim polygamy on a daily basis. A Uniform Civil Code is not a demand by Hindus or Parsis or Sikhs but a fundamental tenet of secularism, which though promised by the Constitution, is today a sectarian and communal issue.


It is no googly that religion and politics are thoroughly intertwined in India. One ugly institution that creates inertia and resists any shift from the deplorable status quo is the phenomenon of vote banks. Not only do politicians in power pander to segments of the population to enhance their re-electability, they also re-draw district boundaries such that these segments get local majorities. The Moplahs of the Malabar Coast rioted in the 1960s, demanding the creation of Malappuram. This is not an isolated case, and Muslims have consistently received such indulgences over the years, first from the Raj, and then from the state and central governments of India.

Pilgrimage subsidies

In 2007 the Haj subsidy paid by the Indian government was Rs. 595 crores, and for 2008 it was Rs. 700 crores. Since 1994 the round trip cost to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia has been fixed at Rs. 12,000 per pilgrim, and the government has footed the rest of the bill. In 2007 this difference came to Rs. 47,454 per passenger and the subsidy per person was Rs. 120,000 in 2009. In contrast, pilgrims to Lake Manasarovar in Tibet are given a paltry Rs. 3,250, if you get it - the Indian Government is known to be habitually late in giving out subsidies to pilgrims going to Manasarovar.

Secularism, a bad word

The state of secularism in India is quite dismal. However, anyone daring to point that out is at once labelled communalist and
categorised with the saffron brigade, a convenient marker that allows the media and India watchers to blatantly disregard without even considering the content of their criticism. The reach of the pseudo-secularists is quite impressive – in November 2008, soon after the Presidential elections in the United States, when President-elect Barack Obama appointed Sonal Shah to his transition team, prominent Indian-Americans were mobilised to protest her alleged RSS-VHP links. The same group lobbied the US Government to deny Narendra Modi a visa to visit the United States due to the Godhra riots (It is small matter that Kutubuddin Ansari, the poster boy of the Godhra riots with his folded hands and tearful expression, has returned to Ahmedabad after being unable to cope with the backwardness and minimal employment opportunities of West Bengal – even he is willing to ‘risk’ his life and live in a state run by a ‘communal and fascist’ government than one run by ‘progressives’ and Leftists). True secularists in India, more concerned with gaining the approval of the mainstream English press than issues, have the worst publicity machine known to man, and the country is paying for it dearly. At the very mention of secularism in India, one can hear Voltaire and Condorcet turning in their graves.

The Indian Constitution can be found HERE.