Several days of rioting in the western Indian state of Gujarat have
left hundreds of Muslims and Hindus dead and stirred anxiety
throughout the nation and the region. At a time when South Asia is on
edge because of religious hatred and the war in Afghanistan, the
violence makes clear that India has work to do to sustain the
sectarian harmony that Mohandas K. Gandhi, the independence leader,
championed in Gujarat more than 50 years ago.
The ghastly images from India of neighborhoods torched, trains attacked and passengers slaughtered recall the upheavals after India's independence and partition from Pakistan in 1947. The Gujarat riots, centered in Ahmedabad and the town of Godhra, also echo the violence that erupted in the same region in the 1980's. The main provocation this time has been the attempt by Hindu fanatics to build a temple on the supposed site of the Hindu god Ram's birthplace in the northern Indian city of Ayodhya.
The current cycle of killing began in 1992, when a mob of Hindus demolished the mosque that stood on that site, which Muslims say was built by the Moghul conqueror Babur 400 years ago. The attack on the mosque led to Hindu-Muslim bloodletting in Bombay. The current Hindu nationalist government of Atal Behari Vajpayee, which has broad support among Hindu extremists, has condemned any attempts by Hindus to build a temple on the sacred site in Ayodhya. The home minister, L. K. Advani, who in the past has supported Hindu revivalism, has said the government would not allow freelance extremists to put up a temple unless such construction were approved by the courts and accepted by the Muslims.
The pledges by Mr. Vajpayee and Mr. Advani have been welcome, but they and their government must do more to curb the fanaticism of groups that support their government. India's leaders have demanded that Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, act more forcefully to curb violent groups in his nation. Mr. Vajpayee and Mr. Advani need to meet with groups of all religions to head off additional eruptions of ethnic violence.
It has lately become fashionable to characterize India as an artificial creation, a relic of the British empire that is so balkanized by myriad religious, linguistic, caste, ethnic and racial groups that only a breakup of the country can bring peace. That is a misinformed view. Most of India's one billion citizens reside in nearly 600,000 villages across the country - almost all of which are divided along the same sectarian lines that divide the country. Indians cannot be uprooted and reassembled by ethnic group. They have to live together in a nation that respects diversity, democracy and secularism in government. The riots of the last week have set back that cause.
Strange as may sound, the quest for a solution to India's age-old
communal problem may require an intellectual endeavour in which the governments and intelligentsia of both Pakistan and India should coordinate efforts. Including Pakistan is not as outlandish an idea as it may initially sound. After all Pakistan had emerged as a separate state ostensibly to solve the Hindu Muslim problem of British Indian Empire. That it did not achieve the purpose is history; indeed it intensified the problem in some ways.
Historically the 1947 Settlement is an important milestone. It is necessary to remember the main purpose behind 1947 Settlement and its various ingredients. Not only was it intended as a desperate kind of solution of the Hindu-Muslim problem but what was also implied was that the two states would stay friendly and cooperate in the quest for resolving the residual communal problem. That was then seen as a prerequisite to the people of both countries settling down to peaceful pursuits. This last implication has by now been forgotten because both states adopted divergent policies from day one and their foreign policies inherited the entire antagonistic baggage of the leaders of the Indian National Congress and the then Muslim League. The basic purpose of the Settlement was lost sight of.
Fifty years and more on, it is time to look back and reassess. This should not be misunderstood. One is not advocating the undoing of the 1947 scheme. History cannot be reversed just like that. Facts have to be seen for what they are --- and as they are. The two states exist with their respective vested interests. There should be no needless and extraneous tampering with them as entities --- unless we want more bloodshed. But a reassessment is needed for reviewing the trends then and in recent past in the light of experience. This has to be done keeping in mind what the original purposes were and what should be in the light of commonly shared values.
Let's be sure about the common or shared values. The purpose of all social organisation, a state in particular, is to ensure the civilised enjoyment of all human rights by all the citizens without discrimination and that includes the people's right to a constantly improving standard of living without compromising any of the personal freedoms. An economics of plenty has to be the aim that gives jobs to all adults or a measure of security to all unemployed. It is now inevitable that Indians and Pakistanis should move away from 'national security first' to 'social security first'. That will guarantee peace and stability. This supreme value is universal and can be summed up as democracy, with its tolerance of dissent and pluralism. It is theoretically accepted by both Pakistani and Indian political classes. Indeed if their practice does not come up to their open and implied acceptance of this value, as it does not, public policies will need to be redesigned and redirected by both. This direction of policy change, while being pro-people's welfare, is also calculated to bring these 'communities' and the two states closer to each other. Creating unity while preserving diversity, as in Europe, is the not impossible task.
Facts on the ground show the heavy presence of religious extremism and intolerance; these are common to Pakistan, India and indeed Bangladesh. One of the facts of life is that societies throughout South Asia are richly plural and diverse. This richness has to be not merely preserved but built on and pluralism has to be treasured. The scope of the central value one has talked about, is not limited to the political sphere; it extends to, and includes, cultural enrichment. Both bread and freedom are vital to human beings so that they bring out their best and have opportunities to enrich their cultural lives. This has to be made the central theme of all social, political and economical policies, together with the preservation of all human freedoms. People of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka as much as of India are characterised by diversity; they all manifest the original diversities that has made historical India, or South Asia as we now call it, one of the richest reservoirs of civilisations.
For achieving the shared values, it is necessary to organise cooperation throughout South Asia among those who cherish these common democratic values. This need not to be confused with the strictly-controlled political cooperation that has been grudgingly conceded to SAARC. What is needed is cooperative effort by the humanists and democrats in the region who want their region to be necessarily secure --- in the sense of keeping the region's affairs being mixed up with international alliances of big and powerful states for grabbing the resources of the Asian continent and of the resulting cold and hot wars. Then they would go out to reorienting the politics and economy of each SAARC state so as to enable their people a greater measure of economic progress and fuller enjoyment of their human rights.
This is how we should want things to be. Things are however nowhere like what we want them to be. The politics of both states is so oriented as to mainly pursue an antagonistic national security policy. Instead of preparing war against each other, we must redirect their energies to rebuilding their economies to employ their huge populations to make true economic progress. The task is certainly political in the best sense of the term. However the formation of a new political party or parties is not being suggested. What is needed is a well-coordinated movement that would promote human rights, secular democracy and open the vistas of economic progress and cultural enrichment. Indeed no new organisation might be necessary, as some do exist with the same aim. These need to be strengthened and vitalised.
However stark facts are being reported by newspapers of continuing communal killings and other manifestations of religious or even political intolerance. These need to be curbed, of course. However, a mere law and order approach of using military and para-military forces to suppress the 'riots' has a limited relevance. The purpose of policy should be to prevent such an immediate necessity from arising. What is required is a change in the perceptions of the masses of people everywhere in South Asia. So long as they continue to see themselves in terms of religious or communal or other collective identities amidst prevailing economic conditions, where economic want is the norm, such eruptions of communal violence and irrational behaviour will continue to take place from time to time.
Getting people to see themselves as human beings (citizens) first, and Muslims, Hindus or others later is the actual task, if we want to see rational behavior as the daily norm in peaceful and civilised societies. How precisely are we to displace the communal identities with that of being responsible units or citizens of a free society would require, first of all, to make the leaders of opinion realise how did the communal identities emerge in historical India as a certain process that served imperial purposes of Britain. Once their political significance as a ploy of colonialists is seen, a change may then be possible if the other alternative identity can be envisioned in highly desirable conditions. In which case, the people will want and value their new identity. The identity of a free human being or citizen is the true alternative that can ensure progress of all citizens in an ambience of rapid economic progress. It sounds and looks a prosaic objective rather deceptively. It is in fact a big and challenging task involving a large intellectual, political and economic effort. One can only enumerate the other requirements of creating conditions in which communal identities can get dissolved.
But first let's briefly note how did these communal identities come into being. At least communal identities were unknown to the inhabitants of historical India until the British colonial administration introduced the Hindu and Muslim categories. Indeed there has never been an agreed definition of the term Hindu. Even the Indian Constitution merely lumps together all those who are not Muslims, Sikhs, Parsis, Buddhists and other recognised religious groups as Hindus --- rather descriptively. True, various religious identities always existed. But they had no political importance or function. What the pre-British rulers in historical India recognised was the social categories of the nobles and commoners (Raiyat or Praja).
Society did have other divisions with religious or social sanctions: these were castes. But these were not confined to what are now called Hindus. Conversion to Islam did not change the caste of the convert for the most part, despite Islamic belief in human equality. That equality is in the eyes of God or for other religious purposes. People lived and worked in separate groups and were political subjects of a prince, king or Raja --- irrespective of their religion. All had minimal human rights and the same obligations of doing the assigned tasks and serving their social betters. Religion was massively present in individual lives as belief, customs and rites. But it had no political significance. It made no difference to the common people as to who ruled in the sense of whether he was Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian or any other. In that sense, politics used to be wholly secular in spirit before the colonial times, despite the individual proclivities or prejudices of various Muslim kings like Muhammad Bin Tughlaq or Aurangzeb including the imposition of Jazia or even enforcement of Shariat by Qazis. There was always a separate but roughly equalising dispensation for non-Muslims. Even these were seen as limited infringements of non-Muslims rights. In any case, they did not last long or become norm for even Sultanate period.
The British created a homogenised Hindu - for their administrative and political purposes. The needed sharply to distinguish others from the Muslims and defined each major community for the purpose. Their full range of purposes can be seen and inferred from the earliest minutes of the Fort William College of Calcutta. The community as a concept emerged during the British period of Indian history. The British rulers manipulated these communities for their political purposes: if nothing else, for the ease of administrating such a large and variegated country. During the British period communal question not only originated but continued to grow in bitterness. It resulted from the struggle for favours from the British, jobs and some participation in the administration. Being the largest communities, the Hindu and Muslim communal consciousnesses grew and grew throughout the British period as each wanted more of the limited goods: jobs and other opportunities.
In this light, displacing the communal identities would require obvious things. Ultimately the communities themselves will have to be dissolved, or rendered insignificant, with the emergence of individuals qua individual citizens who are free and respect other's right to be free citizens. But aiming at this today is not achieving it the next day. The social and political policies of the states and the important constituents of the state, mainly parties, groups, associations and the like have to be secular in character and in belief. Needless to emphasise mere preaching and exhortation will not do. Preachers have preached for ages and yet Virtue remains rare and Vice is common. Social conditions, especially economic, have to facilitate the change. Political institutions of democracy are a great help. They enable secular politics to continue to do its conventional work. Other systems for their survival require irrational and emotive ideologies that eventually make progress difficult and help destroy peace and stability. But even democracy has a flip-side to it.
It is in full display in most democracies today. Some politicians do not hesitate to exploit various prejudices of the people. Australians have behaved horribly towards Afghan refugees trying to enter Australia; Skin Heads and Neo-Nazis in Germany frequently beat up Turkish workers and the German governments itself tries desperately to stem the tide of economic refugees often employing brutal methods. All such politics carry hints of lurking racial prejudice against the coloureds; in Britain and France the conservative politicians can always promote their politics by appealing to racial feelings; and in the US evidence of racial profiling and discrimination begins at the airports. In India the manipulation of communal prejudice is a familiar practice and communal riots have their own unique political features. Many Europeans are however likely to be offended by this comparison of their 'minor' discrimination with India's or the Subcontinent's huge killings. Conceding this quantum of damage, both kinds of discriminatory practices spring from same source in terms of quality. It is true the intensity of the South Asians discrimination has to be understood in terms of what its poverty does to men. Which is where the other prerequisites of replacing communal identities fall in place.
Not only has their to be an intellectual movement that favours humanist and secular politics, together with democratic institutions, basic state policies should enable the economy to grow rapidly and to distribute the new wealth more equitably. Today the scramble for jobs and opportunities in conditions of scarcity and widespread poverty intensifies the communal consciousness and creates intense bitterness - because the goodies are too few and claimants are many. In order to secure freedoms and make humanism prevail, an economics of plenty has also to be created along with other elements of good and equitable governance or rule of law. Indeed the latter two are much the same, being two sides of the same coin.
The communal riots in Gujarat have rightly been described by Prime
Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee as ''a blot'' on India's face. In his
televised address to the nation, Vajpayee said, ''Whatever the
provocation, people should maintain peace and exercise restraint,''
implying that he understood there was a provocation.
Assuming that he was referring to the attack on a train carrying Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) kar sevaks at Godhra as the provocation, the burning alive of people, including women and children, from Godhra to Ahmedabad and other places could not have been a response to a single incident. It is part of a process that dehumanises other religious communities and sanctions violence in the name of one's own beliefs.
Communal violence in India is a product of the same way of thinking that produced the Taliban and al Qaeda among Muslims. It is the result of a claim to moral superiority that erodes all moral restraints. And just as the world has decided to wage war against extremist Islamists who feel that their historic grievances justify terrorism, India must deal with the seekers of Hindu Rashtra.
It is ironic that the communal riots in Gujarat have come soon after the BJP's poor electoral performance in Uttar Pradesh and ahead of next year's state elections in Gujarat. The UP election, in particular, should have taught the Hindutva lobby the lesson that ephemeral issues such as Pakistan-bashing and rectifying historic wrongs do not yield votes forever.
The massive military mobilisation along Pakistan's border was meant to give UP's electorate the message that the BJP meant business vis-a-vis Pakistan. But in the end, the UP electorate voted along caste lines or on the basis of who would advance their social and economic interests. The Gujarat riots will probably influence the course of the state's politics for a while. In the long run, however, building extremist religious fever can only tear apart the various communities of India and harm the country's stability.
The Indian government has tried to blame Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for causing the riots in Gujarat. This allegation is unrealistic, to put it mildly. India has a history of communal riots that precedes the emergence on the scene of the ISI. Surely those seeking to blame the ISI for the current carnage in Gujarat have not forgotten the massive violence that accompanied partition.
India and Pakistan must both go beyond blaming their internal misfortunes on each other. Pakistan has learnt the hard way how ignoring extremists can endanger national security and sovereignty. Instead of pointing the finger at Pakistan, perhaps this time India can learn something from its neighbour's experience.
The VHP and other Hindu revivalist organisations have defined Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra in a manner that renders adherence to minority religions and loyalty to India incompatible. Their ideology has more in common with extremist Islamists than with mainstream social or political movements than is recognised.
Militant Muslims attribute the weakness and backwardness of the Islamic world to the rise of the west. They justify violence, including terrorism, as a means of overcoming the weakness imposed by the colonial and post-colonial experience. They refuse to recognise the virtues of democracy or tolerance.
For them, eliminating the symbols of western power and influence are means of Islamic revival. They define Islam in a particular context and do not accept the right of others of practice it differently.
The votaries of Hindutva in India and around the world are no different in essence. The VHP's website, for example, talks of British Raj having de-Hinduised the Indian nation much the same way that Islamists speak of de-Islamisation under western influence. This means that the true Hindu way needs to be defined and obviously the right to define it rests with the advocates of Hindu revivalism.
Extreme beliefs, when accompanied by calls to violence, lead to the mindset that has led to mayhem in Gujarat. As a phenomenon, Hindu fundamentalism should not be ignored because it is built on the same self-righteousness that was witnessed in the behaviour of the Taliban in Afghanistan and in the conduct of suicide bombers around the world.
India's leadership must not only deal with the consequences of the riots in Gujarat but also identify the causes of violent communalism. Conferring legitimacy on extremist religious beliefs as ''nationalism'' led the anti-Soviet Afghan resistance to spawn the jihadi movement that an international coalition is now struggling to eliminate. The seekers of Hindu Rashtra need to be stopped in their tracks before they grow into monsters of al Qaeda proportions.
Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee
Prime Minister of India
Dear Prime Minister,
Asiapeace is a network of concerned individuals dedicated to promoting peace, communal amity, social justice and human rights in South Asia.
We are profoundly shocked by the communal riots in the Indian State of Gujarat. Harrowing scenes of obscene brutality have been witnessed on the television screens by many of us. Although preliminary reports suggest that hotheads from the minority Muslim community initiated the violence, in the last few days the field has been dominated by goons belonging to various Hindu extremist organizations.
There is no doubt that such acts of terror are the handiwork of psychopaths masquerading as men of religion. It has also been widely reported that the Gujarat Government was criminally slow in taking action to stop the carnage. It is however encouraging to know that other state governments have taken appropriate measures to avoid a repetition of such terror in their jurisdictions. The media has also been reporting cases of inter-communal support and protection.
It is therefore clear that only organized terrorist networks are behind the present upsurge of violence in Gujarat. We urge you, therefore, to move resolutely to ban terrorist organizations in India. Pakistan has taken firm measures to curb militant Islamic organizations. India should follow suit and put a ban on Hindu as well as militant organizations claiming to act in the name of other religious groups. Only through coordinated activities of the various governments in the region against extremists can South Asia be made safe for ordinary human beings.
India, as the claimant to the status of the world's biggest democracy, should provide leadership to its neighbours in matters of pluralism, tolerance and individual freedom. It cannot remain a democracy if it privileges or favours a particular religious group.
We urge you also to re-establish the foundations of the Indian polity on the high moral ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and the emancipatory path laid down by Jawaharlal Nehru.
1. Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed
Department of Political Science
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Ishtiaq A Chisti, Long Beach, California USA. 172. Prashanth K.Anthony, CISRS, Mumbai India. 173. Dr Anwar Ul Haq Islamabad, Pakistan. 174. Birgitte Danielsen, Singapore. 175. Dr. Partha S. Ghosh Director Indian Council of Social Science Research New Delhi-110067, India. 176. Ash Khan Retired Petroleum Engineer Calgary, Canada. 177.. Azam Saeed Connecticut, USA. 178. M.Aslam Malik Gen Sec Pakistan Trade Union Federation, Gen Sec Workers Party, Lahore, Pakistan. 179. Prof. Maneesha Tikekar Mumbai, India. 180. Ravinder Kaur Centre for Development Research Copenhagen, Denmark 181. Joe Mangalam, S.J. Movement for Secular Democracy, Ahmedabad, India. 182. Shamim Huq, Houston, Texas. 183. Dr. Mahboob A. Khawaja, Ph.D. For Forum of Concerned Pakistanis Canada. 184. Mahmood Faridoon Retd Journalist, Stockholm Sweden. 185. Prof. M I Haque Quetta, Balochistan, Pakistan. 186. S. Riyaz Mahdi 'Inter-Nation & Inter-Religion Coalition for Love, Peace, and Freedom' Rancho Palos Verdes, CA, USA. 187. Siva Digavalli Harvard, USA. 188. Harun Khalid Raffael Botanisches Museum Freie Universitaet Berlin Germany. 189.Dr.A.H.JafforUllah, Editor, New From Bangladesh and Nirvana Newsgroup New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. 190. Subuhi M. Jiwani New York, USA. 191. Dr Rinku Dutta Ph.D. 31 South First Avenue Highland Park, NJ 08904 U.S.A. 192. Dr. Ahmed Badruzzaman Anaheim, California, USA. 193. Syeda Khundkar Huntington Beach, California USA. 194. Imran Khundkar Huntington Beach, California USA. 195. Ayesha Mahmood Huntington Beach, California USA. 196. Dr. Kamal Mitra Chenoy, human rights & peace activist & President, JNU Teachers' Association, JNU, New Delhi, India.University, Karachi, Pakistan. 197. Rajinder Arora New Delhi, India. 198 .Delshad Rahman Rowland HeightsCalifornia, USA. 199. Prof. Farida Majid The City University of New York, USA. 200. Professor Anita M. Weiss International Studies Program 5206 University of Oregon Eugene, USA. 201. Urvashi Butalia Writer and Publisher, Delhi, India 202. Thierry DiCOSTANZO, Teacher (EFL , Intercultural Communication) & researcher (South Asia history) #E207 University of Technology,Troyes France- European Union. 203. Manish Paul Jakarta, Indonesia. 204. Saleem Samad Press Watchdog & Secretary General South Asia Media Association (SAMA)-Bangladesh Chapter Dhaka, Bangladesh 204. Mainul Islam Khan Press WatchDog & Deputy Director Bangladesh Centre for Development, Journalism & Communication 63 Central Road, Dhaka 1205 Bangladesh. 205. Imtiaz Gul, VOice of Germany / Friday TImes House 40, Str. 20, F-7/2, Islamabad, Pakistan. 206. Mohammad Zaigham Khan General Directorate of Projects, KACST Riyadh - 11442, Saudi Arabia. 207. Dr. William Robert Da Silva, Germany (Goa). 208. Naren Gandhi Walnut Creek, California, USA. 209. Ameek A. Ponda Sullivan & Worcester LLP One Post Office Square Boston, Massachusetts, USA. 210. Mohiuddin Biyabani, Sunnyvale-CA, ACHA Member, USA. 211. S.SESHAN, India. 212. N.Ramesh Journalist 22, Shivaji Nagar, Thanjavur-613001, Tamil Nadu India. 213. Amin Godil 3813 SE 182nd Ct Vancouver, WA 98683 (360)260-4864 214. Mohammad Sabri Member of ACHA 2924 Hunter way West Linn Oregon 97068, USA. 215. Gulzar Ahmed Tualatin, Oregon USA.
It IS profoundly ironic that India's prime minister Atal Behari
Vajpayee was prevented from attending last week's Commonwealth heads
of government meeting in Australia by the unfinished business of
Partition. The only redeeming factor in his Bharatiya Janata Party's
assumption of office in New Delhi was the likelihood - or at least
the possibility - that its presence at the helm would deter
tendencies towards communal violence.
That hope has now been negated, and one is compelled to wonder whether it is entirely a coincidence that the latest outbreak of violence has followed hot upon the heels of the BJP's recent humiliation in state elections, particularly in its Uttar Pradesh heartland. Even if the two events are not linked by an umbilical cord, the BJP nonetheless has much to answer for in terms of its inability to curb the wilder tendencies of its ideological stablemates such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Shiv Sena - which are, by any standard, as odious as the extremist Islamic groups Pakistan is expected to act against.
It is possible, of course, that last week's heinous attack on Hindu families returning to Ahmedabad from a pilgrimage to Ayodhya was carried out by a band of bloody-minded Muslims on the basis of some perceived provocation, and that the equally reprehensible reprisals by Hindu mobs against Muslims in Ahmedabad were no more than an emotional response to the outrage in which the police apparently colluded by becoming spectators to the mayhem.
But somehow such a course of events seems too convenient. There may be cause to reassess this view should the contagion not spread beyond Gujarat. If, on the other hand, it degenerates into the sort of free-for-all that claimed thousands of lives 10 years ago, it will be hard to shake off the suspicion that the tactics used by Hindu nationalists to acquire power in India are being employed once more to retain it.
At the start of the week, there were signs that the worst may be over. For the time being. But the depraved ogre of hatred between communities will in due course inevitably rear its head once more unless the breeding grounds it thrives upon are thoroughly decontaminated.
Ayodhya is by no means central to communal suspicions and strife in India. It was a marginal issue before Hindu nationalists - including interior minister Lal Krishna Advani, whose ridiculous Rath Yatra a decade ago was an unfortunate milestone in the BJP's ascendancy - whipped up a frenzy about it among their followers. If the Mughal emperor Babar did indeed order the demolition of a temple, the purported birthplace of the mythical Hindu deity Ram, to build a mosque, it was a grievous fault.
The crime was repeated some five centuries hence by the shock troops of the VHP, who destroyed the mosque in 1992, and now they seek to compound it by constructing a temple on the ruins. Certain Muslim groups, on the other hand, have given notice that they intend to rebuild the Babri mosque. What does this bizarre saga prove apart from religion's detachment from reality? Even from a confessional perspective, however, no religion suggests that bricks and mortar are, under any circumstances, more precious than human lives.
The dearth of rationality and logic involved in laying lives on the line in disputes that ought never to have arisen in the first place makes it somewhat less surprising that the foremost opponents of Partition turned into the chief proponents of the divide. Manifestations of this phenomenon can be found on both sides of the border. All that Mohammed Ali Jinnah stood for was anathema, for example, to the Jamaat-i-Islami during the 1940s; that did not prevent it, however, from becoming the chief custodian of Pakistan's ideology a couple of decades later.
Similarly, the Hindu zealots of today can trace their antecedents at least as far back as Nathuram Godse, who assassinated Mohandas Gandhi because the Mahatma was perceived as being too soft on Muslims. Such nationalists deeply resented Partition, yet the extremists among them remain adamant that India should be more or less Muslim-free. As Ramchandra Paramhans, a Hindu ascetic who has dedicated his life to the alleged Ramjanambhoomi in Ayodhya, recently told the Indian writer Pankaj Mishra, reviving a popular slogan from the 1980s and 90s: "There are only two places Muslims can go: Pakistan or Qabristan."
There is indeed something incongruous about the fact that the descendants of all those who before 1947 identified themselves as Indian Muslims - who were led to believe that they constituted a distinct nation - today find themselves divided more or less equally between three nations. This raises a number of intriguing questions, one of the more obvious ones being: could the carve-up have been more judicious? It may not be too hard, in this case, to respond in the affirmative.
But could the division have led to a contiguous territory evolving into a coherent state that could conceivably have satisfied the aspirations of the vast majority - say, at least 90 per cent - of India's Muslims? If not, then might it not, in retrospect, have been wiser to aspire with greater determination for a modus vivendi within the context of a secular, democratic, united India?
Yes, India's secular credentials have certainly been progressively tarnished in recent decades - and not just at the behest of the BJP and its extremist allies. However, it's worth considering that India could have been a remarkably different nation had it not been put through the trauma of Partition.
The tradition of neighbours turning on one another with a vengeance goes back much further, of course, but it found its apotheosis in 1947. And the subcontinent has never quite recovered from the shock. Cynically exploited by opportunist politicians, communal prejudices have been passed down the generations. They are naturally reinforced each time vested interests arrange a series of pogroms.
It would be facile to continue laying the blame for such tendencies on the divisions sowed by the former colonial power. The British had few qualms about manipulating Hindu-Muslim discord for their own advantage. But they have been gone for 55 years. That may not be a particularly lengthy period in historical terms, but surely it's long enough for us to take responsibility for our actions?
It is also worth remembering that irrationalities propelled by faith are not all that we need to fear. Pakistan's history, unfortunately, bears adequate testimony to the fact that mindless violence can stem from any number of differences, perceived or real: sectarian, ethnic, linguistic, caste-based, and so on. Nor should we forget that the resentment that fuels malicious conduct often, perhaps even invariably, is rooted in economic disparities. Just as deprivation - actual or imagined, absolute or real - can be channelled into movements for social progress, it can also be used as a means of instigating fascistic behaviour.
It is not just the depredations of poverty per se on the basis of which the subcontinent is forever teetering on the brink, but also the poverty of leadership, the poverty of imagination, a destructive passion for the lowest common denominator whereby mediocrity almost without fail rises to the surface, like scum in a stagnant pool. Fresh streams - of thought, of consciousness - seldom succeed in rejuvenating us, and when they do it's for all too brief an interregnum. The analogy is hard to avoid: however pristine their sources, the Indus, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra seemingly turn into an undifferentiated, foul-smelling mass of muddy water before they flow into the sea.
One of the primary reasons why we flounder in the twilight is that our dogged refusal to learn from history condemns us to repeat it. It was pertinent of Vajpayee to suggest, in the wake of last week's worst excesses, that Indians should collectively hang their heads in shame. Everyone in the subcontinent, whatever our creed or allegiances, ought to heed that advice. Too many of us are prone to blood lust. Besides, acts of inhumanity - regardless of whether they are perpetrated in Lidice or Srebrenica, Ahmedabad or New York or Kandahar - diminish all of humankind.
And if any vow is called for after the carnage in Gujarat, it's got to be "Never again" rather than "Wait till I get my chance!" Revenge, unlike resistance, is futile. A meaningful existence needs to be constructed on a bedrock of hope, not fear or despair. What's done cannot be undone, but it's still not too late to give ourselves something to look forward to.
THE unthinkable happened a few days ago. An otherwise quiet evening
on the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus in New Delhi was rent by
the cries of Babur ki aulad hosh me aao, hosh me aao.
Standing outside my house, and watching the 200-strong students' march, hate and anger writ large on their face, I wondered what had gone wrong. Why raise provocative slogans at my doorstep? Have we, as teachers, failed to inculcate the values of tolerance and decency in our students? Why the erosion of secular and radical values? Where, if I may ask, are the Yechuris (Sitaram) and Karats (Prakash) at the beginning of this millennium?
I sought and secured the University Rector's intervention. But what happens to the hapless victims in Gujarat? They are trapped in a world that is clearly not their own. Strangers in the land they have inhabited for centuries, nobody responds to their cries or comes to rescue them from the rampaging mobs.
The tragic story of Ahsan Jaffrey's brutal murder is the story of every Gujarati Muslim - lonely, isolated and vulnerable to more attacks. Today, the army has reined in the VHP goons. Tomorrow, they will return armed with swords and trishuls to attack the descendants of Babur. The army will buy 'peace', but it will not be easy to heal the wounds inflicted by so few on so many.
Today, the chief minister of Gujarat quotes Newton's third law - 'every action has an equal and opposite reaction' - to virtually justify the carnage in his own state. Tomorrow, he may pursue the game of brinkmanship and find an alibi for his inaction and criminal negligence.
Yes, Mr Prime Minister, Narendra Modi is a blot ('kalank') on the nation's image. He has unleashed a reign of terror, and his deeds and public pronouncements merit unequivocal condemnation. Although the BJP government has itself forfeited the moral right to remain in power in Gujarat, you will do well to sack the chief minister, an irresponsible sangh pracharak, as a first step towards the restoration of peace in Gujarat.
At the outset let me reiterate a view widely expressed by Muslim leaders and Muslim organisations - that the brutal attack on the Sabarmati Express on February 27 is both regrettable and condemnable. Such an occurrence should never have taken place.
Yet, a newspaper editor construes silence, in some quarters, as acquiescence in the brutal murder of the kar sevaks in Godhra. The VHP's general secretary pours venom against Muslims on a television network, while the Union law minister, instead of ridiculing him, pontificates on the virtues of self-censorship in reporting the ghastly happenings in Gujarat.
Admittedly, the murderous assault on the kar sevaks was planned in advance, and the Godhra incident, caused by some Muslim miscreants, triggered the violence in other parts of Gujarat. Still, this explains neither the conduct of the chief minister, the home minister and the police force nor the brutal retaliation of the Hindu mobs.
When the authorities do not act decisively to contain and control riots, it is not because they do not have the means to do so, but because they choose not to do so.
Let us not forget that the assembly elections in Gujarat will take place in January 2003. The BJP's state unit may well benefit from the riots: they give it the opportunity to stand forth as the protector of one community against the alleged threats of the other, and they help it paint its political rivals, i.e. the Congress, as protectors of the other community.
In this context, four issues need to be addressed: first, the criminal negligence of the administration; the level of intensity, destruction, and murder in particular times and places; the promptness and efficiency displayed by a mixture of lumpen elements and others in systematically destroying Muslim-owned commercial establishments; and, finally, the sources and causes of the deep-seated hatred and hostility towards Muslims.
The persistence of Hindu-Muslim violence is not unusual. What is new is the rapid spread of the cult of violence aimed at the intimidation of Muslims, their selective killing, and the destruction of their properties. In this cult of violence, Muslims continue to be portrayed as the aggressors, and the Hindus as defenders. Somebody has to set the record straight.
Social and economic explanations exist but, in addition, something is fundamentally amiss in Gujarat's history and contemporary polity that makes it prone to the recurrence of large-scale violence. At the heart of the explanation, past and present, is the fact that the social and cultural bonding - once the hallmark of that society - have weakened over the decades. Pride in a Gujarati identity, based on language and region, has disappeared leading to the crystallisation of sharply demarcated communitarian identities.
In 1969, extensive Hindu-Muslim violence at Ahmedabad fractured Gujarat's polity and breached the citadel of composite living. Though the state limped back to some degree of normalcy, there was no attempt to address the conflicts and violence through political and policy changes, and changes in leadership, institutions, and structures. Instead, the BJP turned the official secular ideology on its head by making a case, albeit a flawed one, for a Hindu Rashtra.
In the late 1980s, Hindu nationalism, riding on the crest of a popular wave, widened the existing cleavage. L.K. Advani's rath yatra from Somnath was the last straw. The intensification of Hindu-Muslim ill will during the Ram Janambhoomi movement was part of a political design to create a new Hindu community. The very nature of that exercise was profoundly divisive. The roots of the present violent conflagration lie in the evocative symbols deployed by the BJP to enlarge its political constituency.
The pogrom in Gujarat epitomises the tragedy of a weary nation caught up in the quagmire of ethnic, caste and communal conflicts. Today, the prime minister terms the Gujarat carnage as a 'blot on the nation's image'; tomorrow, the international community may well challenge our claims over Kashmir and the high moral ground we occupy in the world-wide coalition against terrorism.
The project of building the temple must be abandoned in the interest of the Indian nation and its citizens. This will, surely, restore the dignity of our country. Above all, it is certain to bring peace and comfort to Lord Ram.
It is important to keep the facts of the present situation in focus
and to interpret them in perspective. It is a war in which live
bullets are not being fired and actual casualties are not being
incurred. Following the December 13 terrorist attack on Indian
Parliament, India massed its troops on the borders threatening an
invasion either across the LoC in Kashmir or across the international
borders. It took other measures suggesting an imminent war, complete
with an ultimatum for handing over certain persons to India
forthwith, sharply reducing diplomatic representation in each other's
country and totally cutting off road, rail and air links. Meantime
the media war has become ever more intense.
But this situation has lasted too long. The threat of war has dangled in the air for over two months. That India did not go to war for so long means there must have been good reasons not to. These add up to an inability to go to war with Pakistan. On the Pakistan side, there has been no readiness to handover the 20 persons India has demanded. And yet it has no obvious reason to desire a war. Actually, it too is unable to go to war for much the same reasons that have restrained India. Despite neither government's utter inability to countenance war in the current situation, actual threat of war is still there through escalation of an accident or logic of the situation. The reason why peace cannot be maintained is obvious: the insurgency in Kashmir is a cause that has refused to go away. Pakistan claims that it supports the Kashmiris only morally and politically while India suspects that Pakistan's support is far more than that; New Delhi is convinced that much of the Kashmir insurgency is due to Pakistan providing logistic and other material support. India seems to have decided to force the issue with Pakistan even if it takes a war. Hence the threatening moves and the talk of the war. But if there has not been a war for so long, it means there should be none in coming days. The reason is a certain mutual impotence: the nuclear weapons, despite their fearsome potential for utter destruction, have prevented each other from starting the war. No other reason would have prevented the war, including foreign powers' preference for peace and stability in the region.
The recent speech of Indian President K R Narayanan to the joint session of Parliament has shown that India is not willing to accept co-existence on Pakistan's terms; he said that there will be no de-escalation of military tensions and no withdrawal of troops from the borders without Pakistan accepting India's demand. Having gone so far, India finds it difficult to retreat. On the Pakistan side too President Musharraf has virtually said that 'let the Indian troops remain on the borders, it's OK by us'; 'we too shall remain on the borders, ready for the war India might unleash'. In other words, Pakistan has refused to comply with Indian demands. The question now is: how do we interpret these facts and what is to be done next.
As noted, the real cause of this deadlock -- India wanting to force the issue with the threat of war without being able to do it -- is the Bomb. The rationale of the insurgency in Kashmir was Pakistan's nuclear capability, still putative in 1990. The theory was advanced that the putative capability Pakistan has acquired is itself an invincible shield; no one can ignore its deterring capability, especially with given doctrine of its first use by Pakistan that had already been advanced. Ergo, Pakistan and its friends can do anything in Kashmir they please and India will be able to do nothing except increasing the repression of Kashmiris.
But the insurgency has lasted over a decade and India was unable to do anything despite its latest doctrine (2000) of a limited war being still possible between South Asian nuclear powers. In the event, despite all the threatening moves, Pakistan's nuclear weapons have in point of fact deterred India. Which is why there has been no war. India's limited war idea has proved to be an unreliable category -- because Pakistan refused compliance and the continuing uncertainty regarding Pakistan's use of its nuclear weapons in the conventional war. Thus both sides are back to square one.
While it is good that no war has broken out, there has been no peace or stability in India-Pakistan relations at all since May '98. Possession of nuclear weapons made the Indians far too arrogant and they came to the conclusion that it is about time that they confronted Pakistan over Kashmir to make it desist. Since Pakistan gave a tit for tat reply with test explosions of its own, the initial enthusiasm in New Delhi subsided and they adopted the peace option. Prime Minister AB Vajpayee travelled to Lahore on a Bus and ceremonially visited Minar-e-Pakistan. But then Kargil misadventure forced them back to the war option. Growing American support made them even more arrogant. Hence the overreaction to December 13 incident.
It is true that we do not know the precise Indian intentions. For all anyone knows, the entire exercise, costing billions of rupees might be an exercise in coercive diplomacy that does not include actual war, though it necessarily implies the highest stage of brinkmanship of being ready to fight the actual war, the Bomb or no Bomb. The point is that nuclear weapons, by their mere presence, have actually proved to be a deeply de-estabilising factor. Ever since May '98, except for the Lahore interlude, there has been either actual exchanges of fire or an imminent threat of war between India and Pakistan. The conclusion seems to be that nuclear weapons in populous South Asia peace and nuclear weapons do not mesh -- contrary to the earlier rosy expectations of the hawks in India and Pakistan who are known as Neemrana Group under expert American tutelage.
But no two neighbours can remain at war or in a near war situation for ever. They have to sit down and talk peace sometime or other. No doubt both have to be realistic, recognising their mutual impotence in waging war while the issues between them have to be seen in perspective, with a view to resolving them peaceably -- because they can no longer go to war. But then it has also to be recognised by both that neither can force its view of any particular solution or approach on the other. These two recognitions have to be the starting point. Which would imply that both will have to find theoretical bases, as unexceptionable as possible, on which the problems can be resolved. Can so much wisdom be found in the two governments that are sustained by mutually inimical forces in each country and are legatees of so much ill will and conflicting purposes?
But then what of the Bomb and the sense of power it confers? There is a whole mythology around these weapons: they are currency of power, they confer great power status; they entitle the owner too much influence over the neighbours. What is the point of having them if we cannot bully the neighbour we hate? There are no real answers to these questions. These weapons are in fact evil and no good can come out of them. At any rate, in the case of India and Pakistan, they have proved to be useless just when they should have given victory to their owners. It is true that despite Pakistan's nuclear deterrent, India has threatened war, with readiness to wage it. The threat persists. Its deterrence power has proved to be inadequate, if not wholly illusory. This inadequacy of deterrence is on full display in the shape of the Indian army on our borders at the time of this writing. True, Pakistan can inflict horrible damage on India. But so what? Two points became clear during this crisis. There is no likelihood of Pakistan's first strike, supposing it is first, will totally incapacitate India from replying in kind. Secondly, should India make the expected riposte, all major industrial urban centres in Pakistan would be destroyed. What is the whole point of such a nuclear deterrence?
In the case of India too, the panoply of India's nuclear forces have not frightened Pakistan from giving a tit for tat reply. Pakistan's actions have brought it on a par with India; its much-sought regional pre-eminence has gone for a burton. In fact Pakistan's nuclear capability has brought the Indian doctrine of limited war under a cloud of uncertainty. At any rate, since India did not, perhaps could not, implement the threat of war, the whole point of possessing such a large and diversified nuclear forces are lost. It is of course for the Indians to ask their government about the wisdom of spending so much treasure on a deterrent that has in fact not worked and which itself stood deterred at the critical time. One is not bringing in the American advice because it has been, more or less, common to both: keep peace.
Finally, the suggestion requires consideration by all aware citizens that the place of nuclear weapons in national security requires serious rethinking. While their awesome destructive power is in no doubt, their capacity to confer anything of value to the possessor, at least in South Asia has now been proved. Would the powers that be recognise a fact when they encounter it?
The writer is a well-known journalist and freelance columnist
India is a big country, and it is usually big-hearted enough not to
betray signs of being bothered by what we Delhi-based foreign
correspondents write. So it was a rare event when, nearly a year ago,
I was politely summoned to the office of Raminder Singh Jassal, then
Chief Secretary for External Publicity in the Ministry of External
Affairs, and given a sound ticking off.
The main complaint was that I had written at some length about Hindu-Muslim clashes that had broken out in several towns and cities across India following the Taliban's demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas.
The Indian officials didn't question the veracity of my report, but they made it plain that they regarded it as "unfriendly" of me to have written on the topic of communal disturbances at all. "Relations between majority and minority communities have been far better under this government than they were before," Mr Jassal told me. "So when there is some little incident, why focus on it?"
I expect no such call from the ministry this week. The deaths of at least 450, and probably more than 1,000, Gujaratis, nearly all Muslims, in four days of communal bestiality have exploded for ever the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) claim to have presided over an era of communal peace.
And now, riding the crest of that particular wave, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, or "World Hindu Council"), an extremist group within the same Hindu nationalist family as the BJP, is pressing ahead with its plans to begin construction of the long dreamed-of temple to the god Ram in Ayodhya, on the ruins of the mosque torn down by a mob of the same people in December 1992. These two events, the Gujarat bloodbath and the Ayodhya temple, are intimately connected. Taken together they throw into urgent focus the question: what sort of people are ruling the world's biggest democracy today? Where are they headed?
The first man on earth was an Indian, and a Hindu. Hinduism was the primeval religion, not just of India but of the world. There was no Aryan invasion of India, no enslavement of the southern Dravidians. Hindus were here from day one. Other people arrived on these shores, but eventually they bent the knee to Bharat Mata, Mother India, and were knitted into the Hindu fabric. Only the Muslims (and to a lesser extent the Christians) stood out. They smashed temples and erected mosques on the rubble, with sword and fire they tore millions of Hindus from the breast of Mother India and brought them forcibly over to Islam. It is the duty of patriotic Hindus to reverse that historic wrong.
That, reduced to its crude essentials, is the Hindu nationalist creed, and it helps to explain why the primary goal of the most powerful political party in this vast, impoverished country, with all its desperate problems, should be the construction of a temple in a squalid little town in Uttar Pradesh. Ayodhya, goes the mythology, is "Ramjanambhoomi", the birth place of Ram, an avatar of Vishnu. The Muslim invader Babur (and this, too, is myth) tore down the great temple that stood here and built the Babri Masjid mosque, demolished by the mob in 1992. "Hindu Rashtra", the true Hindu nation, cannot come into being until the temple is rebuilt.
The men who have been ruling India for nearly four years, including the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, and his powerful second-in-command Lal Krishna Advani, the Home Minister, are true believers in this, India's exotic variety of neo-fascism. But the world at large has gradually lost sight of that fact. The nuclear tests conducted in May 1998, immediately after they came to power, gave due warning that they meant business. But the need to keep a squabbling and disparate coalition intact forced Ayodhya off the government's agenda. Mr Vajpayee's became the first Indian government to develop cordial relations with the US. Last September, India became a front-line ally in the war against terrorism.
But while India's stature grew abroad, at home Mr Vajpayee was often described by critics on the left as the "mask" of the BJP, the acceptable face of a neo-fascist movement that was only biding its time.
Mr Vajpayee, increasingly doddery at the age of 78, remains in place; but in the past week the party's mask has been ripped away. The war on terrorism and India's long military stand-off with Pakistan, which continues undiminished, have given a new licence to the Hindu nationalists. Muslim equals terrorist, they tell each other: we have it on American authority; we have 140 million terrorists in our midst. At the same time, recent BJP losses in state elections both in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh have given the hardliners a new urgency and and a new determination. Strike, they have been told, while the BJP still holds power. Strike to maintain and increase that power. Now is the moment for dramatic, decisive action.
Mr Vajpayee has fostered the illusion of being a truly national leader, but in Gujarat there is no such pretence: the BJP state government is starkly partisan. After the killing of 58 Hindus in a train last Wednesday, the event that ignited the violence, Gujarat's Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, quickly announced compensation of 200,000 rupees, about £3,000, to the bereaved families. Hundreds of Muslims have died since, but there is no word of compensation for them. Mr Modi endorsed the VHP's call for a strike last Friday, his official nod to the ensuing bloodbath. The police have stood idly by while the mob did its work; sometimes, victims allege, they actively led the violence.
The BJP rose to power, as fascists do, through violence and the threat of more: the Ayodhya demolition signalled its rapid rise from obscurity, the vision of a state where Hindus rule supreme continues to excite its ideologues. In this amazing but horrifyingly immature democracy, muscle power - and that includes the mass burning alive of women and children - can yield political power. The liberal, English-language papers here have tut-tutted in a worried way, but encouraging communal carnage has done Mr Modi's government no harm at all. With the parliamentary opposition still weak and divided, India has set off down a nightmare road.
NEW DELHI - India is back from the brink of a civil war. For the
moment. Or until March 15, the date fixed by Hindu fundamentalists
for starting the building of a temple at the site of a razed mosque
in defiance of orders by the country's highest court.
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is apparently engaged in trying to pacify the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Congress), a sister organization of his Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) that leads a disparate coalition of 20 secular and two Hindu fundamentalist parties running the central government.
Vajpayee has requested the parent body of all Hindu fundamentalist organizations, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) to help mediate between the government and the VHP, the organization which in the RSS scheme of division of labor has been given the task of defying the law, as his own BJP has been given the task of making and protecting the law.
The ultimate goal of the RSS is to establish the primacy of Hindutva (or Hinduism) in the South Asian sub-continent. In his recent visit to New York, Vajpayee had himself reminded the world that as a lifelong swayamsewak (member of the RSS), he is himself committed to the goal of Hindutva domination.
But the RSS division of labor is so successful that many a time even seasoned observers of the Indian scene begin to treat the variety of organizations linked to what is called the Sangh parivar (literally the Hindu fundamentalist family) as separate, thus taking seriously the kind of shadow-boxing that is, for instance, going on now between the BJP and the VHP, with RSS as the mediator.
If the country has come back from the brink for the moment, the credit goes largely to the majority Hindu community, which has by and large refused to participate in a Bharat Bandh (Stop India or Close India) call given by the VHP to protest the killing of 60 passengers of a train bringing militant Hindu volunteers for the building of the Ram temple in Ayodhya to Ahmedabad, the capital city of the western Indian state of Gujarat, the scene of the horrendous earthquake a couple of years ago in which several thousand people died.
The VHP train was attacked and people burnt alive at a small station in Gujarat state called Godhra. Local Muslims, enraged by the provocative slogans of the Hindu militants, are alleged to have engaged in this dastardly act. But, though an official enquiry is yet to begin, opinion is crystallizing now that the Godhra incident, which set off a wave of reprisal killings that has claimed more than 450 lives, must have been a pre-planned affair. An enraged crowd cannot organize petrol bombs in a matter of minutes.
Most observers find it difficult to believe that a 2,000-strong Muslim crowd armed with stones, knives, swords and petrol bombs, as is being claimed, could gather at the railway station of a small communally-sensitive town, in an atmosphere charged with tension on account of the VHP temple-building exercise, without the police becoming aware of it. Indeed, 30 policemen were posted at the railway station itself, just outside of which the train was stopped and one of its coaches burnt.
"That they could stop the train by pulling the chain, pelt stones, compelling the passengers to draw up the shutters, and thereafter bolt the doors from outside and set fire to the bogies, and do all this at leisure, suggests a deep conspiracy. Surely none of this could have been done without preparation, direction and leadership," says India's largest circulated newspaper, The Times of India. Defense Minister George Fernandes has pointed fingers at Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Home Ministry sources talk about Godhra police having been informed about a few Pakistanis who had stayed there beyond their visa limits, though they couldn't do anything about it in time. But junior Foreign Minister Omar Abdullah surprisingly claimed that for once the ISI doesn't appear to be involved. Local police have, however, finally started claiming ISI responsibility.
Independent observers point fingers darkly at the local BJP government headed by RSS pracharak (preacher) Narendra Mody, recently inducted into government with the specific purpose of keeping the BJP in power in the state where, until this incident, it was considered bound to lose in the forthcoming elections in view of colossal inefficiency, widespread corruption and venality displayed by the government, particularly since the earthquake.
Modi desperately needs to divert attention from the functioning of his government and has seen that nothing that his party's chief ministers have done in other states in a similar predicament has worked over the past several years. He is accused of gross negligence and total failure, if not complicity.
Gujarat is incidentally the only average-sized state where the BJP still rules. It also rules in two small states, Himachal Pradesh and Jharkhand. Ever since the BJP-led government came to power at the center three years ago, it has lost practically every election at the state or local self-government level throughout the country. The BJP lost in the most recent elections for four state assemblies, three of which it was ruling, including the largest and crucial Uttar Pradesh (UP).
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the party was able to organize an effective bandh (strike) only in Gujarat. Maintaining law and order is primarily the duty of the state government in India's quasi-federal set-up, though the central government is ultimately responsible and has the powers to even dismiss the state government if it fails. In this case, the BJP is the ruling party both in the state and at the center.
"The real question is whether there is a method to Modi's madness. That he refused to allow the administration to take any action is not in doubt anymore. Take the case of the defense minister's personal safety; even there the district administration failed," a senior Union Home Ministry official was quoted as saying to the Hindustan Times.
Many observers are asking such questions. Noted columnist Pankaj Vohra, for instance, poses the following questions: "Is there a distinct method or pattern to the violence Gujarat? Is the BJP all set to revive the Hindutva agenda it had abandoned temporarily, to agree to a common minimum program with its allies in the NDA [National Democratic Alliance]? And would the BJP's poor poll showing have anything to do with all this?"
The manner in which disturbances were allowed to spread all over the state could be a part of an overall strategic plan by the Sangh Parivar to polarize Hindu votes. The Godhra incident would have come in handy to put such a devious plan into action.
Like several other observers, Vohra views the entire scenario in the context of a series of failed plans the BJP had put into operation in order to both polarize the Hindu votes and to recapture power in Uttar Pradesh and some other states. The electorate was not convinced and the party suffered heavy reverses in all the four states in the recent assembly polls. The message was clear: the end is near. The voters had rejected the BJP in the most emphatic manner.
The failed "plan number one" was to promulgate the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) on the plea that it was needed to curb terrorism in India. The obvious motive was that since most recent terrorist acts were committed by Muslims, the new law would be widely used against members of that community. In fact, POTO was an electoral weapon which was aimed at polarizing Hindu votes. Under it, the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) was banned. But the poll results have proved that this plan didn't succeed.
The failed second plan was to whip up war hysteria by heavy deployment of troops along India's borders with Pakistan. In the process, thousands of families were uprooted from their agricultural land and suffered heavy economic losses. The top BJP leadership contributed to the war hysteria by evasive answers to pointed questions. The party secretly hoped that since Pakistan was enemy number one, the war hysteria would lead to the consolidation of the party and its allies in the four states. But there was no war and people (read voters) saw through this plan too.
The failed third plan was to play the Ram Temple card through the VHP, whose leaders announced March 15 as the date for starting temple reconstruction. Simultaneously, the prime minister made a statement a day before polling in the last phase of UP elections, that his party did not need Muslim support. After the statement was published in the media and widely criticized, he chose to remain silent on the subject for two days; only after the last minute of polling did he issue a clarification.
Finally, the familiar spectacle of the VHP-BJP-PM tussle on the Ayodhya issue dominated the headlines since it has rightly or wrongly dawned on the RSS that it is only through the communal card and the temple issue that the saffron brigade can once again rise from the ruins it now finds itself in.
To build up the hysteria, VHP functionaries have been issuing inflammatory statements, knowing full well that they can get away with anything as a "friendly government" iis in power at the center. As part of this build up, the kar sewaks (militant volunteers prepared to defy the law for building the temple) from different parts of the country have been moving in and out of Ayodhya.
The revival of the Hindutva agenda was on the cards in any case, concludes Vohra, in a comment typical of most secular observers. The gory incident at Godhra perhaps reinforces the belief of some of the supporters of the Sangh Parivar that there is no way out but to support the Hindu fundamentalist party.
Speaking briefly to the nation three days after the Gujarat carnage began, Vajpayee was not far wrong when he termed it as a "blot" on the nation's image which has damaged India's reputation in the international community. He voiced confidence on Saturday that the current frenzy would be controlled and communal harmony restored in the state. He said that incidents of persons, including women and children, being torched alive in some parts of the country, cast a stigma and would hurt the prestige of the nation all over the world. He appealed to people to create an atmosphere of peace and harmony. A prime minister, however, should be able to do more than issue appeals over television channels. But perhaps in the RSS division of labor, he has not been assigned the job of doing something positive. Unwittingly, however, he revealed the real malaise of the Indian state - concern with the image, not with the reality. From the country's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru to the present day, all India's administrations have been more worried about what the world thinks of India.
Today, India is waiting for a prime minister who will realize that the world is no fool: it knows how to distinguish between the contrived image and the reality.
Listen to the dominant media, and their message is clear: War. Listen
to our rulers, and a louder rhetoric of jingoism assails your ears.
The same shrill cries of warmongering emanate from every other
establishment - economic, social and cultural. They are all telling
the common man to prepare for war, for a prolonged war. To prepare
for a so-called 'global war on terror' as a good citizen of the
unipolar world. And for a war on Pakistan as a patriotic Indian.
To be anti-war, they proclaim, is to be anti-national. To call for peace, they say, is to comfort 'terrorism'.
We speak up for the silent, peace-loving majority of this country. We say a 'no' to war. And an equally loud and clear 'yes' to the people's right to live.
We reject the warmongers' spurious claim that 'terrorism' is their target. It is the common people who condemn terrorism most strongly and for its own sake. Terrorism as a method of political combat that targets innocent, unarmed, unprotected, uninvolved people including women and children. As a method that respects no civilized norms of such combat, and is constrained by no humane considerations. Terrorism especially as practised, promoted and perpetuated by the state. The roots of terrorism lie in the policies and practices of USA-led forces that seek world domination and their regional lackeys including the rulers of India.
We say 'no' to the 'war without an end' that the George Bush Administration seeks to unleash on the world. A war, to be waged with the most highly destructive weapons of history, which can spell an end to the world civilisation as we know it. We are shocked at the attempts to sanctify a war in which the survival of humanity itself will be at stake.
We are especially outraged that this land of Mahavir Jain, Gautam Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi is being made part of a multinational 'coalition' on a crusade against world peace. It is a matter of profound sorrow that South Asian peace has been put in grave peril in this context and that the dire threat of an India-Pakistan conflict hangs like the sword of Damocles over the subcontinent. By its deliberate and unrelenting escalation of the threat with a distinct nuclear dimension, New Delhi is flaunting only a near-fascist contempt for the fundamental security of the people of our country and region.
We call upon it to desist from its course of demented militarism. We demand of it, instead, immediate steps for a de-escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan and the forging of friendly relations between the two countries with cherished bonds of kinship, beginning with a restoration of recently terminated people-to-people contacts and moving towards greater economic and trade cooperation between the two countries to meet the challenges of the emerging global economic order.
A byproduct as well as a back-up of the war build-up is a campaign underway to promote a communal conflict within the country. It is no coincidence that the recent period has also witnessed the orchestrated aggravation of the communal situation on the Ayodhya issue. The majoritarian offensive menaces not only the minorities but our democratic polity as well as developmental priorities. We call upon all forces of peace to unite in a common resistance to communalism.
In demanding peace, we also demand development. It is not only national attention that is sought to be diverted by warmongering from urgent tasks of development, pressing problems of the people. It is a sizeable share of national resources that is actually siphoned off in order to serve the cause of militarism. Our 'defence' budgets and our nuclear-weapons schemes of astronomical outlays are a vicious mockery of the unspeakable poverty of the vast majority of our people. Missiles and other mass destruction weapons cannot provide our people the minimum of human security in terms of food, clothing, shelter, education and medicare. The peace we envisage is not mere absence of war. It is creation of just conditions for the holistic well-being of both the people and Mother Nature.
The right to live and the right to a life are today particularly threatened for the weakest and the most vulnerable, the poorest and the most peripheralised sections of the people - including women, tribes, fishing communities, artisans and the army of unorganized toilers of various kinds. The marauding economic forces behind the militarist upsurge have snatched away means of livelihood from millions, even while countries like India face the prospect of losing control over their own natural resources.
While condemning the warmongers' campaign to advance the imperialist cause of world domination, we emphasise the economic dimension of the campaign. The much-vaunted 'globalisation' spells a grave threat to the developing world including India, especially its marginalized millions. The war that Bush and his band are trying to thrust on the world is an attempt to extend by another means an economic hegemony of an unprecedentedly exploitative order.
The offensive being unleashed on humanity, especially its weaker and more vulnerable sections, is also predictably accompanied by unabashed assaults on human rights, including the right to exist. The warmongers cannot win if the right to protest is retained. and if ways remain to check and challenge authoritarianism. And, they are determined to win - the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) is proof enough. The people must reply with a resolve to defend the endangered rights.
SAY 'NO' TO WAR. SAY 'YES' TO THE RIGHT TO LIVE.
The current wave of communal riots in India has caused concern here and
have concentrated the minds of thinking Pakistanis. Reactions to these
riots conform, by and large, to the usual pattern. The more
and more self-consciously Muslim sections continue to exhibit the old
communal antipathy of India in general and Hindus in particular; their
reactions can be summed up in a few words: 'didn't we tell you that the
Indian Hindus are at heart the enemies of the Muslims and whenever they
a chance they fly at the Muslims throat'. There are others, mainly
left-inclined liberals, who repeat their old mantra: the Hindu-Muslim
problem was the creation of the British imperialists and their nefarious
schemes are still unfolding. Thus the concrete issues of today are not
receiving the purposeful attention that they deserve.
If anyone is really interested in resolving this age-old Hindu-Muslim struggle --- originally for favours, jobs and a share in running the state apparatus under the British --- they should accept what has happened in history as given facts. Basic policies for removing old distortions should be based on facts as well as be informed with values. Thus the hard reality of the Hindu-Muslim problem in the Subcontinent has to be accepted as the starting point and a given fact. First, it needs to be analysed with a view to working out a solution that has eluded so far. A commonly shared basis for a friendly and cooperative coexistence between these two communities is to be sought - indeed even the term community needs an inquiry. It is an obviously urgent task for the Indian leaders and intelligentsia. But Pakistanis too, as successors to what were historically the Indians, would necessarily have a role in the endeavour.
The earlier Indian nationalists and left-inclined liberals were not wrong in tracing communalism to the British. The issue actually was created by the introduction of the term 'community' for political purposes of initial British administrations. Earlier throughout Indian history, there were no politically-recongnised differences among the people under any Indian ruler, Muslim or Hindu; indeed the religion of the ruler was clearly a matter of historical accident and was automatically accepted by all as making no difference. In early times, there were no political identities that corresponded to the Hindu and Muslim terminology. Thus the Hindu and Muslim communities in today's sense did quite not exist before the arrival of the British.
The communal identities that underlies the Hindu-Muslim problem actually came into being during the Colonial period by way of initial measure to associate the Indians in the governance of their country by way of giving them jobs and some participation in the political processes in the Colonial dispensation. Indeed, even the term 'Hindu', as denoting a given community was an invention for day-to-day use. Historically, it could be said to have been invented by foreign invaders, beginning with Alexander, to describe the people living in areas around the river Indus that is Hind. In Persian usage the word used was Hindi for both Muslim and the socalled Hindus which was the same Greek Indus and Indic. For political purposes, the Hindu and Muslim identities indubitably arose during the British period for mainly political purposes; earlier the people lived together without this clear distinction, with religion being a strictly private and accidental factor, though very important to individuals. Its growth in importance clearly owed itself to the British ways of governing India.
What was the common identity among the inhabitants of historical India? It was the fact of living safely in the areas denoted by Hindustan and it was based of course on their common humanity, together with uncountable ethnic commonalties. The precise question to be asked today is: Can we get back to those commonalties - none of them could have gone away - and find a resolution to the identity problem.
Two separate tasks become relevant. One is to reassess the 1947 Settlement of the Hindu-Muslim problem through the creation of two nation-states, India and Pakistan, without this being a plea to undo it. It is a call to face facts as they are. Secondly there is the proposition that without a people-to-people reconciliation between the two states-such as the French and Germans have effected after the Second World War - the larger problem of the Hindu-Muslim co-existence in peace, friendly cooperation and the common endeavour of making progress both at inter-state and within each major state cannot be achieved. That is the way to resolve the Pakistan-India cold war rivalry as to make all Indians be just good Indians. Indeed, all states of South Asia, integral parts of historical India, need effective reconciliation between communities in the domestic sphere and in their inter-state relationship with their neighbours.
It is not such a new idea, though. There may be superficial reluctance to include Pakistan in what are certainly India's domestic matters. That is a formalist objection based on a nation-state being the be all and end all in itself. The fact of the matter is that religious identities in a personal sense, per se, are age-old, of course. But they do not coincide with the India's political Hindu community - as a homogenised non-denominational and non-caste entity - and Muslims as a simple non-sectarian and non-caste Muslim community. Early social differentiation between nobles and the others were also politically important for a Millenium and that differentiation actually overrode religious distinctions. Common Hindus and common Muslims were regularly lumped together throughout Indian history except later ---during British administration. Religion in point of fact was less important than class distinctions in Medieval India. That long precedent shows it can be done again.
Thus the bases for common identities have existed in centuries of happy co-existence and have continued to exist; the commonalties, cultural, multiple ethnic and economic, are all there. The precise problem is that of accommodating the basically political identities of the 'communities' that have always generated dislike, often descending into hatred as a result of competition for shares in running the state and seeking its favours. That applies as much to India's domestic life as to India-Pakistan cold war rivalry. The recommended idea is primarily political that gives a lot more importance to the existing commonalties and downgrades the importance of the differences. It is entirely possible to reconcile the Hindus and Muslims because the bases for discord and enmity as well as of understanding, friendship and fraternity simultaneously exist. A people-to-people reconciliation between Pakistan and India - that must also include the people of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka - can create a whole new dispensation in which the communal politics can be contained and countered, both inside each South Asian state and among the states of the region. Only, it is necessary to see the utility of this approach for first resolving India's persistent problem and this can go on to resolve inter state confrontation, which incidentally would resolve many of Pakistan's domestic problems. Even Bangladesh may thereby be able to evolve a truly common nationalism for all Bangladeshis to fit the new state.
But the reassessing of 1947 is not the same thing as wanting to undo it, as noted. What has happened is a given fact of life. History had created two nation states, now three, with their many vested interests. Undoing them will be fiercely resisted and trying to do that may not be a workable, or desirable, policy. That reassessment is necessary as a starting point for tackling the present day issues. Insofar as it has not worked, corrective action has to be undertaken with vision, imagination and courage, avoiding what went wrong. The question whether it has worked as intended or was hoped is easy to resolve. It was primarily billed to resolve the old and persistent Hindu-Muslim problem of British Indian Empire. Does the pattern of events since 1947 suggest that it has solved that problem? It has not. Ergo, corrective action is necessary. What was implied in the 1947 settlement was close cooperation between the then two new states which was a vital ingredient of the scheme. Due to the heightened communal passions at the time, world's largest-scale communal killings took place alongwith the biggest ethnic cleansing. That was not a one off eruption; the problem of communal hatred has persisted. Pakistan-India confrontations have in fact exacerbated it. There have been hundreds of "riots" --- killing sprees really --- have taken place in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. These developments have killed that particular ingredient's potential.
More so, the dynamics and the pattern of "riots" and the legacies of the communal flare ups, combined with inter-state disputes, have made India and Pakistan move in opposite directions. International politics also intervened to divide them. And yet fundamental bases for India and Pakistan friendship and cooperation have continued to exist just as they do for Hindus and Muslim 'communities' inside several states. If only the divisive politics and conflicting foreign policies can be reversed or at least contained, the thousand and one commonalties can still be relied upon to bring the 'communities' closer together. The point is that this can wonderfully help to counter the purely communal politics in both Pakistan and India. The only problem is how to go about it? It requires some kind of a political framework.
The SAARC, in combination with France and Germany-like reconciliation processes between the peoples of India and Pakistan, wold provide an excellent framework at two levels --- inter-state and domestic within each. It would obviously include all states of the region. Within this set of frameworks, the accent will necessarily be on commonalties and the need for developing them further while differences will naturally be sidelined. The question is can the current India-Pakistan impasse permit it and how to go about it.
The word impasse itself suggests that both countries are in a state of paralysing deadlock. Indo-Pakistan policies collide and without reversing or changing these policies, there is no peaceful option open to them. Either they go to war, with all its attendant horrors, or both have to reverse some and amend other policies. That is about the major policy orientations in the two largest states of SAARC. If there is an obvious need to do it, it has to be done quickly. The best course is for both to revise their policies by themselves in consultation with each other and begin talking with a view to creating or improving the kind of frameworks suggested here. Otherwise the only power that can get a hearing in both capitals will be the US. But then the US will come with its own agenda. The purely subcontinental agenda might get downgraded, may be distorted.
THE latest communal riots in India are yet more proof of what they
describe as the "fallacy of Indian secularism", according to the
Pakistani media. Most of the local newspapers described the strife as
a planned "genocide of Muslims by Hindu extremists".
The local mass circulation Urdu newspapers ran shrieking headlines of "Muslims being burnt alive" and "children being lynched", further fueling anti-Indian sentiment. Although less vitriolic, the more serious English-language newspapers displayed on their front pages photographs of a Hindu mob armed with swords marching through a Muslim neighbourhood and the charred bodies of a Muslim family.
"At the roots of repeated communal flare-ups in India lies the larger issue of alienation among the minorities, despite India's secular façade," a leading article in The Nation, one of the main Englishlanguage newspapers, said.
Violence against Muslims in India has provoked a strong reaction from Pakistani authorities in the past, but the military Government, which is locked in a war with religious extremists at home, has resisted holding the Indian authorities responsible for the killings of Muslims. Instead, Islamabad has described the riots as a "law and order problem inside India" and sympathised with "all those who have suffered as a result of the violence".
The statement is a clear departure from traditional official reaction, when only the killing of Muslims was highlighted, and is, to some extent, reflected in the officially controlled electronic media, which has refrained from using the issue to raise tensions between the two nations.
Some commentators, however, continue to accuse India's nationalist Hindu BJP Government of fuelling the communal strife to "serve its vested political interests".
The Nation wrote: "The self-serving Hindutva Policies of the ruling coalition have systematically stoked communal frenzy in multi-ethnic India."
The allegation first made by George Fernandes, the Indian Defence Minister, that the Inter Services Intelligence, Pakistan's military spy agency, might have been involved in instigating the communal riots has provoked intense criticism from Pakistan's private and the official media.
The most respected English language newspaper, Dawn, told the Indian authorities not to "point fingers at Pakistan" for the strife and instead concentrate on controlling the violence.
"When the armies of both nations are depoyed eyeball to eyeball along their borders, a miscalculation on either side could lead to a war," a leading article in the paper said.
Some commentators cite the heightening of HinduMuslim tension to justify Pakistan's claim on Kashmir, the only Muslim majority state in India. The troubled state has been at the centre of a longstanding conflict between the two nuclear nations.
"Muslims do not have any democratic and human rights in India," Nawai Waqt an influential right-wing Urdu-language newspaper, said.
Some of Pakistan's right-wing newspapers have revived their old theme that the communal divide would ultimately lead to disintegration of India. "This is a beginning of an end of India as a state," a local Urdu newspaper declared.
However, more rational analysts gave warning against such wishful thinking. They said that instability in India would have a direct bearing on Pakistan.
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