(Francois Gautier, rediff.com, March 11, 2003.)
It is not easy to be an Indian living abroad: Not only one has to retain one's Indian-ness while coping with the West's positive and less positive aspects which creep into one's life, but one is also subjected to the humiliation of seeing one's own countrymen spit on India in mainstream foreign newspapers and television. Recently, the Gujarat riots and the IDRF episode have been used by a few Indian academics/scholars/writers, particularly in the United States, to demean India and Hindus.
Many of us are appalled by the comments people like Pankaj Mishra or Angana Chatterji, both Indians -- and Hindus at that -- make about their country in mainstream American newspapers such as The New York Times. Americans are generally very ignorant about India and ready to gobble up any rubbish they are fed. Hindus are portrayed as Nazis killing innocent Muslims in Gujarat. But this is historical nonsense.
My experience as a Westerner living in India for more than 30 years and married to an Indian is that not only does this country owe a lot to Hinduism, but Hinduism must be the most tolerant spirituality in the world, recognizing the fact that God is One, but that he manifests in many ways, under different forms, at different times. To take the Gujarat episode and make it an absolute theorem of Hindu fundamentalism is not only bad academism, but unfair and highly biased. Do they mean to say that the 30 millions Gujaratis who voted for Narendra Modi in the last election are all Nazis and Hindu fanatics?
It is true that during the Gujarat riots horrible things, which no human being should condone, happened. But Chatterji and Mishra forget to mention that that 25% of the people killed during the riots were Hindus or that, according to police records, the 157 subsequent riots which happened in Gujarat were started by Muslims.
They are unable to explain how 125,000 Hindus, many of them Dalits, tribals, or even upper middle class, came out on the streets of Ahmedabad with such anger after Godhra. While condemning their terrible acts one has to at least understand the cause of their deep-rooted rage, as Hindus throughout the ages have shown that they are patient and tolerant of others. There is also not a single mention of Hindus reaching out to Muslims after the riots such as the Hindu businessman who built 90 houses in Ahmedabad for Muslims whose homes had been destroyed.
America is fighting a war against terrorism today. India has suffered most from Muslim fundamentalism. In 1399, Taimur killed 100,000 Hindus in a single day. Professor K S Lal, in his Growth of Muslim Population in India, writes that according to his calculations, the Hindu population decreased by 80 million between the years 1000 and 1525, probably the biggest holocaust in world history. Today, Mishra and Chatterji are not without knowing that 400,000 Kashmiri Pandits are refugees in their own country, an ethnic cleansing without parallel. They must be also aware of what is happening to Hindus in Bangladesh today. I wonder why they do not mention all this in their articles.
Why is it that when for decades Saudi Arabia has funded madrassas in India some of which preach sedition, Mishra and Chatterji find nothing to say about it? Why is it that when foreign Christian organizations pour billions of dollars in India to convert innocent Harijans and tribals, teaching them to hate their culture and country, they also keep quiet? And why is it that when a few Hindu organizations, such as the IDRF, collect funds for harmless programmes like the Ekal Vidyalaya schools, which are doing a wonderful job for tribal children, they are attacked as fundamentalists?
The India Development and Relief Fund, a Maryland-based charity, has been targeted not only by Chatterji and Mishra, but also by the Federation of Indian American Christian Organisations of Northern America, Teesta and Javed Anand's Sabrang Communications for 'funding hate.' The irony is Indians have demanded a probe by the US Congress into IDRF and asked the IRS to blacklist it and withdraw its tax exemption status.
Last August in Washington I met IRDF's chief executives, Vinod and Sarala Prakash, two old, harmless, friendly people who would not hurt a fly. Their biggest achievement was to gather funds during the 1999 Orissa cyclone. It is true they are RSS affiliated and that they give first priority to Hindus afflicted by riots/cyclone/poverty. So what? We find nothing to say that Saudi Arabia only funds Muslims refugees in Bosnia, Palestine or Chechnya. Is it not time to call a spade a spade?
The specter of a 'dangerous' RSS, for example, is a creation of the British who understood, as the Muslims invaders did before them, that Hindus were the greatest hurdle to their grip on India. So their press started attacking anything Hindu or any group trying to protect Hindu culture or leaders such as the brilliant Hindu Mahasabha of Veer Savarkar who today is maligned by 'secular' Indians.
It is also time for Hindus of the world to face the truth: We are looking at the Gujarat riots only through the prism of what the Western press and the English-speaking Indian media have said -- mad 'fundamentalist' Hindus going after peace-loving Muslims. But the reality might be totally different: Are not tolerant, God fearing, peace-loving Hindus fed up of being constantly maligned, attacked, killed, their women raped, their temples sprayed with bullets and grenades?
The Western press and governments should take notice of this new popular mood of Hindus, who after all represent 1 billion people in the world, one of the most peace-loving, law-abiding, tolerant and prosperous communities of this planet -- one sixth of humanity -- and try to understand their feelings, instead of accusing them of being 'fanatics.'