Bigotry of India’s Political Class: Amartya Sen & Narendra Modi – Saif Ahmad Khan

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Hinduism in World’s Largest Muslim Majority Country

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Statue of Krishna and Arjuna at Jakarta Main Square in Indonesia.

With the escalation of Hindu-Muslim tension in India, Hindutva ideologues have started to brainwash Indian Hindus by trying to instill in them a sort of existential dilemma. They reason that Islamist Jihad in India will result in a situation where no Hindus will be left to live in Bharat. In order to substantiate their claim, they cite the example of Muslim majority Pakistan and Muslim majority Kashmir. When Pakistan came into being in 1947, the Hindu population of the state ran in double digits (percentage wise) but gradually this figure has descended to a percentage or two. Similarly, the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley has led to over 90% of the Kashmiri Pandits being forced out of their homes. Islamophobic intellectuals in India have stated that these warnings should not be taken lightly by the Hindus as Muslims are on a mission to convert India into Darul Islam. I wonder whether these academicians really understand the meaning of the term Darul Islam (Abode of Peace) which has been used in the Quran to describe heaven and not some Muslim majority country ruled by the Sharia as some Islamophobes would have us to believe.

If there is any person who is worried about the fate of Hindus in Muslim majority countries and intends to know whether the two communities can co-exist in such a situation then that person should look at Indonesia, the country with the highest number of Muslims in the world. According to the 2010 National Census of Indonesia, the island nation’s human force stands at 237.6 million. Muslims form the majority with 87.5% of the population. Christians happen to be the major minority in the country with 9% stake in the population whereas Hindus and Buddhists form 3% and 2% population share, respectively. Indonesia happens to be a secular state and the guiding force behind the idea of Indonesia is the Pancasila. The Constitution of Indonesia was formulated by such secular fundamentalists that in August 1945 they unanimously ratified and agreed upon the usage of the term “Tuhan” instead of “Allah” in the Indonesian Constitution. This was done particularly to strengthen the confidence of minorities like Hindus who preferred using the term “Tuhan” and could connect with it. On the same day ie 18th August, 1945 the constitution makers modified the first principle of the Pancasila from “Belief in Almighty Good with the obligation for its Muslim adherents to carry out the Islamic Law” to “Belief in Almighty Good”. This made the Indonesian Constitution all the more secular.

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Garuda Pancasila is the National Emblem of Indonesia. It has been inspired by the Hindu mythological bird, Garuda.

The official motto of Indonesia is “”Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” which can be translated as “Unity in Diversity”. The term unity and diversity is said to have been originally coined by Bahai Ullah, the founder of Bahai Faith. The national emblem of Indonesia is called Garuda Pancasila. In Hindu mythology, Garuda is a bird of great significance as it is the vehicle of Lord Vishnu. One of the most important Hindu scriptures called Garuda Purana describes the conversation between Lord Vishnu and Garuda regarding afterlife. Garuda Purana is also recited in Hindu households after someone passes away. Indonesia’s national airline has also been influenced by this bird of Hindu mythology and is called Garuda Indonesia. Lord Ram’s beloved “Hanuman” who appears in the Ramayana is the official mascot of Indonesia’s military intelligence. The National flag of Indonesia called the “Sang Saka Merah-Putin” (meaning “The Sacred Red and White”) has been influenced by the banner of Majapahit empire which was at the time of 13th century one of the largest empires of the region. Hinduism and Buddhism were the dominant religions in the Majapahit Empire.

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Inscription of Lord Ganesh on an Indonesian currency note.

Senior BJP leader and Former Deputy Prime Minister of India, Lal Krishna Advani visited Indonesia in July 2010 to attend the World Sindhi Conference in Jakarta. It is noteworthy to mention that Advani used to be the poster boy of Hindutva in India as it was him who headlined the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and ensured the rise of Hindu nationalism in the country. During his trip, Advani was left awestruck because of the pride bestowed upon Hinduism by Muslim majority Indonesia. On his return to India, he wrote a blog titled “Hindu influence in Indonesia” on 17th July, 2010. He concluded that write up with the following words, “Indonesia, I must say, seemed to know and cherish Ramayana and Mahabharata better than we (Indians) do.” Advani mentioned in his blog about the Ganesh inscription on a high denomination currency note of Indonesia ie 20,000 rupiah.

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The official logo of the island of Bali in Indonesia represents the Three Gods of the Universe ie Brahma, Vishnu and Shiv.

During his stay in Bali, Advani encountered the newly adopted logo of the island of Bali which in Advani’s words was a “manifestation of country’s Hindu traditions.” A publication of the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism described the logo as follows, “The triangle (shape of logo) is a symbol of stability and balance. It is formed out of three straight lines in which both ends meet, taking the symbols of a blazing fire (Brahma – The Creator), lingga or phallus. The triangle also represents the three Gods of the Universe (Trimurti – Brahma, Wisnu and Siwa), three stages of nature (Bhur, Bwah, Swah and Loka), and three stages of life (Born, Live and Die). The tagline ‘Shanti, Shanit, Shanti’ represents peace be upon Bhuwana alit dan agung (yourself and the world) which will deliver a sacred and holy vibe that awakens a deep aura that balance and make peace to all living creatures.” During his short trip to Indonesia of 4 days (2 days in Bali and 2 in Jakarta), Advani also saw the Krishna-Arjuna Statue at Jakarta main square. While Advani was in Denpasar, capital of Bali, he saw another statue which even he was unable to decipher. When he inquired about the statue from the driver of his car, the driver replied, “This is a depiction of the Ghatotkach from Mahabharata.”

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Statue of Ghatotkach in Indonesia.

The driver’s answer won Advani’s heart. Advani wrote, “Indeed, even in India very few would be able to identify who Ghatotkach is. And here was the driver of our car knowing full well both Ghatotkach as well as his relationship with Bheema.” Indonesia’s pluralism and its respect for the various religious traditions being practised in the country is a matter of great pride for the entire world. The world’s largest Muslim majority country stands as a testimony for those who believe that societies which are dominated by Islam do not even exhibit the slightest form of tolerance. Advani’s respect for Indonesia stems from Indonesia’s respect for Hinduism. We hope and pray to God that Indonesia continues to prosper and remains a citadel of peace and tolerance across the globe. Advani stated in his blog, “In Indonesia, the names of places, of people, and the nomenclature of institutions also give one a clear impression of a benign Sanskrit influence.” We hope that this vibrancy of Indonesian culture never ceases and continues its existence till eternity.

The Problem With Kashmiri Pandit Discourse

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Image: Al Jazeera

One of the greatest tragedies about the debate revolving around the fate of Kashmiri Pandits is that the story of their pain and suffering has been communalized beyond imagination. Instead of objectively analyzing the causes and reasons behind the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits following the outbreak of insurgency in the Valley, secessionists and nationalists, both have tried to tell only that part of the conflict which has suited their political interests. It is high time that the truth which has been tightly concealed by these political players is brought to light.

The first and foremost thing which we need to realize is that the Kashmiri Pandits were indeed driven out of their homes in a very unjust manner. According to government statistics (Reproduced by Zeenews.com on 16th May, 2012) there are no less than 58,697 Kashmiri migrants in the country. It is understandable that many of them happen to be Kashmir Pandits who began to leave the Valley in large numbers starting 1989. The Hindu reported on March 24th, 2010 that 24,202 Kashmiri Pandit families moved out of the Valley due to tensions triggered by the insurgency. The penultimate question is what led to the exodus of Pandits? The secessionists pin the entire blame on Governor Jagmohan and exonerate jihadists from any role whatsoever in being responsible for the ethnic cleansing. The nationalists argue that it wasn’t Governor Jagmohan but rather Kashmiri Muslim jihadists who made living in the Valley equivalent to hell for Kashmir Pandits principally because of their Hindu identity and support for the Indian State. The truth of the matter is that the blame has to be shared between Kashmiri Muslim militants and Governor Jagmohan. Those secessionists and Kashmiri Muslim-sympathizers who say that militants were not hostile towards Pandits are being nothing but intellectually dishonest.

Since 1991, homes of 32,000 Kashmiri Pandits have been burned in the Valley as pointed out by Rahul Pandita (20th July, 2013, OPEN). There is no question of absolving the militants of the barbarism which they carried out by terrorizing Kashmiri Pandits. The threat which the Kashmiri Pandits faced from the militants was real and not some propaganda being carried out by RAW or IB. We must also realize that the manner in which Governor Jagmohan handled the entire situation was dismal and it only aggravated the crisis. Some narrations state that the exodus had already begun by the time he took charge but when a large threat looms over a certain section of people, the government’s job is to ensure their safety by strengthening security measures. Their confidence needs to be rebuilt and the government should exhort them to act with valour and confidence in the moment of crisis. Instead of doing this, Governor Jagmohan created a panic like situation in the Valley and facilitated the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits by providing them with transport vehicles to move out of the Valley. This was the monumental error on the part of Governor Jagmohan. He may have had no intentions of fuelling the exodus but his mismanagement of the entire conflict will never be forgotten or forgiven.

Another lie which is frequently told in the name of Kashmiri Pandits is that they have been the sole sufferers of the insurgency. Those who say this are basically communalists who love to rip the society apart on the basis of religion. All communities living within the Valley have suffered due to militants and terrorism. 36 Kashmiri Sikhs were killed in a brutal manner on 20th March, 2000 in the Anantnang district of Jammu & Kashmir. The Indian Government puts the number of civilians who died due to the conflict in Kashmir at 20,000 (Reported by Reuters.com on 21st November, 2008 in an article titled “India revises Kashmir death toll to 47,000”). The Government of Jammu and Kashmir has revealed that 219 Kashmiri Pandits were killed by militants between the years 1989 to 2004. It further stated that no killing of Kashmiri Pandits was recorded after 2004 (“219 Kashmiri Pandits killed by militants since 1989,” The Hindu, 24th March, 2010). Statistics show that far more Kashmiri Muslims have died due to the conflict than Kashmiri Pandits as the total death figure of civilians is at 20,000. This punctures the communalist’s claims of the Kashmiri Pandits being the sole sufferers in the Valley.

Those who love to communalize this issue also try to portray that only Kashmiri Pandits exited the Valley and following their removal, Kashmiri Muslims lived with great joy. Statistics show that by 2010, there were 13,917 non Kashmiri Pandit families who migrated out of Kashmir because of the violence out of the total 38,119 families registered with the Revenue and Relief Ministry. Some people raise the rhetorical cry of Kashmiri Pandits being relegated to refugees in their own country. While their anger is justified considering the fact that Kashmiri Pandits have still not returned to the Valley nearly 25 years after their exodus began, their selective narration of suffering is indeed very dangerous. There are various other states where large scale displacement has occurred frequently and people have lived in refugee camps for a long time. The Amnesty International stated in 2012 that at least 21,000 persons were living in transit relief camps even a decade after the 2002 Gujarat riots (“Gujarat Riot Victims Still Await Justice,” The Hindu, March 2nd, 2012). Following the Assam riots in 2012, lakhs of people were forced to live in relief camps. After the riots, some of the Bodos refused to allow Bengali-speaking Muslim migrants to come and live in their villages. Some of the Bodo leaders were firm upon their decision to first see the citizenship papers of the refugees. The refugees on the other hand claimed that they had lost all their belongings and documents in the arson caused due to the riots. They opined that this was a conspiracy by some Bodo groups to rob them of their land and homes. English magazine Frontline did a cover story on Assam riots following the mayhem in 2012. In that report, it document that several such exodus’s and mass displacement of people had taken place in Assam during the past two decades. The point is simple; several groups have suffered and made to live as refugees in India due to the negligence of the State. By calling Kashmiri Pandits the lone refugees, political opportunists are playing with fire.

It is true that the Government of Jammu and Kashmir has made the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandit families a part of state policy but it has failed to effectively bring back the Pandits to their deserted homes. By and large, Kashmiri political heavyweights have forsaken the fight for Kashmiri Pandits. While there are massive agitations in Kashmir whenever Kashmiri Muslim youth are murdered illegitimately by the Indian army, there have been little or rather no agitations held in solidarity with the cause of Kashmir Pandits. Secessionist leaders like Yasin Malik and Syed Ali Shah Geelani have only given token statements demanding the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley. Kashmiri Pandits avail of a facility which no other internally displaced group of people has in India. They are entitled to reservations under Kashmiri Migrant quota. Unfortunately, this quota has also been communalized. Right wing groups have protested in the past against Kashmiri Muslims getting admissions in educational institutions under the Kashmiri Migrant quota. Nevertheless, Kashmiri Pandits are scattered in different regions of India and are among the wealthiest refugees or internally displaced people.

Time and again, some subversive forces have utilized Kashmiri Pandits as strategic assets. While they claim to sympathize with them, they are not interested in rehabilitating them as it would lead to the death of their politics. Also, if Kashmiri Pandits are resettled in the Valley, the clamour for a plebiscite to determine the fate of Kashmir would grow. A plebiscite cannot take place in Kashmir until and unless the original demographic ratio is not arrived at. Political forces have taken contrasting stands on the issue of Kashmiri Pandits and their position is in alignment to their political interests. Lastly, the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits has also led to rise of the idea of Panun Kashmir. Panun Kashmir as an organization was formed in 1990 by some Kashmiri Pandits. Their solution to the Kashmir problem is a communal one as they are asking for creation of a separate homeland for Kashmiri Hindus in the Valley. This idea is bound to fail and trigger greater commotion because it is in absolute proportion with the original demand for Pakistan. The creation of Pakistan did not lead to safeguarding of minority rights in India or Pakistan then how will the creation of Panun Kashmir lead to safeguarding of Kashmiri Pandits who are a minority in the state? Partition cannot be a solution because total population exchange is not a possibility. Some will always be left behind and be treated as slaves.

Political Illiberalism in India – From Restaurant Bill to Amartya Sen’s Comment

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BJP MP Chandan Mitra suggested stripping Amartya Sen of his Bharat Ratna after the latter criticized Narendra Modi. (Outlook India)

The essence of a democratic society lies in its ability of accommodating dissent. But the entire political class in India has developed such a politically illiberal and intolerant style of functioning that it has become impossible for them to bear with criticism. Even constructive opinions given by party insiders with the intention of helping the political outfit are viewed as signs of a possible coup or revolt. In such a scenario, the only thing which reigns supreme is party line coupled with parliamentary whips. The recent controversies involving a restaurant bill printed by a popular eatery in Mumbai and reactions to Amarta Sen’s comments about Narendra Modi have only indicated strengthening of political bigotry in India.

This week about 30-35 workers of Congress’s youth wing attacked and forced the shutting down of an eatery in Mumbai. The reason why the eatery attracted such wrath from the Congress party was because of the presence of a message critical of the UPA government on the eatery’s printed bill receipt. The message read, “As per UPA Government, eating money (2G, Coal, CWG Scam) is a necessity and eating food in an AC restaurant a luxury.” If Congress men considered the message to be defamatory, they could have got legal reprisal by taking the matter to court. No party or institution can take the law in its hands. Goons who function as party workers cannot enforce upon closure of shops by means of brute strength. If such a thing happens then it only exposes the gangster-like fascist tendencies of a family party where various sycophants vie with one another to charm the first family by clamping down on anything which may annoy their leaders.

Similarly, the Bhartiya Janata Party’s Chandan Mitra exhibited the worst form of political bigotry when he suggested that the next NDA Government should strip Amartya Sen of his Bharat Ratna. Mitra’s comments on Twitter were in retaliation to Amartya Sen’s observations about BJP’s poster boy Narendra Modi. Nobel laureate Amartya Sen recently stated that he did not wish to see Narendra Modi as India’s Prime Minister since he had not done enough to make the minorities feel secure in his state. Sen also disapproved of Modi’s model of development by citing the dismal performance of Gujarat on social indicators despite its corporate friendly environment and infrastructural progress. By suggesting something as radical as Mitra did, is the BJP trying to tell all the intellectuals and academicians that their opposition to Narendra Modi would lead to them being stripped off of all their honours and achievements. Vajpayee’s NDA did not bestow any favour upon Amrtya Sen by awarding him the Bharat Ratna. It was his hard work which earned him this title. Being a true gentleman, Amartya Sen has even offered to return the Bharat Ratna if Vajpayee asks him to do so. This needless controversy has pitted Chandan Mitra in the league of those whom CNN-IBN anchor Sagarika Ghose called “Internet Hindus”, a group of intellectually corrupt Hindutva fascists whose shameless activism is best visible when they go on abusing anyone and everyone who comes in the way of Modi, Hindutva and BJP.

Political intolerance isn’t relegated to the top two national parties in India. Regional satraps and regional parties also have a similar attitude. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee accused a college student of being a Maoist and walked out of a television talk show when she was asked about a barbaric rape incident in Bengal. Samajwadi Party disowned its leader Shahid Siddiqui after his interview of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was published in a leading Urdu newspaper. SP went to the extent of stating that he was not even a party-man, a contention which Shahid Siddiqui labelled as a “joke” since he claimed that he joined the SP in the presence of party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav. Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party also expelled its MP Vijay Bahadur Singh from the party after its leader openly defended Narendra Modi’s controversial remarks.

This kind of rigidity and stiffness would be more suitable to a dictatorial society than a democratic one. Intra-party democracy and the liberty to criticise one’s own party are as essential in a democracy as the rule of law is. Those parties who muzzle upon dissent and silence opposition by means of goonda-ism do not possess the right to call themselves public representatives. After all, democracy is all about disagreeing without being in disagreement.

 

Zimmerman Verdict & UPPSC Reservation Policy – Two countries where injustice prevails.

The world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest democracy are currently witnessing a common phenomenon. While the United States has been divided on racial lines following the high profile Zimmerman case, India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh has seen a similar division on caste lines due to the newly proposed reservation policy of the Uttar Pradesh Public Service Commission (UPPSC). As far as the magnitude of the controversies is concerned, the Zimmerman verdict has certainly attracted a greater response with protests erupting across 100 cities in the US following the acquittal of Zimmerman. Protests against the new UPPSC reservation policy have remained concerted around the holy city of Allahabad which has witnessed angry protesters vandalizing shops and burning cars amidst presence of high security. These two developments taking place in two different parts of the world are indicative of the polarizing effect of race and caste and also the accompanying discrimination and injustice underlying them.

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Americans protest against the Zimmerman Verdict in New York. (AP)

The Zimmerman trial pertains to the killing of Black teenager Trayvon Martin on 26th February, 2012 in Florida by a White Hispanic neighbourhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman. Zimmerman was charged with second degree murder and manslaughter but he pleaded not guilty on account of having acted in self defense following a violent encounter with Trayvon Martin. In the court case that followed, Zimmerman was acquitted and released by an all white jury. This judgement has polarized the American society on racial lines at a time when the country is being governed by its first Black President and inter-racial marriages are at an all time high. The killing of Trayvon Martin has reignited and brought to national limelight the insecurities and frustrations of a community which has historically been subjected to humiliation and slavery. This controversy has also in some way reminded us of the changing dynamics of the United States where sooner or later, the Whites would slip into a racial minority.

It was not a long time back that Blacks in America couldn’t vote. White supremacists in the United States still view the Blacks as a burden on the nation and consider them to be capable of only doing menial jobs. In his first public comments on this high profile case, US President Barack Obama said that he could have been Trayvon Martin. He said that it wasn’t unusual for Black men to be followed in the evening while returning to home. He mentioned that while walking down the road, Blacks could often hear car latches going down. This was an indication of a very negative perception regarding Blacks as they are often viewed as drug lords or potential criminals and gangsters. The race problem in the United States shouldn’t be viewed with a parochial lens. In fact it should assimilate into its ambit several other issues pertaining to acceptance and multiculturalism. Why is it that even after 200 years of establishment of democracy in the United States, only 1 American Muslim, American Buddhist and American Hindu each has been elected to the US Congress? Why is it that prior to election of Barack Obama, all US Presidents were male, white and Christians? Why is it that there is opposition to the construction of Ground Zero Mosque even when 100 Muslims were a part of thousands of innocents who died during 9/11? These are questions which cannot be easily ignored by a country which claims to be the “land of the free, home of the free”.

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Students of general category protest against the new UPPSC Reservation Policy in Allahabad. (HT Photo)

Reservations have always been a dividing issue in independent India. The decision of the Uttar Pradesh Public Service Commission to open seats of the unreserved category to applicants from both the reserved category and general category has invited mayhem from upper caste applicants belonging to the General category. The move is likely to ensure minimum representation of general category students in the final selection list. This is not the first time that the reservation policy is being challenged. No commentator or analyst in India could forget the anti-Mandal Commission protests which occurred during the early 1990s. The protesters in Allahabad have received messages of solidarity from countrymen who want to save the nation from the curse of caste based reservations. They argue that caste-based reservations give preference to a person’s caste rather than his marks, talent or ability. They also argue that it leads to a mismatch wherein an under-qualified person occupies a seat in a high office or educational institution. Some have also said that caste based reservations strengthen caste identities and lead to reverse discrimination because of which upper caste people suffer. Others say that such reservations even hurt the progress of lower caste people as all their advancements are brushed aside in the name of reservations. What such people fail to realize is that there is a historical dimension to the caste problem. People who are born in lower castes face certain imposed social disabilities. It is true that reservations were initially planned to be done away with in 10 years but that was so because it was expected that social inequities caused due to the caste system would cease to exist by that time. This never happened. In the remotest of villages of India, lower caste people are still meted out inhumane treatment. They are denied entry in villages and temples and stopped from drinking water of public wells. Access to education remains minimal for lower castes and prohibition on inter caste marriages is a virtual law. Some of these disabilities have even contributed to caste wars with caste killings in Tamil Nadu and Bihar. An upper militia by the name of Ranvir Sena murdered thousands of Dalits on account of lower caste support for Naxalites. It is but obvious that people who are born and bred up in such conditions would face more difficulties than the one who has taken birth in an upper caste family.

Positive discrimination or affirmative action isn’t relegated to India. It’s practised in nearly every corner of the world in some form or the other to ensure advancement of downtrodden groups or oppressed sections of the society. It is through reservations that the Indian government has tried to educationally uplift the lower castes. Reservations are the best way through which an under-represented section of society can get due representation. The notion behind having reservations in public jobs as stated by BR Ambedkar in an interview to the BBC in 1955 was to enable persons from lower castes to occupy strategic positions in the government through which they could look after the welfare of their community. Dr Ambedkar’s dream is yet to be realized as benefits of reservations haven’t flowed down to the lower castes. Only 11.6% of the SC’s and 4.6% of the ST’s are employed in Group A services of the Central Government. Out of the 93 secretaries of the Government of India, there is not a single Dalit. Anyways, the answer to avoid divisions in the name of reservations is by increasing the number of seats in educational institutions and public sector jobs. If there is space to accommodate everyone, then opposition to reservations would gradually dilute as opposition basically props up when instead of creating new seats for the reserved category people, the government carves out a certain portion of the seats from the existing few. Secondly, reservations should be given to only those who deserve this. Announcing the entire Muslim community as “pichdas” or increasing the creamy layer for reservation up to individuals earning over 6 lakhs annually is just as ridiculous as denying reservations to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims. Thirdly and most importantly, politicization of reservations shouldn’t be allowed. Declaration of castes and communities as backwards should be supplanted with relevant empirical data based on wholesome analysis of the degree of their backwardness. Reservations can’t be utilized as electoral sops to strengthen vote banks.

Geographically, the United States and India are two completely different nations but there are a lot of problems which these democracies have in common. Both the countries need to strengthen their levels of toleration and work towards empowerment of disadvantaged groups without letting the well-off sections of society think that their interests are being sacrificed. The essence of a democratic society lies in following the midway which accommodates viewpoints of all which is extremely essential and important.