Correspond to values
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: April 30, 2002
Dear friends - India’s image in the West has never been so bad. We, the foreign correspondents, have been propagating in the last few weeks a picture of an intolerant Hindu majority, ruthlessly hunting down the Muslim minority. Not only has this falsified public opinions abroad about India, but has also put pressure on governments to bring out so-called Human Rights reports on Gujarat, whereas they have no right to interfere in India’s affairs, given the fact that it is one of the very few working democracies in Asia.
Would the British, who left a mess wherever they colonised, dare to interfere in such a way in China’s affairs, whose human rights record is a million times worse than India’s? This is unfair: Those of us who have lived long enough in this country, know that not only have Hindus historically been extremely tolerant, accepting the fact that God manifests himself at different times under different forms, but also that, in spite of the bureaucratic hassles, the dirtiness and the heat, we westerners are living in a paradise of freedom compared to what would be our lot in, for instance, China. Here we can criticise as much as we want, slander even, without fear of reprisal.
As a foreign journalist having covered India for the last 25 years, I am shocked by the ambivalence of our standards when it comes to writing or reporting on Hindus. There were 400,000 Hindus in Kashmir in 1947; there are only a few hundreds left today. All the rest have been made to flee through terror in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. I remember the time when Muslim militants would stop buses in Kashmir and kill all its Hindus occupants - men women and children. None of the foreign correspondents and diplomats protested about human rights the way they are doing now, after the Gujarat riots. There are 400,000 Hindus who are refugees in their own land, an instance of ethnic cleansing without parallel in the world.
Why are none of us interested in highlighting these facts? Do we know that Hindus themselves have been for centuries the target of a genocide at the hands of Muslim invaders, and that today in Bangladesh and Pakistan they are still at risk? In Assam, Tripura, and Nagaland, Hindus are being outnumbered by Bangladeshi illegal immigrants and terrorised by pro-Christian separatist groups, such as the Bodos or the Mizos, while local governments often turn a blind eye.
Are we playing our role, which is to inform and educate our fellow countrymen, who are generally totally ignorant about India? Many of us are using the word “genocide” to describe the riots in Gujarat, or even making comparisons with the Holocaust. But do we tell our readers that Jews in India were never persecuted and that they lived and prospered in total freedom till most of them went back to Israel? The same cannot be said about my country, France, where even today they face problems. We do not care to balance our articles: We take an isolated incident such as the murder of Graham Staines or the riots against Muslims in Gujarat, and we make it look, as it is a whole, telling our readers abroad that Christians and Muslims are persecuted in India.
When the Ayodhya mosque was brought down, it was as if eternal shame had descended upon India. ‘Death of secularism’, ‘Hindu fundamentalists have taken over the country’, ‘Black Day in the history of our democracy’, we screamed...
However unfortunate, the Ayodhya episode was, nobody was killed there; but the terrible Bombay blasts which followed, orchestrated by Indian Muslims, with the active help of Pakistan and the silent approval of Saudi Arabia, which took the lives of hundreds of innocent Hindus, never warranted the kind of moral indignation which followed the rioting against Muslims in Gujarat. Why does nobody bother to say that, maybe, the tolerant, easy-going middle class Hindu, is so fed-up with being made fun of, hated, targeted, killed, bombed, that he is ready to take to the streets?
If you dare say that there are 850 millions Hindus in this country and that they not only represent the majority culture, but also a tradition of tolerance and gentleness, and they cannot be the fundamentalists that the Press makes them out to be, you are immediately branded as an RSS spokesman or a VHP lover. Why this primitive labels? In the West we are not ashamed to call ourselves a Christian civilisation: The American President swears on the Bible when he takes office and look also how all European children, be they Italian or German, are brought-up on the values of Christianity and the greatness of Greek philosophy.
It would be impossible, in France for instance, for the Muslim minority - immigrants from France’s ex- colonies such as Algeria or Morocco - to impose their views and culture on the government. In fact, Muslim girls are not allowed to wear a veil when they go to French school: “You are in France, you have been given the French nationality, so behave like a French first and like a Muslim, second,” they are told bluntly. Would that be possible in India? Does any Indian, except the much-maligned RSS, have the courage to ask Muslims to be Indians first and Muslims second? Or tell Catholics and Protestants that they have to revert to a more Indianised Christianity, such as the one that existed in Kerala before the arrival of the Portuguese Jesuits? And see how stridently Muslims and Christians - backed by most of the foreign media - react when Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi wants to teach Indian children a little bit of the greatness of their culture!
I know that many foreign correspondents arrive here with an aspiration to understand India and to report on it fairly. The problem is that there is no way we are going to know India if we stay in Delhi, or fly all over the place, staying in five-star hotels, to do features which give justice to a civilisation which is 5,000 years old. It is also true that in Delhi, an arrogant, superficial city, we are never in contact with the real India, and always hear the same stories in the journalists’ parties, or diplomatic cocktails, about secularism, the Sangh parivar or human rights in Kashmir. We should take some time off the political situation and go out to the South, which is so much more gentle and easy-going than the North.Write, for instance, some features on Kalaripayat, Kerala’s martial art that gave birth to kung fu and karate; or on Ayurveda, the oldest medical science still in practice; or see for yourself the extraordinary Ayyappa festival in the mountains bordering Tamil Nadu; or witness one million Christians who descend every year on the “Lourdes” of India - Velangani on the Coromandel coast. There you will discover that the genius of India, its tradition of tolerance, hospitality and gentleness lies in rural areas, amongst the humble people - and not in the arrogant westernised cities that have lost contact with their own roots. Or else, do an Art of Living basic course and learn first-hand India’s ancient traditions of meditation and pranayama... For the truth is that if you want to know and understand this country in some degree, you have to live India from the inside.