India, the land of refuge

India, the land of refuge



It is common for India's enemies -- whether outsiders or, unfortunately, Indians themselves -- to harp on the "rise of Hindu fundamentalism in India" (while mentioning Muslim fundamentalism in passing) and the growing intolerance of "fanatical" Hindu movements (the RSS, VHP, and the Bajrang Dal) towards India's minorities. This has become an accepted proposition among the India specialists, historians, and foreign correspondents.

Yet, everyone seems to forget that, for thousands of years, India has been the land of refuge for all persecuted minorities of the world, whether the Jews after the sack of their temple in Jerusalem, Arab merchants, Parsis from Persia, Syrian Christians, Armenians, or the early Sri Lankan Tamils fleeing Sinhalese persecution.

Nobody mentions that not only is this tolerance a Hindu tradition, because Hinduism has always accepted the divinity of other Gods, but also that, in return for their goodness, Hindus have been for 2,000 years the target of innumerable persecutions, whether at the hands of Christians (the Portuguese, for instance, who razed temples and crucified Brahmins in Goa) or, of course, Muslim invaders (like Timur who, in 1399, is said to have killed 100,000 Hindus in a single day).

And which religion in the world can boast not only of never having invaded another nation to impose its faith upon its inhabitants, but also never tried to convert anybody, even by peaceful means (as the Buddhists did)?

Today, India is still a land of refuge. Witness the Tibetans, persecuted by the Chinese, who have been able to recreate on Indian soil a mini-Tibet (in Dharamsala and other places), where they enjoy full freedom and even the right to travel abroad with Indian documents. Today, almost the whole worldknows that, from 1950 onwards, when the Chinese invaded Tibet, 1.2 million Tibetans have been killed, either directly (through shooting, death squads and torture) or indirectly (in concentration camps, prisons, and famines). As many as 6,254 monasteries, most of them ancient, have been razed to the ground.

Sixty per cent of religious, historical and cultural archives have been destroyed. A quarter million Chinese troops are occupying Tibet. One Tibetan out of 10 is still in jail. There are today in Tibet 7.5 million Chinese settlers for six million Tibetans -- in many places such as the capital, Lhasa, Tibetans are outnumbered two to one. Yet, the western world is so wary of China, where they have invested huge amounts of money, that they keep being blackmailed by Beijing and very few world leaders dare to receive openly the Dalai Lama, the living symbol of Tibet's non-violent resistance to Chinese holocaust.

Recently, India upheld this tradition of granting asylum, when it allowed the Karmapa, third in the Tibetan spiritual hierarchy, to stay in India, after he fled occupied Tibet. Initially, there was some suspicion that Karmapa might have been sent by the Chinese to sow disorder amongst Tibetan refugees, as there was another boy who claimed to be the Karmapa (he lives inFrance).

But the Dalai Lama, whom the Indian Government trusts, has vouched for the boy's integrity and the 14-year-old Karmapa himself, mature beyond his years, has told many (including this writer) that he fled Tibet "because he felt that he would be more and more used by the Chinese for propaganda purposes and because he refused to make statements against the Dalai Lama, asthe Chinese wanted him to". For the moment, the boy is more or less confined to a small monastery near Dharamsala, but is eager to settle in the Rumtek monastery of Sikkim, the traditional seat of the exiled karmapas. The Indian Government is hesitant to let him go there, as it does not want to offend theChinese, when border talks are on and the President is in China.

But it should not be hesitant. For, the history of India-China relations since 1947 shows that it is always India which has shown goodwill towards the Chinese and always the Chinese who pretended goodwill while stabbing India in the back. Nehru's policy of `Hindi-Chini-bhai-bhai' was a disaster: China attacked India by surprise in 1962 and took away 20,000 square kms of its territory.

Today, China has transferred one-third of its nuclear arsenal to Nagchuka, 250 kms away from Lhassa, a region full of huge caves which the Chinese have linked together by an intricate underground network and where they have installed, according to US estimates, 90 intermediate-range intercontinental ballistic missiles. Tibet is of a great strategic military importance to China as, being on a high plateau, it overlooks Russia and India. But Russia is no more a danger to China. Thus it is towards North Indian cities that most of the nuclear missiles are pointed!

By letting the Karmapa settle in Rumtek, India will show that Sikkim is an integral part of its territory and that the Chinese should forget about its territorial claim on Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. India should have learnt by now that the only way to deal with China is firmness. India should also help Tibet to regain its freedom, because as the Dalai Lama has often pointed out, a free demilitarised and denuclearised Tibet would be the idealbuffer zone between the two giants of Asia: India and China. 

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