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Threats to Secular India
India has been no stranger to terrorist acts and, in the past few years, cross-border terrorism has been the mantra of the government, which blames all militant activity in Kashmir and elsewhere on Pakistan. When President Bush announced his plan to involve other countries in his war against terrorism, Indias policy makers saw two distinct opportunities: (1) a chance to move closer to the U.S. as a key component of the international alliance, and (2) edging Pakistan out of the equation. Indian policy makers often complain about the U.S.s preference for Pakistan as the partner of choice in South Asia and given that it was now a dictatorship and presumably out of favor with a new United States, it was natural for New Delhi to assume that Bush would turn to India as a key regional ally, perhaps drawing upon its vast experience in dealing with Islamic terrorists.
How wrong this assumption turned out to be became evident in less time than it takes to say Osama bin Laden. As India furiously waved to attract Bushs attention, even offering military bases for any putative attack on Afghanistan, a new international star was born on the subcontinent. General Pervez Musharraf, who had been in somewhat of a doghouse after so bloodlessly assuming power in Islamabad, turned his back on the Taliban that his army colleagues had supported and signed on with Bush, no questions asked. The Bush administration, firmly believing in the adage it takes one thief to catch another, and fully grasping Pakistans strategic importance to mount an attack on Afghanistan (later securing all important pipelines, too), welcomed Musharraf and turned him into the wests favorite poster boy who could do no wrong. Want to hold a bogus referendum to legitimize your coup? Go ahead. Feel like banishing all legitimate political opposition and changing the constitution while you are at it? Be our guest.
The Indians, who never tire of pointing out how they are a democracy and therefore natural allies with the U.S., felt disappointed and went into a sulk. They also took President Bushs unilateralism to heart and decided they too would finish off cross-border terrorism by striking at its source, i.e., Pakistan. Thus, when gunners attacked the Indian parliament in December and, subsequently, there were other heinous killings of unarmed civilians, India demanded that Pakistan rein in its puppet terrorists. To show India was serious, India rolled out its military prowess, moving hundreds of thousands of troops to the border, alarming the world into thinking nuclear Armageddon was at hand.
A lot of shuttle diplomacy from the U.S., with a few sideshows from Britain, followed and the heated temperatures cooled down, but the Indian and Pakistani armies havent pulled back from the borders. Given that India claims Pakistan-sponsored terrorists tried to sabotage the elections in Jammu and Kashmir, the readiness of the troops at the border is significant. A war is not imminent, but it would be foolish to completely rule out any conflict.
But Kashmir and Indo-Pak tensions are nothing new and the U.S. will, for its own reasons, ensure that these tensions do not get out of hand. A bigger worry should be what is happening within India.
In February and March this year, Hindu mobs in Gujarat went on a rampage and killed hundredsofficial estimates say 600, unofficial figures are closer to 2,000of Muslim women, men, and children in a brutal unprecedented orgy. Sectarian riots have broken out in the past and Hindu Muslim relations are often tense in some parts of the country, but this pogrom had one significant difference; the state was an active participant in the proceedings. Human Rights Watch has documented several instances of official apathy and connivance in the killings. By their acts of omission and commission, government functionaries at various levelspolice, civil servants and, if subsequent reports are to believed, even ministersignored pleas for help from Muslims and actively encouraged mobs to kill, rape, and loot. One magazine reported that the chief minister, Narendra Modi, described by a well-known sociologist as a textbook fascist, had called a meeting of senior civil servants before the riots began and discouraged them from taking any action to stop the rioters. This fury was ostensibly to avenge an attack in which a mob set fire to a train in the small town of Godhra and charred 59 people inside. The victims were Hindus returning from a rally and were shouting slogans against Muslims. This apparently enraged local Muslims so much that they gathered a few hundred people and burned the passengers alive. A subsequent inquiry has not conclusively proved that this is what happened and a forensic examination has shown that the fire was started from the inside. However, that is a moot pointwithin days of this ghastly incident, enraged Hindu mobs were out in the streets in other parts of the state systematically targeting Muslim homes, as well as commercial properties owned by Muslims. So thorough was their research that they managed to burn down Muslim-owned shops while sparing other establishments right next door.
Universal condemnation followed. It was not merely the fact of the rioting, but the Administrations weak response in controlling it and the tacit justifications and finger pointing by those elected to protect the citizens. Modi was quoted as saying Every action has an equal reaction to justify the rampaging mobs and the post-Godhra killings, a statement he denied, but which was fairly typical of his subsequent behavior. Not only did rioting continue for weeks, he blamed everyonethe opposition parties, the media, and even Indian parliamentariansfor fanning the flames by overblowing the incident. Journalists who covered the rioting at great risk were singled out for severe criticism.
But the most blame was apportioned to the dreaded Inter-services Intelligence of neighboring Pakistan, which has become the familiar shadowy presence behind all acts of terrorism in India and whose name is regularly invoked to prove to citizens and the rest of the world that Pakistan has sinister designs in India. They are the ones who fund, arm, train, and control Kashmiri militants, they spread counterfeit Indian currency in the country, and they had planned the train fire along with local Muslims. That is the case that has been built up by the Hindu right who rule India and whose party runs Gujarat, the state where the riots took place.
The connection between the secret service of a Muslim country with Indian Muslims is a clever one; it fits the mythology that Indian Muslims, all 140 million of them, are a 5th column whose loyalty to India is suspect. This has been a theme of Hindu right wingers for a long time and all kinds of actions, real and imagined, are held out as examples of the Muslims lack of fealty to India. Their habit of praying towards Mecca indicates an extraterritorial loyalty. They have been accused of cheering for the other side whenever India and Pakistan play cricket. (An absurd claim as Indias cricket team was captained for a long time by a Muslim.)
For many years anti-Muslim tirades were routinely disregarded by most Indians, who were steeped in the traditions and culture of the secular state. Secularismthe complete separation of religion and statewas the credo advocated by the founding fathers of modern India when the country became independent from British rule in 1947. To ensure that it was followed to the letter and spirit, they enshrined it in the constitution.
But the forces of Hindu militancy only went into hiding, they did not disappear. Four decades of secularism and a commitment to protecting minorities did not prevent the rise of the Hindu right, which made its presence felt dramatically in the late 1980s, when the Bharatiya Janata Party, which till then had only a few seats in parliament, raised the banner of Hindutva (Hinduness).
Hindutva was designed to appeal to Hindus who felt that the minorities got too many special rights and that pseudo-secularistsi.e., English speaking, westernized Indians who also were allegedly left winghad conspired to undermine Hinduism in a country that was overwhelmingly Hindu. It was a compelling argument, especially to those who felt marginalized and the campaign caught on like wildfire. Riots broke out in different parts of the country and in 1992, the campaign climaxed dramatically when Hindu mobs demolished a 400-year-old disused mosque, which they claimed was built on the sacred birthplace, several millennia ago, of one of the gods of the Hindu pantheon .
That event, on December 6, 1992, marked an historic turning point and the BJPs political fortunes have been rising ever since. Though it never attained full majority in parliament, it was the single largest party in 1998 and managed to bring together a disparate group of parties, over 20 in number, including one-time Socialists who would never taste power on their own. This government has ruled India for the past four years and has dismantled much of what India had been for nearly five decades.
The first major task of the coalition was to fulfill something that the BJP had promised in its manifesto in 1998, but which no one, including the world community, took seriously: it conducted a series of nuclear explosions, finally bringing Indias nuclear weapon capabilities out of the closet where they had been kept for nearly 30 years. It was a political decision more than a strategic one, designed to signal the advent of a muscular and robust nationalism and it tied in well with the BJPs agenda of building a strong motherland, one that would stand up to the world and be proud of its heritage. In pursuit of that goal, the government launched a campaign to do away with established norms. It altered the educational curriculum to provide the correct version of history, took over social science and history research institutions, even produced pseudo- scientific research claiming the existence of Hindu civilizations before the Indus Valley. Skeptics have been silenced or marginalizedone historian who suggested that Hindus ate beef at one time (the current Hinduism worships the cow as a deity) found his book banned; another discovered his commissioned book would no longer be published because it projected a secular viewpoint of Indian history.
Externally, India has seen a war with Pakistan, as well as an upping of the temperature, aided by incendiary statements by government hard-liners who want to once and for all solve the Pakistan problem. During border tensions earlier in 2002, there was much talk of pre-emptive strikes and the slicing up of Pakistani territory. In the end, India recalled its ambassador and sent the Pakistani High commissioner packing.
At the same time, ostensibly to check terrorism, tough new laws like the Prevention of Terrorism Act have been introduced that allow for people with foreknowledge of terrorist acts not yet committed to be arrested (this could even mean a journalist who may have interviewed a Kashmiri separatist).
The neo-nationalism of the Hindu right in India is projecting itself as macho and tough, that will not tolerate any dissent or allow any nonsense from recalcitrant neighbors or secular and liberal Indians, especially the much-reviled English speaking Indians who are seen as the enemy.
To this brand of far-right thinking, the ultimate model is Sharons Israel, which indulges in pre-emptive strikes against Palestinians before they can hit Israeli targets, keeps troublemakers in check, and is unmindful of world opinion. It also helps that it is fighting Muslims and, in keeping with the visceral hatred for Muslims among Hindu chauvinists, this makes Zionists and Hindus natural allies (never mind if influential elements among Hindus are admirers of Hitler). Unlikely alliances are being built among Hindu groups and Zionists, as well as among Hindus in Britain and the anti-immigrant far right British Nationalist Party, as British Hindus try to distinguish between themselves and the hated Pakis, as Muslims are derogatorily called.
At the same time, India, jettisoning 40 years of foreign policy principles, has begun turning away from solidarity with the Palestinians to align with Israel (and the U.S.) in defense and other matters. From playing a key role as a voice of the underdeveloped third world, India now wants to join the big boys, ideally as a permanent member of the Security Council, but at least as a key power in the region and beyond. The U.S. is content to string India along and, suddenly, all manner of top U.S. policy-makers have come to reassure India that it occupies an affectionate place in the hearts of the U.S. establishment and will be roped in to join the concert of democracies.
What does this portend for India? To start with, the presence of two hostile nuclear neighbors, both itching to start a fight, does not give cause for optimism. The acquisition of nuclear weapons has not, as was forecast by the Dr. Strangeloves of the region, reduced the chances of a conflict. Both countries have fought one war and are in eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation at the border, with Pakistan having declined to sign a no-first strike treaty. The theory of Mutually Assured Destruction may not be applicable to neighboring countries, where communication is minimum at best and launch to strike timings may amount to a few minutes.
The simmering anti-minority feelings in India, a land with 140 million Muslims constantly being taunted about their patriotism, is another cause for serious concern. In 1947, the subcontinent was partitioned into two, in keeping with the two-nation theory propounded by Muslim leaders, and Hindu groups and millions died crossing to the other side. Many observers have expressed concern about another partition-like environment if this minority baiting continues.
The possibility that a one billion strong, secular, diverse nation, that prided itself on its multiculturalism long before the phrase became fashionable, could fall under the control of religious bigots should make people around the world really scared. If the Hindu right is successful, that is exactly what will happen. To the U.S. establishment, that will not matter as long as economic policies favor American companies. But it could spell the end of secular, liberal India.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
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PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
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MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
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MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
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MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
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ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
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MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
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BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
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LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
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VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
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GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
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LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
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LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.