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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
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; firstname.lastname@example.org; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; email@example.com; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.