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January 19, 1999


E-Mail this column to a friend Saisuresh Sivaswamy

The international loneliness of the Hindu

As a youngster, when the secessionist movement in Punjab was at its peak, news reports that carried macabre details on the daily carnage of innocents there would fill me with wonder, for the journalese employed. 'Sikh terrorists today halted a state-run bus in Tarn Taran and, after separating the passengers, gunned down members of one particular community, killing all of them', was almost a ritual of our newspapers. In my young mind, the hidden detail, of which community the victims came from, was the most tantalising of all. As I realised that the victims were all, invariably if not always, Hindus killed in cold blood only because they were practitioners of a different faith, the next question was, why was their identity concealed?

I was still in college then, so I turned to my well-informed head of department for enlightenment. He told me it was because our journalists, being responsible, did not want Hindus elsewhere to get inflamed by such reports. I asked him, if the victims' identity was concealed, why were the terrorists' identity, Sikh ultras, being mentioned? After all, people elsewhere were not so daft that they cannot put two and two together... As if reading my mind, soon newspapers started referring to the secessionists as Punjabi terrorists, and so the Punjab problem was reduced to a simple one of one group of Punjabis murdering another group of Punjabis.

In Kashmir, which soon replaced Punjab as the slaughterhouse of Hindus, there was no moral dilemma facing journalism as a profession, one supposes. I mean, when Yusuf Ansari, who was gunned down by the security forces for the murder and rape of Purshottam Pandit in downtown Srinagar, the reader needn't be told who is doing in who in the 'strife-torn border state', or why. It is all there in stark black and white, without any gray shades.

Since my callow youth, journalism has a come a long way, as has the rest of India. Publications are no more mealy-mouthed about mentioning the identity of both the assailants and the victims when communal trouble, as endemic to Independent India as is caste to the Indian psyche, flares up anywhere. So, while I am professionally involved with news reports that talked about Muslims getting it in the neck in Bombay in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition, or as has become the vogue now, Christians terrorised in various parts of the country, I recall the self-imposed edict of journalists a generation ago, of not mentioning the religion of the victims for fear of causing a backlash. I wonder if perhaps that was the reason why the world was not aboil in anger and revulsion when thousands of innocent Hindus were slaughtered in the Punjab countryside and elsewhere. Today, the West is bristling with indignation, anger, at what K R Malkani referred irately as 'incidents when not a single Christian was killed, only property was destroyed'.

Is this because publications now believe in publishing the victims' faith etc and be damned that the world knows Christians are facing hard times in some parts of the country while it could not have known that in the bloody decade of Punjab, the Hindu death toll has really not been computed, will never be. Or in Kashmir for that matter...?

Or, probably there is another reason, an unpleasant but probable one, that the world, whether Muslim or Christian, does not care so long as the Hindu lives are being lost, but sits up and takes note when Muslims and/or Christians are at the receiving end? And given that Muslim countries and now the Christian West have put India on the watch-list for the actions of a lunatic fringe, there are two consequences that the victims do not seem to perceive.

One is that, thanks to such interference from nations in what is purely the internal business of India, the impression will grow that the victim communities are really not native, and that they have international godfathers in other countries. And two, when the victims, as in the present case the Christians protest their native status, the number of sceptics will grow phenomenally till it becomes a given that Christians have extra-terrestrial loyalties.

A drastic scenario, no doubt, but we have seen this happen with Indian Muslims. For every protest from an Islamic country against the treatment meted out to Muslims in India, resulted in a huge swelling in the ranks of the "Hindu nationalist" Bharatiya Janata Party. It could easily happen with the case of the Christians as well, unless a community that prides itself on its education, sees the dangers of international intercession on their behalf.

What right does the United States of America, Germany or *any other* country have in telling India how to conducts its internal affairs? Does India tell the US how to treat its own Dalits, the black Americans and immigrants even when the latter may be of Indian stock? Does Indian tell Germany what to do about the ranks of neo-Nazis in its cities? Or, does the Christian West really believe that sectarian crime in their countries is non-existent, while it is the Hindus who go about slaughtering other communities? Or, if it is a question of simple human rights, where were these defenders of liberty and life when Hindus were being put down like mad dogs in a country where they constitute more than 80 per cent of the population? Do Hindu lives and property come cheap in India?

I know the response that such questions will engender. I am a Hindu fundamentalist in the garb of a journalist, I don't see issues in their perspective, that this is a simple question of minority rights which, as F S Nariman has pointed out, is the ultimate yardstick of a civilised society. No one can dispute Fali Nariman's logic or reasoning, but surely there is a question that nobody seems willing to either ask, or address. I can understand Pakistan discussing the attacks on Indian Christians, for it is a monomanic country that exists to embarrass India, but surely the US of A, Britain or any other country have no role, right or authority to tell Indians what to do.

The real tragedy in my mind is that an educated community is not seeing the danger in accepting what seems like international support to their cause. It is no one's case that Christians, or other minorities, are not native to India, even if the faith they may live and die by may not be. But the longer Christians do not tell other countries to lay off India's internal affairs, that they do not need anyone else's aid and support in overcoming what is purely an Indian concern, they will have only themselves to blame if the impression gains ground, like it did about the Muslims, that like their faith, they too are not native to India.

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