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Home > India > News > Columnists > T V R Shenoy

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It's time for the 'silent majority' to speak up

September 25, 2008

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Whatever happened to the 'silent majority' in India? Is it not time for all of them to speak up?

Let me begin with the Muslims. Today when you hear about a terrorist attack in some city the knee-jerk reaction is to blame it on a Muslim fundamentalist group. The secondary reaction, a corrosive by-product of the first, is to dub all Muslims as 'supporters of terrorism'.

That is just insane! The vast majority of Muslims are neither terrorists nor supporters of terrorism. I would go so far as to say the average Indian Muslims despises those buffoons who dream of recreating the India of Aurangzeb.

So why does the 'sane' majority persist in remaining the 'silent' majority? From time to time the occasional Muslim cleric issues a denunciation of terrorism. But such rare chirping is simply not good enough any longer, Muslim terrorists must be flayed from every pulpit across India when the Friday sermon is delivered. And this must be done not once or twice but for years on end.

Consider the alternative if the Muslim majority does not actively distinguish itself from the smaller tribe of Muslim terrorists. Other Indians shall then believe that the absence of condemnation means automatic support.

The anger among non-Muslims was so strong that one could almost reach out and touch it in the aftermath of the recent Delhi [Images] blasts. It is not often that you see senior politicians -- from the Union home minister to the Leader of the Opposition, from the lieutenant governor of Delhi to its chief minister -- attending the funeral of a humble police inspector. But public bitterness was so great they felt compelled to salute Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma.

How many of the leaders of the Muslim community did you see laying a wreath at Inspector Sharma's feet? How many of them were heard praising a brave man who had died fighting for India?

What I did hear were reports of 'tension' in Jamia Nagar, the Muslim-dominated colony in Delhi where Inspector Sharma died fighting terrorists. To a non-Muslim ear it sounded querulous, completely out of proportion to everything that had happened. Which sounds worse, to be under suspicion (as they claim to be) or to be under a shroud (as Mohan Chand Sharma was)? I am sorry if that sounds crude but that really is the long and the short of it.

I will accept for argument's sake that Muslims acutely resent their lack of representation in government agencies, corporate entities, and so forth. (Although it might help if more Muslim children actively pursued, say, English and geometry rather than Urdu and calligraphy). I may even swallow that this sense of alienation is shared by the sane Muslim majority and the far smaller number of Muslim terrorists.

But it is frankly ludicrous to say that unemployment excuses terrorism! Once -- just once! -- I would like to hear the Muslim leadership condemn violence against Hindus without qualifying their statements with mealy-mouthed 'ifs' and 'buts' and 'you must understands'.

In the light of recent events, I must also criticise the howling minority that has hijacked the cause of the silent Hindu majority. (Some of you will undoubtedly complain that I am doing just what I condemned above, qualifying my statement about Muslim terrorists by seeking to equate it with Hindu agitators. Save your breath, I am not saying that what happened in Mangalore is remotely equivalent to planting bombs in Delhi!)

Swami Vivekananda was a better Hindu than any of those idiots who went around trying to burn chapels. True Hindus, he said, did not just 'tolerate' the faiths of others, they actually 'respected' them. (While the Swami may have used the word 'toleration' in his famous address to the Parliament of Religions, he appears to have actively disliked it in later years because it smacks of condescension, rather like an adult 'tolerating' bad behaviour in a child.) I have a fair idea of what Swami Vivekananda might have said about attacks on churches -- and it wouldn't have been pretty.

The current leaders of Hinduism have been less than forthcoming. Hinduism does not have an exact equivalent of the Muslim ulema, but would it have hurt senior acharyas to condemn the attacks on Christians? Not because it is illegal but specifically because such attacks disrespect the philosophical foundations of Hinduism?

I cannot leave the Christians out of this, can I? If Hindus are required to respect other religions then it must be a two-way street. And, frankly, there is nothing so utterly disrespectful as proselytisation.

One can understand -- and respect -- conversion. If an individual chooses to change his faith after struggling with his convictions, so be it. But going around asking others to convert, with none-too-subtle overtones of 'My God is better than your god!' is not respect but hostility. And that, let us be honest, is the tone adopted by some Christian missionaries in India.

Once again, I believe that this is not true of most Indian Christians. This country has had a long history of Christians -- Catholic, Protestant, Mar Thoma Syrian Christians -- living perfectly amicably without feeling any need to convert their Hindu neighbours. (Although it must be noted that one major exception was during Portuguese rule when the Catholics made converts at the point of the sword).

There was a major change more recently, one that became clear when Pope John Paul II unveiled the document 'Ecclesia in Asia' when he came here in 1999. The Holy Father said on that occasion, 'The peoples of Asia need Jesus Christ and his gospel. Asia is thirsting for the living water that Jesus alone can give.' Can you blame Hindus for worrying after that?

Oddly, at the same time the Vatican was fuming about 'sheep stealing' in Latin America. That was because Catholics were turning to some Protestant sects like the Evangelicals and the Pentecostals. (By the way, Republican vice-presidentiial nominee Sarah Palin [Images] was born a Catholic, but now attends an independent congregation). Is it surprising that Hindus share similar worries?

Nobody wants to admit it, but there is now some sort of a competition to convert Hindus between some Christian sects. I am glad that the Catholics of Kerala [Images] have publicly proclaimed their dislike of such tactics, but it would be better yet if the Christians of India as a whole proclaimed their disdain for conversions through allurement.

Most Hindus, most Muslims, and most Christians in India are essentially peaceable folks who would rub along perfectly well with each other given half a chance. But will they get that option if the headlines are hijacked by extremists with their own agenda? It is time for the silent majority of each faith to speak up -- and reclaim their religions.


T V R Shenoy



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