You might expect me to talk about the US presidential elections, and ordinarily I would. Obama is likely to win according to me, but lets wait another day! If I was in the states right now I think I'd have a nervous breakdown, but luckily I'm not!! (Ok, I'll be honest, unluckily -- I'd have given anything to be part of this election!)
So, to other matters, more important matters. Tehelka carried an interview -- Prakash Sharma, Bajrang Dal leader -- which was very interesting to read. With Hindu-Muslim mutual suspicion out in the open now -- you can no longer point only at Muslim extremists as being the perpetrators of terror in this country -- we need to take a long hard view at how we think.
Now, let me be honest, at the start of the interview, I was nodding in agreement with a few things he said. But they made me think, question myself.
"See, no matter what you say, the basic thing is, Bharat is a Hindu rashtra and because it is a Hindu rashtra, Muslims and Christians can live with such ease here. What Muslims are doing in India today, they will not be able to do in any Christian country. Similarly, what the Christians are doing here, they will not be able to do in a Muslim country."
Is that true, I wondered. I have friends in many Muslim countries, from the Middle East to Pakistan, and perhaps he is right. After all, it is our very secular nature that allows people to do as they want. But then again, I've met people who've come from places ranging from Doha to Dubai.. and no real complaints about their lifestyles as such if they are not Muslim. Perhaps I don't have knowledge at the grassroots level, but considering the violence against minorities in our country, I don't think we can really boast of this secularism any more.
But the more I read, the more I wanted to understand the mind of a Hindu nationalist.
"See, Hindus believe god can have any name, and the paths to god can vary. We have 32 crore gods and goddesses; it won’t hurt us if one more Mohammaden or Christian is added to the ranks. So what difficulty do Indian Muslims have in saying they are “Mohammamed panthi Hindus” or Indian Christians have in saying they are “Christ-believing Hindus”? After all, this is a Hindu nationality. "
He giveth and taketh away in one breath! Because he already calls them Indian Muslims and Indian Christians! What is with this insane loyalty test Hinduism espouses? Agni pariksha anyone?
He made it amply clear in the interview that he will justify his own Bajrang Dal's violence by any means, but anything other than that is to be condemned. Even when talking about conversions, and why Dalits convert due to the extreme caste system in the country, he admits Hindu society has its faults, but they are not so bad.
"No, this is the problem with the secular media. What is so complex about the issue? There was an agreement; Kashmir was given to India. If Nehru had not kept the issue in his hand and had left it to Sardar Patel, there would be no issue today. If these eunuch governments would give up their impotency, there would be no issue today. I am neither concerned about the BJP nor any other party. It is because of the impotency of our political parties that the Kashmir issue is not sorted out and has got so out of hand. Why do they get such a free hand? They go over to Pakistan and make friends with them, and we sit and feed them biryani? They should be crushed, not treated like sons-in-law!"
Ah, the secular media and Kashmir. Just remember this, I will come back to it later.
"I am talking of the whole secular spectrum. Tell me, what is wrong in our opposition to Husain? Muslims burn buses demonstrating against Taslima, so you send her out of the country. Why are you defending Husain? What is the need to show Sita minus her clothes? Will he paint Mother Mary naked? Will he paint his own mother naked? I say Husain should be punished in such a way no one in his family will remember how to paint seven generations later. If he ever comes here, I assure you there will be a spontaneous reaction to him. "
It is a good point though. These guys started harassing Husain ages ago, but they are not alone in violent protests over religious idols. Thats universal. But this whole "spontaneous reaction" bullshit needs to stop. You're not fooling anyone. It's like in school when they told you that some voluntary activity was compulsary.
"How do you justify your demographic insecurities? We are a billion plus. Minorities barely make up 18 percent. Orissa has 95 percent Hindus –
Don’t look at it at a national level. Go to the particular district and see. There used to be a few thousand Christians there, now there are several lakhs. Why did only particular portions of India become Pakistan and Bangladesh? Because they were Muslim majority areas. Why are there secessionist movements in Christian dominated regions of the north-east? In the future, there might be fresh talk of partitions. They will raise their populations then ask for partitions. You will not understand these things. We do not oppose Muslims per se, we only oppose statements like Abdullah Bukhari who said recently that they will create such a movement, things will be worse than 1947. "
How do you ever manage population control in an environment like this? And its such a myopic view from a leader who rather have a thosand hungry, poor, illiterate followers than plan for their successful future.
The point that he considers every demand of the Muslims as anti-national. Even their demands of being treated equally, equal opportunity -- everything is considered anti-Hindu by him. So where is the space for debate?
"You will find the only reason the talks broke down so totally is because Shri Shahbuddin made that incendiary statement: “What proof do you have Ram was born here?” If you question our very identity, the basic fount of our culture -- Did Ram exist or not -- what discussion can there be? Let them take the initiative on anything. Let them amicably give us the three birthplaces, and there will be no more fight. Does any Muslim leader have the courage and statesmanship to initiate talk on this? "
AKA this conversation will only work if you agree we are right.
BUT his comments on secular media being great apologetics and in fact doing a disservice to the country made me think. It's not that his views are totaly baseless, its that they are an extreme version of what they should be. Agreed, there is a deep divide over Ayodhya (and he mentions this funny statement by a Muslim who said, if my baby is born in a Boeing 747 will I take the plane home? Hee.) and perhaps he is such a staunch Hindu that he does feel threatened by other religious groups being present, but his outlet is violence, spontaneous as it may be, and thats the problem.
But he did mention how secular media/people react. It made me think about a email doing the rounds, claiming to prove who actually owns the Indian media. It says that there is a lot of Middle Eastern money coming in that wants to ensure that the media is sympathetic to Muslims more than Hindus -- thus the secular bias. The same claim is made for international channel tie-ups, that are funded by Christian groups in their countries. How true this is, I don't know. But its out there.
Now, this Hindu-Muslim/Secular puzzle is made even more complicated if you take Kashmir in the middle. To give Kashmir autonomy would encourage other secessionist, so a no-no. But the alternative is to let them continue living under guard. And with Kashmir, where the Muslims could not decide if they wanted to stay with India or Pakistan, we equate their struggle with the rest of the Muslims in India (who wanted to stay, and struggle for their place within Indian society), and so neither can be addressed correctly? Am I reading this right because it is just so complicated!
Anyway, I read this piece by Pankaj Mishra in Outlook. He said a few interesting things too. "For years the overtly Islamic and violent aspect of the insurgency in the Valley kept many secular Indian liberals from visibly sympathising with the plight of the Kashmiri Muslims." And Prakash Sharma's answer to that is that the media has not highlighted the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits (though Tehelka says it is working on such a story). I've heard my dad, a KP although my family was already in Delhi at the time of the exodus, complain of the same. Why is one story lost in the service of the other? Or perhaps its not lost "in the service of the other" but simply waiting to be found?
Does Kashmir hold the key to solving these problems? Can it be a catalyst? I'm throwing the question open guys, cause I want to know too. What do you think?
Are we also caught up in "the idea of India" (much like the idea of the "American Dream"?) he asks. Great question I think. Because we keep claiming India is this, it is that, but its not really, and you just need to put on the TV to understand that simple fact. Everyone seems to hate each other, mutual suspicion. And this common love of cricket and Bollywood that we seem to find so cute, to me, isn't all that cute anymore.