By  Dr.  Ramesh N Rao 


In India, Muslims Are Always “Victims”

Indian secularists are so used to thinking themselves of as the good people, as modern, and as liberal that they don’t see or can’t see how their rationalization of  Muslim provocations leads to further polarization of Indian society.

     The newspapers here in the U.S. have been repeating what Indian newspapers, the English language “secular” press, have been saying about the latest Hindu-Muslim carnage in Gujarat following the gruesome torching of a train carrying kar sevaks.  The openly hostile New York Times, which ignored Prime Minister Vajpayee’s visit to the U.S. in November 2001, and barely gave two lines of recognition to the very important visit this January by L.K. Advani, provided an interesting spin to the killing-fields of Gujarat.  I looked at the headlines in the NYT in the first two days of coverage of the events in Gujarat.  The first headline, for a report by Celia Dugger, NYT’s Delhi bureau chief, on February 28, reads: “Firebombing of Train Carrying Hindu Activists Kills 57”.  The headline does not mention Muslims.  The word “activists” provides the damper or cushion to underplay, if not rationalize, the gruesome crime perpetrated by a Muslim mob which had pre-meditated the attack.  The only thing that can be said in favor of the newspaper’s headlines was that it was not as cruel and vicious as the one that Agence France Presse carried on March 2, 2002: “A train full of Hindu ‘extremists’ was burnt”.  The news agency report, which is used by media around the world said that the train was full of Hindu “extremists”.  So, the forty innocent women and children who were burnt became “extremists” with a sleight-of-hand that a magician would marvel at, and it is that kind of slap across the face that Hindus have accepted now for too long.  Sadly, such viciousness and bias in reporting is fueled by the ranting and raving by India’s own “secular” establishment which will demonize the RSS and VHP given half a chance, and which will and has ignored the violence instigated and perpetrated by India’s Muslim minority.

     The second headline to the March 1 report by Celia Dugger reads: “Hindu Rioters Kill 60 Muslims in India”.  Following from the first example, one could have expected the headline to read something like “Torching of hutments kills 60 Muslims in Indian city”.  Why mention Hindus in the headline?  For those who don’t read the newspaper that claims that it prints all the news fit to print, The New York Times has been one of the most biased newspaper in terms of its analysis of the BJP and the RSS.  That it takes its cues from India’s own pseudo-secular establishment is easily recognized by anyone who has carefully read the newspaper between 1996, when the BJP first formed a government, and now.

     The third headline, to another report by Dugger, March 1, says: “India Puts the Death Toll at 136 After Hindus Attack Muslims”.  Do I need to comment on this one?  The headline does not give the reader the context of the Gujarat riots at all.  Only the reader who goes through the report carefully will see mention of the event that started it all.  But look at the mischief the headline does: it puts the onus of death and carnage on Hindus.

     When Hindus kill Muslims, The New York Times mentions both groups, with the stress being on Hindus who are supposedly doing the killing.  When Muslims kill Hindus, Muslims are not mentioned.  Many American readers don’t go beyond the headlines, especially dealing with international affairs.  The NYT, by skewing headlines against India’s Hindu majority, seems to indicate to its readers that Hindus are to blame for all religious conflict in India. 

     What about the other media, including the respected Public Broadcasting Service television network?  I watched Prof. Lariviere of the University of Texas, and Prof. Gould of the University of Virginia, answer the anchor-man Ray Suarez’s questions on March 1 on the evening news program.  Prof. Lariviere, who teaches Sanskrit and is the head of the South Asian studies program at the University of Texas in Austin, said that communalism in India is a scourge like racism is a scourge in the U.S.  I did not or could not understand his analogy, and he failed to clearly inform the viewers about the nature of the Hindu-Muslim conflict in India. 

     Racism in the U.S. was a deliberate social practice, supported by governmental policy that did not give the vote to Blacks, and considered Blacks to be of less worth than Whites.  This was constitutionally mandated, and more akin to the Sharia laws in Islamic countries that make women’s depositions in court, for example, less important than that of men.  Some have compared racism in the U.S. to caste-ism in India, and the analogy holds better in that case though one can argue that there was no government or constitutional sanction in India for discrimination based on caste.

Communal conflict, as the professor should have known, is exacerbated in India because of the nature of the divide between Hindus and Muslims, and because of the way India was partitioned.  The professor did not mention India’s partition at all, nor did he provide the context for the latest riots except to repeat that the Babri mosque razed in 1992 is to be blamed for the latest bloodbath, and that it is an irony that the man who led the Ayodhya movement (L.K. Advani) is now charged with maintaining law and order in the country. 

     Would Prof. Lariviere have said that communalism is a scourge in Pakistan?  Of course not, if I believe I heard and interpreted his comments correctly.  Pakistan has driven out or silenced its minorities, whereas India’s minorities are vocal, powerful, and seem to have the support of academics and the English-language press both in India and abroad, who, instead of simply condemning the carnage in Gujarat, begun by Muslims, go on rebuking the VHP and the present BJP leaders for encouraging or creating the conflict between Hindus and Muslims.  And they do it all by taking it back to 1992 and the destruction of the Babri masjid. 

     Prof. Lariviere also misinformed the viewers when he claimed that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad wants to build the temple on the piece of land where the mosque stood.  This shows that academics in the U.S., who are routinely invited by television networks for expert comments, do not really have much expertise, and that the information they proffer is grossly outdated or even false.  If only the professor had been following the news he would have known that the VHP wants the 67 acres adjoining the mosque (the VHP wants even less now than the 67 acres that they have been demanding all along), and which land previously belonged to Hindus, and which the central government confiscated in 1993.  The other business of recovering the land on which the mosque stood (something like a 60 by 40 piece of property) is left to the courts that have been dithering for the last 50 plus years on the matter.

     Prof. Lariviere failed to inform viewers that the present carnage was not started by the VHP, and that elements within the Muslim community in India, including possibly instigators from across the border in Pakistan were responsible for igniting the conflict.  If only the academic from Texas had been following the news closely he would have realized that the police arrested some activists belonging to the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) who met clandestinely in Gujarat as recently as two or three weeks ago, and that SIMI, along with agent provocateurs, could have inspired the Muslim leadership in Godhra to take on the deathly task.

Indian reaction in the U.S.: Indians and Indian Americans have been agonizing about the Gujarat incidents in email forums and discussion lists.  They don’t know how to reconcile the gruesome crime committed on Wednesday, February 27, 2002, when the train carrying Hindu worshippers on their way back home from a pilgrimage to Ayodhya was stopped by a Muslim mob in Godhra and set on fire.  They don’t know how to deal with the fact that at least 57 people died, including 25 women and 15 children, who were trapped in the blazing train compartments as the Muslim mobs locked the doors from outside.  They hear the news on radio and watch it on television, and do their daily internet surfing to find out what the New York Times and the Washington Post as well as the regional newspapers say about the events.  They read the Indian newspapers and they visit their favorite web sites, and they are confused about what to think about it all.  They don’t know how to convey to their American friends and acquaintances the fact that many Hindus believe, and some recent archaeological research has supported their belief, that the Babri mosque in Ayodhya was constructed by either Babar, the Mughal emperor, or one of his minions, on the site where a temple to the Hindu God-king Rama stood.  They are afraid that they would be pooh-poohed if they tried to point out that archaeological diggings at the site confirm the Hindus’ belief that the mosque was constructed on the site of a razed temple.  They are afraid if they firmly insist that the three important holy sites to Hindus in North India  Ayodhya, Mathura, and Varanasi  (where mosques have been built on land where temples stood) should be returned they will be branded as Hindu fundamentalists or Hindu extremists.  Thus some Indian-Americans go to extreme lengths to distance themselves from any VHP or RSS organizational activities lest their secular friends abandon them.  They are afraid that if they speak about the Muslim wantonness in burning the train carrying Ayodhya kar sevaks they will be accused of encouraging or inciting Hindus to kill Muslims.  

What justification for riots?  Can we justify the carnage following the Godhra massacre?  We can’t.  However, it would be foolish and inconsiderate not to acknowledge that there is tremendous anger among many Hindus, including those who lost their loved ones in Godhra, against the Muslim community.  The wounds on the Hindu body politic are old and run deep, and when there is a fresh cut on the body there is a wild, visceral reaction.  But even the most blinkered of secularists cannot ignore the fact that the Gujarat state government could not have stopped the mayhem as promptly and completely as we, those distanced by ideology and physical and psychological space, wished it had done.  What we ignore when we read the blaring headlines claiming that 500 people were killed in the post-Godhra incidents is that, about one in five of those 500 people were killed by the police trying to control the rioters!  But do the reporters and commentators, those who love to bare their bleeding hearts, point out to that very salient fact?  NO!  Instead we get the recycled nonsense that somehow it is the government that is to blame, that it is the fanatic VHP brigade that is to blame. 

     The Indian community in the U.S. has been lax in communicating the information about what happened and why it happened.  There is no mechanism in place here to convey information to the media in a coherent and coordinated fashion.  The Indian communities in the U.S. are as hopelessly divided as are people in India, and the same kind of “secular” minority that calls the shots in India do so here too.  The majority just don’t know how to deal with such issues and either withdraw or become apathetic.  In not one newspaper here have I read that Godhra is a predominantly Muslim town, and that police now say some of the Muslim town councilors were responsible for inciting the mob to commit this dastardly deed.  They don’t mention that ten young women were abducted from the train and are still missing.  They don’t point out that this was a cold-blooded and calculated act to ignite countrywide conflict between Hindus and Muslims, and that this can be confirmed by the fact that the train stops at the Godhra station only for about three to five minutes, and the mob that set fire to it had already been assembled by the local Muslim leaders to prepare to commit the mayhem. 

     The Hindu mobs that have now have been rampaging through Gujarat, and killed three hundred or four hundred mostly innocent Muslims bespeak of cruelty not merely of mobs, whether Hindu, Muslim or Christian or whether they are in the U.S., England, Pakistan, or India but of the whirlwind we reap when not just hate is sown but also when justice is not rendered.  As Varsha Bhosle, in her latest column says, “The Muslims who attacked the Sabarmati Express were neither ISI agents nor al-Qaeda jihadis -- they are plain old Indians.  Sure, the hand of the ISI *is* deep in there -- but it’s now being cited by the politicians to shirk the responsibility for their continuing with the Congress policy of indulging the minorities, to the point that Muslims began to think they are invincible.  Just as Osama bin Laden thought he would get away with obliterating the WTC, so did the Muslims of Godhra think vis-ŕ-vis the Hindus returning from Ayodhya.”

     So, is Varsha Bhosle ignoring what our secularist press has been saying: that it was indeed the VHP’s adamant demand for constructing the Ram temple at Ayodhya that led to the ratcheting up of animosity between Hindus and Muslims, and that therefore the VHP basically was asking for trouble that came in the form of the massacre in Godhra?  I will let Varsha Bhosle speak for herself: “The razing of the Babri has become the embodiment of everything that’s evil in India -- that is, practising Hindus are what’s wrong with India. You see, if a Vinod Mehta or a Dilip Padgaonkar can’t be bothered to wear a janoi or believe fervently in the existence of Ram, it follows that any Hindu who does can’t be a sane specimen.  If a Shekhar Gupta or a Kuldip Nayar feels no threat to his self-esteem from a mosque built on land traditionally revered as Ram’s janmabhoomi, it follows that anyone who does is an extremist-Hindu-fundamentalist-activist.  Problem is, there are far, FAR more Hindus who want to see the Ram temple come up at Ayodhya than there are clutches of ‘secular’ opinion makers, historians, politicians and socialites.  The alumni of Cathedral School or JNU do not an India make. This country also consists of the people who burnt Bombay and are burning Bharuch.  The root of the Ayodhya issue is the sacrilege of a masjid constructed at the site of what is held as Ram’s birthplace”.

     Unfortunately, most of India’s entrenched “secular” establishment, including the English language press has reacted to the murder of 57 people the way they are conditioned to: they blame the Hindu victim and absolve the Muslim criminals because, according to their rationale, the 150 million Muslims in India are a “minority” in a Hindu-majority India.  These commentators have not bothered to show how it is that the Hindus brought this upon themselves.  As one rare contrarian commentator pointed out (Vir Sanghvi writing in the Hindustan Times): “If a trainload of VHP volunteers had been attacked while returning after the demolition of the Babri mosque in December 1992, this would still have been wrong, but at least one could have understood the provocation.  This time, however, there has been no real provocation at all.”
     The government will need time to verify what exactly transpired at the Godhra railway station, but all newspaper reports indicate that it was not the VHP pilgrims who started the violence.  No one has established clearly how slogan shouting by Hindus could have so quickly led to the massing of Muslims armed with sickles, iron rods, and petrol bombs in the early morning that the train reached and left the station.  Premeditation and planning must have led to this unforgivable and indefensible act.  The police have already arrested a few local Muslim leaders, are in search of others who most probably will turn up in neighboring Pakistan soon.  Indian “secular” commentators, among them the editorial board of the prestigious Times of India, have condemned the crime but have spent more effort and space blaming the VHP for continuing to insist on building the temple in Ayodhya.  The Times of India editors don’t see the vulgarity of their rationale because they are too used to believing in their own smug moral grandstanding: their “rational reasons” include the claim that the Muslims are in a minority and therefore deserve special consideration; that Muslims already face discrimination; that the reporting of the truth will inflame religious passions all over the country, and so on.   India’s Left/secular/progressive “intellectuals” have been singing this same song for a long time, from the time before India gained independence from the British.  It is the same kind of rationale that some Muslim leaders have used to justify the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11.  Muslims are frustrated, they say, and Muslims are angry, they rationalize, for what the world has done to Muslims.  That India is a secular country where Muslims have prospered and where Muslims have been presidents and chief justices, and where a Muslim is the wealthiest person in the country is ignored or brushed aside.  They will argue that the Muslim per capita income is the lowest among all religious groups, as is the average Muslim educational standards.  They will argue that poverty and ignorance among the Muslim masses, and the “discrimination” that they suffer from the Hindu majority are the reasons behind such violent acts. 

     These same editors, maverick novelists who write for The New York Times, and others blame the VHP and other Hindu organizations for attacks against Christians and Muslims but who will not provide any context for those attacks.  When, three years ago, an Australian missionary, Graham Staines and his two children were burnt alive by a Hindu mob, the Indian “secularists” did not argue that Christian missionaries had made themselves unpopular by engaging in conversion and so were vulnerable to attack by those who resented such activities.  Of course, if anyone had put forward such an argument that person would have been tarred, feathered, and driven out of the country.   But in the secularists’ political lexicon it is OK to demonize the VHP and the Hindu “fundamentalists” who are regularly described as fascistic, Nazi-like, and Muslim haters.  This is because they have programmed themselves to see Hindu-Muslim relations in the only way that is fashionable: that Hindus provoke, and Muslims suffer the consequences.  In holding on to these fashionable beliefs about religious conflict in India they ignore even the most trenchant of remarks by a man they consistently use to berate the VHP cadre with: “But as a Hindu, I am more ashamed of Hindu cowardice than I am angry at the Mussalman bullying. Why did not the owners of the houses looted die in the attempt to defend their possessions? Where were the relatives of the outraged sisters at the time of outrage? My non-violence does not admit running away from danger and leaving the dear ones unprotected”.  If the secularists had their way, this remark by Gandhi would be censored from all Indian books, and it would also let them ignore the reason why the RSS was started by Hedgewar.

     Indian secularists are so used to thinking themselves of as the good people, as modern, and as liberal that they don’t see or can’t see how their rationalization of such Muslim provocations leads to further polarization of Indian society.  Even moderate, educated Hindus are beginning to tune out the blather emanating from India’s established academics, editorialists, and the ever-ready-to-pander-to-the-Muslim vote-bank politicians. 

     Only equal justice, common civil laws, and a no-nonsense approach to dealing with religious conflict will help India be a truly secular nation with some modicum of amity between its Hindu majority and substantive Muslim minority.  I say “modicum” and don’t promise true amity because I would be foolish to presume that in a world where Islam-inspired terrorism is goading millions to wage holy war Indians and Hindus can ask for and get peaceful co-existence for the asking.  Lest we forget, India has the second largest Muslim population of any country in the world, and one of Osama bin Laden’s primary target of hate is India.

Ramesh N Rao can be contacted at

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