With a population of over one billion, India is often portrayed as the world's biggest democracy. With the current emphasis on market economy, its tremendous market potential cannot be ignored. It is home to a burgeoning Internet technology and its budding scientists are major players in the information technology. Thus India has every intention of becoming a world power. Lately, the United States has been courting it as a bulwark and counterbalance against the other emerging superpower, i.e. China.
Despite this, however, India lacks the rudiments of a great power. It has some of the most insolvable problems; for example, the grueling endemic poverty of its vast masses, and its catastrophic health issues, including the rapidly encroaching massive AIDS epidemic. Even in the Internet, with 0.1 percent household access, it remains a backwater. And, its current pro-globalization economic agenda has further impoverished people, especially the minorities, as well as its poor majority.
But much more dangerous is the vise-grip of Hindu fascists who, having relegated Gandhian doctrine to the dustbin of history and imbued with megalomania, are working frantically to turn India into Hindutva, a state that exists only in the Hindu religious legends of Ramayana and Mahabharta. This project is to make India into the land of Hindus and Hindus alone. Within such a state only a caste system exists and gives dominance to Hindus over any other community; within itself there exists, even today a permanent subclass of Dalits, Shudhras or untouchables - with whom a High caste Brahmin would not condescend to talk, directly. Thus these extremists are committed to either exterminate all non-Hindus, or render them into the lower status of their caste system. And even more ominously, it is these extremists who under the leadership of Atal Behari Vajpayee of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are currently ruling India in a coalition government.
Greatness of a society is determined by how successfully it has integrated various segments of its population - through equitably ensuring civil rights to all of its citizens. India is a multi-religious country with sizable minorities. It has a population of over 130 million Muslims, the second highest in the world after Indonesia, and Christians constitute, 13 million. Yet, these are the minorities that are suffering most in India, which with its claim of a secular state should be protective of them.
Praful Bidwai, a prominent Indian journalist writing in the Nation on June 24, 2002 remarks that The BJP "has violated countless constitutional norms, pushed through repressive laws and mocked India's greatest achievement: democracy. Above all, it has deepened social cleavages, promoted exclusivist policies and terrorized India's religious minorities by imposing Hindu-fundamentalist agendas in education and culture. Its principal target is India's 130 million Muslims, whom it demonizes as aliens." Christians are no exception; since January 1998 there have been 58 attacks on them, including lynching; as well as a number of incidents of the burning of churches.
Commenting on the current gruesome situation Bidwai writes: "The most grotesque instance of the Hindu-inspired terror campaign is the recent pogrom of Muslims in Gujrat, sponsored by the BJP and its associates with full state collusion. More than 2,000 people were butchered in a well-planned "retaliation" for the February 27 killings of fifty-eight Hindu militants in a train. Independent NGOs say the pogrom- the worst in fifty-five years - would have happened regardless of the train incident." These atrocities still continue and more than 5,800 Muslims have been killed or burned alive along with their homes and businesses, and more than 300,000 rendered homeless.
All human rights organizations, including India's own National Human Rights Commission, have condemned this genocide of Muslims. They have evidence indicating that the violence was carefully planned. The National Human Rights Commission states that there have been "widespread reports and allegations of well-organized persons, armed with mobile telephones and addresses, singling out certain homes and properties for death and destruction in certain districts - sometimes within view of police stations and personnel." In January 2002, Amnesty International urged the Governments of India and Gujrat "to ensure that all law enforcement agencies deployed in the state, as well as in the rest of the country, strictly abide by the guidelines set by the international community for the conduct of law enforcement officials and the use of firearms." Then again on March 23 it sent a memorandum to the Government of Gujrat "outlining the terms of reference for an impartial investigation, and urging protection and redress for those and who have had to flee their homes." Recently, amid growing fears that thousands of Muslim victims may not get justice, restitution and rehabilitation, because of deliberate faulty recording by police and distortion of evidence by rioters, the Amnesty, once again, plans to send its own fact- finding team.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in its report of May 2001 stated that "the Commission has long been concerned about the situation for religious tolerance and respect for human rights of all persons in India" and "expressed the need for India's government to do more to protect religious minorities and to bring persons responsible for violent incidents to account." Then, in its hearings on June 10, 2002 it stated that it is "very concerned that the United States government has not spoken out forcefully against the attacks on Muslims in Gujrat." These condemnations have been lukewarm at best, unlike the much smaller magnitude "terrorist" attacks - without convincing evidence of their sponsorship - on Indian parliament or in the disputed Kashmir state.
India's quest for leadership also sounds hollow when it comes to relationship with its neighbors - with Pakistan over Kashmir, with Bangladesh over waters and borders, Sri Lanka over Tamil insurgency, and Myanmar, even Nepal over territorial sovereignty. While, at its independence, it readily absorbed, without provocation Muslim-ruled states (such as Hyderabad, Junagadh and Bopal) that had Hindu majority, the same yardstick did not apply, despite its pledges, to the Muslim-majority state of Kashmir. That Kashmir is not and cannot be an integral part of India is acknowledged by a number of international agreements, agreed to both by India and Pakistan that were negotiated by the United Nations and endorsed by its Security Council. Yet, India is holding its population hostage through brutal repression with 700,000 of its occupation troops. As a result, by third party accounts, more than 55,000 Kashmiris have been killed since 1989, and thousands of others are suffering as injured, maimed and raped.
India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir and, now both armed with nuclear weapons, are poised for a third one, unless the international community intervenes for a just and sensible solution of this issue. Since bilateralism between them has failed, any negotiations must involve a third party with an evenhanded approach. Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai, executive director of the Washington, DC - based Kashmiri American Council suggests that this third party need not be the United Sates or the United Nations, but any person of international stature, such as former presidents Jimmy Carter or Nelson Mandela. But that it must involve the genuine leadership of Kashmiri people, such as All Parties Hurriyet Conference: since it is very much apparent that this is an issue that cannot be sidelined by the Indian propaganda of painting it as the sole result of cross-border violations sponsored by Pakistan.
Thus India must dislodge and bridle its Hindu extremists and work sincerely to ensure equal rights to minorities within its own dominion, and it must discard its hegemonic enterprise, outside of it - in order that peace and stability could be achieved within its borders, and in South Asia. Regarding this, the comments of Bidwai in the Nation, June 24, 2002 are pertinent. "No government welcomed George W. Bush's declaration of a "war against terror" last September more enthusiastically than India's. And none, save perhaps Ariel Sharon's, more zealously tried to implement the Bush doctrine: identifying terrorism as the main, if not the sole, threat to security everywhere, equating terrorists with their supporters or sympathizers and fashioning a purely militaristic approach to terrorism." This approach - unless distinguished from internationally recognized self-determination struggles of peoples, and accompanied by a genuine sense of justice - is tyrannous, because it violates the inherent conscience of humankind - and is bound to create more troubles, with disastrous results for humanity.
Siraj Islam Mufti, Ph.D. is a retired researcher and currently writes as a free-lance journalist.
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