Friday, May 24, 2002

This should be posted on the Satya Circle by next week, but I think I will post this as a preview
I am also having some trouble with the link for the Prevention of Terrorism Bill. It should be working soon.

Saving Secularism: Ban the VHP

Gujaratis are typically known for their disproportionately sweet palettes, exuberant folk-traditions, and entrepreneurial spirit. Born from Gujarat’s soil have been such notables as Mohandas Gandhi, former Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai, and the founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah. But since February of 2002, Gujarat has birthed the devil of a child, a massive wave of uncontrolled communal violence.

This most recent wave of sectarian violence began following the burning of the Sabarmati Express in the communal hotbed of Godhra, Gujarat. The train was carrying members of the Sangh Parivar, a group of Hindu activist parties comprised mainly of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP-World Hindu Council), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and the Bajrang Dal.

The Sangh Parivar, in particular the VHP, gained notoriety following the 1992 razing of a 16th-century mosque in the northern city of Ayodhya. The VHP was one of the main provocateurs of the militant Hindus in promoting the destruction of the mosque.

The activists were in Godhra returning from Ayodhya, where the VHP is now planning to defy a court ban and start building a temple to the god Rama where the Mosque once stood. While 58 people were burned in the initial attack on the train, the subsequent communal violence has led to the deaths of over 900 Indians, mostly Muslims, and most of the murder has been committed by fanatical and frenzied Hindus.

Since independence in 1947, communal violence has flared periodically, especially as the Indian government has had to deal with balancing the interests of the country's diverse religious, ethnic and regional groups. India’s constitution established secularism as one of its guiding principles

Despite this penchant for secularism, the death toll, specifically for Muslims, continues to rise, as does their frustration with the government. Day in and day out, Gujarat’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, led by the Chief Minister Narendra Modi, attempts to reassure the populace that the criminals will be punished, and that order will resume. And day in and day out, order does not return, and not enough criminals are punished.

It overwhelmingly appears that these reprisals against Muslims, almost 10 years after Ayodhya, are being fanned fastest by the leadership of the VHP. Immediately following the train attack, the VHP Joint Secretary R.S. Pankaj told reporters that “if such acts are repeated, Hindus will not remain silent spectators.” And prompted and provoked by the VHP and their statements, Hindu’s were anything but. Muslims were raped, butchered and burned. As a result of the inaction of the government, and the impunity with which the Hindu led violence was allowed to occur, even the British government suspects that these attacks were pre- planned and carried out with the support of the state government.

This brutality of man against man has led to tremendous destabilization within India. In this current climate of terrorism, the Indian government has been feverishly throwing the terrorism word around. Quite recently the Indian government banned the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) as terrorists because it was spreading its own version of destabilizing hate. Now, that groups like the VHP have also begun spreading this destabilizing, anti-secular hate, should they not too be banned?

Militant Hindu groups like the VHP are nothing more than terrorists if one is looking at the Government of India’s definition. Why then is the BJP led government not rushing to ban the VHP? According to the newly passed Prevention of Terrorist Bill 2002, “whoever with intent to threaten the unity, integrity, security, or sovereignty of India or to strike terror in the people or any section of the people does an act or thing by using bombs, dynamite, or other such a manor as to cause, or likely to cause death of, or injuries to any person or persons is a terrorist under the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, 2002.” By creating tensions between the different communities, this violence and rhetoric does in fact threaten the unity, integrity, and security of India. Secularism is a pillar of Indian democracy and nationhood. And by creating an unruly divide between communities who are Indian, the VHP fits the conditions as prescribed in the law.

Even more salient to this point has been the displacement of over 100,000 Gujaratis as a result of the uncontrolled violence. If a mass dislocation of people is not deemed destabilizing, what can be? Yes, the killing of the Hindu activists on February 27 must be condemned. But how can any rational person excuse two months of killing and instability as a form of revenge. The VHP international Vice President Acharya Giriraj Kishore elaborated even further when speaking to the media and said, “Do I have to say that for every action there is a reaction? It would be very difficult for the Hindus to maintain patience at such a heavy price.” Punishment must be fair and forcing Gujarati Muslims to live in fear in a land that is as much theirs too must be punishable by law.

The VHP’s terrorist manifesto, so to speak, became clear when the chairman of the Gujarat unit of the VHP, Keshavram Shastri, indicated that shops that were looted and subsequently destroyed were chosen on the basis of a list prepared by the VHP in advance.

Fanatical Hindu mobs, provoked by illicit and unfruitful rhetoric from political parties, like the VHP, have taken to burning all things Muslim, from children, to women, to Muslim-owned businesses. Police, and other security personnel, it appears, have simply stood on the sidelines. Gandhi used to say, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” But what happens when over 900 people are killed as a result of the death of 58?

Permitting the VHP to spew its words of hate surely is not perceived as a stabilizing force within India. Rather, the Talibanization of Hindus throughout Gujarat does nothing more than create Hindu militants willing to rape and murder to keep the good name of their religion alive.

The idea of an India solely for Hindus is an unrealistic and absurd goal, which was and will always be unattainable. Gandhi and Nehru’s vision for India was one of a secular nation. This vision is slowly being blurred by the flames of religious fervor ignited in Godhra. Unless and until the VHP is indeed banned or the tone of religious rhetoric can be settled down, not only will India’s secularism be questioned, but so will the BJP’s ability to govern a secular country. When will the world realize that religion has no role to play in democratic governance? If this lesson cannot be learned, than secularism and the Indian state will be burnt down, just like the Sabarmati Express, and the hundreds of Muslims that followed.


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