First, there was the burning of the train headed for Ayodhya last year, in which 58 Hindus were allegedly killed by Muslims. Soon, rumors followed that the victims were not Hindus and that the spectacle had been staged to incite violence against Muslims. In the aftermath of the train incident, widespread riots followed, in which many Muslims were brutally massacred.
Then, just last July, on the eve of the scheduled court date on which several Hindus charged with murdering Muslims were to be tried, a key female Muslim witness disappeared amidst reports of bribery, intimidation, and death threats. The accused were later released, further angering the Muslim community in India.
Is it any surprise then that scores of people have died in Mumbai recently in yet another brutal bombing? The horrors will no doubt perpetuate if Indian leaders fail to realize that South Asia is turning into a very large Palestine.
I think the time has come for Hindus to take the moral high road and stop the bloodshed.
This is not to say that many of the accusations leveled by Indians against Islamic terrorists and Pakistani leaders are not justified. Pakistan, after all, is a country where tribalism reigns and where Muslim fundamentalist groups like Al Qaeda find a safe haven, perhaps even encouragement.
India, on the other hand, is a Western-style democracy with a parliament, a free press, and a sizable intelligentsia. But the Indian intelligentsia, trained in the tradition of its erstwhile master, the idle-rich British colonial, has been obsessed recently with trivialities like the Cricket World Cup, instead of addressing the violence that is daily perpetrated in the nation.
And in the absence of a visionary leadership, Hindus have become prone to mass hysteria and passionate hatred, all in the name of God Ram, who practiced anything but such indiscriminate killing. The Indian intelligentsia must now try to impress upon the public three important facts: First and foremost, that terrorism notwithstanding, Pakistan retains a legitimate claim to the disputed region of Kashmir, as does India. Second, that India, being a democracy and a much larger and stable nation, has the power to bring about change in the South Asian dynamic, which Pakistan does not. And third, that India can return to its pacifist and non-violent roots, while Pakistan, in the wake of rising Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism in the Middle East, is unable to do so.
To not recognize these truths will be suicidal for India.
The secularism of the post-independence era seems to have evaporated in recent decades in India. And with it has gone the scientific and rational mindset that used to form the basis of the ruling class there.
Today, Indians might be the best software engineers in the world, but beyond our ability to manipulate symbols, we seem to lack an intellectual command over world affairs.
A first step towards that goal might be through a declaration on the part of the Indian intelligentsia that Ayodhya is big enough for a temple as well as a mosque.
By assuming moral superiority in the situation in the subcontinent, by tempering the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s association with various Hindu groups, and by eventually resolving the Kashmir problem by granting it semi-autonomous status, India could present in the international arena a posture of righteous strength derived in its democratic and secular values.
Once India is able to assert moral leadership in the world, it will not have to worry about the big bully America, whose request to send troops to Iraq it recently declined based on public opinion, and whose geopolitical strategy in the Middle East will continue to support Pakistan’s totalitarian regime.
But India can perhaps forge new economic and political alliances with Europe, which no longer seems to be closely aligned with America.
And India can rely on its exceptionally talented populace—which has contributed to the world its skilled high-tech workforce, its inspired artists, and its great writers—to exert influence in the international arena.
Sarita Sarvate writes commentaries for Pacific News Service and KQED.