Meeting the Naxal challenge

30 06 2008

Praful Bidwai

Has the Indian government established at least a degree of control over Naxalite activity? And has it got any wiser about how to contain Naxal-related violence after almost four decades of trying?

Going by the first meeting of the Standing Committee of chief ministers of Naxalite-affected states on September 19, and the October 5 conference of directors general of police, the answer isn’t clear. The CMs’ meeting happened barely a month after Andhra Pradesh reimposed a ban on a range of Naxalite groups followed by Chhattisgarh.

In both cases, the proscription followed violent incidents. In Chhattisgarh, the Naxals demonstrated their military prowess by blowing up a mine-proof vehicle carrying 24 Central Reserve Police Force personnel with a mine. This sent the vehicle flying 35 feet up in the air till it landed 90 feet away. In Andhra, they killed a Congress MLA on Independence Day.

PM assures help in tackling Naxalites

This deplorable violence formed the backdrop to the tough talk heard at the Standing Committee, itself encouraged by Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil’s recent statements advocating the use of violence against Naxals.

Not many recalled the background to the violence, which was preceded by police brutality not just against Naxals, but ordinary villagers merely suspected to be their informers.

Even so, a consensus was reached on a ‘two-pronged’ approach: of ‘firmly tackling the security threat, and simultaneously implementing programmes for socio-economic development of vulnerable areas.’ Patil urged the CMs to ‘act compassionately but in a determined manner; use force but properly and discreetly.’

The states agreed to appoint ‘nodal officers’ for coordination. A handsome Rs 2,000 crores (Rs 20 billion) was allocated annually to anti-Naxal ‘police modernisation.’ The Centre gave the go-ahead to the use of sophisticated weaponry like helicopters and armoured vehicles in anti-Naxal operations. In addition, Rs 2 crores per Naxal-affected district was granted to “accelerate socio-economic development.”

This works out to a much smaller Rs 280 crores. The two “prongs,” then, are unequal in length. Indeed, the conclusion that many CMs and policemen have drawn from the Delhi deliberations is that they must step up the use of force. Thus, Andhra Director-General of police Swaranjit Sen, known for his machismo, hubris and trigger-happiness, and for his threats to sue journalists who interview the CPI-Maoist says he’ll use helicopters to “bring Naxalites out of forests,” and transport men and material for anti-extremist operations.

Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand are considering the “Afghanistan Solution” — building a network of highways through forests to connect remote villages and create a “security corridor.” (It’s another matter that this hasn’t worked in Afghanistan. Besides, destroying forests and disrupting village life would aggravate the Naxal problem.) Even more dramatically, Bihar is planning to use satellite imagery to track Naxal activities.

Who are the Naxalites?

Such fancy high-tech schemes are fundamentally misconceived. They miss the point about the Naxalites’ strengths and weaknesses. Satellite pictures might have helped if the Naxals had permanent camps or held large-scale gatherings. But they don’t operate that way. Typically, they mix with villagers following Mao’s dictum about guerrillas and people being like fish and water. Helicopter gunships would be effective in mowing down whole hamlets — as the US, for instance, did in Vietnam, or is doing in Colombia.

But that involves indiscriminate violence, which in turn can only foment Naxal counter-violence.

The key to the problem lies in breaking this cycle of violence-and-counter-violence, not in raising it on to a higher military-technological plane. This happens when the state tries to tilt the power balance decisively in its favour through tough measures, starting with a ban and using increasingly lethal force to “instil the fear of God in the enemy”, as some policemen put it. But force can rarely deter counter-force. If states gain access to high-tech weapons, so can non-state actors, although they are much less dependent on arms than governments.

Past experience suggests that bans usually don’t achieve their purpose. They cannot significantly expand the government’s powers to deal with violence. Plenty of powers are available under existing laws, which cover a wide range of violent acts, and abetting, assisting or promoting them. Laws like the Public Security Act, used in many states, are draconian. They criminalise even acts of sympathy for Naxals, including giving them medical care. They punish people who might take Naxalites’ help in settling land or monetary disputes, which the law courts take years to resolve. This Naxal role has been praised even by police officers.

Bans can be counter-productive too. Take the People’s War Group, which merged a year ago with the Maoist Communist Centre to form the CPI-Maoist. It was proscribed in Andhra way back in 1992. Barring a short interval in 1996, it remained banned until July 2004. Through these 12 years, the group’s activities and influence grew not just in Andhra, but in adjacent states like Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Orissa, and most recently, even Karnataka, which now has some 600 Naxal activists.

The government’s knee-jerk response to Naxalism is always to treat it as a law-and-order or “security” problem. Yet, Naxalism — the movement named after an armed uprising of 1967 in Naxalbari village in West Bengal’s Darjeeling district — is different from other militant movements which typically remain confined to single states and to single issues.

Indeed, over 38 years, Naxalism has grown steadily, spawning 30-odd groups. Its core-areas first spread from the forests of West Bengal, Andhra and Bihar to their plains, as well as to Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh — and to contiguous states.

According to the Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management, Naxalite presence expanded from 55 districts in nine states in 2003 to 156 districts in 13 states in 2004, and to 170 districts in 15 states this past February. In their strongholds — about 55 districts in 12 states — the Naxalites run a parallel government. The Centre’s own figures are similar.

Karl and the Kalashnikov

The reasons for the Naxals’ success are fairly straightforward. Naxals flourish where there are huge disparities in assets and incomes, and where injustice and violence by the privileged are rampant. Prakash Singh, former Border Security Force chief, and author of a book on Naxalism, holds: ‘The Naxal movement is irrepressible because it draws sustenance from the grievances of the people which have not be addressed by the government� Regarding land reforms, even the Tenth Plan document admits, “the record of most states in implementing the existing laws is dismal”.’

Mr Singh is no ‘softie.’ In India, only 1.3 per cent of agricultural land has been redistributed through tenancy reform and land ceilings — compared to 43 per cent in China, 37 in Taiwan, 33 in Japan [Images], and 32 per cent in South Korea.

Former Bihar chief secretary Kamala Prasad has a more comprehensive explanation for Naxalism’s success. He attributes it to numerous failures of the state. It began as a revolt of the landless poor who were defrauded of their rights and could find no justice. “There was gathering disillusionment among the youth about the quality of our democracy. Inherent also was a forewarning on the core issues of securing responsive, accountable and genuinely representative government. The adherents were still carried by the belief that the government would respect the force of their commitment,” says Prasad.

He describes Naxalism through metaphors: the failure of law and order, ambiguity of social policy, failings of democratic processes, failure of the party system, and deficits of governance.

The Naxalite problem recently got aggravated because of the Indian state’s withdrawal from public services, leading to their near-collapse, and the growing illegitimacy of governance in many regions, coupled with massive corruption. This has led to failing states in many parts of India. Agrarian distress, growing unemployment, and depredations of the forester-contractor mafia, have intensified popular discontent. As has unequal globalisation.

The United Progressive Alliance showed some comprehension of this. Its Common Minimum Programme said that Naxalism isn’t a mere law-and-order problem; the social and economic grievances underlying it must be addressed. To do so, the government must redefine the balance between the two “prongs” of its dual-tract approach by emphasising redressal of peoples’ grievances against inequalities and deprivation over law-and-order.

More, it must add a strategic third prong: giving the Naxals a democratic space for self-expression and encouraging them to come overground.

This approach worked in Andhra in the late 1980s. Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhar Reddy raised hopes of its revival when he lifted the ban on the PWG-CPI-Maoist last year and held talks with them. The party got a roaring public reception on its way from the forests to Hyderabad. But the government didn’t act honestly. It cheated the Naxals by tracking their forest hideouts in their absence and obtaining intelligence through coercion. And it refused to negotiate their reasonable demands about recovering public lands illegally grabbed by powerful interests. The talks failed. The government accused the Naxals of ‘regrouping’ and launched a major offensive. This brought on counter-attacks.

There’s a lesson here. If the government is serious about controlling Naxal violence, it must address its structural causes and not resort to gimmicks like Salwa Judum (peace campaign) in Chhattisgarh. It must of course protect citizens’ lives, but in lawful, Constitutional, humane ways. It must promote justice and equality. Or Naxalism will continue to spread.

Praful Bidwai

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Meeting the Naxal challenge

30 06 2008

Praful Bidwai

Has the Indian government established at least a degree of control over Naxalite activity? And has it got any wiser about how to contain Naxal-related violence after almost four decades of trying?

Going by the first meeting of the Standing Committee of chief ministers of Naxalite-affected states on September 19, and the October 5 conference of directors general of police, the answer isn’t clear. The CMs’ meeting happened barely a month after Andhra Pradesh reimposed a ban on a range of Naxalite groups followed by Chhattisgarh.

In both cases, the proscription followed violent incidents. In Chhattisgarh, the Naxals demonstrated their military prowess by blowing up a mine-proof vehicle carrying 24 Central Reserve Police Force personnel with a mine. This sent the vehicle flying 35 feet up in the air till it landed 90 feet away. In Andhra, they killed a Congress MLA on Independence Day.

PM assures help in tackling Naxalites

This deplorable violence formed the backdrop to the tough talk heard at the Standing Committee, itself encouraged by Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil’s recent statements advocating the use of violence against Naxals.

Not many recalled the background to the violence, which was preceded by police brutality not just against Naxals, but ordinary villagers merely suspected to be their informers.

Even so, a consensus was reached on a ‘two-pronged’ approach: of ‘firmly tackling the security threat, and simultaneously implementing programmes for socio-economic development of vulnerable areas.’ Patil urged the CMs to ‘act compassionately but in a determined manner; use force but properly and discreetly.’

The states agreed to appoint ‘nodal officers’ for coordination. A handsome Rs 2,000 crores (Rs 20 billion) was allocated annually to anti-Naxal ‘police modernisation.’ The Centre gave the go-ahead to the use of sophisticated weaponry like helicopters and armoured vehicles in anti-Naxal operations. In addition, Rs 2 crores per Naxal-affected district was granted to “accelerate socio-economic development.”

This works out to a much smaller Rs 280 crores. The two “prongs,” then, are unequal in length. Indeed, the conclusion that many CMs and policemen have drawn from the Delhi deliberations is that they must step up the use of force. Thus, Andhra Director-General of police Swaranjit Sen, known for his machismo, hubris and trigger-happiness, and for his threats to sue journalists who interview the CPI-Maoist says he’ll use helicopters to “bring Naxalites out of forests,” and transport men and material for anti-extremist operations.

Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand are considering the “Afghanistan Solution” — building a network of highways through forests to connect remote villages and create a “security corridor.” (It’s another matter that this hasn’t worked in Afghanistan. Besides, destroying forests and disrupting village life would aggravate the Naxal problem.) Even more dramatically, Bihar is planning to use satellite imagery to track Naxal activities.

Who are the Naxalites?

Such fancy high-tech schemes are fundamentally misconceived. They miss the point about the Naxalites’ strengths and weaknesses. Satellite pictures might have helped if the Naxals had permanent camps or held large-scale gatherings. But they don’t operate that way. Typically, they mix with villagers following Mao’s dictum about guerrillas and people being like fish and water. Helicopter gunships would be effective in mowing down whole hamlets — as the US, for instance, did in Vietnam, or is doing in Colombia.

But that involves indiscriminate violence, which in turn can only foment Naxal counter-violence.

The key to the problem lies in breaking this cycle of violence-and-counter-violence, not in raising it on to a higher military-technological plane. This happens when the state tries to tilt the power balance decisively in its favour through tough measures, starting with a ban and using increasingly lethal force to “instil the fear of God in the enemy”, as some policemen put it. But force can rarely deter counter-force. If states gain access to high-tech weapons, so can non-state actors, although they are much less dependent on arms than governments.

Past experience suggests that bans usually don’t achieve their purpose. They cannot significantly expand the government’s powers to deal with violence. Plenty of powers are available under existing laws, which cover a wide range of violent acts, and abetting, assisting or promoting them. Laws like the Public Security Act, used in many states, are draconian. They criminalise even acts of sympathy for Naxals, including giving them medical care. They punish people who might take Naxalites’ help in settling land or monetary disputes, which the law courts take years to resolve. This Naxal role has been praised even by police officers.

Bans can be counter-productive too. Take the People’s War Group, which merged a year ago with the Maoist Communist Centre to form the CPI-Maoist. It was proscribed in Andhra way back in 1992. Barring a short interval in 1996, it remained banned until July 2004. Through these 12 years, the group’s activities and influence grew not just in Andhra, but in adjacent states like Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Orissa, and most recently, even Karnataka, which now has some 600 Naxal activists.

The government’s knee-jerk response to Naxalism is always to treat it as a law-and-order or “security” problem. Yet, Naxalism — the movement named after an armed uprising of 1967 in Naxalbari village in West Bengal’s Darjeeling district — is different from other militant movements which typically remain confined to single states and to single issues.

Indeed, over 38 years, Naxalism has grown steadily, spawning 30-odd groups. Its core-areas first spread from the forests of West Bengal, Andhra and Bihar to their plains, as well as to Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh — and to contiguous states.

According to the Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management, Naxalite presence expanded from 55 districts in nine states in 2003 to 156 districts in 13 states in 2004, and to 170 districts in 15 states this past February. In their strongholds — about 55 districts in 12 states — the Naxalites run a parallel government. The Centre’s own figures are similar.

Karl and the Kalashnikov

The reasons for the Naxals’ success are fairly straightforward. Naxals flourish where there are huge disparities in assets and incomes, and where injustice and violence by the privileged are rampant. Prakash Singh, former Border Security Force chief, and author of a book on Naxalism, holds: ‘The Naxal movement is irrepressible because it draws sustenance from the grievances of the people which have not be addressed by the government� Regarding land reforms, even the Tenth Plan document admits, “the record of most states in implementing the existing laws is dismal”.’

Mr Singh is no ‘softie.’ In India, only 1.3 per cent of agricultural land has been redistributed through tenancy reform and land ceilings — compared to 43 per cent in China, 37 in Taiwan, 33 in Japan [Images], and 32 per cent in South Korea.

Former Bihar chief secretary Kamala Prasad has a more comprehensive explanation for Naxalism’s success. He attributes it to numerous failures of the state. It began as a revolt of the landless poor who were defrauded of their rights and could find no justice. “There was gathering disillusionment among the youth about the quality of our democracy. Inherent also was a forewarning on the core issues of securing responsive, accountable and genuinely representative government. The adherents were still carried by the belief that the government would respect the force of their commitment,” says Prasad.

He describes Naxalism through metaphors: the failure of law and order, ambiguity of social policy, failings of democratic processes, failure of the party system, and deficits of governance.

The Naxalite problem recently got aggravated because of the Indian state’s withdrawal from public services, leading to their near-collapse, and the growing illegitimacy of governance in many regions, coupled with massive corruption. This has led to failing states in many parts of India. Agrarian distress, growing unemployment, and depredations of the forester-contractor mafia, have intensified popular discontent. As has unequal globalisation.

The United Progressive Alliance showed some comprehension of this. Its Common Minimum Programme said that Naxalism isn’t a mere law-and-order problem; the social and economic grievances underlying it must be addressed. To do so, the government must redefine the balance between the two “prongs” of its dual-tract approach by emphasising redressal of peoples’ grievances against inequalities and deprivation over law-and-order.

More, it must add a strategic third prong: giving the Naxals a democratic space for self-expression and encouraging them to come overground.

This approach worked in Andhra in the late 1980s. Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhar Reddy raised hopes of its revival when he lifted the ban on the PWG-CPI-Maoist last year and held talks with them. The party got a roaring public reception on its way from the forests to Hyderabad. But the government didn’t act honestly. It cheated the Naxals by tracking their forest hideouts in their absence and obtaining intelligence through coercion. And it refused to negotiate their reasonable demands about recovering public lands illegally grabbed by powerful interests. The talks failed. The government accused the Naxals of ‘regrouping’ and launched a major offensive. This brought on counter-attacks.

There’s a lesson here. If the government is serious about controlling Naxal violence, it must address its structural causes and not resort to gimmicks like Salwa Judum (peace campaign) in Chhattisgarh. It must of course protect citizens’ lives, but in lawful, Constitutional, humane ways. It must promote justice and equality. Or Naxalism will continue to spread.

Praful Bidwai





Changing interpretations of early Indian history

30 06 2008

Changing interpretations of early Indian history

Upinder Singh

FROM: the hindu


History is not one but many stories; only a few of them have been written. The challenges to build on the advances so far are many.


The historiography of ancient and early medieval India reveals significant changes over time; these can be understood against the background of the political and intellectual contexts in which they emerged and flourished. The various ‘schools’ of history writing are often presented and understood in terms of one school making way for the other in a neat, forward progression. The reality is more complex. There was considerable variety within the schools; some of them co-existed in dialogue or conflict with one another, and there are examples of writings that go against the grain and do not fit into the dominant historiographical trends of their time.

Antiquarians’ domination

The 18th and 19th centuries were dominated by the writings of European scholars, referred to as Orientalists or Indologists, although they often described themselves as ‘antiquarians’. Many of them worked for the East India Company or the British Government of India. The founding of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1784 provided an institutional focus for scholars working in fields such as textual study, epigraphy, numismatics, and history. A major contribution of the Indologists lay in their efforts to collect, edit, and translate ancient texts. In this, they depended heavily on information provided by ‘native informants.’ Indology soon spread beyond the British empire and became a subject of study in European universities.

Apart from the study of ancient texts, the 19th century witnessed developments in epigraphy, numismatics, archaeology, and the study of art and architecture. The decipherment of Ashokan Brahmi and Kharoshthi scripts were breakthroughs. The analysis of coins contributed to the construction of a framework of political history. Officers of the Geological Survey discovered prehistoric stone tools and laid the basis of Indian prehistory. The Archaeological Survey of India, established in 1871, has over the decades made important contributions to unearthing and analysing the material remains of India’s past. The contributions and breakthroughs of the 18th and 19th centuries were rooted in a colonial context, and this is evident in certain features of Indological writing. The Brahmanical perspective of ancient Sanskrit texts was often uncritically taken as reflecting the Indian past. Social and religious institutions and traditions were critiqued from a Western viewpoint. Indian society was presented as static, and its political systems despotic, over the centuries. Race, religion, and ethnicity were confused with one another, and there was a tendency to exaggerate the impact of foreign influence on ancient India. This is when the classification of the Indian past into Hindu, Muslim, and British periods took root.

Indian scholars of the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century made major contributions to constructing a connected narrative of ancient India. These historians, who wrote against the background of an emergent, and later increasingly strong, national movement, are generally referred to as Nationalist historians. They wove together data from texts, inscriptions, coins, and other material remains to show the contours of the ancient Indian past. Contributions were made in the field of political history. South India was brought into the narrative and the study of regional polities progressed.

The nationalist tinge in these scholars’ writings can be seen in their insistence on the indigenous roots of cultural developments. It is reflected in their search for golden ages, which led to their exalting the age of the Vedas and the Gupta Empire. Non-monarchical polities were discovered and celebrated to counter the idea that India had never known anything but despotic rule. The periodisation of the Indian past into Hindu, Muslim, and British periods was, however, retained. It coalesced with a communal tendency to valorise the ‘Hindu period’ and to project the advent of the Turks and Islam as a calamity and tragedy.

The 1950s saw the emergence of Marxist historiography, which went on to play an influential role in the construction of the history of ancient and early medieval India. In the long run, the Marxist historians shifted the focus from an event-centred history dominated by political narrative to the delineation of social and economic structures and processes, especially those related to class stratification and agrarian relations. Marxist historiography contributed to uncovering the history of non-elite groups, some of which had suffered subordination and marginalisation.

While making these valuable interventions and contributions, Marxist writings often tended to work with unilinear historical models derived from Western historical and anthropological writings. Texts were sometimes read uncritically, with insufficient attention paid to their problematic chronology and peculiarities of genre. Archaeological data were included, but the basic framework of the historical narrative remained text-centric. Initially, the focus on class meant less attention to other bases of social stratification such as caste and gender. Religion and culture were sidelined, or mechanically presented as reflections of socio-economic structures.

Despite important differences, the major historiographical schools shared similarities. Certain tenets of these schools continue to thrive. Some of the fundamental premises and methods of Orientalist historiography still hold their ground, and histories of Third World countries such as India remain Eurocentric. Appeals to the ancient and early medieval past are often dictated by nationalist or communalist agendas. Marxist historiography continues to be an influential force in early Indian historiography.

A critical understanding of historiography, one that recognises the contributions and limitations of past and present ideological and theoretical frameworks, is essential to understanding where the history of ancient and early medieval India stands. However, the advances of the future are likely to be the result of questioning and thinking beyond the boundaries of existing historiographical positions and methodologies.

History is not one but many stories; only a few of them have been written. The challenges to build on the advances so far are many. Currently, there are two parallel images of ancient South Asia — one based on literary sources, the other on archaeology. Texts and archaeology generate different sorts of historical narratives and suggest different rhythms of cultural continuity, transition, and change. Historians generally use archaeological evidence selectively as a corroborative source when it matches hypotheses based on their interpretation of texts. Archaeologists have not adequately explored the historical implications of archaeological data. Correlations between literature and archaeology tend to be simplistic and devoid of reflection on methodology. We need to consider whether, given their inherent differences, textual and archaeological evidence can be integrated, or whether we should simply aim at juxtaposition.

The tradition of extracting supposedly self-evident ‘facts’ from literary sources needs to be replaced by an approach that is more sensitive to their genre, texture, and cadence. However, in view of the information and insights offered by rapidly growing archaeological data, historical narratives can no longer remain text-centric. A more sophisticated approach towards textual study has to be accompanied by an incorporation of archaeological evidence. This will lead to a more nuanced image of ancient India. It will reveal the complexities and diversities of cultural processes, and will incorporate the ordinary and everyday into our understanding of the ancient past.

Histories of early India should ideally represent the various regions and communities of the subcontinent in their diversity. However, while the heartlands of great empires and kingdoms are well represented, many regions are not. These have to be brought in. Bringing more people into history requires initiatives to uncover groups that have been subordinated and marginalised. This is not easy, given that a great proportion of the source material available to historians has been created by elite groups and reflects their ideas and interests. Nevertheless, the past of people who have been hidden from history has to be uncovered and written, and these histories must become an integral part of the narrative of the ancient Indian past. Explorations of gender, the family, and the household need to be pushed further and have to become part of larger social histories. Issues and institutions such as the family, class, varna, and jati need long-term perspectives, showing how the different bases of social identity intersected and changed over time.

India’s varied and complex cultural traditions need attention. While these continue to be the focus of research among scholars working in South Asian studies, religious studies, and art history departments abroad, they have in recent decades remained somewhat marginal to mainstream historical writing in India.

Need to enlarge debate

There is a close relationship between history and identity; the past has, therefore, always been contested terrain. In contemporary India, the ancient past is invoked in different ways in political discourse, including propaganda with chauvinistic or divisive agendas. There are debates over the state’s right to project and propagate certain interpretations of the past through school textbooks. Communities frequently take offence at things written about them in historians’ scholarly writings. In such a charged and intolerant atmosphere, there are several dangers — of the deliberate manipulation and distortion of the past to achieve political ends, of historical hypotheses being judged on the basis of their political implications rather than academic merit, and of historians being criticised for writing objective history. The need to define and enlarge a liberal academic space which nurtures level-headed dialogue and debate has perhaps never been greater.

(This article is excerpted from the Introduction of Upinder Singh’s forthcoming book, A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century, Pearson Longman, Rs. 3,500.)





A Diwali for ALL Indians: Francois Gautier

8 11 2007

A Diwali for ALL Indians

Francois Gautier

(Reproduced from Rediff.com)
Source: http://www.rediff.com/news/2007/nov/07francois.htm

November 07, 2007

Diwali is the Festival of Lights. This Light is symbolic of the spread of Knowledge. What is this Knowledge that is still alive in this wonderful country which we call India?

Firstly and foremost: ‘I accept you; I accept that you may be White or Black, Red or Yellow, Christian, Buddhist, or Muslim. I accept that God may manifest at different times, under different names, using different scriptures. Thus God is Krishna, but also Jesus Christ, Buddha or Mohammad.’ This is an extraordinary statement and a marvellous instrument towards world peace, at a time where terrorism is striking everywhere in the world in the name of One God.
It is also a Knowledge that only the body dies, but not the soul, which is born and reborn again till it achieves perfection. A Knowledge that whatever you do bears consequences in this life or another. A Knowledge that all human beings are made out of Love, even beneath the hate and the killings.

And also: ‘I have inherited from my ancestors the tools to become a better man, whatever my religion, ethnicity and profession: a better Christian, a better Hindu, a better Muslim.’
What are these tools?

Hatha yoga, India’s gift to the world, which has been copied and imitated everywhere.

Meditation, this extraordinary technique of coming back to one’s Self, of settling the mind and the body, which is today practised by millions around the world — another bequest of India to humanity.

Pranayama, the science of respiration, perfected by Indians for three millenniums.

“Does the breath have any religion,” asks His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living movement, which has spread today in 140 countries. “Is the air we breathe around us Muslim, Christian, or Hindu?”

This knowledge thus does not only belong to Hindus, but also to the Buddhists, Christians, Jains and Muslims of India.

Once upon a time, the Syrian Christians of Kerala [Images], though they remained faithful to the word of Jesus Christ, had incorporated some basic tenets of Hinduism such as reincarnation and karma.

Once upon a time, great Sufis such as Dara Shikoh, Shah Jahan’s eldest and preferred son (who should have become emperor instead of Aurangzeb), while remaining true Muslims (and not apostate ones), could translate the Upanishads and step into a temple without thinking they were committing a mortal sin.

Once upon a time, Sikhism was born out of Dharma, to defend the Hindu Dharma and neither Sikh nor Hindu saw any difference between themselves. Once upon a time, Buddha, although he did strike against ritualism and hereditary Brahmanism, did not found a religion, but a path that led to the same Ananda he came from.

This knowledge is unique to India. For the West has lost the truth. We have lost the Great Sense, the meaning of our evolution, of why so much suffering, why dying, why getting born, why this earth, who are we, what is the soul, what is reincarnation, where is the ultimate truth about the universe. And this will be India’s gift to this planet during this century: To restore to the world its true sense; to recharge humanity with the real meaning and spirit of life.

Thus, if you are an Indian settled abroad, whatever your religion, you should carry that identity in your actions and your aura, that you may shine without words, for it is a great privilege and responsibility to be born an Indian. Yet, too often, Indians in the US or Canada [Images], or even the UK for that matter, hide their identities and try to merge into the mainstream culture, becoming more American than Americans, more British than the British.

Sometimes Indians are even ashamed to say that they are Indians and it is a tragedy to themselves and to their children, who lose the connection with one of the most ancient cultures in the world, which is not a religion but the last living spirituality on this planet.

You should also know that today this Knowledge is under attack from all sides. Foremost, from the Globalisation and Westernisation which is taking place at the moment in India at a frantic pace. Television channels and advertisements must be the biggest culprits.

Is white the most beautiful colour, does having a white skin make you so hep? Do a cell phone, a suit or a fancy car really make you a man? This is what millions of innocent villagers or lower middle class viewers are enticed to believe.

There is also a rapid Christianisation of many villages in India, whether in Tamil Nadu post-tsunami, or in the North-East where innocent tribals are converted with the help of million of dollars.

What about the radicalism that seems to grip some Muslim youth? Nowhere but in India do they have so much freedom to practise their faith. And we know that the Pakistani or Bangladeshi bombers in Hyderabad or Mumbai could never function without the active participation of some Indian Muslims.

Lastly Hindu renegades, those intellectuals who want to cut off India at any cost from her past and make a copy — however brilliant — of a Marxism which has died everywhere else, or of the United States of America, where violence, divorce and depression are affecting three persons out of five, are extremely active at the moment, thanks to a government who chooses to close its eyes while this is going on.

Yet, it is for this Precious Knowledge that all Indians, be they Hindu, Muslim, Christian, or Sikh, should retain their dharmic identity, while being faithful to their Creed or Supreme God. This Diwali thus should symbolise for all Indians, the rekindling of this Light in their hearts.
Let Mother India protect shine in them and rekindle their common indentity beyond their religions.

A Happy And True Diwali to ALL Indians.

Francois Gautier