When belief is paramount in your sense of being, then imposing it on others and resisting others’ is a natural consequence. Short of a dishonest act of resisting violence of an uneasy truce, the only way of living in the societies powered by beliefs and ideologies is constant death and violence. To no real end and no real purpose though. As long as I am and therefore, necessarily, have a belief, you have another that by definition of my belief (predicated on self-universalism) is an affront to me. Really speaking, unless you happily let me force my belief on you, your only destiny is death, if I can help it.
When death and constant violence creates havoc with even normal living itself – as was the case during the reign of Tudors in Britain – where, all else being the same (book, God, teachings etc) only difference being “Pope or no Pope”, hundreds of thousands were killed with no compunction or remorse in the most brutal manner known to human-turned-into-devils! It took Queen Bloody Mary’s terrible inquisitions of Protestants and Reformants, for an entire country to realize that a “ceasefire” – however uneasy or dishonest – had to be established. It is in those circumstances that the need for Tolerance was born. If intolerance was a natural companion of belief and ideology leading to most brutal violence and death, then tolerance was a dishonest way to call a ceasefire. Other ways were to be used to impose one’s belief, but fight they wouldn’t. At least overtly.
In today’s times, when Intolerance is being preached to India, let us look at the very concept of Tolerance, and the Indian way of Acceptance, a bit deeper.
Tolerance and intolerance are the preserve of a society and population built ground up on belief systems and ideologies. No one has experienced anything, but even the slightest of difference between one’s belief from another can lead to both being inhumanly brutal with each other. Is this paradigm even portable or relevant to India?
When representatives of societies structured on belief landed in India, what were the dynamics that played out?
When full acceptance was met with genocide and slaughters
In 52 AD, St Thomas, one of the twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ, landed in Palayur, Kerala. His aim? To “spread the word” or in other words – convert. Palayur of that time was a place where Brahmins and Jews (yes, they had already reached there due to persecutions by Romans!) used to live in harmony. Using “magic and stealth” Thomas converted many Brahmins with the argument “if I do this and you cannot, then my God is better than yours, so convert”. A document kept by local Brahmin called ‘Grandavariola’ states that Thomas Sanyasin came in Kali year 3153 or 52 AD. Brahmins of that place felt so persecuted by this new tactic, that they left the place. Nambudri Brahmins for many centuries never accepted any water near the Church. That place came to be known as Chavakadu in local language, meaning “cursed forest”. In a temple abandoned by the Brahmins, the first Church in India was built by St. Thomas. Temple remnants of broken idols can be seen to this day.
Vasco da Gama – the Portuguese “trader” was in Zanzibar, Africa unable to make further journey. The Portuguese would simply go up and down the African coast staying close to the shore. On one trip, he saw a ship that was three times the size of his own. Using an African interpreter when he talked to the Indian trader, Chandan, he found that he used to bring spices and teak from India across the seas, in return for diamonds. He accompanied Chandan, as a safeguard, to India. This was in 1497-99 timeframe. By 1524, Vasco da Gama had been appointed the “Governor of India” by the Portuguese and had exclusive rights to trade. Within 40 years of being invited into the country, in 1560, the Portuguese set up the Office of Portuguese Inquisition, which unleashed a 252 years of brutalities on native Hindus, unparalleled anywhere in history. Award winning Portuguese novelist, Richard Zimler, who uses the inquisition as the back drop of his novel The Guardian of the Dawn says –
I discovered that historians consider the Goa Inquisition the most merciless and cruel ever developed. It was a machinery of death. A large number of Hindus were first converted and then persecuted from 1560 all the way to 1812!
Over that period of 252 years, any man, woman, or child living in Goa could be arrested and tortured for simply whispering a prayer or keeping a small idol at home. Many Hindus — and some former Jews, as well — languished in special Inquisitional prisons, some for four, five, or six years at a time.
The Viceroy of Goa, Antonio de Noronha issued an order for inhabitants of Portuguese rule:
I hereby order that in any area owned by my master, the king, nobody should construct a Hindu temple and such temples already constructed should not be repaired without my permission. If this order is transgressed, such temples shall be, destroyed and the goods in them shall be used to meet expenses of holy deeds, as punishment of such transgression.
By 1567, 300 Hindu temples had been destroyed. Rituals of Hindu marriages, sacred thread wearing and cremation were banned by law and anyone above 15 years were compelled to listen to Christian preachings or they were totured. The Portuguese Army destroyed the Assolna and Cuncolim temples in 1583.
Charles Dellon, who experienced the extremes of inquisition himself has documented the events of those times in his book published in 1687 L’Inquisition de Goa (The Inquisition of Goa).
In 7th century AD, Malik Deenar, a companion of Islamic Prophet Mohammad traveled to India, and constructed the first mosque in 629 AD during the lifetime of Mohammad himself. That is called Cheraman Juma Masjid in Methala, Kodungallur Taluk, Thrissur district, Kerala. The name is based on a legend propagated by 16th century book, Tuhafat-ul-Mujahidin by Shaik Zainnuddin. That legend says that Cheraman Perumal was a Chera king who went to Arabia and met Mohammad and embraced Islam and facilitated Malik Deenar’s journey and construction of the mosque. The issue is that there was no Chera king by that name. The only mention of a Cheraman in history comes around 825 AD.
In any case, the Islamic entry into India happened via Malik Deenar in Kerala. After that, via the Arab traders, Islam came to the Malabar coast and many of the locals were converted. It is in this place that the community of Mappilas came up. Mappilas of Kerala’s Malabar coast spoke the same language – Malayalam – and had the same customs. Yet, the same community started and continued brutal killings and genocide of Hindus for 85 years from 1836 to 1921. Annie Besant – one of the founders of Indian National Congress reported that Mappila Muslims forcibly converted, killed or drove away over 100,000 Hindus during this time.
The invasions in North India are well known as well. Mohammad Qasim Shah (1560 – 1620) wrote the books Tarikh-i-Farishta and Gulshan-i-Ibrahim where he reported that over 400 million Hindus were slaughterd during Muslim invasions and occupation. Dr. Koenraad Elst writes in his article “Was there an Islamic Genocide of Hindus“?
There is no official estimate of the total death toll of Hindus at the hands of Islam. A first glance at important testimonies by Muslim chroniclers suggest that over 13 centuries and a territory as vast as the subcontinent, Muslim holy warriors easily killed more Hindus than the 6 million of the holocaust. Ferishtha lists several occasions when the Bahmani Sultans in Central India (1347-1528) killed a hundred thousand Hindus, which they set as a minimum goal whenever they felt like punishing the Hindus; and they were only a third-rank provincial dynasty.
The biggest slaughters took place during the raids of Mahmud Ghaznavi (ca. 1000 CE), during the actual conquest of North India by Mohammad Ghori and his lieutenants (1192 ff) and under the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526).
The slaughter and genocide by the Islamic invaders in Afghanistan led the main mountain pass to be named “Hindu Kush” meaning “Hindu slaughter” in local language.
What is Intolerance in the land of Acceptance?
None of the characters introduced above – St Thomas, Portuguese Catholics or Arab Muslims – were persecuted in India. They were accepted the way they were. Until they forced their beliefs and ways on an unsuspecting population which had accepted many Spiritual traditions earlier coming from Buddha, Mahavir, Charvaka and others. But there was a difference between a Buddha and Portuguese Catholics or Mahavir and the Arabs. They seeked to change just the belief and entrench that in historical/geographical-centric context.
Yet, despite all the inquisitions, the derision, the driving out of the locals, and untold genocides – Christianity and Islam was given full space to be practised and flourish.
Even when embrace of acceptance was met with violence of intolerance, acceptance was still the way to go forward. In fact, had India’s history written in the idiom and ways used by European historians for that region, the suffering of the native Hindu Indians has been unprecedented. And yet, this is a culture that – barring a few aberrations – did not single out any community for persecution. On the contrary, Zoroastrians and Jews – who were persecuted at the hands of Arab Muslims and Romans and then Christians – found refuge in this land with full freedom of religious practice.
Christians and Muslims as disciples of Indian Gurus
In the last ~ 120 years since Swami Vivekananda set foot on American soil in 1893, the Americans and many westerners have come in contact with some amazing Enlightened Beings and Spiritual Gurus. Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna Paramhans, Yogananda Paramhans, Osho, Neem Karoli Baba, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Sathya Sai Baba, Ramana Maharishi, Sadhguru, and Sri Sri Ravishankar. Many of these Gurus had Western disciples in millions. Yet, not one asked anyone to ever convert. If the disciples so wanted, they picked up the Hindu customs or ways, but most would return back to their original faith without any need to do anything. With the kind of sway each Guru held on their audience, they could have by now converted millions in US and Europe to Hinduism, but they were not peddling beliefs like Sufis and the Missionaries. They were initiating people into Spirituality or at the very least giving them a taste of something beyond the physical. A space where belief is a roadblock. For, Spiritual journey begins only when belief ends!
The Political Hypocrisy
Let us now focus our gaze on the political expediency which has manufactured the entire Intolerance debate. An agitation that gained strength and heat just before the important Bihar elections is now cooling off with no one in the last week having given his/her award back for the “rise in Intolerance”.
But, then, this whole movement started very clearly at the behest and backing of the Congress party, And, it had a terrible leader to initiate the debate on Intolerance in the first place! Congress leading the march for tolerance is like Hitler protesting Genocide by Jews!
How RSS was demonized
In a report published in 1970, Justice Kapur Commission to probe into Gandhi Assassination noted:
“RSS as such were not responsible for the murder of Mahatama Gandhi, meaning thereby taht one could not name the organization as such as being responsible for that most diabolical crime, the murder of apostle of peace. It has not been proved that they (the accused) were members of the RSS.”
This was precisely the conclusion of the Punjab High Court into the Gandhi Assassination case in 1950. Yet, the RSS was banned on 4th February 1948 and many prominent leaders of RSS were arrested. The Commission of Inquiry set up at that time was the very Justice Kapur Commission, whose report was published after 22 years!!
The promotion of false information on RSS and Jana Sangh was started with the beginning of Indian republic. Along with the Communists, the second largest party until 1962 elections, started complete subversion of Indian polity, culture and history. We will discuss how India’s history and culture has been subverted in another follow up article in detail. For now, let us further delve into the political history of the players at the forefront of the current debate.
How Sonia Gandhi, Pranab Mukherjee and Gandhi Loyalists Subverted democracy
When Sonia Gandhi led the march to the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, the irony of hypocrisy couldn’t be more stark. Let us go into the events that led to Sonia Gandhi being installed the Congress Party President, a post she holds till date. At that time, when a commoner – Sitaram Kesari was the Congress Party President and was steering the party – the “Gandhi loyalists” unleashed a coup that threw Kesari out and brought in “Madam Sonia Gandhi”. Here is the sordid tale of Intolerance and Machiavellian strategies of how an Italian lady was installed at the helm of the political party that – we Indians are told – was at the forefront of India’s freedom from.. well, the British!
On 14 March 1998, 24 Akbar Road was a mute witness to a constitutional coup that saw the rather unsavoury exit of an ‘elected’ Congress president. Kesri was so upset with the day’s events that he kicked his loyal Pomeranian, Ruchi. The ailing Kesri, then seventy-nine, had arrived at the CWC meeting at 24 Akbar Road convinced that a party president could not be forced out. He did not know that before the 11 am meeing, most CWC members had gathered at Pranab’s home to endorse two crucial statements. The first was an ultimatum asking Kesri to step down; the second, a resolution replacing him with Sonia Gandhi.
The moment Kesri stepped into the hall, he knew something was amiss. Loyalist Tariq Anwar was the only one who stood up to greet him. After Kesri sat down, Pranab began reading out a resolution’thanking’ him for his services and invoking Clause J of Article 19 of the Congress constitution.
A horrified Kesri listened to its provisions: the CWC could act beyond its constitutional powers in ‘special situations’ as long as it got the decision ratified by the AICC within six months. Party leaders later admitted that the provision did not specifically say that an elected party president could be removed with its help.
‘Arre yeh kya keh rahe ho (Hey, what are you saying)’ was all Kesri could say when he found his voice. But there was a smirk on the faces of his colleagues. Kesri raved against the ‘unconstitutional’ meeting and loudly protested that he was still the Congress chief. But Prasada, the vice president of the party was already announcing, to thunderous applause, that ‘Madam Sonia Gandhi’ was their new leader.
The axed president stormed out, followed by Anwar. He spent more than an hour in his office, calling up his advisors, but it was already getting difficult to hear them amid the crackers and slogans welcoming Sonia. When Kesri stepped out of the room, his name board was missing, already replaced by a computer printout that said: ‘Congress President Sonia Gandhi’. (Excerpt from 24 Akbar Road: A Short History of The People Behind The Fall And Rise of The Congress by Rasheed Kidwai)
When the Congress Party wanted to install Sonia Gandhi, first as the party President and as the Prime Minister of India, they had moved out of the realm of tolerance/intolerance. They were ready to circumvent the law of land to do treason. A foreign born – with several questionable dealings with arms dealers and smugglers of her own origin country – was being made the leader of the land. This society in it naivette, still accepted it. Had it not been for the enforcement of law by the then President Abdul Kalam, India would have had an Italian origin lady as India’s PM.
Again, what is Intolerance?
On January 18, 2014 during a AICC meeting in New Delhi, a former diplomat and senior Congress leader showed his contempt and hatred for the PM nominee of his opposition party – the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). In a question about Narendra Modi he shouted back at the reporter –
“I promise you in 21st century Narendra Modi will never become the Prime Minister of the country… but if he wants to distribute tea here, we will find a place for him”.
The Doon School; St. Stephen’s College; and Trinity Hall, Cambridge educated politician was quite clearly contemptuous of a commoner. A person who as a poor kid would sell tea at a railway platform. How could he even aspire to be the Prime Minister of the country? To the elite burgeosi in the Congress party – intolerant as they have been of the common people – such a scenario was unthinkable!
What was particularly remarkable was that people called it just a “Class fight” and not an intensifying of a hate culture against one man who had steered his party to the door of victory. Same party, whose constituents and partners had since independence had been systematically persecuted under one pretext or the other.
It is often said that to know the basic character of a guy, a woman in a new relationship should see how the guy talks to the restaurant staff. That is also precisely the test for politicians – how they treat a commoner?
In Congress Party, we have a clique of elitist, holier-than-thou people who have usurped the power to rule India and structured its culture to favor a few. A privileged few. Participation or expression from others – specially the commoners – is not just frowned upon but beaten down mercilessly.
If you look at it carefully, Sonia Gandhi’s installation of Party President after kicking out of elected and incumbent President Sitaram Kesari was as telling an example of contempt of the rich and privileged towards the underprivileged as Manishankar Aiyyar’s shocking rant was.
In the run up to the elections, a journalist with a particularly Anti-Modi bias asked Modi as to why he was not yet the main candidate and what was stopping him? Modi immediately retorted – “We should all appreciate that in India, there is at least one party which has a democratic process. And that process will decide the PM nominee after the consultation of the Parliamentary board and other functionaries. Isn’t internal democracy in political parties a matter of pride? Or should the PM candidates be decided by their surnames?”
Compared to a set up where a tea seller kid is now at the helm, we have Rahul Gandhi as Congress Party’s perennial PM candidate simply because he is of a particular family. Others who aren’t from the family – like Sitaram Kesari, PV Narasimha Rao and Lal Bahadur Shastri – are sidelined and disowned despite their contributions!
Paupers don’t Preach!
During Modi’s trip to England last week, the Guardian and the BBC – in an attempt to embarrass the PM, asked him questions on how Intolerance was growing in India. Both in their content as well as in the press conference.
Those who have never known how acceptance could be a way to live, have now found it in them to preach to India on the importance of tolerance. When the genocides were being perpetrated on India’s poor by way of orchestrating famines – which occured in 1770, 1783, 1866, 1873, 1897, and 1943-44 – newspapers like “The Guardian” and media house like BBC remained mum. The foundation of The Guardian was kept in 1821 by a cotton merchant called John Edward Taylor, so it was very active during the worst genocides perpetrated by its country.
As the millions died, pacifist freedom fighters jailed and an entire population made poor by siphoning wealth out of India into Britain, no one in that country really took up the cause of the victims of intolerance. Not even when Gandhi came calling for freedom. When Khalistani and Islamic terrorists found safe haven in Britain in the 1980s to today, how many in that press have protested Intolerance of those mass murderers? If intolerance of thought and deed is what irks them, then why the selective outrage? Are terrorists’ freedom protected by your country – often used as a bulwark against another friendly country with the facility of plausible deniability – an example of tolerance or intolerance? How about India giving safe haven to the bombers of 7/7 in London or to the killers of Charlie Hebdo? Would that be tolerance?
It is these “liberals” – if you can call them that – who now have the gumption to talk of freedom and tolerance. After they have been silent companions of colonialism and intolerance for over 200 years?
Those who are paupers in terms of freedom quotient should stop preaching others. Whether it is Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi, The Guardian and BBC or the American Press!
Featured Image Source – Flickr – this is an illustration of the Jalianwala Bagh Massacre. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre, also known as the Amritsar massacre, took place on 13 April 1919 when a crowd of nonviolent protesters, along with Baishakhi pilgrims, who had gathered in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, Punjab were fired upon by troops of the British Indian Army under the command of Colonel Reginald Dyer. The civilians had assembled at Jallianwala Bagh to participate in the annual Baisakhi celebrations which are both a religious and a cultural festival of the Punjabis.