National and International Issues

India’s War on Church and Mosque

India is quietly emerging as a new ‘terror central’, with disturbing new developments. The international media, which has received millions of dollars in Indian publicity spending on TV and newspaper advertisements, is now waking up to another side of India not shown in the otherwise impressive advertisement touting ‘Incredible India’ as a tourist and business destination.



Mangalore is among the cleanest cities in India. Up to 25 international cruise ships dock at its port every year. It is a multicultural city, overlooks Arabian Sea, and was ruled once by Portugal and Great Britain.
And it is located in south India, which is known for tolerance and as a melting pot compared to the more violent and religiously-divided north. This is why many were surprised when a south Indian private school in the city of Mangalore of all places, celebrated the anniversary of the violent demolition of the historic Babri Mosque, raising a firestorm in the media. The BBC covered this controversy in a December 17, 2019 report aptly titled, India school defends re-enacting Babri mosque demolition. 
Some Indians were so horrified they uploaded videos to social media showing how impressionable children were made to replicate the hatred behind destroying a mosque. One video1 showed the Indian kids reenacting the mob attack, part of an annual sports and cultural celebration at the Sri Rama Vidyakendra High School in Mangalore. Two senior government officials were guests of honor — Sadanand Gowda, a union minister from the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Kiran Bedi, a retired policewoman-turned-politician who is now a lieutenant governor.


The world ignored when a Hindu mob brought down a stunning historic mosque building in 1992; when Australian Christian missionary Graham Stewart Staines was burned alive with his two underage sons in 1999; and when a mob mowed down Christians in Orissa in 2008. This is how genocide starts.


Just to put this incident in perspective, terror organizations like Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and the TTP in Pakistan in the worst days of the post-9/11 terror wave did not use schoolchildren to reenact acts of hate as part of school activity despite having committed their fair share of gory acts in their time. And for Indian children to be doing this, just days before the start of a new decade of the 21st century, in a country that presents itself to the world as a bastion of civilization and multiculturalism, nothing could be more disturbing.
The Indian mosque was a magnificent historic monument built in the 16th century. It was destroyed in a medieval-style mob attack that sparked riots leading to killings of around 2,000 Indian citizens. What happened in India in 1992 was a prelude to a similar hate incident in Afghanistan in 2001 when religious bigots demolished the largest standing Buddha figures in the world, which stood for over a thousand years.
The irony of the demolition of two glorious religious symbols a few years apart in war-torn Afghanistan and the world’s largest democracy, India, is unmistakable.
India is quietly emerging as a new ‘terror central’, with disturbing new developments. The international media, which has received millions of dollars in Indian publicity spending on TV and newspaper advertisements, is now waking up to another side of India not shown in the otherwise impressive advertisement touting ‘Incredible India’ as a tourist and business destination.
Neatly tucked under the well-constructed – and expensive – veneer of this feelgood ‘Incredible India’ advertising campaign is the hottest, latest Indian story: The fast rise of Indian religious terrorist organizations that have penetrated India’s military and politics. These extremist groups are diverse, in power, have their fingers on the nuclear button, and have particularly killed Christians, Muslims, and low-caste Hindu citizens, whom these extremists consider untouchable.  The movement is so strong, resourceful and organized that it warrants the label India’s Hindu Al-Qaeda. But for now, people refer to this organized Indian extremism using one word: Hindutva, which is a distortion of the otherwise peaceful Hindu religion. 
There is another reason that international media has finally stood up and started taking note of Hindutva. The violent ideology is in the early stages of moving out of India and spreading globally. There are growing reports that India’s ruling Hindutva brigade is trying to influence American and British elections by funding candidates for public office in Washington and London. The key reason behind this is to preempt any Western sanctions on India for religious freedom violations and for India’s unfair trade practices against Western economies.


Hindu terror groups, like Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal, and the Durga Vahini have established militant training camps across India where members are indoctrinated against other religions and Indian Hindu supremacy is emphasized. Recently, the Durga Vahini has proudly distributed pictures of its female members wearing sari and brandishing guns at an indoctrination camp. In Kashmir, the Indian government and military are recruiting poor Hindu peasants into Hindu militias armed to confront the demand by Kashmiri nation for an end to Indian occupation.


Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan played a masterstroke in August 2019 when he likened Modi to Hitler, Hindutva to Nazism, and Kashmir conflict to Holocaust, sparking global interest in this unusual analogy about India. One reason why Khan’s argument gained international traction is because of improving relations between Pakistan and the West.
Starting with Christians
There is too much focus on Muslims in India, mainly because it’s a large minority and most visibly targeted under a Hindutva government. But this trend started with Christians, both Indians and foreigners. Interestingly, Muslims in India, neighboring Pakistan, and the world at large, everyone is guilty of ignoring hate crimes and pogroms against Christians in India that paved the way for what we see happening today. 
The 1992 Babri Mosque demolition was a big story, but no one paid attention when, in 1999, Australian missionary Graham Stewart Staines, 58, and his two underage sons were burned alive in Orissa, India. They distributed food items among poor Indians in remote corners. They were sleeping in their car at night when a mob of Indian Hindutva religious extremists surrounded them and set them on fire. It happened on the night of January 23 and 24, 1999. Rubin Banerjee, writing in India Today, described how they were found in the morning in these chilling words: “Even in death they were inseparable. Charred beyond recognition and reduced to fragile frames of ashes, the three bodies lay clinging to each other in what must have been a vain attempt to protect each other and escape the mob.”
A stunning and disturbing treatment was meted out to a good Christian man who with his young boys Timothy and Philips was serving humanity. This incident was hushed by both the Indian and Australian governments, by the then government of Pakistan, and by the civilized world as just another crime. 
The burning alive of Staines and his two boys probably marked the first sign of the rise of Hindutva in India. The 1992 mosque razing could be justified and dismissed as a sign of enduring Hindu-Muslim tensions, but the gruesome crime against a Christian Australian missionary and his sons was something new, a warning sign that a new form of hatred was growing in India unchecked. That hatred is known today as Hindutva, a dangerous and violent twisting of Hindu religion. In 2019, one of the suspects in burning Staines, Hindutva hardliner Pratap Chandra Sarangi, was named as minister in Indian government by Prime Minister Modi. 


There is another reason that international media has finally stood up and started taking note of Hindutva. The violent ideology is in the early stages of moving out of India and spreading globally. There are growing reports that India’s ruling Hindutva brigade is trying to influence American and British elections by funding candidates for public office in Washington and London. The key reason behind this is to preempt any Western sanctions on India for religious freedom violations and for India’s unfair trade practices against Western economies.


Staines family tragedy was not the only sign. Three years later, religious riots erupted in Gujarat, a state ruled at the time by Narendra Modi and his Hindutva supporters. Hundreds of Indian citizens were killed on the streets and inside their houses, mostly Muslims but Hindus too. It was gruesome, with reports of pregnant women ripped open and even children were not spared.
Gujarat was the first genocide in the twenty-first century in India. Nobody said it then, but this too was a sign that multiculturalism and tolerance is nearing collapsing in the world’s largest democracy. 
The world ignored these signs, including in Pakistan, a country that should have been watching India closely due to their bitter history.
Six years down the road, in 2008, another major incident of religious cleansing targeting Christians occurred in Orissa, the same state where, nine years earlier, Staines and his two sons were burned alive for being Christians. This time, “a two-month orgy of religious violence left at least 59 people dead, 50,000 homeless and thousands of houses and churches burned to the ground,” according to a report in The Guardian dated October 19, 2008. 
“Convert or we will kill you, Hindu lynch mobs tell fleeing Christians,” correspondent Gethin Chamberlain headlined his report, confirming that Indian Hindutva extremists did not stop the crimes until Christians accepted to convert into Hindu religion. This is how Chamberlain began his report: “Hundreds of Christians in the Indian state of Orissa have been forced to renounce their religion and become Hindus after lynch mobs issued them with a stark ultimatum: convert or die.”
Also in 2008, brave investigators in the Indian police made an unusual arrest: a serving senior Indian Army officer involved in a plan for a series of bombings that were to be blamed on Indian Muslims to bring them under pressure, like Indian Christians. Lt Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit was not a lone wolf. He was working with a group of Military Intelligence officers. Investigators discovered that they disbursed funds, material and training to the nascent Hindutva terror groups targeting Muslims and Christians. A year earlier, in February 2007, Indian army officers were also linked to a bombing aboard a friendship train where about 50 Pakistani citizens were burned alive. Again, India blamed Pakistan of killing its own citizens to disrupt normalization, but Indian police later uncovered a plot involving Indian army officers and Hindutva leaders behind the terror attack. All were acquitted by 2019.


The 1992 Babri Mosque demolition was a big story, but no one paid attention when, in 1999, Australian missionary Graham Stewart Staines, 58, and his two underage sons were burned alive in Orissa, India. They distributed food items among poor Indians in remote corners. They were sleeping in their car at night when a mob of Indian Hindutva religious extremists surrounded them and set them on fire. 


Will Taj Mahal be Demolished?
In late 2017, Hindutva extremists of India laid siege to the Taj Mahal, the monument of love that made India a tourist destination. And for a few months, it seemed that the monument will be razed to the ground just like the 16th century Babri Mosque. Why? Because the Mahal was built by India’s Muslim rulers, the ancestors of Pakistan, and the monument has Quranic verses engraved on its walls, since it is a mausoleum in the memory of a Muslim emperor’s wife. The editorial board at The New York Times, in a thoughtful editorial on December 10, 2017 captured the dilemma in its headline: Hate Smears India’s Symbol of Love, the Taj Mahal.
To cleanse the building of Muslim touch and purify it, a group of saffron-clad Hindu extremists entered the Taj Mahal and started walking around the monument performing Hindu prayers. For weeks after that, a debate ensued on whether Taj Mahal is part of Indian culture or a symbol of “invaders and traitors,” as Indian Hindu extremists like to refer Muslims who ruled India for ten centuries, and whose descendants are now part of either India’s population or moved to Pakistan, the inheritor of Muslim legacy in South Asia.
The demolition of the Taj Mahal in India is a tragedy waiting to happen. India’s ruling Hindutva extremists have already scaled back expenditure on the maintenance of the grand monument, as The NYT revealed in its 2017 editorial.
American NBA star Kevin Durant saw this creeping Indian negligence of Taj Mahal firsthand during his visit in August 2017 and spoke his mind about it, forcing an Indian newspaper to accuse the American of saying “nasty things about India.”
Here is how Durant described how India is leading Taj Mahal to its death, so to speak:
“[He] said that India is still 20 years behind in terms of experience and knowledge. Durant said that he was shocked to see that streets were full of cows and monkeys. “It’s a country that’s 20 years behind in terms of knowledge and experience. You see cows in the street, monkeys running around everywhere, hundreds of people on the side of the road, a million cars and no traffic violations. Just a bunch of underprivileged people there and they want to learn how to play basketball. That was really, really dope to me,” he said in this interview according to The Indian Express.
Durant said it was during his visit to Taj when he came across many houses with no doors and windows. This shaped the basketball star’s opinion about India.
“Yeah. As I was driving up to the Taj Mahal, like I said, I thought that this would be holy ground, super protected, very very clean. And as I’m driving up, it’s like, s***, this used to remind me of some neighborhoods I would ride through as a kid. Mud in the middle of the street, houses were not finished but there were people living in them. No doors. No windows. The cows in the street, stray dogs and then, boom, Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world. It’s like holy s***, this was built 500 years ago and everyone comes here. It’s just an eye-opener,” he said.
India’s Disturbing Turn to Religious Violence
All of this should have alarmed India’s neighbors and the world but it hardly registered. Imagine a country the size of India, surrounded by a dozen or so neighbors with a history of tensions launching a project to militarize a peaceful Hindu religion by creating Hindutva groups, and then plan largescale pogroms against the country’s Muslim and Christian minorities. It’s a proposition that would destabilize the entire region and sow the seeds of a future genocide. Lt Col Purohit was released nine years later, in 2017. The Hindutva forces are now in power in India.
Hindu terror groups, like Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal, and the Durga Vahini have established militant training camps across India where members are indoctrinated against other religions and Indian Hindu supremacy is emphasized. Recently, the Durga Vahini has proudly distributed pictures of its female members wearing sari and brandishing guns at an indoctrination camp. In Kashmir, the Indian government and military are recruiting poor Hindu peasants into Hindu militias armed to confront the demand by Kashmiri nation for an end to Indian occupation.
The changes taking place in India are truly intimidating and threatening. Until 1947, the Indians lived for ten centuries under foreign rule – Muslims (Pakistan’s ancestors), British, Dutch and Portuguese – without major violence. This is the only major civilization in the region that never expanded beyond its natural borders before 1947. However, the rise of Hindu militancy and Hindutva is not dissimilar to the rise of Nazis in Europe nearly a century ago. This century’s first religion-based genocide has already happened in India. A second genocide appears impending in India. Experts have warned as much in a hearing conducted by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on communal riots in India and the U.S. response, held on June 10, 2002.
Over the past decade, India has produced new terms that no one expected to see in the 21st century such as ‘cow vigilantes’ and ‘beef lynching’. There has been a rise in violence against Indian women and foreign female tourists visiting India. The country’s sharp slide into religious violence and hate speech happened precisely when the world was more focused on a potential threat of extremism from Pakistan. Ironically, and contrary to most predictions, Pakistan has survived extremism and crushed terror groups linked to the mess in Afghanistan, which is a big story, yet a bigger story is India’s slide into extremism while the world looked elsewhere. 
Postscript
An Indian citizen, Najid Hussain, testified on June 10, 2002 before the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Hearing on Communal Violence in Gujarat, India and the U.S. Response: 
“During my last visit to India in March while Ahmedabad was still burning, I met a young man at Ahmedabad Railway Station with a child in one arm and a little bag in the other. He asked me if I needed my shoes polished. I did not, but said yes. He did not have the foot-rest or a stand on which I could rest my foot while he polished the shoes. So I just put one foot forward and he started to polish. All the time that he was polishing my shoes, the child did not let go of his arm and he did not force her either. He polished the shoes just with one hand holding the child in the other. I advised him that he should buy a little shoe stand that could help him polish better and with ease. With tears in his eyes, he said he lost that when the rioters burnt his house a week ago. His wife and the mother of the child was also burnt along with the house. The little child was traumatized. That was the reason she would not let go of his arm. He said he puts her down only when she is asleep.   
That man was not a terrorist. That man was not a fundamentalist. That man was not an anti-national. That man had no time even to think about any of these activities. He was only an innocent, hardworking and poor Muslim who had a hard time making a living and raising his family. But he was targeted just because he was a Muslim.  
“In the aftermath of the killing of my father-in-law, the former Member of Parliament Ahsan Jafri, it is an unavoidable conclusion that the government of Gujarat did not just give a tacit approval to the perpetrators of the violence against Muslims, but connived in the pogrom. There are evidences that the police, the judiciary and the hospitals, all became a part of that operation in ethnic cleansing by Hindu extremists and Sangh Parivaries (BJP, VHP, RSS, Bajrang Dal) in Gujarat.  The carnage carried out in Gujarat in the aftermath of Godhra incident was pre-planned. The detailed and meticulous preparation of that operation, the availability of weapons, the list of houses and businesses to be targeted based on voters lists and ration card records, the availability of bottled water for the rioters, and mob leaders getting riot instructions and help on cell phones, suggest that Godhra was only a convenient excuse. These extremists were fully prepared and on standby to carry out the violence against Muslim men, women and children, and were only waiting for the opportunity.”


The writer is a journalist, and a senior research fellow at Project Pakistan 21, an independent think tank based in Islamabad.
E-mail: [email protected]
 

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