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Reaping What You Sow

Anthony J. Aschettino

By the time that this article is read, it will be no longer breaking news that a train bearing fundamentalist Hindus back from a march on Ayodhya was attacked by a mob resulting in the deaths of at least sixty odd people. While this event is tragic, and while nobody in their right mind will come out in support of such an action, it should not come as any great surprise to those of us who have followed the actions of Hindu fundamentalism in the sub-continent during the last two decades. Although perhaps it is ironic to use a biblical quotation when describing Hindus, this is simply a case of reaping what they have sown.

Many who read this will be fully aware of the Babri Masjid incident that took place in 1992. For those who are not, a brief explanation will suffice: the Babri Mosque was situated in Ayodhya, the home of the mythical Hindu God/ King Ram. Upon the urging of many fundamentalist Hindus, including the current Home Minister L K Advani, thousands of radical Hindus descended upon the site and burned the mosque to the ground killing dozens of Muslims in the process. This act, which vaulted the BJP party onto the political scene, culminated in sectarian riots that consumed over two thousand lives before they subsided. It was, one may say with a sense of certainty, the most damaging anti-Muslim act by Hindus since their massacres on Muslims attempting to cross to the newly founded state of Pakistan. Quite fittingly, this same L K Advani was wanted in Pakistan (and still is in a sense) for his complicity in an attempt on the life of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan.

Since the time of the demolition of the Babri Masjid these fundamentalist Hindus, with the blessings of the now ruling BJP, have agitated for a reconstruction of a temple to Ram on the remains of the old Mosque. Facing a certain eruption from the internal and global Muslim population, the government has managed to put off construction on the site for now, but it remains to be seen how long they can keep delaying in the face of an increasing radicalization of the Hindu population. This, coupled with the current crisis in occupied Kashmir, may spur the government to action on the issue.

While the rest of the world is frantically trying to deal with the concept of "radical Islam", groups like the Shiv Sena in India are preaching a violent version of Hinduism to the masses. Consumed with the idea that the Hindu must be of the warrior ethic, these radicals openly despise figures such as Gandhi and are obsessed with expelling Muslims from India. They call for the establishment of a non-secular, Hindu state and some go even as far as to suggest that Pakistan should be re-incorporated into India - by force if necessary. With their websites such as, closely allied with the banned Kach movement in Israel (which advocates among other things the forceful expulsion of all Arabs from Palestine), they spout their ideology that Islam is inherently evil and that the only solution to seemingly all worldly problems is the global elimination of Islam.

While Hinduism has widely been portrayed as a religion of peace and tolerance, and indeed for the vast majority of its adherents it is, there exists a group of people dedicated towards a violently anti-Muslim program who espouse this faith. Perhaps what is scarier is that they are not just anti-Muslim, but also rather anti-Christian as well. On the website for Hindu Unity, Pope John Paul II, widely regarded as a great figure by all faiths, is referred to as a "devil". This group of people misrepresents their faith as much as people like Osama bin Laden and the cowards who killed Daniel Pearl misrepresent Islam.

What concerns some of us the most, however, is that these people are far from being a radical fringe group. They are in control of the Indian government under the guise of the BJP and her allies such as the VHP. They support the furthering of the Indian nuclear weapons program and are also dedicated to escalating the situation in Kashmir by pushing the sub-continent into an arms race. Under BJP rule, the Indian "defense" budget has seen the greatest increases in the history of the Indian state. This is worrisome not only to Pakistan and China, who fear the possible breakout of hostilities in the region, but also should ring bells in Washington. These people are not only anti-Pakistan: they dislike Christians and the West almost as much.

The civilized world should oppose the recent attack on a train full of these fundamentalists because in Islam, as in the west, we respect the rights of those to voice their opinions and believe what they wish so long as it does not bring harm to others. However, the doctrine of hatred and violence that these people preach seems to have come full circle. As Malcolm X one time put so succinctly, "the chickens have come home to roost". While we call on all people, Muslims and Christians as well as Hindus, to refrain from jumping to conclusions as to who was responsible for what, and while we deplore this act as much as we would deplore any reactionary attacks, we should make it clear that if these radicals are determined to continue down this path that it will lead them nowhere but to the end that men like bin Laden faced: total humiliation within their own communities and global pariah status. For the sake of those in India who do not feel the same, we hope that they do not bring their country down with them.

[The author, Anthony J. Aschettino, is an expert on South Asia and Middle Eastern relations.]


Hindu Fundamentalism Index