Strike the Right Balance

Obama’s recent comments about religious intolerance in India shows how little the US understands our country, writes Ravi Shankar

Published: 09th February 2015 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th February 2015 05:35 AM   |  A+A-

Opinions are shaped by the times we live in. In America, liberal political correctness is in vogue, while public opinion may be vastly different. To avoid the sheen of the successful Obama visit from being oxidised, NDA ministers are playing down his comments that religious conflict has produced “acts of intolerance” in India that would have shocked Mahatma Gandhi. Before that, he had warned “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered on religious lines”. It shows how little the US understands India.

Barack-Obama.jpgGandhi would’ve been shocked to learn that most religious massacres happened under the rule of the party he fashioned as a weapon to defeat the British. Shell-shocked by the Partition carnage, he realised that not one faith held the monopoly on religious tolerance. The favourite whipping boys of secular opinion, the Hindu Right, called Obama a stooge of the Christian lobby. India’s Right has never been apologetic about religion and nationalism — not on the Babri Masjid demolition or ghar wapsi. They don’t need to be. India has been a land of free speech since 1947, except during the Emergency.

The negative aspect of religious one-upmanship is its interface with national culture, however. Attacking young partygoers and threatening to forcibly marry off any couples seen together makes India look like Saudi Arabia. Culture is a product of civilisation, constantly changing through invasions, industrialisation and demographic shifts. Its original precepts remain intact, though sometimes lost in the fog of change.

The VHP’s accusation that missionary activity has prompted Obama’s statements may not be far off the mark. Latest government statistics reveal over `1,000 crore has been channelled from the US to Christian organisations, which are more proactive than the Wahabis. The driving force behind all religions is to increase their congregations. Hinduism is the only exception. At a time when the Christian white population is shrinking, the church needs more converts elsewhere. Through the ages, changes in faith have been achieved through war, torture, inducements and devastation of societies. Starting some time in the 10th century, millions of people — Muslim and Christian — perished in the Crusades over 200 years as Islam swept through Europe and Asia, with a savagery that the Mahatma wouldn’t even have been able to comprehend. The India experience was no different.

It is not the BJP and the Indian Right that polarised India. Around the time when the Crusades were ending, from the 12th to the 16th century major Muslim conquests of the subcontinent began. The polarisation of India started. The Portuguese Inquisition in Goa in 1561 under which hundreds of innocents were tortured and burnt at the stake also polarised India. The British polarised India with an efficiency that would have put Aurangzeb to shame.

The West’s most shameful legacy of religious persecution was of the Jews, starting from the Middle Ages. Successive Popes encouraged active anti-Semitism. Jews were forced to live in ghettos, forcibly baptised, raped and slaughtered in frequent pogroms. All of Europe collaborated in the Holocaust, either through silence or participation. Yet Obama has little to say about the Middle East, where women are banned from driving in Saudi Arabia. The same Arabic states want to destroy Israel, which is the only democratic power in the region. Still it didn’t stop Obama in 2014 from warning it of isolation from its “closest allies” if Israel went ahead with a building project to create a Jewish enclave in a Jewish nation.

By generalising India as a land of Hindu zealots persecuting the minorities, America shows its arrogance in foreign policy and market economics. American political thinker George Friedman calls the US a bumbling adolescent, still trying to find a culture of its own. It shows.

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