Make the tough decisions
By Paul Marshall, The Washington Times
January 14, 2004
Original source: http://washingtontimes.com/op-ed/20040113-085244-4546r.htm
September 11, world attention has focused on the dangers of Islamic
extremism. Unfortunately, threats to human rights are tied to only
religion. The disturbing political trends in India — fueled by Hindu
extremists and their allies in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Indian
government — have largely been ignored. A country once personified
Gandhi is fast becoming known for religious hatred and violence.
India has developed friendlier relations with the United States and
Ariel Sharon made a state visit in September. It is a strong ally in
on terrorism, and strategically close to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The government has also loosened the previously heavily regulated economy
produce one of the highest growth rates in the world. The Bombay stock
rose 50 percent in 2003.
And despite terrorism - especially in Kashmir - India remains
But the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is linked to Hindu extremist groups
the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa
Parishad (VHP), which mount hate campaigns and sometimes-violent attacks
against religious minorities and demand that Hinduism dominate society
politics. The RSS was founded by admirers of fascism and Nazism, produced
Gandhi's murderers and is now perhaps the world's largest paramilitary
organization, with millions of members.
The BJP functions as Hindu nationalism's political wing. Prime Minister
Vajpayee publicly praises the RSS and, in August, shared a podium and
songs with RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan. Other top officials, including Home
Affairs Minister Advani, are RSS associates.
The main target of the "Hindutva" or "Hinduization" campaign
are the Muslim
and Christian communities. Some 2,000 Muslims were massacred in the state
Gujarat in 2002, after Muslim mobs were reported to have set fire to
carrying Hindu nationalists, killing 58 persons.
Attacks against Christians have also escalated. They gained international
attention in 1999, when Australian Graham Staines, who had worked with
for more than 30 years, was, along with his two young sons, burned alive
Hindu extremist mob. Priests are murdered, nuns raped, churches ransacked
cemeteries desecrated, with more than 100 such incidents reported annually,
provoking Pope John Paul II this summer to make a rare public denunciation
this religious oppression. In Orissa last month, Hindu militants burned
one church, broke into another, raped a nun, demonstrated near the district
governor's house and burned Bibles.
While condemning violence, BJP officials often excuse or provoke it,
that incidents are isolated, the work of foreigners, or have no relation
radical Hindu organizations, while, after the Gujarat massacres, the
chief minister, and BJP member, Narendra Modi, asked supporters to "teach
lesson" to the Muslim community.
The BJP's extremist allies are even more threatening. The VHP international
president described the Gujarat carnage as a "successful experiment" that
could be repeated all over India, and its general-secretary declared
that the "
VHP will take the Gujarat experiment to every nook and corner of the
The BJP has also been weak in convicting the perpetrators of violence.
authorities largely stood aside during the massacres, and some took part
the riots. Charges against 21 defendants for torching a Muslim bakery
with its inhabitants were dismissed after the main witness, a 19-year-old
girl, said she couldn't identify the attackers; she later told the press
she changed her story because "local Hindu politicians repeatedly
her family and prosecutors made no effort to meet with her before
trial, and were not serious about gaining convictions." In September,
Supreme Court chief justice declared publicly that he had "no faith
the prosecution and the [BJP] Gujarat government." Meanwhile, the
used the massacre's aftermath as a springboard to election victory later
To expand its support and hold its political coalition together, the
BJP moderates its stance, but then it courts extremists to appeal to
Meanwhile, it is Hinduizing the school curriculum, undercutting minority
rights and supporting laws forbidding lower castes to change their religion
escape their low status under Hinduism.
India continues to have proud
democratic institutions, but the growth of
often-violent Hindu nationalism threatens its tolerant traditions and
pluralistic democracy. If religious extremism continues to grow, it
we have learned elsewhere, drag India's democracy, economy and foreign
down with it. We cannot afford to be silent against that threat, even
country is an important partner and ally of the United States in the
Paul Marshall is senior fellow at Freedom House's Center for Religious
and edited its recent book The Rise of Hindu Extremism.