Religious tourism plays an important role in reviving the country’s economic activity through promoting religious-based tourism. Realizing the economic and political importance of this sector, the Government has taken ample measures to support this industry. Hence, with Government support and improved law and order situation, religious-based tourism in Pakistan is flourishing and attracting different communities.
Pakistan is situated in a region that has been home to diverging civilizations, the world’s two major religions Buddhism and Sikhism have been dominant in this land for many centuries. Besides, this region also hosted followers of pre-historic religions such as the Aryan, Barhaman, and ancient Iranian and Greeks dated back to 5,000 years. Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Punjab provinces of Pakistan, therefore, have plenty of historical sites linked to the two religions.
According to various global traveling planners, Buddhist tourism has an estimated market of 100 million dollars across the world. Pakistan’s Gandhara region comprising Mardan, Taxila, and Swat holds a special value for them. Large to medium-sized stupas of Gautam Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, and other heritage sites in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal belt, from the northern Gilgit-Baltistan region to the tourist valley of Swat are very famous among Buddhist tourists from across the globe. A 2016 Gallup survey of the Buddhist population across a selected pool of countries identified 58 million “interested visitors”, out of which 5pc (2.9 million) were “likely to visit” Pakistan.
Importantly, all the Buddhist heritage sites are fully protected and got the status of heritage. Pakistan has seen a significant increase in the number of Buddhist tourists from Japan, Korea, Hongkong, China, and Sri Lanka in the last few years. Pakistan is home to thousands of Buddhists who enjoy all types of perks, privileges, and rights and enjoy liberty like other citizens. The most visited and holiest places for Buddhism in Pakistan are Dharmarajika Stupa, Sleeping Buddha, Takht-i-Bhai, Stupa of Mankiala, and Gandhara civilization.
Takhtbai is a small scenic town located, around 160 kilometers from the capital Islamabad, is the most visited site by the Buddhists, who flock to see the ancient monastery dated back to the 1st century. Takht-i-Bahi alone has the potential to attract a major proportion of the 50 million Mahayana Buddhists in Korea, China, and Japan.
Another very important site located at Taxila in Punjab is also considered a very sacred site for Buddhists, this site includes a Mesolithic cave and the archaeological remains of several Buddhist monasteries.
Korean Buddhists in particular trace their religious origin to the area that is now Pakistan, where Korean monk Hyecho traveled 1,300 years ago. A few years back, a 48-feet-long Buddha was also unearthed in Haripur Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, making it the world’s oldest sleeping Buddha statue.
Guru Nanak was the founder of the Sikh faith and Darbar Sahib was his last resting place, therefore, Sikhs consider Pakistan as a holy place. The five most important pilgrimage sites for Sikhs include Kartarpur Sahib, Gurdwara Panja Sahib, Gurdwara Dera Sahib Lahore, Nankana Sahib, and Samadhi of Ranjit Singh Lahore. Sikh tourism, heritage, cultural and religious tourism are the gems of Punjab.
The successful opening of the Kartarpur corridor has encouraged many in the global Sikh community to consider visiting the holy Sikh site in the heart of Pakistan. The Kartarpur Corridor, an initiative by the current civil-military leadership of Pakistan is intended to link a Gurudwara Darbar Sahib across the Indian side. The opening of the Kartarpur corridor (Narowal) attracted more religious tourists to Pakistan.
Pakistan knows how to respect other religions and recognizes the need for religious freedom. According to Article 36, the Constitution of Pakistan enshrines that the state will protect the legal rights and interests of ethnic minorities.
The development of the Kartarpur Corridor is part of the same effort to promote religious freedom and harmony of ethnic minorities. In November 2021, more than 8000 Sikh pilgrims from all over the world visited Pakistan to celebrate the birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak, out of which 3000 entries were allowed by Pakistan High Commission in India.
To facilitate the tourists; Pakistan, in 2019 launched an online visa application process, easing the lengthy process of visa. It has shortened the visa process considerably, which is a major improvement over the traditional visa application process. Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) also holds roadshows and seminars through Pakistani embassies across the world to attract religious tourism. Pakistan has massive potential for religious tourism especially in the case of Sikhs and Buddhists. The federal government has also planned to use the country’s potential for religious tourism and developed special strategies for preserving religious places and providing services to tourists who come here to visit holy places. Adequate hospitality for believers, in addition to generating income, is also helping to improve Pakistan’s soft image. Pakistan is focused to provide all the facilities to religious tourists like simple visa processing, their stay, hoteling, transportation, etc. Pakistan has become the torchbearer of religious tourism and inter-faith harmony across the globe.
Santa Claus rueful at imminent Christmas in India
Ahead of Christmas, Indian police raided a shishu bhavan (infant house or orphanage) in Kolcatta (West Bengal) and another at Vdodra (Gujarat), Indian prime minister’s home state. The Kolkatta orphanage was established by Mother Teresa herself, and was being run by the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata since February11, 2014. The raiding police claimed that the orphanages were forcibly converting Hindu children to Christianity. They were forced to wear cross, recite the Holy Bible, and eat pork. The orphanage administrations deny the charges and call them “trumped up. For instance a nun at the Kolkatta orphanage pointed out that the police acted upon complaint of the estranged father of an infant whose mother worked in the kitchen. The orphanage served only vegetarian food and chicken once a week (Indian police probe Mother Teresa’s charity, raid orphanage for ‘forced conversion’ , Licas News, December 15, 2021).
The persecution of Christians rose by leaps and bounds after Bharatiya Janata Party’s victory and. appointment of Narendra Modi’sas prime minister of India. The raids were not isolated events. During the year 2021, there were over 300 attacks on Christians.
In its reportage dated December 23, 2021, the prestigious Dawn demanded Modi “should be prosecuted for not prosecuting and restricting religious freedom”. It added, “Many human rights groups in India have documented over 300 incidents of Christian persecution in the first nine months of the current year, warning that the Christmas this year might be the worst. The US Commission on Religious Freedom has requested the State Department to label India as a “country of particular concern. The persecution against Christians and other religious minorities have increased since 2014 when the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took power, and Narendra Modi became the prime minister. Christians in India brace for persecution as Christmas approaches. However, there are serious concerns over hate against Christians’ places of worship in India. In recent months, there has been a surge of violence against Christians who make only 2.3 per cent of India’s population. India has been ranked the 10th worst country globally by the Open Doors USA 2021 World Watch List when it comes to Christian persecution (Minorities in India facing persecution, Dawn, December 23, 2021).
As incriminating evidence, the raiding police mention “13 Bibles were found in the library of the institute and girls staying there were forced to read the religious text”. The Missionaries of Charity, founded in 1950 by the late Mother Teresa, denied the allegations.
In Madhya Pradesh state, authorities also, authorities raided an orphanage, The St Francis Sevadham (charity home) orphanage in Shyampura area (Sagar district) on suspicion that children were fed beef and made to read the Bible. Father Shinto Varghese, director of St. Francis Sevadham orphanage said beef is not even available in the state and only chicken is served once a week and “other nutritious substitutes for vegetarians.”
The priest also clarified that denied that scriptures of all faiths were placed in the prayer room, not bibles only, and that no one was forced to read the Bible as claimed. Father Varghese, who had taken, said the real issue is the 277-acre land that was leased to the orphanage in 1875 for a period of 99 years.
He alleged that upon pressure of Hindu hardliners the state government now wants to take the land.
Earlier there were attacks on churches in New Delhi on February 5, 2015. Following the attack, Christians demonstrated outside the Sacred Heart Cathedral. Christians say they have been feeling very insecure since 2014 when Narendra Modi came to.
In 2020, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom listed India as a “country of particular concern” for the first time since 2004.
Attacks on Christian-managed schools
Such attacks are seldom reported. But, the recent attack by a Hindu mob of 200 to 300 people in Madhya Pradesh came into limelight. According to Brother Anthony Tynumkal, principal of St Joseph School, the mob pelted stones at the building. They later barged into the school while students were taking their exam.
Sister Clarissa, speaking from the house in Vadodara, said: “We are in shock, what they say is not true at all and the investigations are ongoing.”
Archbishop Felix MachadoVasai, secretary general of the Indian Bishops’ Conference, told the Asia News agency that he was “deeply distressed” by the investigation.
Although nearly 80 per cent of the country’s one billion population are Hindu, there are also 28 million Christians, who make up 2.3 per cent of its population. Some Christian communities in India were established by St Thomas, the Apostle, in the first century.
Hindu nationalist politicians often stoke hatred against Christians and other minorities (dalit, Muslims, etc) castigating them as outsiders who cannot be trusted. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Sangh Parivar, BJP and other Hindu outfits ‘ slogan is “Hindustan is for the Hindus”. They want Christians and Muslims to leave India as they look towards Vatican City or Mecca. The country in 2020 was ranked the 10th worst in the world for the persecution of Christians by Open Doors, the human rights group.
Why Hindus convert to Christianity
Hindus, particularly the low castes, embrace Christianity or Islam because of the regressive Hindu caste system (Varna, averna, saverna). There are no forceful conversions though several states have outlawed coercive conversions.
Disgusted with religio-economic extremism, more and more people, including dalit (down-trodden) are converting to Christianity, a class-less community. Dalits are not allowed to enter even high-caste Hindu temples. Some dalits were even killed at doorsteps of temples for daring tread foot-steps to temples. According to religious tables in India’s Census Report, 24 million Christians constitute 2.3 percent of India’s total population of 1,028 million. The Christian population includes 14 million Christian dalits. Dalits are Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist members of “untouchable” castes who convert to Christianity. The “untouchable” (sudra) Christians are the most neglected community in India.
Roots of Christianity in India
Christianity is India’s third-most followed religion after Hinduism and Islam. According to religious tables in India’s 2011 census of population, excepting counting, errors and omissions, about 28 million Christians live in India. They constitute 2.3 percent of India’s population. Thomas the Apostle introduced Christianity to India. He reached the Malabar Coast (Kerala) in 52 AD. And, he carried on preaching in every nook and corner of India until martyred.
Today, Christians live all across particularly in South India and the southern shore, the Konkan Coast, and Northeast India. Through sheer hard work, Indian Christians developed niches in all walks of Indian national life. They include former and current chief ministers, governors and chief election commissioners. To the ruling Bharatiya Janata party’s chagrin, Christians are the second most educated religious group in India after Jains. Christian women outnumber men among the various religious communities in India. The fanatic Hindus fear lest Christianity, with its egalitarian and social- service message, should engulf Hinduism.
Arrival of Catholicism
Till 16th century, Roman Catholicism was unknown to India. It was introduced by the Portuguese, Italian and Irish Jesuits who preached the gospel of Jesus Christ among the Indians. Alongside preaching, the preachers established Christian schools, hospitals, primary health-care centres through their missions. Later, British, American, German, Scottish missionaries came to preach Evangelical. The evangelist introduced English in missionary schools and translated the Holy Bible into various Indian languages (including Urdu, Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, and others).
Christians now form a major religious group in three states of India: Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland with plural majority in Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. Significant Christian population lives in Coastal Andhra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Kanara (South India).
Pioneers of persecution
India’s present prime minister Narendra Modi, when chief minister of Gujarat state, and LK Advani could be called pioneers of anti-Christian movement. They distributed Bharatya Janata Party (BJP) manifesto, which, inter alia, spoke of enacting an anti-conversion law in states including Gujarat. The laws against conversion are meant to persecute minorities.
The BJP’s manifesto was outcome of decades of hatred, stoked up by Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) elements acting with legal impunity and state governments’ connivance. The anti-Muslim hatred created a gory situation first in Gujarat and then in Orissa. The BJP accentuated its propaganda to create an incendiary situation against the aforementioned minorities in different states during elections.
The BJP acted hands in gloves with Sangh Parivar a collection of Hindu nationalist organisations co-operating towards making India a Hindu State to weave religion and politics strategically together in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) enabling the Sangh to exploit religion for political gain.
The country’s legislative history, relating to the issue of conversion underscores the reality that the government always harbored grudge against conversion. Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan. Arunachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu passed Freedom of Religion Acts. A common feature of these anti-conversion law is that they made so-called ‘forced conversion’ a cognisable offence under sections 295 A and 298 of the Indian Penal Code.
Cognisability of the offence allowed police to harass missionaries and converts under influence of Hindu fanatics or Government functionaries. Some Indian courts intervened to stop persecution of nouveau converts or Christian preachers. For instance, Chief Justice A.N. Ray in Reverend Stainislaus v. State of Madhya Pradesh (AIR 1977 SC 908), and Yulitha v. State of Orissa and others, ruled that propagation is different from conversion. Ray observed adoption of a new religion is freedom of conscience, while conversion would impinge on ‘freedom of choice’ granted to all citizens alike. But the state governments remained nonchalant to the courts’ observations. The courts’ decisions being declaratory (certiorari), not mandatory (mandamus), remained un-implemented. Interestingly, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs (February 1981) advised the State Governments and Union Territories to enact laws to regulate change of religion on the lines of the existing Acts in Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Arunachal Pradesh (The Statesman, Delhi, November 16, 1982).
There are iron-clad guarantees in the Constitution for religious freedom. Yet, not only the born Christians but also Hindus who become Christians complain of persecution. It is not only Orissa, but also several other Indian states that have passed anti-conversion bills forbidding Hindus to convert to other religions. Such legislation violates the UN Charter of Human Rights which gives a person the right to change his or her religion.
The ostensible justification for such laws is that, in a democracy, the majority has the right to benefit from the principle of ‘majority rule. So, Hindustan (India) is primarily for the Hindus only.
The anti-conversion campaign aimed at restricting the right to propagate religion, which is guaranteed by Article 25 of the Indian Constitution. The aim of the two parties was to convert India into a Hindu state. India claims to be a secular country. But, unfortunately
Harassment and social boycott
To discourage dalits from converting to Christianity, not only the Centre but also the Indian states have deprived ‘dalit Christians’ of minority-status privileges. Any Hindu who converts to Christianity is socially boycotted and tortured in different ways. Six women at Kilipala village in Jagatsinghpur district (Orissa) had their heads tonsured by influential Hindus. Their offence was abandoning Hindu faith at their own free will. Christian missionaries are harassed, deported and even killed. The Indian government ordered ‘deportation of three American preachers from Church of Christ in North Carolina on the first available flight to the US.’.
To add insult to their injury, the preachers were even attacked by Hindu fanatics. They had a narrow escape. Courts rarely punish people who manhandle Christian preachers. Dara Singh murdered Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two minor sons.
A few years back, Hindus attacked Christians as tit-for-tat for a book which allegedly insulted Hindu deities. Investigations revealed that the book was not written by any Christian. But, it happened to be displayed on one of the Emmanuel Mission’s book-shops for sale. The Mission is a Christian organisation that runs a chain of schools in various Indian states.
RSS dubs the Christians “anti-national and terrorists”
In a resolution, the RSS has called upon the Hindus, particularly Swayamsevaks, to be vigilant about `anti-national and terrorist’ Christian groups, posing a threat to the country’s internal security. It urged the Government to take strong measures against said groups. They condemned Pope John Paul II’s statement criticising Indian states’ legislations banning conversions of the Hindus by missionaries. The executive declared that such conversions were a direct challenge to the sovereignty of the country. It is significant to mention that the Pope had just said that ‘‘free exercise of the natural right to religious freedom was prohibited in India”. RSS’s resolution ignored that the right to change one’s religion was enshrined in the UNO’s Charter of Human Rights, also.
The RSS urged the Centre to lodge a protest with the Pope for exhorting the Christian missionaries to carry on their campaign of conversions defying the law of the land. The persecution continued for five more years. On 12 October 2008, he Pope Benedict XVI was compelled to draw the Indian government’s attention to the continuing anti-Christian violence in India.
On 28 October, the Vatican called upon the memory of Mahatma Gandhi for an end to the religious violence in Orissa. In a written appeal addressed to Hindus, the Vatican office said Christian and Hindu leaders needed to foster a belief in non-violence among followers (“Vatican invokes Gandhi in plea to end Orissa violence“. In.reuters.com. 28 October 2008).
Christians dubbed `insurgents’
In his interview with India Today (April 4, 2005, Christian Missionaries are with Naxals, page 80-81), K. S. Sudersan (Rashtrya Swayem Sevak Sangh) says, ‘Naxals have a safe base in Andhra Pradesh because Christian missionaries are with them. They attack mandir (temples) and other Hindu institutions but never attack a Church. Because the Chief Minister is a Christian, he has given them abhaydaan (freedom from fear) and crowds of two lakh or more they can gather’.
Sizeable number of Christians (Catholics) also lives in Pondicherry and Goa. A much smaller number live scattered amongst the majority Hindu population in the rest of India.
More incidents of violence
Incidents of violence against Christians have occurred in nearly all parts of India, particularly in north, central, and western India, in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and the capital area of New Delhi.
The genocide of Christians in India’s north-eastern state Orissa was outcome of Hindus’ muffled hatred against Christians. Over 500 Christians, including some nuns, were burnt alive. Countless churches, houses and shops were gutted. Even Christian orphanages were not spared.
Attacks on churches
In June 2000, four churches around India were bombed (Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu). A church in Maharashtra was ransacked. In September 2008, two churches were partly damaged in Kerala. In 2015, a church building under construction was vandalised in Haryana. St. George church in Mumbai was also attacked by masked persons. In the same month, the cathedral of Jabalpur was attacked and more than a dozen people were injured. The same cathedral had also been attacked in 2008 and the entire altar burnt down. In April 2015, St. Mary’s Church in Agra was vandalised and statues of Mother Mary and the Infant Jesus were damaged. A Church in the Kachna area of Raipur was attacked by a mob during a Sunday service and five people were injured when they tried to stop the assailants.
Several churches were attacked in the capital Delhi in recent years. They include St. Sebastian’s Church (burned), St. Stephen’s college chapel May 5, 2018 (vandalised and the cross desecrated with pro-Hindutva slogans).
In Madhya Pradesh a church was destroyed and bibles were burnt in Mandla district in September 2014. In March 2015, a Bible convention was attacked in Jabalpur, with allegations that religious conversions were taking place. So on.
Hindus are an ungrateful nation. They ignore the fact that Christian missionaries started coming to India, particularly the North-East, in the late 19th century. They promoted education and socio-economic developmental work in the region. In Rajasthan, the Emmanuel Mission, alone, runs over 50 schools.
India should have the decency to let Christians celebrate Christmas freely.
The Hindu, Hinduism, and Hindutva
Congress leader Salman Khurshid’s book Sunrise Over Ayodhya has irked not only the Hindu extremists but also some moderate leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad. The bone of contention is his comparison of Hindutva to terror outfits with ISIS and Boko Haram. Some people pelted stones on Khurshid’s Nainital residence, before trying to set it afire. In viral videos, Khurshid says,’If you want to see what Hindutva does, see the burnt door in my Nainital home’. Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister of the occupied Kashmir, and Rahul Gandhi supported Khurshid’s observations in the book. Mehbooba said, `Those who make Hindus and Muslims fight in the name of religion can be compared with ISIS or any other (terror group) because both of them kill people in the name of religion’. Referring to ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (the world is one family, as taught by Hindu scriptures), she said: “Sanatan Dharma teaches us that the world is one family. What BJP and RSS are trying to teach us is neither Hindutva nor Hinduism.”
She said Sananatan dharam teaches inclusivity and BJP is antithesis to that. Mehbooba clarified that the real Sanatan Dharma doesn’t teach communalism. She accused RSS-BJP combine of hijacking Hinduism and Hindutva, and making people fight against each other all over the country.
Rahul Gandhi questioned, ‘Is Hinduism about beating a Sikh, or a Muslim? And then answered ‘Yes, Hindutva, of course, is’.
The Hindu and Hindutva
The ‘Hindu’ were persons inhabiting the Indus valley area and beyond. The territory inhabited by them was Hindustan. But the communalistic Hindu calls the territory Hindusthan (the Hindu’s place). The suffix ‘-stan’ being of non-Hindu origin is obnoxious to the communalists. The communalists find Bharatvarsha more palatable. This word originated from an ancient Hindu king Bharatvarsha. The communalists’ outfits like Sangh Parivar use this name preferentially as it emphasizes Vedic roots of the country and its original people.
According to the bulk of literature on the subject, `Hinduism’ is not a closely-knit or bounded faith or collection of doctrines. It is a religion (mazhab), not a deen, or a way of life without a founder. According to Encyclopedia Britannica 1994-2001: “Hinduism is both a civilization and a congregation of religions: it has neither a beginning nor a founder, nor a central authority, hierarchy nor organization. Every attempt at a specific definition of Hinduism has proved unsatisfactory in one way or another…”.
Hinduism does not have One Church, One Pope, One Prophet, One Holy Book or One Ritual. A One can be a Hindu as well as a believer or an agnostic or an atheist!
Hinduism does not prescribe one system of marriage or one system of succession/inheritance. The Hindu law reforms (1955-1956) tried to bring about uniformity but diverse practices continue.
Hinduism allows a Hindu to worship other gods and saints. Thousands of Hindus go to worship at the shrine in Velankanni or pray at the Golden Temple in Amritsar or offer obeisance at the Dargah Sharif in Ajmer.
Hindutva is controversially defined in Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in his book Hindutva and adopted by Hedgewar as the basis of his ideology (An Indian parliamentary committee resurrected him as a hero by allowing his portrait to be hung in Indian parliament). The RSS’s aims are a mix of cultural, religious and political objectives – To serve Hindu dharma (religion), sanskriti (culture) and rashtra (nation). Sarvarkar distinguishes ‘Hinduism’ from ‘Hindutva’. He clarified that the `Hinduism’ was concerned with `relevance of life after death, the concept of God and the Universe’. ‘Hindutva’, on the other hand, was ‘Hindus being a nation, bound by a common culture, a common history, a common language, a common country and a common religion’.
The book has brought into limelight the bitter reality that the majority of India wants a minority-mukt India. The feeble voices about peaceful existence are fading. The RSS, BJP and their ilk speak the same language.
Mohan Bhagwat (RSS) who shouts ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai”, actually prefers the term “Hindu” to “Bhartiya,”. Bhagwat equates “Hindu” and “Bhartiya/Indian”.
While speaking on the occasion of launching the Krishnanand Sagar’s book ‘Vibhajan Kalin Bharat ke Sakshi’ (The Witnesses of Partition-era India), Bhagwat said, ‘India’s suffering at the time of Partition should not be forgotten and that it will go away when the Partition is “undone”. This is India of 2021 and not of 1947’.
He spoke in the same vein as had Pandit Jawahar lal Nehru and Vallabha Patel. Before his final flight (Aug 7, 1947) from Delhi to Pakistan, the Quaid sent a message to the Indian government: “the past must be buried and let us start as two independent sovereign states of Hindustan and Pakistan, I wish Hindustan prosperity and peace.”
But, Vallabhbhai Patel replied from Delhi: “the poison has been removed from the body of India.” Even Nehru, an ostensibly liberal leader, regarded the creation of Pakistan as a blunder. His rant against Pakistan reaches a crescendo in his remarks: “I shall not have that carbuncle on my back.” (D. H. Bhutani, The Future of Pakistan, page 14).
There is marked similarity between Bhagwat’s speech and Narendra Modi’s speech earlier. While delivering the Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15 earlier this year, PM Modi declared, ‘August 14 will be observed as the ‘Partition Horrors Remembrance Day’. He described partition as “one of the biggest tragedies” of the last century.
Jihad under Hinduism and other religions
The concept of holy wars (or call it terrorism) exists in many religions.In the historical context, the term “holy war” meant different things to different individuals and communities. The oldest ‘terrorists’ were holy warriors who killed civilians. Recent examples of religious terrorists are Aum Shinrikyo (Japanese), Rabbi Meir Kahane and Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir (Jews). The Israeli media describes Hezbollah and Hamas as ‘religious terrorists.’ In the first century A.D Palestine, the Jews publicly slit the Romans’ throats. In the seventh century India, the thugs strangulated gullible passersby to please the Hindu Devi Kali. And the 19th century, adherents of Narodnaya Volya (people’s will) mercilessly killed their pro-Tsar rivals. The term `terrorism’ became notorious during the French reign of terror in 1793-94.
It is now common to dub one’s adversary a ‘terrorist’. Afghan “freedom fighters” became “terrorists” like the Kashmiri freedom fighters. Doing so, forecloses the possibility of political negotiation and gives the powerful definer the right to eliminate the ‘terrorist’.
Gita: Verse 193 is no different from what Krishan taught Arjun. How is this any different from Lord Krishna telling Arjun in the Bhagavad Gita to fight as his dharmic duty?
BG 2.33: “अथ चैत्त्वमिमं धर्म्यं संग्रामं न करिष्यसि। ततः स्वधर्मं कीर्तिं च हित्वा पापमवाप्स्यसि। (O Arjuna! If you do not fight for this religion and turn away from your religion, then you will lose your fame and glory).” Surely, Hindus will know the context.
Bible: Deuteronomy 20:1-4: “When you go out to war against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and an army larger than your own, you shall not be afraid of them, for the Lord your God is with you, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. And when you draw near to the battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the people and shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory’.”
Torah: Do Torah’s verses also speak of genocide and pillage?
Numbers 31:1-10 say: The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Avenge the Israelite people on the Midianites; then you shall be gathered to your kin.” Moses spoke to the people, saying, and “Let men be picked out from among you for a campaign, and let them fall upon Midian to wreak the LORD’s vengeance on Midian. You shall dispatch on the campaign a thousand from every one of the tribes of Israel.” … “The Israelites took the women and children of the Midianites captive, and seized as booty all their beasts, all their herds, and all their wealth. And they destroyed by fire all the towns in which they were settled, and their encampments.”
Hindu holy and unholy wars
The Ramayanas and the Mahabharata wars elucidate various types of yuddha (wars). In ancient India there were three schools of war. Bhishma’s school of warfare belonged to dharma yuddha (ethical or just war). Two other schools, Brihaspati and Krishna’s school of warfare belonged to koota yuddha (all-out war) or maya yuddha (war by tricks or stratagems). There is too much of negative publicity about Islamic jihad (struggle). But, there is little limelight on koota yuddha in India’s history. Koota yuddha signifies all-out, no-holds-barred or unethical warfare.
Bhishma stressed chivalry and ruled out surprise and deception. But Brihaspati recommended that the king should attack an enemy only if the enemy’s strength is one-third of his own (`Udyog Parva’). He suggested that the king should never trust the enemy or spare him, no matter how old or virtuous he may be.
The world is unconscious about the undercurrents of Hindu jihad in Indian politics. It is manifest from lynching minorities and legislativive steps to gag voice of minorities struggling for rights. Some political parties are exploiting Hindutva concept to hoodwink masses and win elections. Political gains are uppermost in BJP’s mind. It has agreed to withdraw controversial farm laws but will never withdraw anti-Muslim Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizenship.
Pulling back from the brink
The family of nations is balancing on the edge of an abyss as mushrooming religious and ethnic intolerance becomes the norm.
Western as well as non-Western societies have helped paved the road towards the abyss: the West by abandoning the post-World War Two principle of ‘Never Again’ and the non-Western world by never embracing it and failing to adopt the principle of ‘forgive but don’t forget.’
Exasperating matters is the fact that the United States and Europe look at individual crises rather than a threatening pattern of developments. In doing so, they fail to recognise the structural problems that challenge Western values of democracy, tolerance, and pluralism.
Citing a litany of crises and tensions in Central and Eastern Europe, Balkan scholar Damir Marusic warns that “the whole edifice feels rickety. It feels like the order we have all taken for granted since the end of the Cold War is badly decaying, and has gotten so fragile that it might well shatter soon… We notice individual problems, but we don’t see how it adds up, nor how we got here… We are still, in some strange way, operating as if things are more or less fine—yes, adjustments must be made, but our world is durable and sound.”
Mr. Marusic argues that the rot in the system has been exasperated by the troubled US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 Al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington. “As the final collapse of the Afghanistan project earlier this year proved, the whole optimistic premise of nation- and order-building upon which the EU project is ultimately premised was also undermined by America’s failures,” Mr. Marusic said.
Geopolitical battles are being fought on the backs of innocent and desperate people. They fuel tensions and threaten stability in Central and Eastern Europe and spark humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen and Afghanistan. An ethnic and religious divide characterises the tens of thousands of Middle Eastern migrants ferried by Belarus with Russian support to the Polish border. Ten British soldiers have been dispatched to the border to help Poland with fencing.
The exploitation of deep-seated religious and ethnic hostility drove Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik to threaten to withdraw Serb troops from the army of Bosnia Herzegovina and create a separate Serb force. Bosnia Herzegovina was created as a federation at the end of the Bosnian war in the 1990s with Muslim, Serb and Croatian entities that enjoyed autonomy. The federation retained control of the military, top echelons of the judiciary, and tax collection. Mr. Dodik has said that the Bosnian Serb parliament would also, in what would amount to de facto secession, establish a separate Serb judiciary, and tax administration.
The writing is on the wall across the globe from the United States and Europe to Afghanistan and China.
Islamophobia and anti-Semitism have become mainstream. Hindu-Muslims tensions spill across South Asian borders. Sunni Muslims persecute their Shiite brethren in Afghanistan, risking clashes between the Taliban and Iran. The Christian minority in the cradle of Abrahamic faiths has been decimated.
Men like former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Republican Jews in the United States have joined thinly veiled anti-Semitic attacks on liberal philanthropist and Holocaust survivor George Soros rather than insulate their political and ideological differences with the billionaire from assaults laced with undertones of religious prejudice and racism.
Similarly, French presidential contender Eric Zemmour questions the innocence of Alfred Dreyfus, the Jewish army officer whose false conviction for treason sparked bitter controversy in the walk-up to World War One. Mr. Zemmour also rejects the notion that French collaborationist wartime leader Philippe Petain assisted in the deportation of Jews to Nazi death camps, asserting instead that Mr. Petain had saved Jews.
Finally, China has launched a frontal assault on Turkic ethnic and religious identity in the north-western province of Xinjiang that has gone largely unchallenged in the Muslim world.
At the core of the problem lie not social media that function as megaphones, aggregators and creators of echo chambers and silos rather than instigators but political, religious, ethnic, and cultural leaders who play on base instincts in pursuit of popularity and power.
Lebanon, Iraq and potentially Afghanistan are fallouts of the institutionalisation and instrumentalisation of religious and ethnic prejudice and intolerance at the expense of notions of mutual respect, adherence to human dignity and coexistence.
Sectarian warlords loot the Lebanese and Iraqi states and weaken their institutions. Recent violence in Beirut suggests that protagonists, including former Christian warlords and Shiite allies of Iran, are willing to risk a second round of civil war to secure their vested interests, sending a middle-income country spiralling into widespread poverty.
Long-term, the solution is education systems that stress the importance of humanitarian and moral values as well as religious and ethnic tolerance as the guardrails of governance and politics and ensure that ethnic and religious prejudice and racism are socially taboo attitudes.
The short-term tackling of the problem will have to involve dialogue and negotiation. A recent study showed that John F. Kennedy’s decision to seek an arms control treaty rather than escalate a debilitating and risky arms race after the Soviet Union detonated the world’s most powerful nuclear weapon in 1962 succeeded where accelerated conflict may not have.
Applied to religious and ethnic intolerance, lessons learnt from Mr. Kennedy’s approach require that governments and religious and ethnic groups that pay lip service to interfaith and other forms of dialogue or assert that they promote democratic and humanitarian values are held to account rather than be allowed to rest on their laurels with hollow promises and declarations.
This year’s chairmanship by Indonesia of the Group of 20 (G20) that brings together the world’s largest economies has an opportunity to stress humanitarian and democratic values and promote a framework for dialogue. The chairmanship puts Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim civil society organisation that emphasises those values, on global public display given that it is poised to play a role in the G20’s inter-faith tack.
Jon Grinspan, a curator of political history at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, argued in a New York Times op-ed entitled ‘The Last Time America Broke,’ that the United States, despite deep-seated polarisation that has brought religious and ethnic intolerance to the forefront, had not passed the point of no return. He noted that civil society had repeatedly brought America back from the brink.
“We’re not just helplessly hurtling toward inevitable civil war; we can be actors in this story. The first step is acknowledging the dangers inherent in democracy. To move forward, we should look backwards and see that we’re struggling not with a collapse but with a relapse,” Mr. Grinspan wrote.
It’s a message that is as true for the rest of the world as it is for the United States.
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