Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Learn it from India

From Northeast to J&K, India’s military has respected religious sensitivities

Posted online: Tuesday, May 17, 2005 at 0000 hours IST

First the Pentagon energetically disputed it, now the magazine itself has issued an apology for the story that touched off a deadly storm across Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries. The Newsweek report in question had said that US military investigations had found that American interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had flushed a copy of the Koran down a toilet; the report had cited a confidential source within the US government. Hopefully, the terrible violence that has already taken a grim toll will now subside. But once sanity is restored, those who conduct the War on Terror in Washington, and those whose job it is to monitor the manner of its conduct, must ponder this: why did such a story sound immediately plausible to so many in the Muslim communities? The fact is that allegations have swirled around the cells in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay for a very long time now. These have routinely spoken of abusive techniques deployed by the interrogators which deliberately violate the religious sentiments of the detainees.

For many long years, India has been lectured on its human rights record from abroad. It has been told by those who brandish such statistics from influential world podiums that it is less of a democracy, or not much of a democracy at all, because of the illegitimate violence unleashed by agencies of the state. By and large, India has taken this criticism as a wake-up call. But the keepers of the statistics could do well to take a second look at India, in the context of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay: among the many atrocities that India’s military forces are rightly accused of, and those they have been wrongly accused of as well, it would be difficult to find instances of religious disrespect and humiliation of detainees’ faith. Indian forces have operated in many troubled settings bristling with ethnic and religious tensions. But from the Northeast to J&K, they have rarely been known to target and trample upon religious sensitivities.

There is something about the idea — and the practice — of India that disallows this. Over the five and more turbulent decades after it gained Independence, India has negotiated its many conflicts and problems within a broad framework of the acknowledgement of different faiths and identities. These negotiations are not given their due credit by those who have arrogated to themselves the power to categorise democracies and even by those who have made it a profession to feed upon these derived frameworks here in India. It’s time to admit that as a democracy that has held together in a multi-ethnic setting, India can teach the world.


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