So there we have it at last – Hindu terrorists. In September 2008, three bombs attached to bicycles exploded in Malegaon, a small town in Nasik District, Maharashtra. At least 37 people died and over 125 were injured in what was clearly an attack on the Muslim community in the town – the bombs had detonated by a mosque just after Friday prayers. In a separate series of incidents in February 2009, in Bangalore, Mysore, Mangalore, and elsewhere, young women were attacked in public by the Shri Ram Sena or its equivalents. The charge? They were consorting with the opposite sex, consuming alcohol, inappropriately dressed (jeans, t-shirt), were outside the home for said purposes. In these two examples, we have proof of the ‘talibanisation’ of Hinduism. In the first example, Hindus lashed out against a non-Hindu religious group, and in the second example, “protectors” of Hindu culture turned on their own, threatening and inflicting physical punishment for what they deemed unacceptable behaviour.

Now let us compare and contrast this state of affairs with Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, or Saudi Arabia for that matter. In Afghanistan, women were kept at home, subject to acid attacks if they dared to not wear the burqa, and denied access to even schooling. In short, they were sex slaves for men, who traded them for political and other favours by giving them in marriage without regard to the age and personality of the suitor. In Saudi Arabia, a woman is not allowed to leave the house without her husband, father, or brother present (SOURCE: Jean Sasson’s Princess and Daughters of Arabia). Saudi Arabia ranks among the top nations where honour killings are prevalent, in the illustrious company of ‘Palestine’ and Pakistan. Female circumcision is not uncommon either. In the case of violent targeting of minority groups, or subjecting them to the laws of the dominant religion, we need not look elsewhere – the above-mentioned states implement draconian laws governing fasting, conversion, dress, consumables, and other things.

As far back as my memory serves me, these practices were seen as primitive and barbaric to say the least. However, in the last few months, they have risen in status that they are now worthy of being imported to Hinduism and India. At this point, it is fair to ask if anyone sees the difference between Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists and their Hindu brethren. In India, groups like the Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Shiv Sena, and others have repeatedly made a political issue out of religion and targeted Muslims, though to be fair, the Shiv Sena targets anyone who is not a Mumbaikar. Investigations into Malegaon threw up an entire array of unheard of names – Rashtriya Jagran Manch, Abhinav Bharat, and the Abhinav Bharat Sansthan. What is worse, these ragtag little wannabe terrorists were discovered to have had connections in the Indian Army, which supplied them with explosives. The rot, therefore, did not stop at a few bigots in a village but seeped all the way into the Army. The point of this is not to blame the Army but to take note of how pervasive these sentiments are nowadays in India and the powerful positions people with such bigoted views hold.

The argument is obvious – these criminals claim a tit-for-tat reciprocity that Muslim terrorists have also claimed against their targets in Israel, India, the United States, and Europe. Although I understand the anger that fuels such reaction – we all do…think about a place you hold to be holy being bombed – the problem with this response is that it always sinks to the lowest common denominator. If we sink to terrorism, then we are no better and it is at that point merely social Darwinism. Besides, given the huge numbers on both sides, if this behaviour is taken to its logical conclusion, the only end I can see is a genocide of epic proportions. And this goes against every civilizing instinct I have.

Looking at that other group, the voluntary army of protectors of Indian women’s virtues, the problem is not knowing what they stand for. They claim to stand for ‘Indian’ culture. Never mind that there was no such thing as India before 1947. Perhaps they stand for Hindu culture. In that case, did the brigands ask for religious identification before beating up random women? Because, by law, they cannot force all women to follow Hindu customs, for many may not be Hindu. Let that be for a minute. What is Hindu culture? Ask a Brahmin and ask a shudra and you will get two different answers. Or ask a Bengali and a Tamilian about dietary laws and we can say goodbye to another few hours lost in their debate. My point here is that we cannot even agree on what Hindu culture is – is it the same culture that built all the erotic temples all over the subcontinent and gave the world the sex manual? Of course, again, we are assuming Hindu culture remained static, never changing due to the influences of politics, philosophy, and other religions, even climate. Any study of the history of Hinduism and the six schools of thought that dominated it will easily show you how ridiculous a notion this is.

My arguments have been rational so far, not taking into account that these people are fundamentally irrational. What we need to recognize is that these people, whatever religion or other group they may belong to, are a cancer. It is only a truly secular society with a strong commitment to law that can survive this challenge of the times and remain civilized. Religion can have no place in politics, no matter the provocation – as the Chinese proverb says, it is hard to dismount a tiger. Right-wingers and conservatives can argue around economics, foreign policy, and other issues, but we should not in principle even hear out a candidate from a Party that wishes to harp on religious victimisation – those grievances must be settled by the law, and if not, there are mechanisms that will ensure redress. An impatient moment now and a vote for a religious bigot will mean endless trouble later. At first, things may go your way, but the wages of this shortcut are inevitably a society in which we are all cowering in the basement, fearful of hijackings, acid attacks, and bombs on trains.

In January 2009, even the Dalai Lama, a man given to peace to the point of not fomenting an armed revolution to save his own country, said that terrorism cannot be tackled by applying the principle of ahimsa because the minds of terrorists are closed. “It is difficult to deal with terrorism through non-violence,” the Tibetan spiritual leader said delivering the Madhavrao Scindia Memorial Lecture in Delhi. He termed terrorism as the worst kind of violence which is not carried by a few mad people but by those who are very brilliant and educated. “They (terrorists) are very brilliant and educated…but a strong ill feeling is bred in them. Their minds are closed,” the Dalai Lama said. He said the only way to tackle terrorism is through prevention. This prevention that can only be borne by an open and tolerant society, not moved by anger or hate but by law.

Of course, I can already feel the question being formed: What is the difference then between the violence of terrorism and the violence of anti-terrorism? Is it not merely a matter of perspective? The answer to that lies in a beautiful line from the Mahabharata: those prone to get drunk get drunk on knowledge, wealth, and good birth; but the same are triumphs of the strict.

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Jaideep A. Prabhu is a specialist in foreign and nuclear policy; he also pokes his nose in energy and defence related matters.

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