Written for Internationalopinion.com, July 8, 2003

Hours of Anti-India, Anti-Hindutva Rhetoric at "Indian" Muslim Meet

Yatindra Bhatnagar

It was a marathon session by any standard. Fifteen hours of lectures by over three dozen speakers, and a little poetry at the end, only meant that the first Annual Conference of Indian Muslim Council-USA succeeded in hardening the stand of Muslim groups against Hindu groups in the United States. That does not bode well for the country and the community, contrary to the stated aims of the IMC-USA: Defending India's Freedom, Democracy and Pluralism.

They even warned the United States and other countries that the "growing Hindu extremism" was far more dangerous than the so-called terrorism that America and the free world was fighting against. It was charged that India is turning over democracy to religious fanaticism.

In sum, the long-daylong conference helped not to soften the blows of communal rioting in Gujarat early last year, not to heal the wounds among both the Muslims and the Hindus. Instead, it looks certain that an ugly period of confrontation between the two communities has been started by a determined group of "Indian" Muslims that is resolved not to let Muslims forget the period when hundreds from their community were killed mercilessly by angered Hindus. But it also will not help Hindus forget the brutal burning of a train by a huge crowd of Muslims that saw 58 Hindu men, women and children perish in communal fire.

The voices that want Hindus to forget Godhra massacre would continue to be stifled with the roars reminding what happened after Godhra - a bigger riot that saw more Muslims killed and more ugly scenes.

The more disturbing aspect of the "Indian Muslim's" conference - with a generous sprinkling of Pakistanis - was that the whole event highlighted the sufferings of Muslims and leveling of charges against the governments of Gujarat, and also the center, at New Delhi. Nobody shed a tear on the brutal burning alive of Hindus on that train at Godhra. Nobody gave any credit to the Gujarat government that speedily sent for 90 companies of para-military forces the same day and asked for - and got - the help of military within 72 hours. This was a record quick period when the military was summoned to bring a very ugly situation under control.

Also nobody was prepared to accept that Godhra train-burning started all the angry and merciless reaction from the Hindus. The speakers kept on asserting that Hindus - and groups such as the VHP, RSS, Bajrang Dal, coupled with the state government's full support - had planned the massacre of Muslims and succeeded. They blamed chief minister Modi - and Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani - for "masterminding the state-sponsored genocide and pogrom of Muslims in Gujarat." They Compared RSS - the world's largest volunteer organization in India - with the violent terrorist organization Hamas in the Middle East. Some likened RSS to the infamous American racist body KKK of yesteryears.

Of course, it was something unique to see that the organizers of the conference were able to rope in people from many faiths and ideologies to share the same platform. They included Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Imams and priests too. They included known leftists, liberals, peace activists also. The only common thread that bound these seemed to be hatred for Hindu groups, BJP-led Gujarat government and BJP-led coalition government at the center. Many singled out Modi and Advani from among the elected leaders of the state of Gujarat and India. Not a single speaker even remotely suggested that Pakistani agents, hard-line Mullahs at the mosques, anti-social elements - and of course the spark of hatred at Godhra train-burning - also might have contributed to the tragedy.

A majority of the speakers, including India's Praful Bidwai, San Francisco-based Angana Chatterji, Human Rights Watch representative Smita Narula and Amnesty International's Govind Acharya, used the words "genocide and pogrom," against Muslims resorted to by Hindu groups. They alleged active connivance of Gujarat police, judiciary, bureaucracy, government and of course RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal etc - all Hindus in killings of Muslims - and even Christians. They did not mention that out of those killed were nearly 150 Hindus - killed by Muslims and Police bullets - and nearly 200 Policemen - mostly killed by the Muslim rioters.

They said Muslims are being marginalized, boycotted economically, socially and educationally, and are facing acute hardships, humiliation and harassment. There is no justice, security and hope for them. These complaints might be true but is that the whole truth?

Speaker after speaker mentioned that there is a deep conspiracy against the Muslims spearheaded by the Hindu groups to Hinduize India, drive out or kill all the minorities, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Dalits - the backward classes. They appealed to build a strong coalition of Muslims, Christians, Dalits, Sikhs, Buddhists, and all the other smaller minorities and fringe groups against this state-sponsored scheme of Hindu groups.

The conference wanted a strong movement against those Hindu conspirator groups such as RSS, HSS, VHP etc, to infiltrate and penetrate into various strata of American society and other forums. The speakers warned of dangerous consequences of not doing anything against it.

They charged that Hindu groups wanted to spread their campaign against Muslims - they called it the Gujarat experiment of killing Muslims - to other parts of India. They had to admit that communal riots did not spread to even the neighboring states but were not willing to give full credit to the efforts of others- mainly the Central Government - for prompt and preventive measures.

The conference also emphasized the need to build a viable, effective and robust coalition of minorities to fight the "menace of Hindu extremism" keeping in view the coming elections in India.

The IMC-USA is working to research the efforts of RSS, HSS, VHP and other Hindu groups to raise funds in the US for their programs in India. These groups have clearly explained that all the funds they raise are spent on humanitarian activities such as relief for earthquake, flood and other natural disaster victims, education, health and hygiene in backward and tribal areas, without discrimination. However, some of the speakers at the IMC-USA conference charged that the funds are sent to promote extremism and hatred against minorities. Naturally, no mention was made about funds collected and sent to India by Muslim governments and Muslims organizations that might be falling into wrong hands and used for conversion, subversion and disruption.

The day-long meet, starting with a modest gathering in the morning, was well organized, well publicized and saw a large audience of nearly 400 people at peak hours. There was a big photo exhibition of violent scenes of rioting and killing in Gujarat and a generous distribution of Islamic literature, and writings on the "Gujarat genocide of Muslims," as the organizers termed the tragedy. One could label some of the flyers as "provocative," but in a free country free expression of views is a normal part of life.

Dissent is also natural and the right to express it is accepted. However, in the IMC-USA conference dissenting voices were conspicuous by their absence. Probably the comments I made during a feedback that if "Godhra had not happened, larger Gujarat tragedy would not have occurred," and "Hindus should be allowed to forget about Godhra where 58 of their own people were mercilessly burnt alive," would help in averting what happened as a strong reaction, later, were the exception.

It was obvious that everything was blatantly one-sided. When I accosted one of the speakers, Satchit Balsari, about his ignoring the stories of, and interviews with, Hindu victims of Godhra, he admitted that he had not done so. He promised to keep my opinion/suggestion in view. That does not answer the charge that the whole meet was one sided.

I accosted Praful Bidwai also who had implied that all the alleged social and economic disasters in India are because of Hindutva and Hindu BJP-led governments. He first tried to evade, run away and ignore but, when squarely confronted, admitted that he did not blame BJP for all the ills, the Congress party was also guilty.

Later, I asked Smita Narula of Human Rights Watch why she had not included a single
Interview with a Hindu victim of Godhra train burning? She tried to sidestep the issue. She also admitted the lapse but said something she wanted off the record. I am not divulging the reason she gave for the oversight, but the excuse seems to be absolutely unconvincing.

Meets, such as these aimed at coalition of minorities against groups of the majority Hindus, only make the task of forgetting and forgiving more difficult. As I remarked to a Muslim lady, later, that now it seems you have succeeded in drawing out the dagger of hatred, it will only make the other side also come out with its own dagger drawn.

There was no attempt to spread the idea that Muslims- and other minority communities have to live with the overwhelmingly large number of Hindus in India and so it is much better, and wiser, not to spread further hatred against them. It's also futile to blame Hindus for the killings of Muslims as, one of a Muslim attendees himself opined, more Muslims are killed in the world by Muslims, than by others.

And that is indeed a stark naked - though sad - fact, not to be pushed under the carpet by organizers of the conferences and campaigns against Hindu groups.

Yatindra Bhatnagar, journalist-author-poet, has worked for print and broadcast media for more than five decades. He has written over 21 books on a wide variety of subjects. He has his website Internationalopinion.com for which he writes regularly.