Murder in India

By Pankaj Mishra


In January this year, I was in Ayodhya, the north Indian pilgrimage town where in December 1992 an uncontrollable crowd of Hindus demolished a sixteenth-century mosque that they claimed was built by the Moghul emperor Babar over the birthplace of the Hindu god Rama. I went to see Ramchandra Paramhans, the ninety-year-old abbot who heads both a militant sect of sadhus (Hindu mendicants) and the cash-rich trust that is in charge of building a Rama temple over the site of the demolished mosque. I found him tending his cows near the site. Born in the neighboring poverty-blighted state of Bihar, Paramhans has done rather well for himself in Ayodhya, where the richest people are Hindu abbots. With his dense white beard and matted locks, he came across as the irascible ascetic of Hindu legend, with apparently much to be angry about. The Hindu nationalists he thought he had helped elect to power in New Delhi hadn't done enough to meet their promise of constructing the temple, even if they hadn't stopped it from being prefabricated in a vast workshop not far from the site of the mosque.


That same morning, Paramhans told me, he had scolded L.K. Advani, the present home minister and one of the senior leaders of the ruling party, the BJP, who had witnessed the demolition in 1992. When I mentioned the constraints on Advani—the Supreme Court's ban on construction, Muslim opposition—Paramhans became angry. "There are only two places Muslims can go to," he shouted, echoing a popular Hindu nationalist slogan of the Eighties and early Nineties, "Pakistan or Kabristan [graveyard]."


Paramhans was expecting up to a million kar sevaks (Hindu activists) to visit Ayodhya in the days leading up to March 15, when he planned to shift the prefab gateway and pillars of the Rama temple to the site of the demolished mosque. His resolve appeared to be shared by some Hindu leaders I met at the large exposed field close to the temple workshop, where tents were being set up to host the tens of thousands of activists expected to visit Ayodhya during the next few weeks.


Thousands of Hindu activists from across India traveled to Ayodhya during the first few weeks of February. Many of them were from the prosperous western state of Gujarat, whose entrepreneurial Hindus, often found living in Europe and the United States, have been forming a loyal constituency of the Hindu nationalists since the 1980s. On February 27, some of these activists were returning on a train from Ayodhya when a crowd of Muslims attacked and set fire to one of the cars just outside the town of Godhra in Gujarat.

Gujarat has known several severe anti-Muslim riots in the last decade and a half. But Godhra, whose impoverished population is evenly divided between Muslims and Hindus, has an even longer history of organized crime and violence. Many of the local Hindus came over from Pakistan as refugees during the brutal partition of India in 1947. The Muslims, many of whom live in ghettos around the railway tracks, are known for their aggressiveness: in a riot in 1980 they burned alive five Hindus.


But it is still not clear whether the February attack on Hindu activists was planned. The Hindu nationalist government accused Pakistan of provoking the attack, but has produced little evidence of this. According to the recent Human Rights Watch report, 'We Have No Orders to Save You,' local police investigations have concluded that it was more likely the result of "a sudden provocative incident." Articles published in a few north Indian Hindi newspapers a few days before the attack had referred to the provocative behavior of the Hindu activists traveling on trains to Ayodhya: at unscheduled stops outside railway stations, they had allegedly abused, even attacked, Muslims living in the slums close to the tracks, and in turn had been stoned.


On the morning of February 27, Hindu activists at the railway station reportedly refused to pay a Muslim vendor for the tea they had drunk until he said "Jai Shri Ram" ("Hail Lord Ram"). A fight erupted between Muslim vendors and Hindu activists. In the confusion, Hindu activists were said to have tried to kidnap a Muslim girl and take her into their carriage.[1] Three minutes after the train pulled out of Godhra, a crowd of Muslim men, women, and children stopped it, and started stoning the car carrying the Hindu activists. The activists retaliated, but then retreated into their carriages and locked the doors when the number of Muslims outside grew quickly. The Muslims then reportedly set fire to the car using rags soaked with gasoline taken from the Muslim-owned auto-repair shops and garages near the railway station. Fifty-eight Hindus, many of them women and children, were burned alive.[2] Murderous crowds of Hindu nationalists seeking to avenge the attack in Godhra rampaged across Gujarat for the next few weeks. According to the Human Rights Watch report, which mostly covers the massacres of Muslims in the capital city of Ahmedabad,

Between February 28 and March 2 the attackers descended with militia-like precision on Ahmedabad by the thousands, arriving in trucks and clad in saffron scarves and khaki shorts, the signature uniform of Hindu nationalist—Hindutva—groups. Chanting slogans of incitement to kill, they came armed with swords, trishuls (three-pronged spears associated with Hindu mythology), sophisticated explosives, and gas cylinders. They were guided by computer printouts listing the addresses of Muslim families and their properties, information [they] obtained from the Ahmedabad municipal corporation among other sources, and embarked on a murderous rampage confident that the police [were] with them. In many cases, the police led the charge, using gunfire to kill Muslims who got in the mobs' way. A key BJP state minister is reported to have taken over police control rooms in Ahmedabad on the first day of the carnage, issuing orders to disregard pleas for assistance from Muslims. Portions of the Gujarati- language press meanwhile printed fabricated stories and statements openly calling on Hindus to avenge the Godhra attacks.

As I write, organized violence of the kind the HRW report describes seems to have ended in Gujarat, although stray killings still go on. The Indian government has acknowledged that more than 850 people, mostly Muslims, have died; other reports, including those of British diplomats, put the number of the dead at around two thousand. About 230 mosques and shrines, including a four-hundred-year-old mosque, have been razed; some of them have been replaced with Hindu temples. Close to 100,000 Muslims are in relief camps. The HRW report also describes how retaliatory attacks by Muslim mobs across Gujarat have left 10,000 Hindus homeless.

The scale of the anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat, which the HRW report alleges was "planned well in advance of the Godhra incident," seems to be matched by its brutality. According to the HRW report,

The bodies have been buried in mass gravesites throughout Ahmedabad. Gravediggers testified that most bodies that had arrived —many were still missing—were burned and butchered beyond recognition. Many were missing body parts—arms, legs, and even heads. The elderly and the handicapped were not spared. In some cases, pregnant women had their bellies cut open and their fetuses pulled out and hacked or burned before the women were killed.

The killings were mostly confined to Gujarat. In north and central India, there had been lately little anti-Muslim rioting of the kind the nationalist politicians organized in the early Nineties in order to unify a hopelessly fragmented Hindu electorate against a common Muslim enemy. But while south India, where relatively few Muslims live and where the Hindu nationalists have limited support, has been largely peaceful, Hindu–Muslim relations have remained tense in north and central India, where the Hindu nationalists have most of their urban upper-caste voters.


Human Rights Watch has followed reports by Indian human rights organizations in calling attention to "state sponsorship of the attacks" as well as the Gujarat government's later attempt to protect Hindu nationalist leaders accused of murder and arson. According to the report, police officials in Gujarat have often omitted the names of senior leaders involved in the attacks from reports filed by Muslim victims. The state government has transferred police officials who have tried to prevent attacks on Muslims or confronted the attackers. It has detained and arrested Muslims across the state on false charges. In recent weeks, the government has arrested some local BJP workers accused of rape, murder, and arson, but has not moved against the more prominent Hindu nationalists charged with committing similar crimes.


The chief minister of Gujarat, a young, up-and-coming leader of the Hindu nationalists called Narendra Modi, quoted Isaac Newton to explain the killings of Muslims: "Every action," he said, "has an equal and opposite reaction." The Indian prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, who visited the site of the massacres a whole month after they began, expressed shame and lamented that India's image had been spoiled. "What face will I now show to the world?" he said, referring to his forthcoming trip to Singapore. Later, at a BJP meeting, he rejected the demands from the opposition and the press that Modi be sacked and proposed early elections in Gujarat. They are likely to be held soon and the BJP is expected to retain power.


In a public speech, Vajpayee seemed to blame Muslims. "Wherever they are," he said, "they don't want to live in peace." "We have allowed them," he added, referring to Muslims and Christians, "to do their prayers and follow their religion. No one should teach us about secularism." A resolution passed by the RSS, or National Volunteers Organization, whose mission is to create a Hindu state, described the retaliatory killings as "spontaneous": "The entire Hindu society had reacted.... Muslims understand," the RSS said, "that their real safety lies in the goodwill of the majority." Both the Indian prime minister and his most senior colleague, L.K. Advani, are members of the RSS, which was involved in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948.


When the ancient Persians and Arabs first used the word "Hindu" to refer to the then obscure people living beyond the river Indus (Sindhu in Sanskrit), they probably did not realize that their convenient shorthand would still be around centuries later. Much is known about the diverse castes, religious sects, folk and elite cultures, philosophical traditions, and languages that exist, or have existed, on the Indian subcontinent. But India remains for most people outside it a country of "Hindus." It even seems cohesive enough to represent "Hindu civilization" in Samuel Huntington's millenarian vision of a "clash of civilizations."


The description, which is not unwelcome to the Hindu nationalists who often despair at the lack of unity among Indians, suppresses not only the diversity of what is called "Hinduism"—a category invented by the British in the nineteenth century—but also the presence among the one billion peoples of India of over 130 million Muslims, the third-largest Muslim population in the world. It also denies history: that Muslims from Persia and Central Asia and their descendants ruled a variety of Indian states for much of the last eight centuries, and that India once was, as part of the Moghul Empire in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the cultural center of the Islamic world.


"Were the arguments of those who advocated the partition of India right? Were they right to realize that Muslims will have to live in India as subjects of Hindus? That they cannot enjoy equal rights? These questions entered my life a bit too early."


This is the beginning of an anguished confession and polemic that appeared in a collection of essays about Indian Muslims, published soon after the demolition of the Babri mosque in December 1992.[3] The author, Suhail Waheed, who writes for Urdu and Hindi newspapers in north India, offers an experience that is seldom found in India's English-language media, which is dominated by the concerns of middle-class upper-caste Hindus. As a young Muslim in a small town, Waheed saw himself as entering the secular world of new India, where he would be free to remake himself. But, as he describes it, he was always reminded of the fact that he was once born a Muslim in India. As a minor government official, he invited the hostility of a pro-BJP newspaper editor and was summarily reprimanded by his superior; when he asked what he had done, he was reprimanded once again. He eventually resigned after his Hindu bosses made him stay at work during official holidays for the Hindu festival Diwali. As a journalist on a Hindi newspaper he was confined to reporting on "Muslim issues," which enabled him to observe how anti-Muslim violence in north India made even affluent Muslims seek shelter in ghettos.


Waheed's essay seemed slightly overwrought when I first read it, and it took me some time to realize that it was describing the lower-middle-class world of stereotype and prejudice that I myself had known in my childhood in the small towns of north and central India during the late Seventies and Eighties. I experienced this world from the very different perspective of an upper-caste Hindu, who feared and distrusted both Muslims and low-caste Hindus, an attitude I was reminded of early this year when an old friend in Benares casually pointed out a distant relative of his, a retired police officer, who liked to boast of how he had himself shot dead fourteen Muslims during a riot in the city of Meerut. I remembered then how Hindu police officers charged by the English-language press or human rights groups with committing atrocities against Muslims often became heroes among upper-caste Hindus.


Waheed blames the BJP for creating much of the recent anti-Muslim hatred among upper-caste Hindus during the Eighties, particularly its dissemination of propaganda that accuses successive Indian governments of appeasing Muslims by allowing a special status to Kashmir in the Indian constitution and allowing Muslims to follow Sharia-based laws in matters of divorce and inheritance. This seems true to some extent. The Human Rights Watch report on Gujarat quotes from a much less subtle Hindu nationalist pamphlet which accuses Muslims of "destroying Hindu Community by slaughter houses, slaughtering cows and making Hindu girls elope" and asserts that "crime, drugs, terrorism are Muslims' empire."

Writing in 1993, Waheed couldn't have anticipated how Pakistan's support of the anti-India insurgency in Kashmir would help the rise of anti-Muslim sentiments among upper-caste Hindus. Nor does he explain the relatively recent roots of Hindu–Muslim antagonism, or why what strikes anyone examining South Asia before the nineteenth century—before the arrival of the British and the rise of modern nationalist ideologies—is the relative absence of Hindu–Muslim violence.

Such large-scale persecutions of religious minorities as took place in Europe in the Middle Ages were unknown in the Muslim-ruled empires and kingdoms of India, many of which—Akbar's Moghul Empire, Bijapur under the Adil Shahi dynasty, Zainal Abidin's Kashmir—offer, even in a more democratic age, models of an innovative multiculturalism. Many of the Muslims who invaded or ruled India then were zealots, but the majority of Indians did not convert to Islam, a significant fact not much discussed by the self-serving if influential early British historians of India, such as James Mill, the father of John Stuart Mill, who presented Hindus as backward and apathetic, Muslims as tyrants and fanatics, and British colonialists as preparing India's way to a high stage of civilization. In fact, over five centuries Islam in India gradually lost its Arabian and Persian identity; it mingled with folk traditions and became another Indian faith. The influences from Persia and Central Asia now coexist with indigenous traditions in the distinctive languages, styles of dress, music, and cuisines of South Asia.

The Hindu nationalists of today follow nineteenth-century British historians in describing Muslim rulers as alien violators of national honor. Their icons are such militant leaders as Shivaji, who in the seventeenth century led an allegedly "Hindu revolt" in western India against one of the most intolerant Muslim rulers in India, the Moghul emperor Aurangzeb. But they tend to ignore how the rewards of conquest and plunder, rather than anti-Muslim zeal, mostly inspired Shivaji, who was ruthless toward his Hindu opponents, and was often eager to strike mutually convenient deals with Aurangzeb as well as with Muslim rulers in south India who were then fighting to remain independent of the Moghul Empire.


The Hindu nationalist account of "Muslim fanaticism" suffers from a similar lack of historical context. Aurangzeb's relatively harsh attitude toward his non-Muslim subjects grew out of his attempt to reverse the—for their time—audaciously secular policies instituted by his great-grandfather, Akbar. Akbar's policies were embraced by Aurangzeb's brother and the Mo-ghul heir apparent, Dara Shikoh, who inclined toward mysticism and translated the Bhagavad-Gita and the Upanishads into Persian. But Aurangzeb, along with other insecure Muslim practitioners of realpolitik, saw these policies as undermining minority Muslim control of the Moghul Empire (Aurang-zeb later executed Dara Shikoh after winning the battle of succession). The broad vision of the clash of religions also ignores the many complex, practical ways in which even the most devout Muslim rulers had to accommodate the religious sentiments of the vast majority of their subjects. In Ayodhya, a pilgrimage center the Hindu nationalists present as eternally Hindu, many of the temples and sects devoted to Rama were originally sponsored by the Shia Muslims who in the early eighteenth century had begun to rule Awadh, the region that is now part of Uttar Pradesh.


In any case, to speak as BJP ideologues do of a glorious Hindu nation defiled by Muslims is to retrospectively create a nation and an awareness of nationality at a time when there were, and could have been, no such things. And perhaps it's wrong even to use the words "Hindus" and "Muslims" to describe the Indians of the medieval era, and burden them with collective identities that emerged only in our own time. For a majority of the peoples living in South Asia then defined themselves not through such large and politically expedient categories as "Hindus" and "Muslims" but through their overlapping allegiances to family, caste, linguistic group, region, and religious sect.


The nineteenth century changed everything in South Asia, as it did in Europe. Western-style education under the auspices of British colonialism created a middle-class intelligentsia in India for the first time in its history. This elite of educated upper-caste Hindus eventually found popular support for itself among India's destitute masses through Mahatma Gandhi, and they fought the British for the right to rule India. This intelligentsia was also the first to embrace the modern idea of nationalism: the idea, essentially, of a community that claims to possess a common history, culture, and values, that defines itself as a nation and aspires to form a state.

Imported from Europe, this idea struck many other colonized peoples as a way of duplicating the success of powerful, all-conquering Western nations. But it wasn't just an intellectual fad for Westernizing Indians: imagining a nation seemed a requisite for the anti-colonial struggle. The British had imposed political unity upon India and created a state with administrative structures. But politically ambitious Hindus found little in the anarchic diversity of India's population that resembled a nation—a respectably large and cohesive community that they could claim to represent and lead against the British. For many leading Hindu intellectuals and leaders, the answer lay in reforming Hinduism. This meant cleansing Hinduism of its polytheistic excess of gods and practices, taming it into a monotheistic faith like Islam and Christianity, with one god (Rama or Krishna) and one book (usually, the Bhagavad-Gita), and then organizing it into a political force —a project that remains unfinished and therefore relevant to the Hindu nationalists of today, making them seem less an extreme aberration than a part of the mainstream of modern Indian nationalism.

As it turned out, many of the members of the much smaller Muslim intelligentsia in the early twentieth century saw little place for themselves in the nation advocated by a Hindu elite which demanded total loyalty from Muslims even as it tried to unify Hindus by pointing to the dangers of Muslim "fanaticism." The poet and philosopher Mohammed Iqbal was among the Muslim intellectuals who began to think of Indian Muslims as constituting a nation distinct and separate from the Hindus. Such classic British colonialist strategies of divide and rule as the partition of Bengal along religious lines in 1905 and the decision to have separate elections for Muslims further reinforced the sense among many upwardly mobile Hindus and Muslims that they belonged to irreconcilable religious communities. The modern sense of nationhood came to many Indians as the consciousness of being Hindus and Muslims, members of large communities defined exclusively by religion.[4]


The Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore was among the few Indians who thought that Western-style nationalism was dangerously ill-suited to India; he warned Gandhi in the early 1920s that even the latter's nonviolent nationalist politics were going to divide Hindus and Muslims. It is also true that Gandhi and Nehru worked hard to attract low-caste Hindus and Muslims in order to give a wider legitimacy to the political movement for self-rule which intensified in the early twentieth century under the leadership of the Congress Party. Nehru, a self-confessed agnostic, was impatient with divisions based on religion, which he called "communalism." He saw economic development on socialist lines as the need of the hour, which he hoped would diminish the political appeal of religion and turn all Hindus and Muslims into equal citizens of a secular and democratic nation-state.

But both Gandhi and Nehru failed eventually to allay the suspicions of the leaders of the Muslim League, such as Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who saw, not entirely unjustly, the all-inclusive nationalism and high-minded secularism of the Congress as consisting merely of slogans that concealed the ambition of an upper-caste Hindu elite to wholly supplant the British.


The Muslim League feared that Indian Muslims would be reduced to a perpetually powerless minority in an India ruled by the Hindu-dominated Congress. Muslim leaders wished for more autonomy for the Muslim-majority provinces in the east and the west, which they hoped would also guarantee the rights of the Muslims living in Hindu-majority provinces. But the leaders of the Congress were unwilling to weaken the centralized power of the colonial state that they saw as their great inheritance from the British. They opposed creating two separate states just as strongly. Hindu–Muslim relations deteriorated fast across India as Muslim leaders became more aggressive. As the British grew increasingly keen to leave India and abandon the mess they had helped to create, the Congress finally chose to partition off the Muslim-majority provinces. This gave the Congress a smaller India, but one with a bigger Hindu majority and a strong center, and left Muslim leaders with what Jinnah during previous negotiations with the Congress had denounced as a "maimed, mutilated, and moth-eaten Pakistan."


The violent uprooting of millions of Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims across hastily drawn artificial borders only hardened sectarian feelings. The existence of a hostile Muslim-majority state next door made even more untenable the position of the mostly poor Muslims who chose, for sentimental or practical reasons, to remain in India. Politically, they are significant only during elections, when they form a solid "vote bank" for Hindu politicians promising to protect them against discrimination and violence. They lack effective leaders, despite, or perhaps because of, the token, and now diminishing, presence of Muslims at the highest levels of the government—their position is unlikely to be improved much by A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the vegetarian Muslim missile scientist who fervently supports India's nuclear buildup, and who has been chosen recently by Hindu nationalists to be the next president of India. The language a majority of Muslims still use—Urdu, which is barely distinguishable from spoken Hindi—fell into decline as right-wing Hindu politicians intensified their attempts after independence to impose a Sanskrit-laden Hindi as the official language of India. Muslim representation in government jobs has steadily declined—it now stands at less than 2 percent.


Writing with his usual bluntness in 1966, the Anglo-Bengali scholar and polemicist Nirad Chaudhuri claimed to notice a "certain demure reserve" among the Muslims whom he thought were previously obstreperous. "It clearly shows," he wrote, "that they know their place in an India ruled by the Hindus." He described the Hindu attitude toward Indian Muslims as a "mixture of indifference, tinged with contempt and an absurd fear." Chaudhuri thought that the fear became "much less pronounced" once riots in north India demonstrated "the ease with which the Muslims could be slaughtered."[5]


Anti-Muslim feeling doesn't seem confined any more to upper-caste Hindus in straitened small-town circumstances, or to the perennially volatile slum dwellers, Hindu as well as Muslim, who often appeared to be both the aggressors and victims of Hindu–Muslim riots; and poverty and ignorance no longer adequately explain religious fanaticism in India. What's disturbing, and unique, about the recent killings in Gujarat is not so much the complicity of the Indian state in violence against minorities as the involvement of large numbers of educated, affluent Hindus.


The recent images of Hindu nationalist leaders in jeans, T-shirts, and Nikes leading mobs of low-caste Dalits, or of middle-class Hindus carting off in their Japanese cars the DVD players they had looted from Muslim-owned shops, speak of the immense changes that have occurred in India since its economy was liberalized in the early Nineties, particularly in Gujarat, the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi and the setting of his earliest political battles, which is now referred to as the "laboratory" of Hindu nationalisms. Much of the new wealth produced by a freer market in Gujarat is distributed narrowly along caste lines, which has further sharpened the divide between an acquisitive middle class and a frustrated underclass of mostly low-caste Hindus and Muslims. The BJP has also managed to attract many tribals and Dalits, primarily through a hate campaign against Muslim and Christian minorities.[6]


BJP leaders in Delhi have refused to sack the chief minister of Gujarat, even though he seems unwilling to arrest the more prominent Hindu nationalist perpetrators of the recent violence, or to compensate adequately the tens of thousands of Muslims in refugee camps. This suggests they are not much deterred by the very real possibility of a militant backlash from Indian Muslims—the kind of terrorist attacks that young Sikh separatists mounted in north India through the late Eighties and early Nineties, after Hindu mobs killed more than five thousand Sikhs following the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984. While they may hope to further the cause of Hindu unity in a civil war–like situation, for the moment the Hindu nationalists find it safer to channel their anti-Muslim passions into anti-Pakistan rhetoric. Hindu nationalist members of the Indian government called for a final showdown with Pakistan soon after India conducted nuclear tests in 1998. But the government's recent threat to attack Pakistan was a much more shrewdly timed and successful strategy. Its public rhetoric, articulated best by the hard-line Hindu nationalist L.K. Advani, who was recently made deputy prime minister of India, has been in line with the doctrine underpinning the current "war on terrorism": that nations or governments that encourage or harbor terrorists expose themselves to violent retaliation.


By accusing Pakistan of being the prime sponsor of terrorists in Kashmir, the government hoped to expose the contradictions in General Musharraf's current standing as America's trusted ally in the "war on terrorism." The government is likely to have anticipated that war in South Asia would appear to the US government as endangering its so far only partially successful hunt for al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Hindu nationalists, who are frustrated by their failure to build a Rama temple in Ayodhya, also hope that aggressive posturing against Pakistan would help the BJP overcome its losses in state elections earlier this year, and revitalize itself in time for the national elections in 2004.

General Musharraf's recent efforts to prevent the infiltration of militants into Kashmir may be good news not only for Hindu nationalists, but also for Kashmiri Muslims, most of whom have traditionally followed a heterodox Sufi version of Islam, and have grown to dislike the fanatical Pakistan-based militant groups that have targeted civilians, tried to impose restrictions of dress and movement on women, and often assassinated Kashmiris fighting for independence from both India and Pakistan. The Hindu nationalists may well be right to claim that it was Pakistan-based militants who attacked the Indian parliament in December, and killed thirty-four civilians at an army camp south of the Kashmir Valley in May. But peace won't automatically return to Kashmir if Musharraf manages to rein in these militants along with their sponsors in the Pakistani army and intelligence services.


More than 2,500 militants are reportedly already present in Kashmir. Local militants, who have always outnumbered the ones arriving from Pakistan, are unlikely to give up their struggle against Indian rule, which for them is largely and provocatively represented by the hundreds of thousands of Indian soldiers who have made the valley of Kashmir the most heavily militarized place in the world. The anti-India insurgency in Kashmir is likely to continue, despite diminished support from across the border. It is not clear how the Hindu nationalist government will respond. It plans to hold elections in Kashmir in October of this year. But, as with the previous election in 1996, the government may find it hard to persuade most Kashmiri Muslims to participate in them.


In mid-July the Hindu nationalist government again blamed "Pakistan-inspired" militants for the massacre of twenty-eight civilians in Jammu, the winter capital of Kashmir. But it chose not to renew its threat of attacking Pakistan, thereby acknowledging, it appeared, the diminishing usefulness of its recent "war diplomacy." However its saber rattling has already managed to partially drown out domestic and international criticism of its role in the killings in Gujarat. In any case, international disapproval of their actions will doubtless be only limited and fleeting. Unlike most Islamists, Hindu nationalists do not challenge the power of the West. In fact, they long for closer economic and military links with America and Europe, where many of them live, as India's best-known and most successful entrepreneurs.


It is revealing, if initially confusing, to see how their recent swift rise is partly due to the kind of globalization that creates wealth without ensuring what Amartya Sen has called "human development." A small but well-placed Hindu minority that experienced both prosperity and high political status in the last two decades has brought Hinduism closer to being organized into a modern nationalist ideology than at any other time since the nineteenth century. It will be even harder now to resurrect Nehru's hopes for expelling religion from politics and creating a secular Indian citizenry through more equitable economic development—the noble vision that seems mocked by the many Hindus who, recently enriched, and emboldened by political power, flaunt their new religious identity.


July 17, 2002


[1] See "Investigating Godhra," The Hindu, March 15, 2002, and "Godhra Revisited," The Hindu, April 15, 2002.

[2] A recent report prepared by the Forensic Science Library which forms part of the police indictment against sixty-two Muslims for the attack in Godhra seems to contradict earlier reports by suggesting that the fire was started from inside the train. (See The Hindu, July 4, 2002.)

[3] "Bharat mein Musalman hona" ("To Be a Muslim in India"), Bharatiya Musalman: Mithak aur Yathartha (Indian Muslims: Myth and Reality), edited by Rajkishore (New Delhi: Vani Prakashan, 1993), pp. 14–23. Translations from the Hindi are mine.

[4] Colonial rule created new religious, ethnic, and political identities everywhere in Asia and Africa. In Rwanda under Belgian rule, official policy was to encourage the sense of ethnic differences between the Hutus and Tutsis.

[5] See The Continent of Circe: Being an Essay on the Peoples of India (Oxford University Press, 1966), pp. 246–247.

[6] See "Politics by other Means: Attacks against Christians in India," a report by Human Rights Watch, Vol. 11, No. 6 (September 1999). Also see Ashis Nandy, Shikha Trivedy, Shail Mayaram, and Achyut Yagnik, Creating a Nationality: The Ramjanmabhumi Movement and Fear of the Self (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 101–123.

[Editor’s Note: All credits to the author and The New York Review of Books, where this article was first published in August of 20002. We also recommend that you read “On Kashmir” by Mahatma Gandhi located on this site.]