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Attacks against Muslims do not represent Hinduism
By Kaleem Kawaja
Indian Hindu religious leader Shankaracharya said politicians in India were trying to use religion to further their own ends, using sectarian violence as a tool.
|Washington: Being the seat of the US Congress, the superior center of global power, the Capitol Hill is a remarkable place, where momentous decisions take shape. Yet, July 18, 2002, was a remarkable day there. On this day, for perhaps the first time, several Non Governmental Organizations of people of South-Asian countries, and expatriates from those countries assembled in the Cannon House Building on the Capitol Hill, to reflect on a variety of issues affecting the lives of 1.5 billion people in South Asia.
The occasion was a symposium on South Asia organized by the Washington DC based Policy Institute for Religion and State, supported by 18 different South-Asian organizations representing a variety of ethnic and religious groups. About 600 people, including several US senators & congressmen, their staffers, officials of the US State Department and other US Government agencies, officials from think-tanks, officials from embassies, professors from universities, assortment of South Asia experts, and a large number of Americans and South-Asians were in attendance.
The symposium was inaugurated by PD John, Executive Director, Policy Institute for Religion & State, and Congressman Joseph Pitts of Pennsylvania. It consisted of two sessions in the morning, two sessions in the afternoon, and a banquet-dinner in the evening. The four sessions were:
This session chaired by US Senator from Kansas, Sam Brownback, discussed the issue of nuclear weapons, the possibility of a nuclear showdown between India and Pakistan, the latest members of the mighty nuclear club. In his opening remarks, Senator Brownback drew everyone’s attention to the horror of a scenario where these two long time foes may get into a situation, where a hair-breadth’s mistake may cause a nuclear disaster in the over-populated subcontinent. Retired Indian Navy chief Admiral Ramu Ramdas and Brigadier Feroz Hassan Khan, Deputy Director, Strategic Plans Division, Pakistan army, provided sober and knowledgeable insight into the quagmire in the subdivision, vis-à-vis their newly acquired nuclear weapons, missiles and command infrastructure. Other speakers were: Jonathan Granoff of the Global Security Institute, Doglas Shaw of the Institute on Religion & Policy, and Dr Nayyar Ali, a Pakistani-American columnist.
RELIGION & POLITICS:
This session was chaired by Ms Nina Shea, member of the prestigious US Commission on International Religious Freedom. Being a current hot topic in the subcontinent, this session attracted a lot of attention. The session quickly came to life with the stirring appearance of Jadguru Shankracharya of Puri, head of one of the four top Hindu religious orders in India. The audience was surprised to see the 30 year old Shankracharya, a young, outspoken individual, with clear thinking. Clad in saffron robes, wooden sandals, a saffron staff in his hand, accompanied by his Sevak (attendant), and his interpreter (Pandit NK Sharma), the Shankracharya categorically condemned religion based violence in India. He emphasized that the politicians and rulers should not delve into religious matters, and should leave it to religious organizations to resolve them. The Shankracharya categorically condemned Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) for polluting Hinduism by fostering violence against the minority Muslims and Christians, in the name of serving Hinduism. He also condemned politicians who are using VHP to orchestrate violence against India’s Muslim minority, eg the demolition of Babri mosque in 1992, and the recent horrible carnage against the Muslims in Gujarat.
Dr Lise McKean, Deputy Director, Center for Impact Research, vehemently condemned VHP and India’s ruling Bharti Janata Party (BJP) for their gross reluctance to protect the helpless Muslim and Christian minorities from the violent attacks of fascist Hindu marauders, who belong to their sister organizations. Mr Bruce Robertson of the US Department of State and the Johns Hopkins University, found fault with the religion based violence in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The situation in India today, he said, is akin to the arrival of barbarians at the gates of the society.
This session was chaired by Ms Sharon Payt of the US Department of State. In her opening remarks Ms Payt decried the social & economic marginalizing of religious minorities in the Indian subcontinent. She singled out the poor condition of Muslims and Christians in India; the harassment of Christians and Ahmedis in Pakistan, and the Blasphemy laws in Pakistan, as glaring instances of injustice to the minorities.
John Dayal, prominent leader of the Christian community in India, in a forthright speech relating to the recent violence against Muslims in Gujarat, termed it a state-sponsored genocide. He stated that in the last 50 years about 13,000 sectarian riots have occurred in India.
Even though about 87 percent of victims in these riots are Muslims, about 90 percent of those arrested by police have been Muslims. Dayal said that the recent violence in Gujarat was designed to break the backbone of the Muslim community and to put them at the mercy of the Hindu community. He described how the European Community countries, the international press and the Indian press have clearly indicted the BJP government in Gujarat, and the Federal BJP government in New Delhi for this heinous violence.
Dr KP Singh described the gross injustice and brutality that the Dalit community is continuing to face since 1947, and the total indifference of the upper-caste-Hindu ruling parties to this situation. Mrs Jayanthi Jayaseelan, a prominent social worker in South India, described the awful exploitation of women and children. She stated that a large number of women from the poor segments of society are exploited in the burgeoning sex trade in India as prostitutes. Also a large number of children from poor backgrounds are exploited as bonded laborers in many industries.
US-SOUTH ASIA TRADE:
This session chaired by Congressman Sherrod Brown of Ohio, founder of the India Caucus in the US Congress, discussed the rapidly growing trade between US and the countries of the subcontinent, especially India. Dr Gautam Adhikari of the Washington based Endowment for Democracy, concluded that liberalized economic ties between India and Pakistan are unlikely to develop unless military rule in Pakistan is replaced by an elected democratic government.
Dr Abdul Rahman Nakadar, Secretary General of the American Federation of Muslims from India (AFMI) stated that despite the tremendous economic growth in India, and the US-India trade in the last few years, inefficiency and corruption remain at very high levels. He also stated that the organized violence against minority Muslim and Christian communities continued to scar India’s economic well-being.
Dr Asutosh Vrshney of the University of Michigan, Lansing, disagreeing with Dr Nakadar stated that the recent Gujarat violence was essentially an urban phenomenon, confined to 2 cities and 12 villages. He also stated that the financial loss to the Muslims is not as large as it is being made out by the press. Furthermore, he stated that the effect of the violence in Gujarat and the economic losses of the Gujarati Muslims, are only a short term loss for the state of Gujarat, with little impact on the economic infrastructure of India as a whole. He emphasized that the Gujarat violence will not have any effect on foreign investment either in Gujarat or in India at large. However, he acknowledged that if another violence of this scale occurs in Gujarat, it is likely that "sucide bomber politics" may become a phenomenon there.
The banquet in the evening attended by about 200 people was an elegant affair. Jonathan Granoff, President of the Global Security Institute delivered a keynote speech brimming with hope and optimism that the problems in South Asia will soon be a thing of the past. The Policy Institute for Religion & State gave 3 special awards and 7 community service awards. Special awards were given to: Jadguru Shankracharya of Puri for working to make India a tolerant and pluralistic Society; Congressman Henry Hyde and Congressman Ronnie Shows for paying special attention to the needs of the South Asian countries. Community Service awards were given to: Kaleem Kawaja (Washington DC), Dr Joseph Nidiri (Washington DC), Fred Smendy (Maryland), Charan Reddy (Louisiana), BP Shah (Maryland), Nazir Bhagat (Virginia), Dr Firdaus Jafri (Chicago,