National

Frenchman stokes Hindutva hate

A fundraiser in New Jersey on  16 Aug. raised $50,000 for a "Hindu Holocaust" museum to be built in Pune. The museum is the brainchild of a Frenchman, Francois Gautier, and is under the auspices of the Viraat Hindu Sabha (VHS). They claim that over the past thousand years, millions of Hindus were killed, with the intention to wipe Hindus off the map. The numbers are vague, as one might expect, but the culprit is precisely defined: Islam. The VHS uses the phrase "Islamic genocide of Hindus" to make its case. To me this is remarkable stuff. It reduces the complexity of the Subcontinent's rich history into a simple morality play that has only two characters: the Hindu and the Muslim. The latter is the invader who has come and killed the former. Nothing else matters. The idea of the Hindu Holocaust casts the Hindu as history's victim, who should now become history's aggressor to avenge the past. But the Hindu was not always the victim. If you read the historical records carefully, you will find that many Hindus participated in the slaughter of other Hindus, and that the Hindu-Buddhist battles of the ancient world were perhaps more bloody than anything that comes afterward. Or indeed, that the systematic violence against Dalits and other subordinate castes should hold our attention far more than it does.

Between Hindus and Muslims there has not been an endless rivalry for social power. When Islam enters the Subcontinent, it does not come in the saddlebags of the Ghaznis or the Ghouris, but amongst the rumble of goods brought by traders. Early conversions are not by the sword but by the merchants. There was killing, but that was as much for reasons of warfare and plunder as for reasons of God and tradition. An interested reader might want to look at the distinguished historian Romila Thapar's superb book Somnatha: The Many Voices of a History (Penguin, 2005). There, Professor Thapar shows us that Mahmud Ghazni's destruction of the Shiva temple in 1026 was driven not so much by a fanatical religious belief but because his father, Subuktigin, needed money to sustain his faltering kingdom in Central Asia.

When one looks at the sources contemporaneous with the Ghaznavid attacks, one finds that they mention these but only as a series among many. There was nothing about them that merits the term "Holocaust," even as they were certainly destructive of the temples and of the people who worshipped there. What Thapar points to is that this was not all done by the Central Asia marauders. Many Hindu rulers led attacks on Hindu and Jain temples at this same time, and for similar reasons, as can be seen in the destruction of the Jain temples of Karnataka (which were converted into shrines of Shiva). Indeed, there is little evidence of animus between Hindus and Muslims in the few hundred years after the entry of Ghazni. In the 13th century, a local raja, Sri Chada, granted a merchant from Hormuz the right to build a mosque on temple land. He also provided the mosque with a disbursement for teachers and preachers, for the daily reading of the Quran and for the celebration of festivals. The Veraval-Somanatha inscription of 1264 shows us that even orthodox Shaivite priests cooperated in the building of the mosques. In the centuries that followed, common people of Gujarat followed the kind of tradition that runs from the padas of Narasimha Mehta to the padmavat of Malik Mohammed Jayasi, the ethos of mutual cultural development that was the hallmark of India for hundreds of years. Things developed to such a pass in Gujarat that in 1911, more than 200,000 people returned themselves as "Hindu-Musalman." In Kathaiwar and Kutch, wedding services were, until very recently, solemnized by both a Saraswat Brahmin and a Qazi. Such is the history that is thrown to the wolves by the creation of a "Hindu Holocaust" museum.

Gautier came to India from France about 30 years ago, and settled in Pondicherry. He has written a few tracts and writes occasionally for the newspapers. His work reads like another European apologist for extreme Hindutva, Koenraad Elst. Both went to strict Catholic schools and now hold a deep animus against Christian missionaries, but seem to take their venom out mainly against Islam. Gautier and Elst want to make plain the "Muslim genocide against Hindus." But neither is a serious student of history, with little idea of how to read historical texts. They draw more from a misplaced passion than from a real, sober scientific exploration of the facts. That they are taken seriously is a sign of the degradation of reason in the world of Hindutva.

Vijay Prashad
Professor of South Asian History Trinity College Hartford, Conn.