The India Debate: Faith, Terrorism and Democracy

Editor’s Note: For the benefit of its readers, The Palestine Chronicle presents two contributions by two of its respected writers, Vijay Rajiva and Aijaz Zaka Syed. The two writers differ on various issues concerning the violence and turmoil currently gripping India. We hope that you will find the debate both enriching and insightful. The Palestine Chronicle.

Monotheism: The Challenge to Indian Democracy

By Vijay Rajiva

The two monotheistic faiths in India, Islam and Christianity, present a set of challenges that the Indian polity must face head on if India is to survive as a democracy. The central principle of both these faiths is the belief in the one god, defined by its adherents as such and entailing belief in one prophet or divine redeemer, and this belief while it could be and has been accommodated by the Indian Constitution which guarantees freedom of worship, and in the case of Islam the practice of Sharia in civil matters, is in danger of overturning the Indian polity by causing a revival of identity politics.

The Hindu ethos does not require a commitment to monotheism. The cardinal belief here is that all belief systems are equally valid and monotheism is only one such belief system.

Hence, a Hindu can enter a church and worship the Christian god without being ostracized by the community and indeed the Hindu mystic Ramakrishna had the pictures of all the founders of religions hanging on the walls of his prayer room. The second aspect of the two monotheistic faiths is their objection to what is termed as ‘idol worship’. Here again, this is a misunderstanding of the nature of symbolism and representation in religious worship. The Divine Principle in the Hindu faith is infinite and therefore has infinite names and appearances, not one name or one manifestation. And all Hindu saints and sages down the ages are revered equally, and neither is there need for a special mediator between the individual and the Divine Principle. Islam, of course, only recognizes the one mediator, the prophet Mohammed.

These significant differences have not in post independence India caused any problems and all three faiths went about their daily worship without impinging on each other’s domains. There were the occasional skirmishes left over from the past, when Hindus complained of Muslim slaughter of cows and Muslims complained of the sound of Hindu temple bells in the vicinity of mosques. Occasionally this would erupt in violence but nothing lasting. And with regard to Christianity, there were the discreet conversions to Christianity, at which the Hindu community turned an indifferent eye.

This all has changed, first with the increase of missionary activity and with the eruption of terrorism, which can and should be viewed not as an attempt at Muslim expansionism, the search for Lebensraum, emanating from the Kashmir region, but as the expression of an age long desire to proselytize and convert the infidels. In the interests of political correctness, Indian intellectuals have remained silent on this question, which cannot be postponed any longer, if India is to remain a secular democracy.

The bomb explosions are clearly the work of Taliban and Al Qaida affiliates within India.  In the most recent serial bombs in Tripura in the North East, bordering Bangla Desh and the two bombs in the Delhi market place, and those in Gujarat and Maharashtra, there is similarity in the methods used, and the possible culpability of Bangla Desh Muslim immigrants cannot be ruled out. A group calling itself the Bangla Desh Hizbullah has made no secret of its intentions to cause murder and mayhem within India.

Since India is well within the UN designated Line of Control in Kashmir and has no political problems with Bangla Desh, the question arises as to the real agenda of these terrorist groups. Merely, the presence of Indian authority in the Kashmir Valley, does not explain the rise of the separatist movement which knows clearly that legally speaking it cannot go anywhere, since the accession of the Maharajah to India was perfectly legal and is still legally valid. And minus the presence of the separatist militants, the Muslim population is satisfied with its connection to a prosperous and stable India. Pakistan’s precarious situation is well known in the region, especially to the residents of the Kashmir Valley.

By a process of elimination one arrives at the real reason: the compulsion for any monotheistic faith to expand by proselytisation. This applies equally to Christianity. After all, India in Left parlance, is locked into the international capitalist system, especially the American one. And the Nuclear deal recently signed onto between the Indian PM and the Bush administration fetches jobs and profits for American companies. What then, is the need for missionary activity inside India, except the burning desire to bring souls to Christ?

To a secular person and indeed to the Hindu this seems incomprehensible. Nevertheless that is the raison d’etre for unceasing missionary activity in India. While during the British Raj, the missionaries were emboldened to publicly abuse the Hindu religion, during the post Independence period, that had ceased and the indigenous Christian community had quietly led their lives, made their contributions to national life and saw themselves as truly Indian. Now, however, there is the spectacle of such entities as Life Vision, a fundamentalist Christian outfit in Mangalore (Karnataka) which distributes literature containing scurrilous reference to Hindu deities, which are not fit to be repeated in decent company. Likewise, quite unusually, painters such as the well-known MF Hussein have taken to depict Hindu deities in insulting (to the Hindu consciousness) modes.

These are new developments in India, along with the rise of the nationalist parties such as the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), which was in power between 1994-1999. Their coming to power at the centre was preceded by the demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992, claimed by the Hindu nationalists as having been built over a Hindu temple (as indeed many were during the Muslim conquest). Then, followed the horrific burning of Hindu pilgrims returning in a train from Ayodhya, the majority being women and children, followed by the horrific massacre of Muslims as a revenge attack, where according to official estimates 1044 people were killed, 790 of them being Muslim and 254 Hindus, with 223 missing and 2548 injured, 919 women widowed, and 606 children orphaned.

And last month the horrific murder of an 81 year old Hindu monk and his associates, one Hindu nun and a child, by Christian converts. All this followed by revenge attacks on both sides, with a spreading attack on Christian churches in other parts of India. The Christian community, which is a 2% minority, is understandably alarmed at this sudden eruption by Hindu militancy.

Indian news media is inundated with responses, from both the Muslim and Christian sectors deploring the loss of unity in the Indian polity. The well-known Indian journalist MJ Akbar had once observed that Indian Muslims are the only Muslims in the whole world who have enjoyed uninterrupted democracy for sixty years! And an Indian Roman Catholic prelate writing from Rome has shed tears, not just for his Christian community but for what he sees as the slow breakdown of Indian democracy.

In response to this the incumbent government of Manmohan Singh and his allies in government have called for unity in the face of unexpected challenges. MJ Akbar has remarked that the terrorists had not aimed at the Indian government but at the people of India, and the people of India have risen to the challenge and continued calmly with their daily lives. The leader of the BJP, Mr. Advani has called for an inter faith dialogue.

In the opinion of this writer, that is not enough. Indian intellectuals have to resume the age-old responsibility of the intellectual and display some intellectual honesty and not take refuge in political correctness. They must meet head on the problem of how the two monotheistic faiths can co exist with the Hindu ethos. While sincerely held religious beliefs need not and should not be abandoned by the two monotheistic faiths, there could be a better appreciation on their part of the millennia old Indian history which unfolded several thousand years before either Islam or Christianity. This historical process is the famed Hindu synthesis of three main stratums, the Aryan, the Indus Valley Civilisation and the indigenous population, whose origins have been traced to Australoid tribes.

Once the two monotheistic faiths grasp the panorama of Indian history they will come to understand that Indian democracy is a strongly rooted tree and will not be shaken, despite temporary setbacks. This way, all three major communities and the smaller Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, Zorastrian and the small Jewish communities can co exist in peace and prosperity. India has survived many conquerors and two Occupations and has emerged intact.

– Dr. Vijaya Rajiva taught Political Philosophy at university. She contributed this article to

Why Do They Hate Us?

By Aijaz Zaka Syed

Every time I manage to write something, I wait for the feedback with bated breath. This is always the case, week after week. One awaits the readers’ verdict as a nervous student would wait for results after a critical exam.  And the feedback is invariably instructive; even one doesn’t always agree with the views. 
Look at this take by a Canada-based writer, for instance, on my recent piece on Islam and how some Muslims misrepresent its humane teachings. I had argued that if the world has a negative view of the great religion, its followers are largely to blame.

Frankly, I was rather stunned by Dr Vijaya Rajiva’s response and her views on Islam and Muslims. Because Vijaya is not only a fellow Indian but like me she has also been a passionate supporter of the Palestinian cause, frequently writing on their dispossession and struggle. 

In her take on my piece, Medium is the Message, (Palestine Chronicle, Sept 26) Vijaya wrote:

“I have nothing against Muslims, especially Indian Muslims who are basically converts from one of the indigenous religions. My quarrel is with Islam itself. Its history has been one of war and violence. The conquest of southern Europe, the other countries of the Middle East, Iran, Iraq and later Afghanistan, the Muslim conquest of Sind in the 8th century AD (have all been the result of Islam’s war). Well, I’m sure you know your history!

“To give an example, Mohamed of Ghazni did come and plunder and loot India but that was only one of his aims.

The other (aim) was conversion of the infidels, at the point of the sword. Those who did not convert were summarily killed. Nadir Shah standing on the ramparts (of Delhi) watching the inhabitants of the city being put to death because they were infidels is a well-known fact. The entire history of Muslim conquests is well known. Hundreds of temples were destroyed, sacred books burned and thousands were killed or converted (in India). I would be interested in knowing when exactly Islam morphed into a ‘peaceful’ religion!”

Then she goes on to say:

“Intellectually, I find it insulting there is only one God, and one Prophet. I much prefer the truth that the divine principle is a mystery and each of us has access to it. (There is) not just the One Way!”
Well, I wish I could reproduce the fascinating letter in its entirety but can’t do it for obvious space constraints. 
One could write a whole book in response to these familiar rants steeped in ignorance and mostly based on hearsay and utter lies shamelessly peddled by European crusaders dressed as historians and scholars for a thousand years now.

I respect Vijaya for her activism on behalf of the Palestinians.  But let me say this. Her ignorance and mixing of historical facts with fiction is not only surprising, it’s downright pathetic.
Mahmoud of Ghazni, who she calls Mohamed of Ghazni, and numerous ‘Muslim rulers’ who invaded India at one time or another, were not driven by a missionary zeal to convert the subcontinent to Islam.  They were merely greedy kings and conquerors like hundreds of others who came to India for its fabled riches. 
Be it Mahmoud of Ghazni or Mohammed Ghouri, who invaded India 17 times, they were not ideal Muslims nor did they represent Islam.  Like other conquerors in history, they were merely men driven by a craving for power, not by a holy mission to spread Islam.  They just happened to be Muslims — just like some European and Indian conquerors happened to be Christian or Hindu. 
Just as Ashoka the Great was not driven by any religious zeal when he painted Kalinga red with the blood of its people, Muslim conquerors were not on a proselytizing mission.

This is why they were equally ruthless in dealing with fellow Muslims.  What Babar did to Ibrahim Khilji and what Sher Shah Suri did to Humayun is what emperors and kings routinely did to each other — and not just in India. 
Nadir Shah of Iran, who Rajiva says watched from the ramparts of Delhi while the ‘infidels’ were killed, did not kill only Hindus. If this is any consolation, almost all of those killed in Delhi at the time were Muslim subjects of the reigning king Mohammed Shah.  
If Muslim rulers fought and killed Hindu kings and their subjects, they also killed their fellow Muslim rulers and their subjects with equal impunity. Mughal emperor Aurangzeb incarcerated and killed his own father and brothers. 

All this was for power and the religion of these rulers had nothing to do with the whole circus.  Even the most benign of Muslim emperors like Akbar did not represent Islam or Muslims, just as most of the current lot of Muslim rulers do not. 
If these men had indeed been real models of Islam and its teachings, their subjects would have thanked them as the persecuted Jews did when the second Caliph Syedna Omar entered Jerusalem or as the oppressed Christians did when Tareq bin Ziad led the Muslim army into Spain. 
As for the charge of forcing the Hindus to convert to Islam, there’s a simple answer to the accusation. If the Muslims had indeed converted the indigenous population at sword’s point, India would have been a Muslim country today, which is not the case. The Muslims are still a minority in the country of a billion. The same would have been true of Spain. Remember, both India and Spain were ruled by the Muslims for nearly a thousand years. 
That said, I understand if well-read and informed friends like Vijaya Rajiva demonstrate such incredible ignorance about Islam and Muslims. Despite the wealth of resources at their disposal and their growing numbers (recently the Vatican admitted Muslims have replaced Christians as the world’s biggest religious bloc), the Muslims have done little to bridge this gulf of mistrust and hatred that alienates them from the rest of the world.

They remain their faith’s worst enemies doing nothing to present its real, pristine face before the world. They’re busy chasing worthless mirages in concrete while the world builds on and multiplies its prejudices against Islam and Muslims.  No wonder then the world can barely conceal its contempt for us.  

-Aijaz Zaka Syed is Opinion Editor of Khaleej Times. He contributed this article to Contact him at:

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1 Comment

  1. Absolutely rubbish article written by Vijaya..she has no knowledge of the intricacies and complexities of an Indian Political System….And to say that the act of terrorism is carried out by the Bangladeshi or AL Qaeda group is absurd… It done by the ISI which is a Pakistani intelligence agency…get your facts right before dwelling on the absurd

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