When I began reporting, I went to interview the RSS leadership in Delhi, expecting, from what I had heard, a few bloodthirsty fascists. I was surprised to meet those old daddies with their long khaki shorts, who would not hurt a fly. Twenty-five years later, the word 'Hindu Talibanisation' is being heard amidst the clamour following the odious pub episode in Mangalore. Such incidents should be condemned, as it has no precedent in Indian history—from Prithviraj Chauhan to Shivaji, Hindus respected the women of even their enemies. Yet, I beg to disagree: this is not about the Talibanisation of Hindu groups, it is about their demonisation.
British colonisers in league with the Christian missionaries realised 200 years ago that the biggest obstacle to fully subjugating India was Hinduism, as it was ancient, woven into the fabric of life and held the country together. They set upon defaming Hinduism, by dwelling on what they perceived as its negatives: castes, sati, superstition, etc. Simultaneously, they created in a span of two or three generations a class of Indians who looked up only to the West.
Macaulay, the architect of the scheme, summed it up in his Minute on Education: "We must do our best to form a class of persons, Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect." Macaulay despised Indian culture: "Hindus have a literature of small intrinsic value, hardly reconcilable with morality, full of monstrous superstitions...." The demonisation of Hinduism was apace.
As a result, these Anglicised Indians became ashamed of their own culture. This Western/anti-Hindu outlook was handed down from generation to generation, right down to our age, where many of India's brilliant and articulate Hindu-Marxist intellectuals, products all of institutions like jnu, or St Stephen's, keep on repeating, as if by rote, what their hoary forebears were taught by the British. And unfortunately, they pass it back to their friends from the West, neatly marking a full circle. How else could a film like Slumdog Millionaire, made by an Englishman, which literally craps on India from the very first frame, be feted by most of India's intelligentsia? How else could India specialists like Christophe Jaffrelot peddle to his gullible French readers the spurious theory that there is a "Hindu tradition of terror"?
Politically, the Congress just took over from the British, as I explain in my new book (A New History of India, 2008, Har Anand), and used its English-speaking press to present Hindu social and political parties as fanatical and ridiculous. The goal was to corner the Muslim vote, which was—and still remains—achieved. It does not help today that the supreme leader of India is a Christian. Whether her aides or her ministers (many of them capable people in their own right) rush to gratify her in true bhakti spirit or whether she directly speaks her will, one does not know. But what better way to please her than by equating Hindu fundamentalism with the Muslim one and to turn the flak on to small Hindu outfits which are amateur lambs compared to the Islamic ones?
There are two standards today used by India's media and intelligentsia. One for minorities and the other for Hindus. It is totally illogical: if 4,00,000 Hindus are hounded out of the Kashmir Valley which has always been their home, nobody protests; but New Delhi has been rooting for Palestinians for four decades and recently donated a million dollars for their welfare. When blast after blast wrecks Indian markets, when trains are bombed, hotels attacked by men worse than animals, intellectuals blame it on Babri Masjid (where nobody was killed) or Gujarat (triggered by the burning of 59 innocent Hindus). But when a few Hindus plan to establish a Hindu rashtra and plot a clumsy, small-scale revenge, they are equated with deadly fundamentalists. A universal theorem is made of their single act, which should stand out as isolated, because Hindus have been for thousands of years tolerant to the point of cowardice. Our intellectuals never theorised when, in Kashmir, militants used to throw acid on women who did not cover up, but now devote reams to the goons of Mangalore.
Finally, to be fair, one has to say that a lot of prudishness has seeped into India because of the Islamic purdah and, later, Victorian stuffiness. Yet, Hinduism always enjoined its adherents to live life fully, including its sexual aspect. We do not want an Indian youth which blindly apes the West: drinking, drugs and promiscuity. But the Hindu political leadership should also shun rough, prudish and moralistic acts which will only alienate its young voters.
(Francois Gautier is the editor-in-chief of the Paris-based La Revue l'Inde)