Mourning This Time

by Angana Chatterji

May 31, 2002



As India and Pakistan face each other in a grave confrontation, the mainstream US media continues to be largely inattentive to, and uninformed about, the serious situation in the subcontinent. As 1.4 million Indian and Pakistani troops and nuclear arsenals are on high alert, as leaders and generals play political games over divided Kashmir, as Pakistan conducts its third missile test in three days, the sun sets on the Pacific Ocean. South Asians in the United States remain terrified that India and Pakistan stand on the verge of a dangerous war over Kashmir.


The Indian central government, dominated by Hindu nationalists, continues to prioritize sectarian and non- secular agendas. India pledges that it will go to war with Pakistan unless Islamic separatists stop their attacks on Indian Kashmir. India continues to insist that the situation in Kashmir, in which thousands have died, is entirely the responsibility of Pakistan and Muslim separatist groups. India's persistent refusal to address the Kashmir issue might well leave the fate of the Kashmiris in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists.  India is yet to take responsibility for its systematic violation of the rights and lives of Kashmiris, while Pakistan continues to use terrorism as state policy.


In addition, in the recent carnage of Muslim minorities in Gujarat in February and March this year, the saffronized central and state government demonstrated an abysmal display of militant Hindu dominance. The police and government in Gujarat perpetrated violence against Muslims in the State. Police mistreatment in India of 'lower' caste and class peoples, minority religious groups, women, tribals, intellectuals, activists, political groups and others bears evidence to the unstable and insecure conditions in which non dominant and disenfranchised communities in India continue to live. All that is sacred in the Constitution, all that our ancestors struggled for, all that remains of the memory of M. K. Gandhi, is being desecrated.


In the midst of this, the majority of the Hindu Indian business community in the US maintain a complicitous silence, refusing to accept the vicious consequences of Hindu nationalism. They continue to actively fund fundamentalist Hindu organizations that are registered as charities in the US, ostensibly working to promote and protect Indian heritage and culture. Such organizations utilize funds raised in the name of 'culture' to foment social division, intolerance and brutalization of minorities in India. Groups across the US, such as the Coalition Against Communalism and other progressive organizations, meet and struggle to build a political culture where Hindu xenophobia can be confronted. Hinduism, unlike Islam, has a benevolent image in the West/North as a religion of peace. Hinduism in the West is often held and peddled as an abstract textual entity, vacant of the radical inequities that make up its cultural and historical reality. Hardline Hindu organizations maintain that Hindu culture and Hindus in India are being marginalized, that there is an Islamist plan for the genocide of Hindus, and that Hindu fundamentalism is a fiction conjured by the secular left.


As an Indian I struggle against the failures of India's democracy, and I am horrified at who we have become as a nation and as a people. I ask myself how India might commit to a secular and democratic society that addresses its injustices and entrenched oppressions. Violence in the name of religion has to stop and as a nation India must accord full and executable rights to minority groups. We must defy Hindu nationalism and its systematic use of violence against minorities. We must insist on examining the present political climate in which relations between India and Pakistan continue to deteriorate, and the crimes committed by both states in the name of freedom.


We must not support the fabric of resistance connected to the use of terror on the part of states and groups. We must take responsibility for the unjust histories through which our nations were conceived. It will require extraordinary courage and commitment of us all.


Angana Chatterji is a Visiting Professor in the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the

California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, CA.