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Minorities still struggling for rights in India

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Posted: Wednesday, March 13, 2002 10:00 pm

Mohandas Gandhi, a Hindu, and Mohammed Ali Jinnah, a Muslim, were both born in Gujrati-speaking families.

Gujrat is the state in India where communal riots restarted recently. After receiving their law degrees and passing the bar in London, they dedicated their lives to relieving the Indian sub-continent from the tyrannies of the British Empire.

They both were leaders in Indian National Congress, which was the political party that everyone belonged to during the freedom movement.

The Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Buddhist all worked together in the freedom struggle of South Asia, beginning in 1857 and continuing until 1947.Taj Khan

During the struggle, which was mostly peaceful, the significant minorities of Muslims and Sikhs realized that if India stayed as one country, the majority Hindus would dominate the political and economic spectrum.

Many believed the rights of the minorities would be unprotected when the British were gone.

During the last decade of British rule, the rights of minorities were heavily discussed and various alternatives presented. None of the proposed solutions was acceptable to all parties.

Muslims decided to break away under the leadership of Jinnah and demanded a separate homeland. Finally, after all other options were thoroughly debated, it was agreed that India must be partitioned into Hindu majority and Muslim majority areas to create separate states.

Some Hindus did not agree with the idea then and do not agree with it now. In fact, Hindu extremists, nurturing feelings of nationalism in India, assassinated Gandhi.

They continue to believe that India belongs to Hindus and that the creation of Pakistan is an ideological mistake. Their slogan of "Akhand Bharat" (de-partitioned India) still resonates with nationalist Hindus. They believe all minorities must be converted back to Hinduism and their places of worship should be replaced by Hindu temples.

Indian school curriculum has been changed to reflect the lessons of Hindu deities and names of cities changed to reflect the Hindu religious beliefs. Bombay is now Mumbai and Madras is Chennai. Even Valentine's Day was boycotted by some groups.

There are extremist parties such as BJP, VHP, RSS and Bajrang Dal who are recruiting Ram Sevaks (Hindu youth) from around the country and sending them to areas where rifts between the majority Hindus and minorities can be widened.

The All India Christian Council said in a statement that the Hindu groups have "engaged in a constant hate campaign against the minorities" and are training hundreds of thousands of people in armed warfare.

Council secretary-general John Dayal said members of the VHP and other groups burned down a Catholic mission run by the Divine Word Society in Sanjeli village in Gujarat. Hundreds of Muslim men, women and children have been slaughtered by these mobs and about $600 million to $800 million in property has been torched. The response from some of the minorities has been equally brutal.

India has not been able to provide protections to its minorities since it gained independence from the British in 1947. Minorities are used as pawns during the election campaigns.

The extremists incite riots and polarize situations to gain sympathies and votes. Since the Hindu system is caste-based, the Dalis, or the untouchables, are still far behind politically and economically compared to the Brahmans, the superior caste.

The Indian government made every parliamentary maneuver possible to not allow any discussion on the status of Dalis at the World Conference on Tolerance in South Africa a few months ago.

For 53 years, the Kashmiris have struggled to exercise their right of self determination, which is denied by the Hindu majority of the world's biggest democracy.

To some, democracy means rule of the majority with total disregard for the rights of the minorities. The riots in Ahmadabad are typical examples of how the law enforcement agencies, in connivance with Hindu extremists, have violently attacked minorities and destroyed their property.

Gandhi and Jinnah disagreed on how to protect the rights of minorities in India while they were living and I am sure they continue to have a debate in front of God almighty now that they have departed from this world.

But both of them will be equally distressed at the indifference of the law enforcement agencies and the indiscriminate massacres of minorities in Gujrat.

Taj Khan of Lodi is a consultant and retired engineering manager for the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.


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