SV: SV: SV: ICHR controversey

Lars Martin Fosse lmfosse at ONLINE.NO
Thu Mar 2 19:35:28 UTC 2000

Bharat Gupt [SMTP:abhinav at DEL3.VSNL.NET.IN] skrev 02. mars 2000 22:42:
> Lars Martin Fosse wrote:
> > Discussing past
> > Muslim atrocities is perfectly in order as long as this discussion is
> > delinked
> > from the modern political situation and not used as a tool to dehumanize
> > Muslims in general. In India this principle hardly seems to obtain.
> The primary reason for the non-obtainance of this principle has been the
> creation
> of a phobia by the Congress Party and the Communist Left that any discussion,
> however
> academic, about the history of Islamic iconoclasm against Hindu temples and
> culture
> cannot but result in witch-hunting of the Indian Muslims.

Although I am not enthusiastic about everything the Congress Party did/does, it
seems to me that there is something  to commend the view you describe here. The
forces engendering communal tension in India are complex (and Hindus are not
the only ones to blame), but bringing old atrocities into the public focus in
an unstable society with a very tragic partition to look back on does not
strike me as a sound policy. Please have a look at Europe: our history is
littered with tragedies and atrocities of all sorts: countries and ethnic
groups clashing, different brands of Christianity trying to stamp each other
out, Protestant iconoclasm etc. (The Middle East would of course complain about
our crusades). We are able to discuss these things freely because (with the
exceptoin of the former Yugoslavia) we do not base our modern policies and
attitudes on the idea that we can make right was done wrong decades or
centuries ago by maltreating the descendants of the ones that wronged our
forefathers. After Germany had been beaten in WWII, Europe reached the
conclusion that we all needed to be friends because being enemies was so
costly. The result is the European Union. A lot of bhai-bhai there. In spite of
bouts of narrow-minded nationalism in various places, responsible politicians
do not encourage such tendencies here but try to maintain peace and order. In
India, the opposite is happening. Again, Hindus are not the only sinners, but
the present government and its sister organisations have a lot to answer for.
It is ironic that a political movement that complains about "forced
conversions" in the past is deeply into forcing Muslims and Christians back
into the Hindu fold. And this at the end of a century where the democratic
right to free thought and free choice of religion has been recognized as a part
of human rights. These are some of the reasons, I think,  why any discussion
about former Muslim atrocities so readily creates a feeling of unease in
thinking outsiders.

 > This phobia has been encashed by them politically at the electoral level and
> a
> regimented historical research has been conducted at the universities
> ( which in India are entirely State funded ) to keep this phobia in the minds
> of
> intellegensia and future bureaucracy. This phobia gave ample cause for the
> to term
> it as Muslim protectionism and cash it for the consolidation of the Hindu
> vote.

Which goes to show the irresponsible attitude of the BJP. However, I would
agree with you that Congress in various ways have been playing the cards into
the hands of the extreme right. I am afraid that India shall have to go through
the same kind of disconcerting experiences that we have had with right-wing
politics here.

> If an academic scrutiny of Islamic iconoclasm and its doctrine of theocratic
> statehood has been discussed without the generation of this politically
> motivated
> fear-syndrome, results would have been much better for an ideological
> adjustments
> between the Muslims and Hindus in India because neither the majority of
> Muslims
> support iconoclasm (or even wish to ostracise the Hindu modes of worship) nor
> the
> majority of Hindus so much care for ancient sites to become vengeful.

In my opinion, the problem is not really academic studies of iconoclasm (or the
lack of them), but the way such studies are used by irresponsible politicians
and agitators. You should never underestimate how primitive people's reactions
can be in a volatile situation. I am therefore not sure if I follow your
argument here. The idea that you should let sleeping dogs lie is sometimes
better, although academically frustrating.  Islamic atrocities and iconoclasm
have been studied in the West, but here they do not lead to political action,
as you can imagine. But we can also study Catholic cruelties against
Protestants (and vice versa) without anybody rushing into the street to take
revenge on the former "opposition". It would seem to me that India needs to
come to peace with itself before a public discussion of past wrongs can unfold
without damage to India's society. Academics who want to work with such
questions should at least be very careful about how they present the past.

> The unfortunate thing is that the Congress and the Socialist still persist in
> creating
> this phobia as they believe that talking or teaching religions (please note
> there
> are no religious studies here from school to univs) ONLY means riots.

I have noticed that teaching religions in school can be a problem even here,
although it does not lead to riots. The fact that you do not have religious
studies is of course deplorable. Nor do you have comparative linguistics, which
is a pity too. But I had the notion that the main reason why the humanities
seem to have been systematically neglected in India is basically the same
reason as here: they are not regarded as economically productive and therefore
get less funding than the "useful" subjects. If they have been neglected for
political reasons as well, that is new to me.

> This denigration of religion per se has been part of the Congress-Socialist-
> MArxist
> ethos in every sphere of post-independent India.

If it is any consolation, religion has been put on the back-burner in Western
academic life as well. The attitude is basically empiricist and rationalist
with a negative view on metaphysics and a penchant for historical explanations.
Religion and culture are treated entirely as man-made entities and explained
through social and historical dynamics. This situation in India is therefore
part of an international trend, and I would not link it too strongly to Marxism
or socialism. In the West, even conservatives think in this way. It is simply
part of being academic.

Best regards,

Lars Martin Fosse

Dr. art. Lars Martin Fosse
Haugerudvn. 76, Leil. 114,
0674 Oslo
Phone/Fax: +47 22 32 12 19
Email: lmfosse at

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