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October - November 2008
Shri Amarnath & Kuilapalayam
Once upon a time, there was a tiny village in South Arcot district in Tamil Nadu, called Kuilapalayam. Now Kuilapalayam is like hundreds of villages around Pondichery: it is peopled with Hindu Vanniars, poor, living off agriculture, usually a few meagre fields of cashew nuts. But then Kuilapalayam just happened to be in the midst of Auroville, the international township founded by the Mother of Pondichery based upon the ideals of the great yogi and revolutionary, SriAurobindo.
Thus Kuilapalayam prospered: Its inhabitants learned trades needed for the city: carpenters, masons, craftsmen, and some of its children attended Auroville's schools and were educated along with Western kids and in time graduated and went into white collar jobs. From a few bicycles 40 years ago, Kuilapalayam today has motorcycles, tractors, cars, vans, cable television, cell phones, etc. The main road of Kuilapalayam, which used to be only shady huts, became lined with fancy shops which sold everything, from vegetables to handicrafts.
And then the unavoidable happened: A Kashmiri from Chennai heard about Auroville and the prosperity of Kuilapalayam and understanding that he could make a packet with so many Westerners passing though Auroville, he opened the usual shawls and carpets shop in the village. Now Kuilapalayam never counted a Muslim amongst its population in its 1,200 years of recorded history; but in true Hindu tradition, this one was welcomed and nobody raised any objection, although he was competition for some of the other shops.
Our Kashmiri Muslim, seeing his success, called his cousin in Kolkata, who came and opened another shop; and that one phoned his friend in Mumbai, who also landed up and opened a third shop. Still nobody found anything to say. Kashmiris are sociable fellows and they quickly made friends with Westerners, so business was booming, till they were seven or eight Kashmiri shops in Kuilapalayam. And again nobody complained, even when the fellows started doing their naamaz in the open. "Isn't God everywhere and isn't He Krishna, as well as Allah?" said one of the villagers.
Then Rathinam, one of the young boys of Kuilapalayam who had gone to study in Delhi, told his parents when he came back, about the fact that not only were no outsiders allowed to buy land or start a shop in the valley of Kashmir, where the shopkeepers came from, but that 400,000 Hindus were chased out of the valley by terror. His parents started talking to their friends and there was the first hint of resentment against the newcomers.
Fifteen days later, the Amarnath row exploded. Rathinam's father went to see a group of Kuilapalayam Kashmiris having tea and told them that Hindus never complained about the government giving billion of rupees in subsidies to Indian Muslims so that they can visit their most holy place, Mecca. But when Hindus, he continued, need shelters, toilets and basic facilities at a height of 15,000 feet to worship at Amarnath, one of the holiest places of Hinduism, why do you Kashmiri Muslims deny it to us?
The Kashmiris looked a bit uneasy, then replied that anyway the Amarnath ice lingam had been discovered by a Muslim shepherd and that Muslims had always welcomed their Hindu brothers to Amarnath. But this did not convince the Kuilapalayam man who had heard from his son that many grenade attacks had happened over the years on the Amarnath pilgrims. And anger has started mounting in Kuilapalayam.
So, it is all a question of reciprocity. Most Hindus are peace-loving people. The average Hindu that you meet in a million Indian villages, such as Kuilapalayam, is easy-going and accepts you and your diversity, whether you are Christian, Muslim, Parsi or Jain, Arab, French or Chinese. He goes about his business and usually does not interfere in yours.
In fact, Hindus go even a little further, they hate trouble and go out of their way to avoid it. Have you noticed how every time there is a possibility of a strike or riot, Hindus stay home? Or how -- forget about rioting -- Hindus never speak up, complain or protest in a united manner? There is a UN Human Rights Conference on terrorism in New York coming up on September 9, and they have been desperately trying to get Hindu survivors of recent bomb blasts to testify; but no one is willing to come forward.
Despite that, everywhere in the world Hindus are hounded, humiliated, routed, be it in Fiji where an elected democratic government was twice deposed in an armed coup, or in Pakistan and Bangladesh where Muslims indulge in pogroms against Hindus every time they want to vent their anger against India (read Taslima Nasreen's Lajja to know more).
In Assam, Tripura, or Nagaland, Hindus are being outnumbered by Bangladeshi illegal immigrants and terrorised by pro-Christian separatist groups while local governments often turn a blind eye.
Yet, in 3,500 years of known existence, Hindus have never invaded another country, never tried to impose their religion upon others through force or even conversion. No, rather it has been through peaceful invasions that Hinduism has stormed the world, whether in the East -- witness Angkor Vat -- or in the West today, where the by-products of Hinduism -- yoga, meditation, Ayurveda, pranayama -- have been adopted by millions.
Hindus also gave refuge to all the persecuted minorities of the world, from Parsis to the Jews (India is the only country in the world where Jews were not persecuted) to Armenians and Tibetans today.
The first Christian community of the world, that of Syrian Christians, flourished in Kerala, thanks to Hindus' tolerance; Arab merchants were welcomed by Hindu rulers to do trade and live in India while practicing their religion, from very early times.
Thus Hindus, who accept everybody and welcome all religions, allow Indians from other parts to trade next to them, as it happened in Kuilapalayam, do not receive in return any gratitude and the same respect.
So, sometimes, enough is enough. At some point, after years or even centuries of submitting like sheep to slaughter, Hindus, the most peace-loving people in the world, those Mahatma Gandhi once gently called 'cowards', those who cringe in their houses at the least sign of a riot, erupt in fury, uncontrolled fury.
Instead of trying to pour water over the fire, instead of appealing for calm and communal harmony, political leaders, journalists as well as spiritual leaders would do well to look at the root cause of Hindu fury, and try to address their demands and frustrations.