Violent India

Posted: Sep 04, 2003 12:00 AM

Indian police this week arrested two men and two women, and charged them with the late August Bombay bombings that killed 52 persons and wounded 150 more. Many Indians cheered the news of arrests and the death penalties the suspects may receive if found guilty. But the one-word reason at least one of the four gave for his murderous activity should chill all Indian hearts: Gujarat.

The man who confessed, Arshad Shafique Ansari, told police he was avenging the rioting last year in India's western state of Gujarat. Maybe the riots did start when a Muslim mob burned a train carrying Hindus, killing 59, but Hindus certainly finished them, leaving over 1,000 Muslims dead in the streets and fields. India, welcome to the 21st century, where old grievances once again burst open, terrorists claim justification, and both Hindus and Muslims drown in pus.

Some of the violence surprises people whose knowledge of India comes from the movie "Gandhi" or the writings of the great pacifist. As V. S. Naipaul ("India: A Wounded Civilization") writes, Gandhi from 1919 through 1930 gave "the world a new idea of India," with nonviolence "made to appear an ancient, many-sided Indian truth, an eternal source of Hindu action." But in reality, India always has been "cruel and horribly violent."

Scholars often refer to the period of the Gupta dynasty in northern India (A.D. 4th to 6th century) as India's Classical Age, but a whole lot of fighting went on during that golden time. The armies of Samudra Gupta, who became king in about 335, defeated the armies of four northern kings in the area around Delhi. Gupta's army fought its way down the east coast and forced kings to pay him homage. Gupta's soldiers "violently uprooted" nine kingdoms in the western half of the Ganges plain, according to an ancient memorial pillar.

This summer, at the 8th century Valkuntha Perumal temple in the little village of Kancheepuram, southwest of Chennai (formerly Madras), I shined a flashlight on some wall sculptures and found the figure of a man undergoing punishment by being impaled on a sharp stake. The next week, I climbed a rock outcropping rising hundreds of feet above the plain where the pilgrimage town of Madurai sits, and saw where Jain monks, India's true pacifists, long ago lived in caves. They stayed on rock so they would not hurt plant life and so they would not be in the way of Hindus -- but Hindu warriors climbed high to wipe them out anyway.

Similar battles occurred in each era, with dueling Hindu factions -- Shaivites and Vaishnavites -- regularly destroying each other's temples. When Muslim invaders set up their Moghul Empire in the 16th century, they were merely ratcheting one level higher the tendencies to hatred and violence that arise from within us all. Later, the British talked tough, but when Gandhi called their bluff they quickly folded, thus leaving India to the mercy of Muslim and Hindu extremists who do not hesitate to murder unarmed civilians

Since Muslim websites that breathe fire are already well known, I'll mention a counter-site,, that calls Gandhi "a downright PACIFIST, without guts and SCRUPLES. His constant preaching to his fellow Hindus, to be nonviolent at all times, EVEN IN THE FACE OF AGGRESSION, paralyzed the manhood of India."

Today, though, Indians are becoming "Soldiers of Hindutva. ... Young, strong and fearless group of Hindus who are willing to die for the cause of Hindutva. The protectors of the faith!"'s further declaration: "Our policy is simple. Don't mess with Hinduism, its followers and our mother land of India or we'll mess with you." Muslims are also ready to rumble, and the conflict is likely to get messier.