THE SHADOW OF A HORSE

Midnight, Manaspal Lake, North-West Kashmir. The powerful diesels of the 20 army lorries roar away, piercing the perfect silence of the night. Aboard, 400 men of the 22nd Jammu and Kashmir Rifles, one of India’s elite divisions, in full battle dress: helmets, an AK-47 rifle slung over the shoulder and two grenades tucked in the belt. Colonel Khanna, division commander, signals with his hand and the convoy starts ponderously into the night.

Earlier we had met Colonel Khanna’s officers, young, bright men, whose world centres around a field tent, the walls of which are adorned with pictures of wanted militants, and tallies of wounded and killed Hizbollah Mujahedins, a true soldier’s trophy. Over a glass of beer, Colonel Khanna had shown us a map of Kashmir and pointed to a village
near Wular Lake, called Banyar. “This village, he said, is known to be a safe haven for militants, as it is on the route from Kupwara at the Pak border, to Sopore. It has the uniqueness of being surrounded by water. So we will have to take two boats with us to cross the river. We shall walk the whole night and by morning we will have surrounded the entire village.”

Half an hour after, having started from the base, the lorries stopped suddenly, all lights out. Silently the 400 men of the regiment climbed down and melted into the night. Then the lorries started again. “They will serve as a decoy for the militants’ watchdogs, who seeing they are going in an opposite direction, will think that we are going to strike
another village,” whispered Khanna. It was a pitch-dark monsoon night.

No lights, no torches, one could barely discern the man in front and sometimes soldiers would hold each other’s shoulders not to get lost. The silence was total: not a murmur, not a sound of a rolling stone; only the hiss of the wind in the trees, carrying the smell of men to a faraway village, whose dogs started barking. But even their sounds slowly died away. Suddenly, a cantering horse, like a ghost appearing from nowhere, crossed us; and then it was gone, as in a dream.

At first, the going was smooth enough on a dirt road, but all of a sudden we had to slither down on all fours to reach the swamp, where one had now to walk on a high narrow causeway surrounded by water on both sides. It started raining and a frog, followed by another,
then another, then a hundred, a thousand, began tearing the silence of the night with their “croaaroaaak”. From time to time the man in front would suddenly stop and the others behind would bump into him: the soldiers carrying the heavy wooden boats were to be replaced by a new team. At 3.30 in the morning, the river had to be crossed to reach the
village. The boats were lowered into the water without a ripple; and while exhausted men slept on the embankment, the tedious task of carrying a whole company in two boats went on smoothly. And as the first hint of a grey, dreary day, pointed at the horizon, the village of Banyar was totally surrounded.

At 5.15, Lieutenant Tikku and a platoon of soldiers entered the village from its eastern side. “Militants are usually caught at daylight, he murmured, it is then that they start shooting. If we don’t catch them at that moment, they go into hiding either in the houses or in the fields;
and we have to flush them out.” Shoulders hunched in the expectation of a grenade thrown from the first floor of a house, or the bullet of an unseen sniper, eyes darting right and left, fingers on the triggers of their AK-47s, the soldiers advanced on the village.
It was a dreadful hamlet on the banks of the Jhelum River:
dirty, unkempt, whose wooden and cement houses had an air of never having been finished. By 6 AM, not a soul had stirred from the shuttered houses, and it became clear that if the militants were there, they were not going to come out with guns blazing. An officer went to the mosque and asked on its loudspeakers that all men between 16 and 60 assemble in the school compound just outside the village.

Already soldiers had encircled the meadow where a little windowless house which served as school stood. Machine guns were posted, even a mortar was set up. Slowly the villagers started filing out of the village. The older men were put on the right where they sat stoically on their haunches; and the younger ones grouped on the left. After some time two men, whose faces were hooded by black cloth and their hand tied to a soldier, came in and were made to sit in the school, facing the glassless window. They were “cats” – militants who had been caught and who had agreed to inform on their brothers, in exchange for some future leniency.
They were now at least 2,000 villagers in the meadow. On a signal from the Colonel,
young villagers were made to form a file. First they were searched by a soldier, then one by one they were presented by another soldier to the cats. One of the informers seemed unwilling or maybe indifferent; but the other had extraordinary eyes, which were constantly darting, from the face of the soldier, to the villager. The villagers, some humble, others proud, others looking spitefully towards the informerst, or a few eyes cast
down in fear, filed past the cats. When the second informer would nod negatively the soldier would tap the shoulder of the villager, who relieved,
would go back to sit on his haunches. But suddenly, as a mullah, well-dressed, apparently educated, looking boldly ahead, was brought forward, the cat raised his finger and whispered something in the ear of his watcher. The mullah was then led, protesting, to one corner and made to cover his face with his shawl. Four men were thus “recognised” by the second cat and kept apart.

Suddenly a shot was heard, followed by a burst of fire. Everybody rushed towards the place where the sound came from. There, in a field of mature maze, there was a path of crushed stalks, which led straight to two cowering militants, one of whom was wounded, surrounded by triumphant soldiers. Basir Ahmed Pare and Zakir Hussein had just crossed over, from Pakistan where they had gone for training and halted
overnight in the village thinking they were safe. But when they realised that the army had surrounded the village, they hid in the field with their two Kalashnikov and four grenades. The weapons were recovered from them, with coupons which they sell to the villagers to extort money and the photo of their area commander. The men were then handed over to the military intelligence for what would probably be a long spell of rough interrogation.

Exhausted, after a whole night walk, plus a full day in the heat. we wearily started for the base. On the trip back, a rider-less galloping horse (the same as in the night?) cast his
shadow on our convoy. Was it the shadow of Kashmir?
FG

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WHY I AM A HINDU

I was a born and brought-up as a catholic and knew absolutely nothing about India, Hinduism and Hindus. When I was a young Frenchman of 19, I had the privilege to hear about the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, through a friend, whose father was the last Governor of Pondichery. My friend told me that a caravan of 5 cars was about to drive from Paris to Pondichery. On a hunch, I joined this caravan.
Upon arriving in Delhi after driving trough nine countries, I felt I had come home and that this country was a very special place.

I lived in the Pondichery Sri Aurobindo ashram for seven years. These were wonderful times: the Mother was still alive and everything looked new, everything seemed possible. One read Sri Aurobindo, of course, as he was the Master and the inspiration of the place, but one either did not understand or felt disconnected to his political writings.

Then, having done some journalism and photography in France, I started freelancing in South India and I discovered the Hindus. What I chanced upon was that their religion was not in their heads, as it is for us Christians – “I must pray, I must be good, I must not sin” – but that it was rather something they lived: they seemed, for instance, to accept me, a Westerner, a non Hindu, as they seemed to accept all other religions. This discovery would never leave me, even when I became a political journalist in Delhi for major French newspapers.

Thus slowly, I became acquainted with the eternal principles of Hinduism:
• A Hindu is one who searches for the Ultimate Truth.
• Unlike other religions, Hinduism refuses to sanction the monopoly of one God, or one Scripture as the only way to salvation.
• Hinduism is the eternal faith, Sanataana Dharma, or the universal law by which all humans are governed.
• Hindus believe that the soul takes birth in a physical body, dies, gets reborn, until it has attained Perfect Divinity.
• Hindus believe that one can cleanse oneself from karmas through yoga practices, such as pranayama, meditation or asanas.
• One can be a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, or from any other religion and still practice Hinduism. His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has shown the way: breath has no religion and pranayama can be practiced by anybody, whatever their creed.

In that sense, I consider myself a Hindu

KASHMIR, A FOREIGN COUNTRY?

 Tue, 27 Jul 2010 08:15:36 -0700 (PDT)

 

 

Today, if a Hindu wants to undertake a pilgrimage to one of the most ancient shrines in the history of Hinduism, Amarnath, he must do it under heavy police and army protection, and at the risk of his life. It is as if, not only is he going to a foreign country, but also to a hostile foreign country.

Today, as it is now known, there is a conscious, well-planned movement to provoke the police and the BSF by a widespread stone throwing movement in the Valley of Kashmir. Hundreds of BSF soldiers have been hurt in the last few months. Inevitably, when the crowd goes out of control, limited firing has to be resorted to and casualties do happen. Of course, the entire Valley, which every second day, goes on strike for the flimsiest reason, shuts down and the Media and Amnesty cry foul.

The frightening fact is that the writ of the Central Government is nearly gone in Kashmir; stringers, most of them hailing from the Valley, report a distorted picture from Srinagar and nobody finds anything to say. Every TV footage shows crowds waving Pakistani flags and nobody objects. Bollywwood has spawned a spoof on Bin Laden, whose Al Qaeda has killed hundreds of innocent Indians in markets or in Mumbai, and nobody in India seems to find anything wrong in it (no way this could happen in the US or even France).

Do you know that Kashmir is the most subsidized state in India? That every time the PM goes there, whether from the Congress, or the BJP, thousands of crores of subsidies are announced? Since 1989, all government officials in the Valley of Kashmir, while they hardly work in the year, because of strikes and curfews, get their pay check. It makes no difference to the fact that if a referendum was conducted, at least 85% of the Valley of Kashmir would opt to be attached to Pakistan.

The truth is that the ground is prepared for an agreement covertly brokered by the US and coated in clever words, which will give de facto independence to the Valley of Kashmir. There are good, intelligent people in the Congress. Surely some of them would agree that this would be a tragedy for India?

Unfortunately, in Delhi amongst journalists and intellectuals, you will find many, who will say: “So what? India is a big country, we can do without Kashmir”.

Why should India retain Kashmir, then? 
The most obvious reason is that the valley of Kashmir is of extreme strategic importance to India. If Kashmir would fall out of India’s hands, New Delhi would be surrounded by three hostile nations who strategically could swoop down from a height: Tibet, which was once the peace buffer between India & China (remember how the Chinese easily overcome the Indian army in 1962?); Nepal, which is de facto fallen in hostile hands; and Kashmir, the strategic gateway between the Middle East and Asia.

Secondly, if India allows Kashmir to go, why not Manipur, why not Punjab, or even Tamil Nadu, which has Dravidian aspirations? Many countries in the world face separatist problems, whether France with Corsica, Spain with the Basques, or even Britain with the Falklands, which is thousand of miles away. Why should India let go of Kashmir, which has been culturally, and physically part of its body for at least 5000 years?

Finally, Kashmir is the cradle of Shivaism, thousands of yogis, gurus, sannyasins, have prayed meditated, performed tapasaya in this holy land; and for that reason only, it should be sacred to India.

Part of the blame for the present apathy of Indians towards the deteriorating situation in Kashmir, must fall on the Press, particularly the western media, which has always maintained that Kashmir was a “disputed” territory. Many of us journalists know that since the mid-eighties Pakistan encouraged, financed, trained and armed Kashmiri separatism. But Mark Tully, for instance, who is revered in India for his ‘fair’ reporting (and has most probably written “Hindutva, Sex & Adventures” – Roly Books), always made it a point to say: “India accuses Pakistan to foster separatism in Kashmir”; or:”elections are being held in “Indian- held Kashmir”; or “Kashmir militants (instead of ‘terrorists’)  have killed Hindus”. All the other foreign journalists, yesterday and today, have followed the BBC’s benchmarks. Even President Obama’s foolish policy of making a frontline state the country which fosters nine tenth of terrorist attacks in the world, owes something to the BBC.

It is not only the few hundred Hindus (there were 500.000 in 1980) who have chosen to remain in the Valley of Kashmir, who are under threat. It is not only the pilgrims of Amarnath, visiting a shrine in their own country, today even Hindu gurus are targeted: they are defamed, made fun of them, imprisoned or accused of lying. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is the latest to be targeted by the Media, whereas he has devoted his entire life to service to humanity.

It’s time for Hindus to unite. Foundation Against Continuing Terrorism, a non-political, non-partisan, Human Rights Organization, which I head, can provide the umbrella under which the twelve gurus who have a million plus disciples (Satya Sai Baba, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Amrita Anandmayi, the Shankacharya of  Kancheepuram, Guruma of Ganeshpuri, Shri Ramdev, Satguru Jaggi, etc), can meet three times a year and issue a number  of ‘adesh’, which will be binding to 800 million Hindus in India, a billion worldwide.

The safeguard of Kashmir and the Amarnath pilgrimage, could be on its first agenda. The preservation of the universal spirituality, which some call Hinduism, and which today is under grave threat, could be its permanent one.

fgautier26@gmail.com

SIR MAR TULLY AND ‘FAIR REPORTING

By writing Hindutva, Sex & Adventures, Mark Tully may have wanted to atone for his coverage of South Asia. I remember when we were both reporting on the Valley of Kashmir in the early nineties, that he would always highlight human right abuses on Muslims by the army, but hardly ever spoke about the 400.000 Kashmiri Hindus who were chased out of their ancestral homeland by threats, violence, rapes, torture and murder – and today have become refugees in their own countries.

Mark Tully is known for his ‘fair’ reporting, but actually, he and the BBC coined phrases and set standards in reporting on South Asia, which still stand today and harm India’s image. Many of us know that since the mid-eighties Pakistan encouraged, financed, trained and armed Kashmiri separatism. But Mark always made it a point to say: “India accuses Pakistan to foster separatism in Kashmir”; or :”elections are being held in Indian- held Kashmir”; or “Kashmir militants ” have attacked an army post, instead of “terrorists”. All the other foreign journalists, yesterday and today, (except myself and maybe Tiziano Terzani) have followed the BBC’s benchmarks.

This near colonial attitude towards India has even influenced today’s politicians in the West. For instance, Obama’s present foreign policy of thinking he can fight terror by making a frontline state of  Pakistan, the very country which fosters 3/4th of the terror attacks in the world, and of putting the screws on India so that it negotiates with Pakistan, even at the cost of compromising on its sovereignty in Kashmir, is a direct offshoot of the BBC’s reporting in South Asia for 25 years. We also can read between the lines and know that Mr Obama is pressuring Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to give-up India’s military nuclear programme, leaving her at the mercy of not only Pakistan’s , but also China’s formidable nuclear arsenal.

The irony is that the Indian Government (and the Media) seem to be enamoured of Mark Tully. But if you observe carefully, he was a strong detractor of Indira Gandhi, particularly on Blue Star and during the anti-Sikh riots. Though he praised Rajiv Gandhi in his beginnings, he became a critic of his style of functioning in the later years, specially after the IPKF fiasco. And he has been saying “that the moribund and leaderless Congress party has lashed onto Sonia Gandhi, who is Italian by birth and Roman Catholic by baptism”. (‘Nehru Dynasty’ for the BBC).

FG

Mark TULLY AND KASHMIR

When Mark Tully was reporting on the Valley of Kashmir in the early nineties, he would always highlight human right abuses on Muslims by the army, but hardly ever spoke about the 400.000 Kashmiri Hindus who were chased out of their ancestral homeland by threats, violence, rapes, torture and murder – and today have become refugees in their own countries. Mark Tully is known for his ‘fair’ reporting, but actually, he and the BBC coined phrases and set standards in reporting on South Asia, which still stand today and harm India’s image. It is known that since the mid-eighties Pakistan encouraged, financed, trained and armed Kashmiri separatism. But Mark always made it a point to say: “India accuses Pakistan to foster separatism in Kashmir”; or :”elections are being held in Indian- held Kashmir”; or “Kashmir militants ” have attacked an army post, instead of “terrorists”. All the other foreign journalists, yesterday and today have followed the BBC’s benchmarks.
 

This near colonial attitude towards India has even influenced today’s politicians in the West. For instance, President Obama’s present foreign policy of thinking he can fight terror by making a frontline state of the very country which fosters 3/4th of the terror attacks in the world, and of putting the screws on India so that it negotiates with Pakistan, even at the cost of compromising on its sovereignty in Kashmir, is a direct offshoot of the BBC’s reporting in South Asia for 25 years. We also can read between the lines and know that Mr Obama is pressuring Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to give-up India’s military nuclear programme, leaving her at the mercy of not only Pakistan’s , but also China’s formidable nuclear arsenal.

The irony is that the Indian Government seems to be enamoured of Mark Tully. But if you observe carefully, he was a strong detractor of Indira Gandhi, particularly on Blue Star and during the anti-Sikh riots. Though he praised Rajiv Gandhi in his beginnings, he became a critic of his style of functioning in the later years, specially after the IPKF fiasco. And he has been saying “that the moribund and leaderless Congress party has lashed onto Sonia Gandhi, who is Italian by birth and Roman Catholic by baptism”. (‘Nehru Dynasty’ for the BBC).

A LETTER TO ALL THOSE WHO ACCUSE ME TO BE AN ANTI-MUSLIM. BY FRANCOIS GAUTIER

What is intellectual fascism? It is to accuse the other, without bothering to analyze these charges by the test of logic and reason … 

Fascism is also to refuse dialogue, which can take place before witnesses in the form of a debate. All Indologists who denigrate India, whether American ones, such as Witzel, or French like Jaffrelot, always refuse to dialogue with those they denigrate or those who defend the Hindus. 
Fascism is to label someone who has lived 40 years in India, has been married 20 years to an Indian, whose friends are Indians of different ethnic origin or religion, to be a right wing fascist. Someone, who in his private life, is neither racist nor hateful, nor fascist .
Intellectual fascism is sitting behind a plush desk in Harvard or Paris (or in this big bubble that is Delhi) and dissect India, using prejudices and false theorems, based on the politically correct, which are only a product of one’s education, atavism, or what one reads (this is called second hand knowledge). 

Fascism is to label as a fascist someone who has covered Kashmir for 15 years at the time of its most serious unrest, who has traveled extensively in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and who crisscrossed India like very few western journalists, except maybe Mark Tully. Even if he is wrong – at least he speaks from experience – and perhaps the time will prove him right…
All I did when I was working for Swiss newspaper Le Journal de Genève and later French daily Le Figaro, was to state that there was a problem with Islam in South Asia, at a time when it was not politically correct to say so. I also wrote a series of articles on major religions in India, showing the enduring tolerance of Hinduism, the brutality of Islam, the proselytizing tendencies of Christianity and the disappearance from India of Buddhism – not at the hands of Brahmins – but thanks to Muslim invasions.  These articles provoked the ire of French Indologists, who began writing to Le Figaro an impressive number of letters of protest, demanding my resignation. From that day, I was marked and a smear campaign at all levels has been initiated against me.

When one is accused of being anti-Muslim, it’s worse than being a leper, one is sentenced without trial, without the accusers putting themselves in question for a second. If they did, they would realize that it is a terrible irony: we excuse suicide bombings in Israel or in Mumbai which kill thousands of innocents, in the name of  the ‘persecution’ of Palestinians, Chechens and Kashmiris; but accuse of the worst crimes someone who has never murdered anyone, or even advocated hatred, but simply wrote about the reality he found on the ground with his own eyes, during twenty years of reporting.

Throughout my career I have thus suffered from these labels that are not explained but are passed on from person to person and quickly make the around of everything related to India, whether travel agencies, expatriates, diplomats or journalists: “He is an anti- Muslim, a pro-Hindu, a Fascist” … Nowadays, even the most enlightened only want to listen to the politically correct, the current ideologies of the masses, they rarely want to listen to something different which strives to go beyond appearances. I have seen six ambassadors of France, but never have I been asked about my opinion on one subject or another. I was even recently thrown by the current ambassador, Jerome Bonnafont, who called me a fascist … … because I told him that it was only after 59 innocent Hindus including 36 women and children, had been burnt in a train by a mob of Muslims, that the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat have started (Jerôme Bonnafont who is the first openly gay foreign ambassador, should know better).

It is this very French arrogance, which is not normal in the land of Descartes, which labels as a sect, anything which has a Hindu color, or casts as fascists anybody with whom they disagree, without giving them the chance to defend themselves. President Sarkozy, who showed he could be different, should form a small committee of French who LIVE India from within, so as to advise him.
F G

LETTRE DE FRANCOIS GAUTIER ADRESSEE A TOUS CEUX QUI L’ACCUSENT D’ÊTRE UN FACHISTE

Le fascisme c’est d’accuser l’autre sans prendre la peine de faire passer ces accusations par le test de la logique et de la raison… Le fascisme c’est de refuser le dialogue, comme le font tous les indianistes du CNRS et de l’EHESS quand je leur tends la main, dialogue qui peut prendre place devant témoins sous forme de débat… Le fascisme c’est de traiter de fasciste quelqu’un qui vit depuis 40 ans en Inde, est marié depuis 20 ans à une Indienne, dont les meilleurs copains sont des tamouls, et qui a aussi des amis musulmans. Quelqu’un qui dans sa vie privée n’est ni raciste, ni haineux, ni méchant…

Le fascisme c’est d’être assis sur son pesant derrière à Paris (ou dans cette grosse bulle qu’est Delhi) et de disséquer l’Inde à partir de préjugés, de faux théorèmes, en se basant sur le politiquement correct, qui n’est que du reçu de son éducation, son atavisme et ce qu’on lit (cela s’appelle de la connaissance de deuxième main)….

Le fascisme c’est d’accuser de fascisme quelqu’un qui a couvert le Cachemire pendant 15 ans, au moment des troubles les plus graves, qui a parcouru de long en large le Pakistan, le Bangladesh, l’Afghanistan, qui a sillonné l’Inde comme aucun autre journaliste français… Même s’il se trompe – au moins il parle d’expérience – et peut-être le temps lui donnera raison…

Tout ce que j’ai fait, lorsque je travaillais pour le Figaro, c’est de dire qu’il existait un problème avec l’islam en Asie du sud, à un moment où il n’était pas politiquement correct de le dire. J’ai aussi écrit une série d’articles sur les grandes religions en Inde, qui ont provoqué l’ire des indianistes. Ceux-ci ont écrit au Figaro un impressionnant nombre de lettres de protestation, demandant des droits de réponse et ma démission. De ce jour là, j’ai été marqué et une campagne de diffamation à tous les niveaux a été initiée contre moi.

Quand on est accusé d’être antimusulman, c’est pire que d’être un pestiféré, on est condamné sans jugement, sans que les accusateurs s’objectivent une seconde. S’ils le faisaient, ils réaliseraient que c’est une ironie terrible: on excuse les attentats suicide en Israël ou à Bombay, au nom de la ‘persécution’ des Palestiniens, des Tchéchènes ou des Kashmiris; mais on accuse des pires crimes quelqu’un qui n’a jamais assassiné personne, ni même prôné la haine, mais a simplement écrit ce qu’il a constaté de ses yeux, en vingt ans de reportages.

Tout au long de ma carrière, j’ai souffert de cette étiquette qui ne s’explique pas mais est véhiculée de personne en personne et fait rapidement le tour de tout ce qui touche à l’Inde, que ce soit les agences de voyage, les expatriés, les diplomates ou les journalistes : « c’est un antimusulman, un pro-hindou, un fasciste »… Les gens, même les plus éclairés, ne veulent entendre que le politiquement correct, l’idéologie de masse, ils ne veulent jamais entendre la différence.

J’ai connu six ambassadeurs de France, mais jamais m’a-t-on invité pour me demander mon avis sur un sujet ou un autre. Je me suis même dernièrement fait jeter par l’ambassadeur actuel, Jérôme Bonnafont, qui m’a traité de… fasciste… parce que je lui ai fait remarquer que c’est après que 59 hindous innocents, dont 36 femmes et enfants, aient été brûlés dans un train par une meute de musulmans, que les émeutes antimusulmanes du Gujarat ont démarré.

C’est cette arrogance bien française, qui ne s’explique pas au pays des cartésiens, de traiter de secte tout ce qui a une couleur hindoue, ou de fascistes ceux avec qui on est en désaccord, sans leur accorder la chance de s’expliquer et sans même s’expliquer à soi-même la logique de ses accusations. Le président Sarkozy, qui a montré qu’il savait être différent, devrait constituer un petit comité de Français qui VIVENT l’inde du dedans, pour le conseiller.

François Gautier