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Unholy warriors

Bigots don?t care about peace. They stress on the virtues of fighting for their faith, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: Apr 15, 2006 01:52 IST

They tell us all religions preach peace: the Muslim’s ‘Islam’ means the same as the Hindu’s ‘Shanti’, the Sikh’s ‘Sarbat da bhalaa’ and the Christian’s ‘peace and goodwill on Earth’.

What they don’t tell us is that preachers of all religions have hijacked sizeable sections of their communities who believe their religion to be superior to any other and they should be ever ready to lay down their lives for it. This attitude towards others is called religious fundamentalism. A more appropriate word for it is bigotry — kattarpan.

Bigots don’t care much about preaching peace. They emphasise the virtues of fighting for their faith. Whether it’s called jehad or dharmayuddh, its ugliest manifestations can be seen in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Unfortunately, few leaders are aware of the rising menace of distorted religious dogma. Or they are and are not brave enough to devise means of combating it. In all three countries, nurseries preaching exclusivism and hatred of other religions are flourishing. If you do not believe me, take a look at Edna Fernandes’ Holy Warriors: A Journey Into the Heart of Indian Fundamentalism (Viking).

Fernandes is a Goan Catholic who spends her time equally between London and Delhi. She spent many months collecting material for her book travelling across India, interviewing people like the head of the Darul-Uloom in Deoband, the Imam Sahib of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, leaders of the Sangh parivar, K.P.S. Gill (on Khalistanis), born-again Christians, etc.

She has put down their views without garnishing them with her own. It is as objective an assessment of the perils that lie ahead for India as I have ever read. It is a must-read for all Indians who love their country and wish it to prosper as a secular democracy.

Jaipur revisited

Five years ago, I went to Jaipur on the invitation of Rajmata Gayatri Devi’s Public School. It took me four hours to get to the centre of the city. I wrote about the highway being the best in the country, lined with purple  bougainvilleas growing and with eateries every few miles.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Jaipur again. It took me four hours to reach the hotel which is another 45 minutes from the city centre. On the way, I stopped at a restaurant to refresh myself and my daughter who was accompanying me. We had a soft drink each. The bill came to nearly Rs 200.

The traffic on the road had more than doubled and the highway was in bad shape at many places. People and cattle strayed on to the road slowing down traffic. I have little doubt that in another two years, unless the highway is made four-laned and measures are taken to prevent fleecing travellers, tourists will switch over from the road to rail or air.

Not all was as bleak as I am making it out to be. Rajasthan is also showing ingenious ways of seducing foreign tourists which hoteliers of cities like Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Delhi consider too garish to introduce.

We drove to the entrance of Le Meridien a few yards away from the main highway. A huge caprisoned elephant waved its trunk to salute us. A few steps later, a group of Rajasthani folk dancers went gyrating to the sounds of a sarangi and a drum. We were garlanded and had red tikas marked on our foreheads. The expansive lounge was loud with music and song — not piped, but live music.

The rooms were lavish and stocked with modern amenities. After a short rest, I went to the lounge to see the raunaq. Foreigners came in droves looking somewhat bewildered by the reception. I was left alone for a while watching guests cavorting in the pool. Finding no other listeners, two folk dancers came to my table. We got talking.

One of them was Birbal, and the other, his son who played a dafla, was Anil Kumar. Birbal came from a family of folk singers and had added to his reportoire gazhals and film songs. Only for my ears he sang Jagjit Singh’s Meyra geet amar kar do.

In the evening our party assembled in the cocktail lounge. Again as lavish as anything I had seen in the best five-star hotels anywhere. Exotic snacks ranging from prawns, tikka-kebabs and caviar. I was groggy with gourmet food and premier single malts. I decided to forego dinner and retire for the night. I didn’t get much sleep. I found overdone luxury unsettling.

I took a stroll round the shopping arcade. One shop had colourful trinkets as well as some books, five of them on Maharani Gayatri Devi. There was a Jaipur Namah and several copies of Kama Sutra. I looked for one with my name on it. There was none. The shop owner asked, “Aap ka shubh naam?” I told him hoping it would ring a bell. He dashed my hopes by asking, “Aap kaam kya kartey hain?”  I told him I write books and mentioned a few titles. He delivered the final dampener: “I have never heard of them.”

Birds of a feather

My neighbour and I were talking about bird-flu. His 4-year-old grand daughter was listening attentively. After a while, she asked him: “Grandpa, whose bird flew away?”

(Contributed by Reetan Ganguly, Tezpur)