The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Other Shoes



Mick Hall • 8 April 2004

I recently paid a visit to India, a country I am not that familiar with although of course I am well aware of its long history and the titanic struggle its people conducted to get out from under the heel of the British Empire and its Raj. Today it is considered by most as the largest and therefore in many ways the most successful democracy in the third world if not beyond. There can be little doubt that the country has made tremendous strides since it gained independence under the charismatic leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and the political leadership of Pandit Nehru and the Congress Party.

It is a nation that is made up of people from many races and cultures, speaking a countless number of different languages and dialects. All of the worlds major religions plus some less well known in the West are, or have in the past been practised there. Whilst tens of millions of India's citizens are members of the Christian and Muslim faiths, the vast majority of the population belong to the Hindu religion, indeed the second national language Hindi is named after that religion and in English means Indian. This being so and also taking into account the latter religion incorporates a ridged caste system, the founders of the modern Indian State understood if their fellow countrymen and women were to live in comparative peace, their new State would have to be built upon strong secular foundations. Thus they made it illegal to discriminate against anyone because of their race, caste or religion. Thus those who belonged to the lower caste within the Hindu religion, the untouchables or dalits, who for millennia's had only been allowed to carry out the most menial tasks, such as cleaning toilets, were able after independence to play a full role for the first time within society and the professions. The same goes for those who belonged to the Muslim and Christian faiths.

Sadly much of this began to change when Mr Vajpayee, whose political party is the Bharatiya Janata Party, was elected India's Prime Minister in 1997. The BJP is part of the Hindu fundamentalist family of groups, which are broadly called the Sangha Parivar, the family of the Rashtriya Syamsevak Sangh, or national volunteer group. This is an ideological group formed in the late 1920s, deriving its inspiration and much of its practice, including having a Brown Shirt type Paramilitary group (the RSS) from the life and work of Adolf Hitler. Like Hitler, they believe in racial supremacy, in treating the Semitic races and all non-Hindu races as second-class subjugate people with no rights to citizenship. They believe in a brand of cultural nationalism, which brooks absolutely no variety, no breadth of culture, no range of religion, a very monolithic mono-colour Hindu culture. Thus their slogan is, "one nation, one culture, one people, one language". Something that the Indian States founders understood only too well hardly fits the diverse nature of the Indian population.

On leaving the airport terminal on my arrival in India, I experienced the total culture shock that almost all visitors from the West experience, no matter how many times they have visited India before. The bright sun light, unfamiliar smells, some pleasant some less so, the sheer numbers of people and the hustle and bustle they create as they go about their tasks, the high speeds, the traffic whizzes by one, at a rate of miles per hour more suitable to the outside lane of a four lane motorway/highway. The number of people who approach you to offer to carry your bag, find you a room, taxi, car hire, ask you for a hand out, sell you any thing from a drink of water to precious stones, the sudden appearance of a cow, which can happen almost anywhere from the airport runway, railway station, city centre, a motorway or at the beach. All of the aforementioned put together at first makes you wish to turn and run as quick as possible back to the comparative safety of the airport terminal.

Finally somehow more by luck and chance, you reach the peace and quiet of your hotel room in which you sit and relax for the first time since you got off the plane, unsure if you would ever get up enough courage and energy to emerge from its protective walls. But emerge you do and after a few days find yourself gradually acclimatising to this beautiful, sometimes exhilarating, yet infuriating land. I decided to travel south down the west coast through the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Kanataka and Kerela, although due to distance and time I only got to see the first three States. All four states are regarded as being more western than most; Maharashtra, the capital of which is Mumbai (Bombay) -- this city is many westerners' first taste of India and it overwhelms one.

Goa having been part of the Portuguese empire never directly experienced the British Raj, although the majority of its people are Hindus it has a large Christian population and Roman Catholic churches can be found all over the State. Its coastal strip makes its main living from tourism both from overseas and from tourist's travelling in from other parts of India. Due to this, unlike almost every other state in India, alcohol is legally sold thus making it an attractive holiday destination for Mumbai’s emerging middle classes, whose younger generation at times would fit perfectly into any major Irish or English City centre on a Friday or Saturday night. I.e. they get as drunk as lords and like much of our own youth, lose their inhibitions in the process.

Kanataka by Indian standards is regarded as a very liberal State. Around Bangalore it is emerging as India's silicone valley. The call centres that have relocated from Ireland, the UK and other parts of Western Europe to India have in the main ended up here. It is a massive State with a population of 50 million plus. Finally Kerela is one of India's success stories, until very recently and since independence the Communist Party of India has governed it. It has the highest literacy rate in India plus some of the best state funded health care. It goes to show that to build a successful welfare state with good schooling and health care is not achieved by pumping cash at the problem alone. Political commitment and idealism also helps to oil the wheels of progress. Kerela also attract tourists from abroad, having some of the most beautiful coastline and inland waterways in India. It is also multi cultural, there has been a Jewish community in Kerela's Cochin City for a thousand years and more and like Goa there are Christian communities that go back almost 2000 years. There is also a Chinese community amongst many others.

In India to travel by road can best be described, as a bit of a nightmare, the roads surfaces are poor often being washed out or damaged by the monsoon. Driving a car there can be death defying; sadly far too often it is also death inducing, India having one of the highest rates of fatalities on its roads in the world. This being so the safest and in many ways the best way to travel long distances in comfort and be able to view the countryside as it goes by is on the excellent Indian Railways. From Mumbai down the coast to Kerela it is a joy to take the train; the passing countryside is superb, wide rivers, bright green paddy fields, jungle and fertile farmlands, once past northern Goa the Western Ghats mountain range lays in the distance parallel to the railways. Plus your fellow passengers are friendly and often interesting. So I decided to let the train take the strain and never once regretted it.

Before I left Mumbai I saw an interview aired on TV with Sonia Gandhi, the Italian born leader of the Congress Party, in which she said how much she regretted the growing support the governing party, the Hindu nationalist BJP is getting, especially from the middle classes. Indeed only that week two of the younger members of her own family had deserted Congress to join this Hindu Party. She went on to say that her main aim if Congress wins the forthcoming elections would be to attempt to return the Nation to its secular roots. This interview disturbed me as I set out on my travels down the coast, little did I realise how much what I found was to confirm her viewpoint. I travelled over night making Goa my first stop. Even in liberal Goa it soon became clear that the power of the Hindu temple had greatly increased over recent years. Temples were packed and as elsewhere on my travels it was the middle classes who were pulling the strings. As in the past the Temple provided free meals for the poor and destitute, however there numbers seemed to have increased ten fold in recent years. At first one feels that the Hindu Temples, by feeding those who cannot provide for themselves are contributing a necessary service. However if one probes deeper, like much charitable works in the West there is an ulterior motive for this largess. The Hindu nationalist central government has sent the message down the line that the law that provides equal employment rights for the lowest caste, the untouchables should be ignored and the police should not enforce it. Thus millions of people who could and did once have jobs at all levels of society, now find themselves and thus their families destitute. Those who had managed to claw their way into the professions have found the doors that had been opened to them by the founders of the state, now closed. As this is done unofficially they have no legal recourse to fight their corner. It is nothing short of a State sponsored blacklist. If one considers that the upper Hindu castes discriminate against members of their own faith it does not need a leap of imagination to understand how they treat Muslims and Christians.

It is to the political activists who control the Temples who the newly destitute lower castes must turn for their only source of subsistence. Thus the BJP and its Paramilitary organisation the RSS in the process of providing 'charity' to the ’ poor,’ get a willing army of people, who in return for a square meal will be only to often willing to carry out tasks that the middle classes and their Priests would rather not dirty their hands with. A tactic that was previously practised in the late 1920's early 30's by the German Nazi Party, who in a period of mass unemployment due to the great depression provided soup kitchens for the German unemployed, many of whom were then channelled into the Hitlerite Brown Shirts and SS. Another thing that struck me as I moved down the coast and into the State of Kanataka, was the number of newly built or restored Hindu Temples. A sure signs of a newly emerging religious fundamentalism, whatever the religious creed, is the profusion of newly built buildings for the faithful to worship and socialise in. One sees the same thing in western Turkey; except there it is new mosques that are springing up due to the largess of the 'moderate' Islamic government in Ankara led by Recep Erdogan. Or in many states in the USA where the creed is born again Christianity and the signs are newly built Churches and ‘Cathedrals’. The fact that throughout my entire period in India, I did not see a single newly built Mosque or Church for me emphasised this point about fundamentalist Hinduism.

As in many third world countries people in India are often keen to discuss politics and how they impact upon the international stage. Sadly whilst this still happens in India, people are far more hesitant to open up themselves if they feel that a person from a different religion is present, or even, although less so a different caste. This is especially true of the minority communities. Just as people who live in the north of Ireland can tell persons religion instinctively, the same is true in India. After all in both countries at times peoples lives have depended on being able to do so. I often noticed this hesitancy to join in on my train journey. Whilst Hindus being the majority were willing to freely express their opinions, I often whilst engaged in political chats caught the eyes of say a Muslim or Christian sitting near by, eagerly listing to my conversations, seemingly wanting to join in and put their point of view, but fearing the consequences, real or imagined if they were to do so. Like here in the West since the CIA's one time creation, Bin Laden emerged onto the world's stage as the US States' very own Frankenstein's monster, Muslims in India have also come under a crescendo of abuse and rumour mongering that has often ending in violence being done to them. There can be little doubt that much of this anti Islamic sentiment has unofficial backing from the Indian State and is orchestrated by the BJP Government both at a national and local level. After all there stated aim is a Hindu State, as far as they are concerned non-Hindus should immigrate to Muslim countries such as Pakistan or if Christians they should go to the Vatican State in Italy. Indeed Congress leader Sonia Gandhi is regularly told by the Hindu press to return to Italy and take India's Christians with her, no matter how nonsensical this may sound to us in the West it is a sentiment believed and expressed by Hindus at all levels of Indian society to day.

Sadly as far as my journey was concerned, time, funds or lack of them and responsibilities back home had caught up with me and I was unable to complete my intended itinerary. Thus I was forced to return northwards and my flight home. The trip had given me much to think about but one thing I did conclude. It would do some good if those who are most vocal in opposing those who come to our countries in the West to build a better life for themselves and families, were to spent some time in Asia, and see how hard life can be for the overwhelming majority of people there, and instead of spiting bile, considered what they would do in similar circumstances. After all, this does not take much imagination, as it is something millions of people from the shores of Ireland, Scotland and Wales have themselves out of necessity done in the not to distant past. However this would entail them putting themselves in another's shoes. Something many of them are not even prepared to do for their near neighbours.




Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

9 April 2004


Other Articles From This Issue:


Richard McAuley - 'a literary giant of our time'
Barney de Breadbin and Eamon Codswolloper


Hear, Hear!
Brian Mór


How Will Paisley's Rise Play in America?
Sean Mc Manus


Other Shoes

Mick Hall


A Septic Needle
Anthony McIntyre


Why More Will Hate More and Less Will Understand Less
Michael Youlton


Save the Hill of Tara
Seaghán Ó Murchú


5 April 2004


Following the True Tradition
Eamonn McCann


Sinn Fein - Sold a Pup: Martin Cunningham Interviewed
Anthony McIntyre


Going to the Flix
Brian Mór


Reports and Inquiries
George Young


State Department Flip-flop to Offset Cory?

Sean Mc Manus


Updating Capitalist Rule
Liam O'Ruairc


The Rush to Judgement: Binary Thinking in a Digital Age
Michael Youlton


"Poor people can't be engineers" - Free Market Corruption, Neo-Liberal Pretexts
Toni Solo




The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices