Fact vs. Rumors in India Religion





Modern Hindu nationalists threaten the secular political ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and fellow enlightened founders of India’s nation state, said A.J. Philip, Senior Editor of India’s The Tribune, to a gathering of journalists in Istanbul, Turkey.


Philip doesn’t think that Hindu ideologues will succeed in undoing the secular Indian state, but he believes the effort is dangerous and victimizes Christian and Muslim minorities.


“A distinguishing feature of their campaign is that they resort to falsification of history, rumor-mongering and myth-making to suggest that Hindus…are under siege,” Philip said at The Media Project’s conference on rumors and journalism hosted in Istanbul.


This siege mindset persists though Hindus make up more than 80% percent of India’s population. According to Philip, even if birthrates among minority populations were to increase noticeably, India’s overall demographics wouldn’t change for “eons”.


Philip suggests that convenient misconceptions about Christians and Muslims drive the Hindu backlash, such as the well-worn adage that “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims”. Philip points out that, in fact, some of the worst terrorist incidents in India originated from Hindus themselves. Gandhi and two key Prime Ministers were killed by non-Muslim terrorists, and the most violence-prone groups in northeast India today are Hindu insurgents, he said.


Hindu nationalists also frequently and erroneously charge that Christians are forcing Hindus to convert. Philip contests this by pointing out that the concept of “conversion” doesn’t exist in Hinduism. Only birth can create a Hindu. He also noted that during this period of alleged forced conversions the number of Christians in India actually decreased. And despite the rise of anti-conversion laws, no Christian has been convicted of forcible conversion.


Still, opponents of “non-Sanskriti” religions, which are religions originating outside of India, refuse to accept that Christianity and Islam attract converts by virtue of the egalitarianism and other merits of these belief systems, said Philip. Hindu nationalists instead resort to using statistics selectively or to disparaging “foreign” religious customs, such as polygamy in Islam, to support their positions.


“It is suggested that Muslims practice polygamy and this accounts for their higher growth rate,” said Philip. “This is an absurd argument. For one thing, there are not enough Muslim women for the Muslim men to marry and, for another, there is no logic to believe that polygamy is responsible for producing more children.”


The tensions between Hindu nationalists and minority Christians and Muslims will not be resolved quickly. But Philip believes that a dose of accurate information would go a long way toward rectifying some of the worst excesses, many of which are the result of blatant rumor and falsehoods.


Philip says it is up to the media to resist a climate of rumors and myth-making, which he describes as the weapons of communal and fascist organizations.


“Journalists have a responsibility to see through their game,” Philip concluded, “and help defeat it by reporting the truth.


 Summary Article by Richard Potts, The Media Project staff

Asia, ReligionAJ Philip