The spectator

Most extremists in India are not Muslim – they are Hindu

The media has misleadingly conflated terrorism with Islam. But don't expect Narendra Modi or his ministers to clear up such misconceptions.

Are most terrorists in India Muslims? I had the chance to look at this following yet another avoidable incident last week.

On April 1, Nigeria’s ambassador to India responded to a comment made by Union minister Giriraj Singh, who said: “If Rajiv Gandhi had married a Nigerian lady and not a white-skinned woman, would the Congress have accepted her leadership?” The remark revealed the casual racism that is so commonplace in India.

Nigeria’s ambassador OB Okongor was upset enough to say, “I believe the prime minister will do right thing on this. I am not going to lodge protest.” Prime Minister Narendra Modi ignored it – once again, as those who have observed his conduct on such things will have noticed – though the media was naturally outraged.

Rediff ran a commentary headlined “5 reasons why Giriraj Singh should shut up”. It included this statement of his from last year: “Isn’t it true that all people caught in terrorist activities belong to one community? I am not trying to blame any one particular community. Why are all so-called secular parties silent on this?”

Presumably he means Muslims. He is of course not right in assuming that all people caught for terrorism are Muslims, but are Muslims responsible for most of the terrorism in India? Let’s look at the data. The South Asian Terrorism Portal lists fatalities and incidents across India. Quite helpfully, it also lists them by conflict theatre.

Numbers disprove belief

In 2014, there were 976 deaths from terrorism (or extremism, whatever name one wants to use for it) in India. Of these, the most (465) came in the North East. The second most (314) came from Left-wing extremism, by a group of people called Maoists. Deaths in Jammu & Kashmir, assuming we want to attribute the whole lot to terrorism, stood at 193. Outside of these conflict theatres, Islamist extremism claimed four lives.

In 2013, the figure was most for Maoists (421), the second most for the North East (252), and the Kashmir plus Islamist violence outside the state again came third (206). In 2012, we had a similar situation: Maoists (367), followed by the North East (326), followed by Kashmir (117). The total number of victims of Islamist terrorism outside these three areas, across India, was 1.

In 2011, Maoist violence claimed 602 lives, the North East 246, and Kashmir plus Islamist violence outside the state toll stood at 225. This year, again the sequence is the same, though violence levels across India have dropped, as they have been doing for the past decade.

As is obvious, most terrorists in India are Hindus, the ones whom we have conveniently labelled "Maoist" instead of "Hindu". The second largest group of terrorists are the tribals, Hindus, animists and perhaps some Christians of the North East. Muslims are third. If one looks outside the separatism of Kashmir, their violence and terrorism levels are among the lowest in the world and they appear to be less susceptible to terrorism not just by the standards of the world’s Muslims but also India’s Hindus.

A media construct

So what explains Giriraj Singh’s statement, which I must confess one hears all the time in India? I cannot remember the number of times I have been informed by someone at a party that “all Muslims are not terrorists but why are all terrorists Muslims?” They are not. Not even close.

The reason is that ‘terrorism’ is today accepted only that which is Islamist. And the reason for this is the narrative in the media, which has neatly conflated terrorism with Islam and Pakistan. News channels like Times Now run many more programmes firing middle class and Anglicised Indians up against ‘terrorism’ (i.e. Islamist/Pakistan) than they run shows on the North East and on Maoism, which claim a far greater number of lives as the figures show.

It is of course unfortunate that this should be the case, but we can explain away the common man using such arguments. For a Union minister to hold them as Gospel is frightening and shows how wrongheaded the members of this government are.

I said on a TV show after Giriraj Singh’s comment that Modi deliberately chose such unhinged people because they said what he wanted to but could not. He agreed with every word Singh said and that is why he was rewarded with a ministry. My comment greatly offended the Bharatiya Janata Party spokesman on the panel, who read out a list of cabinet ministers who were touched by sobriety, like Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley.

But surely these people pick themselves in any BJP cabinet. They have been leaders at the Centre before Modi. It is the new ministers, like Giriraj Singh and Niranjan Jyoti (famous for referring to non-Hindus as bastards), whom Modi has brought in. And he has done so, as I said, because he agrees with what they say, even though it is manifestly and demonstrably bogus.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.