The Sixth World Conference on the Culture of Peace hosted by UNESCO was held at Paris between July 8-13, 2000, and attended by many hundred delegates from all over the world. The South Asian contribution at the conference, was dynamic and focussed. Thanks to the invitation facilitated by Frères des Hommes and Fondation France Libertés, Teesta Setalvad, director of KHOJ a secular education programme and Aman a South Asia Studies programme and also one of the editors of Communalism Combat, was one of the speakers.

On July 10, 2000, Teesta Setalvad addressed a plenary session on 'Educational Challenges for a Culture of Peace.' Before dealing with the question of content and focus of the KHOJ and Aman programmes, she made a strong political appeal to UNESCO, and through it to the United Nations, international organisations and actors in different countries on the critical and fast deteriorating political scenario in India.

The text of the appeal:



Friends and Comrades, As an Indian delegate facing this world assembly, as a journalist, an educator and human rights' and peace activist I simply cannot afford to waste this opportunity. To try, in just a few words to impress upon you that the India that each one of you vaguely relate to, is no more. The India of Gandhi and Nehru, who, while battling with poverty, stood proud and committed to democracy, secularism, peace and non-violence has been replaced, blatantly and insiduously, by an India where the rule of law is being flouted every day, by goon squads claiming protection by the right wing Hindu Party that leads the present government, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

A culture of macho violence and hate speech and propaganda not to mention aggressive militarisation and nuclearisation is being preached by the government in power and through groups that claim open allegience to it, like the Rashtriya Swayamvekak Sangh (RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Shiv Sena and the Bajrang Dal. I list these names consciously.

 Because, one of these players, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has some weeks ago applied to the United Nations Organisation (UNO) for special consultative status claiming to be an NGO "that works for the total welfare of humanity." This organisation has been at the vanguard of the aggressive communal movement to demolish a 600 year old Mosque in northern India in 1992. The systematic campaign to demolish a religious place of worship was cleverly accompanied by hate propaganda that still continues, even more openly than before, to lead and justify brutal acts of violence against 11 per cent of the Indian population, Muslims.  Today, the 'enemy' of the hit squads of the Hindu right wing have included Indian Christians as their major target. Just last month, a priest (Catholic) was brutally killed, his cook an eye-witness to the murder, tortured to death in police custody. Violent crimes against Indian Christians in the past two years have crossed the 200 mark. These include the rape of nuns, the burning to death of a pastor and his two sons, the vandalism of Churches and of Holy Books.

Christians are worse enemies than Muslims", "Ninety per cent of Muslims are anti-national and criminals. Teach them a lesson." Writings, statements and public exhortations like these by 'leaders' of 'Hindu communal outfits' escape the arm of the law. We are witnessing a sharp shrinking of democratic space accompanied by rampant evidence of a blatant anti-minority bias in the Indian policeman. These serious developments combined by a blatant attempt by the BJP government to influence the Indian armed forces by recruiting members of these aggressive and rabid organisations as well as their concerted attempt to vitiate the content of Indian text-books with xenophobic and racist writings against large sections of Indians, have convinced us struggling peace and justice within India, that we may be actually be witnessing the onset of full-fledged fascism.

 The fact we have the advantage of half-century-old institutions of education, justice, media, even government, gives us some space for manouvre. But, for how long? Lived fascism is a reality in India today. Muslims and Christians are forced, through violent means to confine residence to ghettos. The fact that 160 million Indians, Dalits, remain oppressed by a hidden apartheid despite the existence of the Indian Constitution is India's shame, a cross we have to bear. But to violently further deny basic human rights to another 120 million Indians, through a politics that overtly constructs the superiority of the upper caste, Hindu and dubs Muslims and Christians as foreigners 'who must learn to live in subjugation or else…." How many of us know, or remember that the Gandhi who is still dear to international organisations and governments for his deep and moral commitment to non-violence, the Gandhi who inspired Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, was shot dead by a man, a Hindu fanatic, who worshipped Hitler and believed that Gandhi's non-violence had emasculated the Hindu Indian and robbed him of his masculinity?

Gandhi said, and believed that in matters of conscience, the majority had no place. Nehru believed (or should I say predicted?) that "Fascism in India would come (or could come) in the garb of Hindu majoritarian and communalism."

Many of us in this struggle believe that the majority is still on our side. My worry is, their silence. Genocide is always and only possible with the tacit compliance of the silence of the majority. And I, and many of us, deeply worry that the majority has been silenced by the systematic half-truths and hate propaganda that any fascist agenda enlists.

A friend, a renowned poet from India, Javed Akhtar, drew a chilling analogy to the Indian political scene recently when he used the image of a frog being boiled. If you were to throw the frog straight in boiling water, the poor creature would react strongly, if only for a moment, before it is scalded to death. If, instead, you were to drop the frog in water at 'normal' temperature and raise the heat ever so slowly, degree by degree, the poor frog would come to its sad end without even being aware of it.

 The situation friends, back home, is grim. My additional concern is the attitude of western countries, with a vital monetary stake in globalisation generally and the vast Indian market, specifically, who's interest it would be to turn a blind eye to these developments in the interest of pure profit. What is genocide or impending fascism in India when there is a hard profit to be made? For the French government militarisation and nuclearisation in South Asia could means arm sales to both India and Pakistan!

 We Indians have a myth about ourselves. Every civilization has a myth about itself. Ours is that we are the most non-violent and tolerant in the world. Through pure self-interest and concern for hard profit, western countries may just help us perpetuate this myth.

(Appeal written and read by Teesta Setalvad at the UNESCO conference on July 10, 2000).