THE WISDOM FUND: News & Views
New York Times
February 5, 2003

The Other Face of Fanaticism

by Pankaj Mishra

On the evening of Jan. 30, 1948, five months after the independence and partition of India, Mohandas Gandhi was walking to a prayer meeting on the grounds of his temporary home in New Delhi when he was shot three times in the chest and abdomen. . . .

the assassin was revealed as Nathuram Godse, a Hindu Brahmin from western India, . . .

According to a report by Human Rights Watch, the worst violence occurred in the commercial city of Ahmedabad: ''Between Feb. 28 and March 2 the attackers descended with militia-like precision on Ahmedabad by the thousands, arriving in trucks and clad in saffron scarves and khaki shorts, the signature uniform of Hindu nationalist -- Hindutva -- groups. Chanting slogans of incitement to kill, they came armed with swords, trishuls (three-pronged spears associated with Hindu mythology), sophisticated explosives and gas cylinders. They were guided by computer printouts listing the addresses of Muslim families and their properties . . . and embarked on a murderous rampage confident that the police was with them. In many cases, the police led the charge, using gunfire to kill Muslims who got in the mobs' way.''

The scale of the violence was matched only by its brutality. Women were gang-raped before being killed. Children were burned alive. Gravediggers at mass burial sites told investigators "that most bodies that had arrived . . . were burned and butchered beyond recognition. Many were missing body parts -- arms, legs and even heads. The elderly and the handicapped were not spared. In some cases, pregnant women had their bellies cut open and their fetuses pulled out and hacked or burned before the women were killed." . . .

Not much is known about the R.S.S. in the West. After Sept. 11, the Hindu nationalists have presented themselves as reliable allies in the fight against Muslim fundamentalists. But in India their resemblance to the European Fascist movements of the 1930's has never been less than clear. In his manifesto ''We, or Our Nationhood Defined'' (1939), Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, supreme director of the R.S.S. from 1940 to 1973, said that Hindus could ''profit'' from the example of the Nazis, who had manifested ''race pride at its highest'' by purging Germany of the Jews.

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