Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) movement in Fiji: A foreign flower on local soil? Some questions for VHP
Thakur Ranjit Singh
You drive south from Ba town towards Rarawai into dusty, windy and bumby Vunisamaloa / Vaqia Road. The second driveway up the hill leads to the house of Medndi Khan, A Lahori Punjabi Muslim, who has been our village Aaja (grandfather) and his children have been our “chachha” (uncle). You drive down the third driveway to Bansi-Nivas (Bansi was my Rajasthani grandfather) and the first house is my home.
Scattered around the locality is our extended families and further on other Muslin community, who all have been like our relatives on bonds of Girmit when all our Girmitiyas came from India in the era when there was no partition, or the current Hindu-Muslim tension you have in India. The life in village has been colourful in Diwali and Holi, and feasting came with either Eid or a Muslim wedding, with authentic goat plau. Such was the networking, love and understanding where we all existed peacefully, bonded on Girmit ‘Jahajibhai relationship where all went through the same Girmit I indenture) history and adversity.
As a secondary school student I used to go to Sunday School at Gospel Chapel with Ashley Howan, people in Yalalevu , Ba may know his double storey house near railway crossing. He was a nice Christian priest who encouraged us to learn about Christ and I with other Hindu classmates, used to attend Sunday Schools and even attended their Easter Camp in Sabeto, Nadi. Today I am richer by knowing about Christ. So was peaceful co-existence of different religions.
But will this last, with encroachment of a nationalist political Hindu organisation, a movement, which took root in a conflict situation in India, completely alien to our co-existence in Fiji? And a movement (not a religion) that is known in India for its anti-stance and hate-attitude towards Islam, Christianity and other minority religions?
Sanatan Pratinidhi Sabha of Fiji, Fiji Muslim League, Arya Samaj, Then India Sanmargya Ikkam (TISI), Andhra Sangam, Fiji Council of Churches, Fiji Sikh Society, Kabir Panth, Sai organisation, Gujarat Samaj and other home-grown Fiji ethnic and religious organisations, germinated from graves, dust, blood and sweat of our Girmitiya forebears. All these organisations co-existed with respect for each other, sharing the same history and understanding of our transformation from slavery to independence and going through political instability.
However, a new “alien” phenomenon has started encroaching, which I suspect could add strain to hitherto peaceful co-existence, considering its historical inception and objectives. And that phenomenon is VHP- or Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
Wikipedia defines Vishwa Hindu Parishad as World Hindu Council, abbreviated VHP. It is an Indian right-wing Hindu nationalist non-governmental organization based on the ideology of Hindutva. It was founded in 1964 with its main objective “to organise, consolidate the Hindu society and to serve, protect the Hindu Dharma."
The VHP belongs to the Sangh Parivar, an umbrella of Hindu nationalist organisations led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). It has been involved in social service projects in India such as construction and renovation of Hindu temples, issues of cow slaughter, religious conversion, the Ayodhya dispute and its role in the Babri Masjid demolition.
If one appreciates India’s history since its partition and independence, one would appreciate VHP as a protector of Hinduism in India, and some even feel it is justified in some strong stance it has been taking in response to threat of violence and terrorism by Islamic, communist or other anti-Hindu groups. Hence, historically, it served commendably to protect Hinduism from external threats and still do. Within India, it can justify its existence. [But in Fiji?]
However, despite that, there is increasing disquiet about the actions of VHP and its associated organisation. It has been reportedly linked to violence, persecution of minority religions, riots and breaking of laws to enforce its type of religious thinking. Even India’s new PM whose party, BJP is supported by VHP has been critical of VHP’s obsession with the concept of Hindutva, compared to secularism which is enshrined in India’s constitution. (And Fiji’s as well)
Hence looking at that scenario where the birth of VHP was in a conflict situation, much to do with external real and perceives threat, especially from Islam, Christianity and Communism, we need to be skeptical of its entry in Fiji which never had religious-based tensions, conflicts, or even issues. People in Fiji need to ask what relevance has its brand of fundamentalism is justified in Fiji? Are we under any threat? For religious purposes, do not we already have ample home-grown organizations?
I raise some issues here where the leadership of VHP in Fiji and India need to answer civilly and intelligently, without indulging in name-calling, defamation, shooting-the-messenger, insults and other of their proven and known traits which seem miles apart from the teaching of Hinduism and Hindu motto of ‘Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam (the world is a family)“:
1) Why it took VHP some fifty years to enter Fiji, especially when we had gone through our upheavals and are now on some semblance of political stability?
2) If VHP really considered itself as the respectable and representatives of all Hindus in India, why did it not come to Fiji to unite various Hindu organizations, or work with them to promote and enhance Hinduism and perhaps become a sort of umbrella body to meet peaceful objectives? As Fiji already has multiple-home grown Hindu organizations for all sectors of the community, what is the need for this foreign transplant?
3) If VHP really have honorable intentions for Fiji, why did it not work in cooperation, coordination and consultation with the largest Hindu organisation in Fiji, Sanatan Pratinidhi Sabha of Fiji or other existing ones? Why did it come in to splinter this august body, set up by our Girmitiyas? We appreciate there are administrative issues with this organisation, as so many of them have in India, but is this unceremonious entry into Fiji suits an organisation which seeks respectability and support from Hindus? Does it realise that their introduction into Fiji was a knee-jerk reactions from some sacked officials of Sanatan who were accused on bringing disrepute to the organisation and religion? Is that how VHP promotes Hinduism, by supporting delinquency among youth, to go against the elders and an already –established institution?
4) Can I equate entry of VHP in Fiji to the introduction of Mahasang in Fiji, using links with India, an Indian Gujarati lawyer and a saffron clad monk? [This relates to divide –and-rule technique employed by AD Patel, aided by the saffron clad Saadhu, Swami Rudranand, 75 years ago. In 1937, Pundit Ayodya Prasad started Fiji Kisan Sangh, a union for Indian cane farmers. Then enters a Gujarati lawyer, diluting the voice of Girmitiya cane farmers with a politically –motivated rival organisation. This division resulted in dilution of unity of farmers, where the main beneficiary was CSR Company which could continually exploit farmers in a divided farmers union.] Is history repeating itself in Fiji, and VHP has adopted the divide –and- rule strategy they learnt from the British?
5) Do not we have a similar scenario here where some Gujarati and other rich businessmen are supporting the transplant of saffron-clad people from an alien organisation? Isn’t the sentiment of VHP Fiji to take “revenge” with Sanatan, and weaken it? Is not it founded and rooted in vindictiveness? Is that an honorable objective? If a house is in ruins, should we repair it or burn it? Should not VHP, if it was really interested in promoting Hinduism, have given a supporting hand to Sanatan, rather than aiding and abetting its humiliation through a rebel group?
6) All the other peaceful religious objectives of VHP have been amply served by the existing home-grown organizations in Fiji. What other objectives have they in mind? Is there some dissatisfaction with conversion of people to Christianity? Is there any threats from Islamic terrorism? Do we have threats from Communists? What has VHP’s inception and initiation in India common to a peaceful Fiji? India has always kept a hands-off approach to Indo-Fijian problems, and even Indira Gandhi who visited us in 80 told us that we were Fijians. Our people persevered and suffered under British, then we had no VHP. Why now? Do we need you? Are you relevant to Fiji?
|The face of VHP in pushing for Hindutva concept in India. Fiji Hindus need to decide whether they will allow their children to resort to such hard-stance on religion which is foreign to Fiji.|
7) Does VHP teach common manners to its Executives and Officials on how to talk and conduct themselves publicly? Do they have words like respect, humility, and common human decency in their dictionary, instead of running down people, shooting the messenger and calling them names? [I am branded a “failed –journalist, a useless ageing self-appointed journalist, suitable for a toilet cleaner’s job in a business one VHP leaders owns in Fiji] Is this the brand of Hinduism, culture, youth development and Hindu sentiments and civilization VHP intends to transplant internationally?
Other questions remain, but I will stop at this and hope some sane answers are given, without shooting or threatening the messenger, as has been the habit, trait and manners of VHP officials I know. This will be sent to media in Fiji, NZ, Australia and India as well and hope there is some response to the issues raised. There are some others to come.
It is upon the Girmitiya descendants of Fiji to see how they have always been taken advantage of others. In this case, they need to strengthen their own home-grown organisation, rather than a nationalist political movement which in no way represent all Hindus in India, and does not gel with local situation in Fiji. Their Indian objectives are just not relevant to Fiji.
|Freedom of religion is enshrined in Fiji's Constitution, and all are allowed to practise their belief, without any intimidation, as VHP does in India.|
I leave it upon people of Fiji to search the activities of VHP and its related arms of Rastriye Swem Sewak (RSS), Bajrang Dal and Durga Vahini, the female organisation accused of mistreating religious minorities. Most of these organizations, may have relevance in India, torn with religious strife. But do we need that brand of Hinduism in Fiji? What relevance do they have in Fiji?
[Thakur Ranjit Singh is a media commentator, blogger and has been a former Executive of a Branch of Sanatan Fiji. He is a founding Trustee of Fiji Girmit Foundation of NZ which celebrates and honours the unique Indo-Fijian culture, which germinated from Girmit or Indenture experience of Fiji Indian descendants. He is now volunteer media and communications officer of Sanatan Fiji. Thakur has been dubbed as a ‘failed journalist” by the Presidents of VHP in NZ and Fiji respectively. He holds Masters in Communication Studies with honours (MCS) from Auckland University of Technology (AUT), and runs two blog sites, with some 120 articles posted at FIJI PUNDIT and KIWI PUNDIT]