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Right ho, Mr. Gautier

The English did it wrong. But we are blessed today with a French journalist who is undoing the injustice meted out to our glorious tradition.

Francois Gautier: man on a mission — Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash

THE WHITE man, who came to our shores as a trader, colonised us, wrote our history, and even determined our future in some ways. Now we have amidst us another white man — French this time — who has taken upon himself the task of setting right some of these historical wrongs. He is offering to re-read Indian history from an Indian point of view and tell us a thing or two about what we ought to be like.

Meet Francois Gautier, a journalist in India for the last 34 years, has plunged into his mission with gusto. Sample, for instance, his analysis of the post-Godhra violence: "...What if Gujarat was the first sign that tolerant, peace-loving Hindus who for centuries have accepted other religions and ethnicities and allowed them to practice and prosper in peace... are fed up of being made fun off (sic), sullied, harassed, killed, their temples sprayed with bullets and grenades, their train burnt, their Parliament attacked, their markets blown up, their women raped? ... What, however reprehensible their acts was (sic), if peace-loving Hindus have shown, for the first time, that they can retaliate in kind ... ?" (Check out his home page, Marxism and the Saffron Wave, December 20, 2003)

Mr. Gautier was in town with his exhibition of photographs on atrocities on Kashmiri Pandits, sponsored by Forum Against Continued Terrorism (FACT) of which he is convenor. The show was inaugurated by Sri Ravi Shankar of the Art of Living Foundation. While here, Mr. Gautier also spoke on his recent work, Rewriting Indian History (India Research Press, Rs. 295).

His talk at the Strand Book Stall proceeded on predictable lines. He reeled out statistics on hunger deaths in India during British rule and, in the same breath, listed out the atrocities on Hindus by Mughal emperors. "Why aren't these facts in the history books?" he asked in outrage, and was scathing on all men of all complexions who have done injustice to Indian history down the ages: if Max Mueller predated Indian history, Nehru pushed all the "bloody invasions" under the carpet. A "reopening of old wounds", Mr. Gautier said, was to be done in the name of "Truth".

The talk was the on the same day Sonia Gandhi landed here and the good journalist was very much clued in. Attributing the Aryan invasion theory to the "craving for the fair skin" and a tendency to attribute all the good within our culture to forces outside, he went on to ask passionately: "Why is there so much adoration for Sonia Gandhi? It reminds me of colonial times." After a dramatic pause, he said: "Aryan invasion!" It's the warped Aryan invasion theory that's really the root cause of the Indian brain drain. We don't read our history from the right perspective, and so, simply don't have enough nationalist pride. It's from the West that we, who have such a passion for aping the West, need to learn our lessons on this count: "The French are taught to be proud of their culture, the Germans are taught to be proud of their culture..."

As some nodded their heads in approval and others squirmed in their seats, Mr. Gautier went on to sing the glories of Indian democracy, for it has "allowed" Muslims and Dalits to occupy the highest seats of power. Can one imagine a black becoming a President either in America or France? And if the Western world is blind to all the goodness overflowing over here, the Indian journalists are largely to blame: "Indian journalists are very guilty because they are products of British education." Why do Indian journalists write about corruption and caste atrocities, but not enough about our glorious Vedic heritage or our "generosity" towards Muslims and Dalits? It was with a view to produce patriotic journalists that the Art of Living Foundation, with which Mr. Gautier is closely associated, started the media studies centre, he said.

But journalists will be journalists, not only "anti-national" but also incurable spoilsports. After the talk, one asked: "If we should dig under mosques to find temples, shouldn't we also dig under temples to find Jain temples?" Another demanded to know why we need to construct a mythical past to be a united nation today. As things got a bit sticky, writer Shashi Deshpande intervened (she began with "I am not a journalist!" hoping not to be adjudged "guilty" at the outset) and said it was the Western press that was full of biases about India.

Mr. Gautier either simply didn't understand any of the uncomfortable questions or chose to go completely off target in his answers. On occasions, he wouldn't even let a respondent complete what he had to say. Since the whole exercise finally seemed like a waste of breath, many questions went unasked. For instance, what would his notion of "Indianness" mean to a Naga in the North-East or a Badaga in the Nilgiris belt? Or, can we take the contemporary concept of an "Indian nation" and arrogate it to this geographic location 10,000 years ago? And, whose purpose does this rabble-rousing, from an outdated Orientalist perspective, serve today?

Long years of stay in India seem to have infused the quintessential Indian spirit in Mr. Gautier. How else could he have learnt the art of pushing all disconcerting facts under the carpet much better than any true blue Indian? Bravo, the conversion is complete!


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