For One Democratic State
in the whole of Palestine (Israel)


FOR One Man, One Vote



India: The First Victim

By Israel Shamir 

India is as warm and comfortable as ever. Over thirty years have passed since I roamed around in her cities and temples as a young long-haired white-cotton-trousered journalist cub, but coming back is easy. Things on the ground have not changed much – but they have changed.

It is the same dense, busy crowd in Old Delhi, but the terrible poverty and hunger has disappeared or been pushed away. There are beggars, but they appear to be Gypsy professionals who reputedly fly to summer vacation sites for their short season, rather than disaster-stricken Bihar peasants, who ask for our charity.

It is the same immense green lawns of the British-built New Delhi, but now they are frequented by middle class families picnicking in their Sunday garb.

Centuries-old Mughal gardens are bristling with visiting ladies clad in exquisite polychrome saris and with striped pyjama-fashion grey squirrels, but the palaces are in good repair and visitors do not feel threatened by their imminent collapse.

The smell of curry and baking bread still sojourns with that of jasmine and mango, but the once prevalent smell of Indian tobacco (I was almost arrested for smoking their fags in Europe) has practically disappeared. Indians are almost saints: they do not smoke, do not drink alcohol and they rarely eat meat.

They are modest shoppers and modest dressers, though now there are decent western-style shops. The feet of Indians are still bare, but clean and pedicured. There are many jobless, but whoever has a job manages well even on a low salary. Now even lower middle class families have servants, as in 19th century Europe, and not just temporary help – real servants with separate duties: cooks, drivers, cleaners, errand boys. Cars and bikes have multiplied a hundred times in the past thirty years, but they still incessantly honk their horns.


Their sergeant-majors still boast the most fearsome moustaches and sideburns, but now they have nuclear weapons to boast about too. Next time, when imperial soldiers advance to India thinking “Whatever happens, we have got // The Maxim gun, and they have not”, they will be mistaken. India now has an impressive army with a goodly amount of arms; they have launched a few satellites and are on the way to becoming a power in space.

Indian Pundits

With their nuclear armoury and modest affluence, Indians are being heard today in the West – better than they were in the days of poverty, hunger and weakness. “The Wisdom of a poor man is despised”, says the Writ. Now we pay attention to Indian political thinkers, not only to the gurus. I had the honour to meet a few of the like-minded people in India. We publish Indian writers here. Among them, there is Ambassador Gajendra Singh, a man with first-hand knowledge of the Middle East, Turkey and East Europe. Another one is J C Kapur, whose text delivered in St Petersburg University is published here as well. We have also published Ambassador Bhadrakumar and Satya Sagar. Come Carpentier, a French expatriate living in India, Lille Singh, an Indian expatriate in New York, Syed Zaidi of Delhi -- all participate in our deliberations. We also publish and cherish the essays of Arundhati Roy and other Indian thinkers.

It is not that India needs much of an army; but nukes and missiles are a modern way to prove a country’s virility. That is why the US and Israel are so stubbornly fighting against other countries having them – they want to be the only males in the harem with a few eunuchs on the side. They are trying to take Indian nukes under their control, too – and some say that the last India-US agreement is nothing less than a capitulation. I am not so sure: the Indian leaders have not acquiesced in the US drive against Iran, and this is an important criterion. President Ahmadinejad was better received in Delhi than President Bush. Another reason is the old tie: Persian was to India what French was to the rest of Europe, the language of civilisation and poetry.


Instinctively India, historically its first victim, can’t support the Empire against Iran. Today this Empire covers much of the unipolar world; it subdued Germany and Japan in two world wars, Moscow submitted in 1991, and since 2003, the Arab world is also cowed. But it began as a small trading post in East India. The British were the first carriers of modern Empire, and India was subdued by them centuries ago. We say “the British Empire, the American Empire”, but actually these countries were and are rather carriers of the Empire than her owners. The Empire is an independent parasite, the Alien, feeding on many nations including its proud carrier and enforcer. Gladstone was right in his argument against Disraeli: empire is not good for the mother country. Now, worn-out Britain is a junior partner in the enterprise; its head offices have moved from London to Washington and New York.


India was the laboratory for imperial devices. A long time before Baghdad was looted by the Americans, British troops in 1799 conquered and looted Seringapatam, the fortress capital of Mysore, and killed (beside tens of thousands of natives) Sultan Tipu, who twice defeated the Brits and who had nearly reverted the crawling colonisation of India. The Sultan was described as an “infamous tyrant, usurper and ruler of the most perfect despotism in the world”, the same title later ascribed to Saddam Hussein. All the horrors of occupation ever experienced by the enemies of the Empire were visited on Delhi in 1857, when British troops slaughtered millions of Indians in what was probably the greatest holocaust the world had ever known up to that time.


Still, Indians nurse no ill feelings towards the Brits. They fought and died by their tens of thousands for England in the WWI and WWII. Now they are proud to be part of the Commonwealth, happily speak English, shop on Oxford Street and visit their relatives in Earls Court. The old-timers miss the British days (perhaps it is the time of their youth they miss). Captain Nemo with his dream of vengeance was, after all, invented by the French writer Jules Verne, not by an Indian. Indians are not vengeful by nature. English is also the lingua franca of this huge country and, by default, the language of many wonderful Indian writers, from Arundhati Roy to Salman Rushdie, who would be unknown outside of their provinces. Thanks to the ubiquity of English, India is the preferred country for outsourcing, and this has provided it with considerable income.


The new Indian affluence is thinly spread. There were always rich Indians, and that’s why there were always so many poor Indians. Even for outsourcing and similar crumb-sharing schemes, Indians pay a high price: Western companies have made huge inroads into the Indian economy. The courts do not defend ordinary Indians against the multinationals. They could take a leaf from the Canadians, who ruled in favour of a farmer against Monsanto in 2008. The countryside remains very poor, but the country is so huge, and there are so many people, that the lower middle class is quite numerous, and even they have servants aplenty.


Until recently, the Empire placed its bet on Pakistan -- now India has become stronger and more attractive. This is a fateful hour – if India should once again become its crown jewel, the Empire would engulf China and undermine South East Asia. The US continues flirting with India, offering American weaponry while demanding that it toe the line on Iran and China, and some forces in India are ready to embrace the Americans. It is therefore all the more important to keep India friendly to China, to Russia, to Iran and the Muslim world.


The bottom line is that India today is not as strongly anti-imperialist as she was in the days of Nehru and his friendship with Nasser, Tito and Fidel, but she has not switched sides completely, either. She is rather biding her time, playing cricket.


Despite the rise of Hindu fundamentalism, fuelled (and paid for) by second-generation Indian Americans and by the US State Department, India is not a natural enemy to the Muslim world. It's the other way around: sixty years after the Partition, North India (including Delhi) has a distinctly Muslim flavour. If Pakistan had not been created, Islam would probably predominate in India. The founders of Pakistan had a strange idea that the Hindus would seek revenge on their former masters; as a result, some space was vacated, leaving room for a Hindu revival. This revival is not entirely natural, as revivals go: they built in Delhi a vast, bright and garish complex of Hindu temples. The statues of Hindu gods, terrifying and bewildering when venerable and old, give the impression of a kind of Disneyland when shining and new. Films like Ramayana have filled in the chasm between the sacred and profane, and one is left wondering: are these the statues of gods or of movie characters? This is not to say that the Hindu religion is dead: there are millions of small shrines on every corner, and all passers-by do their obeisance. These small shrines are islands of calm in the turbulent world, and surely they are greatly needed and appreciated.


However, the mosques in the Indian capital are still much more impressive than the Hindu temples. Everything pre-British is Muslim-built, as for a thousand years, ever since Mahmud of Ghazna, the rulers of Hindustan have been Muslims. The warlike neighbours of pacific Indians, - Afghanis, Central Asians, Persians and Turks conquered North India and colonised it. They were quite tolerant and friendly to their non-Muslim subjects, giving the lie to modern claims that Muslims are harsh rulers when it comes to infidels. Judging by Indian films, they lived well together in mutual respect. Not that I consider Indian films an authority on history, but surely they express some popular feeling on the subject.


The invaders of the 16th century became fully subsumed in India. Hindus and Muslims venerate the same tombs of the same saints and celebrate the same feasts. I tried to provoke my Muslim Indian friends by asking them: “Aren’t you upset by seeing Indian idols? Shouldn’t one remove them?” But they did not even understand the thought: “They worship one way, we worship other way; God is anyway one and the same for all of us”, they replied. Many native Indians embraced Islam, and eventually Islam became as Indian as Hinduism or Buddhism.


Subsuming Colonisers


The British could have followed in the steps of Muslim incomers to become subsumed ex-colonisers, and William Dalrymple, a sensitive and knowledgeable author, wrote at length in his White Mughals: from the days of Clive and to 1820s, the Brits tended to conform to the local habits. They went native, married local women, many of them converted to Islam or, to a lesser extent, to Hinduism, and thus they formed a part of the Indian upper classes. The change came later, when the British women were brought in. They formed a fighting sorority and excluded the Indian wives and their children from society interaction. Since then, fearing ostracism, the British Indians separated themselves from native Indian society, and their children of Indian women could not rise up in the world. Instead of conforming to India, and gently adjusting to her ways, they tried to erase her culture and reshape her. Instead of slowly becoming Indians, they became enemies of India. Rudyard Kipling, India born and bred, proved it by his Kim: all his knowledge of India may serve only the Intelligence Service.


This weather change from absorption and integration to separation did not happen just because of English ladies’ malice. The communications between India and England rapidly improved, so the ties between the settlers and their mother country could be maintained. If the communications were poor and difficult, or artificially severed, the settlers would be integrated. In case of Israel/Palestine, if the ties between the Israelis and their “mother country”, the World Jewry, were severed, the Israelis would be easily absorbed in Palestine.


It is true for other ex-colonial states, as well. Settlers and their children are valuable asset, and it would be mistake to get rid of them. Due to colonial injustice, they are better trained and have important and useful professions. This injustice can’t be corrected by mass expulsion or by mass flight. Algeria is a good example: the French departed, taking with them practically all educated Algerians and leaving the country without teachers and doctors. On the other hand, Spain was forced to give up its possessions in America, but Spanish settlers remained, and guaranteed continuity. Africa suffered much because of this traumatic decolonisation. White settlers left in droves, and the newly independent countries had to invite experts instead of using people familiar with local reality. Thus, colonists-settlers should be subsumed, rather than expelled.



Kashmir, a chain of pleasant green mountain valleys was the most cherished patrimony of the Great Mughals, who embellished it with palaces and gardens. Here the Muslims and Hindus lived together in peace and harmony. However, the Empire did not will it. At first, there was a Hindu-Muslim conflagration which resulted in the Partition. Still, the Hindu refugees quickly came back to the Valley after the battles were over. Peace had returned, but not for long. The American meddling in Afghanistan in 1970s-80s had undermined stability. The Americans created Islamist insurgency to embroil the Russians in the fire of guerrilla war in neighbouring Afghanistan. Sparks of the insurgency ignited fire in North India, and soon the villages and towns were engulfed by fratricidal struggle. The Hindus were forced to leave Kashmir and move to Jammu and other places; many Muslims had left too, rather than being forced to serve the firebrand insurgents. Their empty, ruined or burned down houses still stick out in Srinagar and elsewhere, though many of the properties were sold for a song during the insurgency.


This was a tragic development. Kashmiris – Muslims and Pandits (as local Hindus are called) are ethnically and linguistically the same people, they have the same family names. My host in the Valley, Ustad Bashir Butt, told me of their affinities and of good neighbourhood relations. He is a devout Muslim, but there are Pandit Butts as well, sharing the same ancestry. Butts saved lives of their Pandit neighbours during the militants’ raids, though mainly they were preoccupied with staying alive. Disappearance of the Pandits is a tragedy for them, and for all Kashmiris.


This sad situation is relevant for Israelis and Palestinians. The Palestinians were forcibly expelled by the Jewish militants in 1948, and since then they are not allowed to come back. But will they if they can? I am on record of being in full support of al-Awda, of Palestinian refugees’ right of return, but I do not know whether many ex-Palestinians would like to come back. The Pandits of Kashmir may come back, after all, India is not a Muslim fundamentalist state, and Hindu parties are close to power. They may, but they do not come – even from nearby Jammu. They say they have nothing to go back to: their houses are burned or taken over. The Pandits are not an exception. Though it is not easy, the German exiles may come back to Sudetenland in Czech Republic and to Poland; but somehow they do not. They come for a visit, but do not stay there for long. It can be the case in Palestine, too.


Now Kashmir is calm and pleasant to visit. Militancy died out, but not many potential Western tourists know of it, and you may now enjoy summer in Srinagar for knock-down prices. There are newly prosperous Indian tourists from Bombay and Delhi, but Western tourists are rare. This is the best time to go to Srinagar, the valley’s summer capital.


A delightful place, to be sure, this town on the Dal Lake, in the shade of mighty Himalayas. It is often compared with Venice, but our Italian friend, who is a permanent resident there, corrected the image: Srinagar may become Venice, but meanwhile it is a Venice of AD 500. The canals and lagoons of the city are not yet fixed and built up and polished to perfection. Imagine the Grande Canale with fishermen’s huts instead of majestic palaces, the Piazza di San Marco covered with cucumber gardens and Rialto full of water lilies instead of pizza stands, and you’ll get the image of Srinagar.


The lake is covered with grass, and this grass is collected by local peasants who roam the lake on their small boats. The grass is used as fertiliser in their tiny gardens which produce amazing harvests. They build floating gardens, and cultivate every bit of land; the plentiful canals dissect the islands, so it is difficult to decide whether you view an island crossed by canals or a part of lake with floating gardens. These grass-collecting boats compete with local gondolas “shikaras” carrying tourists and sightseers and doing taxi job. The scene of this pre-Venice lagoon is very lively and quite unique.


Around the lake, there are magnificent formal gardens laid by the Mughals, and the mountains are nearby for trekking or fishing. The town is also a charming place, especially the house of British representative now turned into emporium of local arts and crafts. There is a strange place often described as “Jesus Tomb”. A local legend says that Jesus after resurrection moved to Srinagar and lived here, happily married, until his death. Perhaps it is the burial place of an early Christian preacher or an apostle. I have brought there the candles lit at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and left them at this sanctuary.


In the days of the Raj, the English colonial administrators loved to spend summer in Srinagar and other hill stations, but the Raja did not allow them to buy land for the houses they wanted. As a solution, the Brits turned to build luxurious houseboats, small floating palaces and villas. After Independence, they were gone, and the houseboats were extremely popular place for hippies and other travellers in 1970s and 80s. By the end of 80s, civil war was raging, and the hippies moved

to Goa, but the houseboats remained.


All pictures in the article were taken by the author in Kashmir: (1) Mughal Gardens, (2) (3) Waterfront of Srinagar (4) Canals of Srinagar (5) “Jesus Tomb” (6) Shikara


The best houseboats in Srinagar are Clermont boats of Butt. They are all traditional yet thoroughly modernised, equipped with best carpets, handmade furniture of valuable trees and embroidery. What’s more, they are moored at a distance from the town, in a Mughal garden Naseem Bagh with its 400-year old chinar trees planted by Akbar or more probably by his art loving son Jahangir. There are only three boats, and they are usually taken by dignitaries and diplomats. Yehudi Menuhin stayed there, so did Harrison the Beatle, a Rockefeller and even yours truly. One can easily find a cheaper place, but this is the best, ultimate in privacy and Raj-style opulence. The place is run by two Butt brothers, very pleasant and hospitable men. Contact Bashir Butt, refer to us and get a discount!