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The value of a Hindu life

By Rajeev Srinivasan
December 16, 2005 17:08 IST
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Consider the following events that took place involving people from Kerala in dangerous situations in the recent past:

A driver with the Border Roads Organization is kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan, which threatens to kill him within 48 hours. The state and central governments do practically nothing. E Ahamed (the MP from Kerala), in charge of the foreign ministry since Natwar Singh was sacked, does practically nothing. The driver's decapitated body is found by the roadside.

A prisoner is held by the Americans in an army jail in Iraq. The government of Kerala appeals for his release and the central government intervenes. The prisoner is released and reunited with his family.

A migrant worker in Saudi Arabia is sentenced to lose an eye because in a scuffle he had blinded a Saudi in one eye. The Islamic law in Saudi Arabia states literally that an eye for an eye is the punishment for the crime. However, the chief minister of Kerala pleads for clemency. E Ahamed pleads for clemency. There are questions in Parliament. This has become an international cause celebre.

A few years ago, when a person in Iraq was kidnapped by terrorists, the government quickly established contacts with the Iraqi government, sent a member of the Minorities Commission to Iraq, and secured his release.

Here are excerpts from a report in The Pioneer newspaper ('Government could have saved him, says family'), in relation to Cases 1 and 4:

Many people are also angry that the Central and State Governments failed to save Maniappan's life. Anandan and Krishnankutty, Maniappan's uncles and ex-servicemen, blame the State and Central Governments for having failed to save their nephew's life. They wonder why the State Government did not send a minister to New Delhi to strive to secure Maniappan's release.

The family's neighbours Karthikeyan, Gopalan and Sadanandan and a host of others ask with indignation why the Central Government did not try to establish communication with the Taliban via the Afghan Government. A few Congress workers, who were reluctant to reveal their names, blamed Minister for State for External Affairs E Ahamed. Some others blamed it on top bureaucrats in New Delhi who failed to rise to the occasion.

Some recalled how Samkutty, hailing from neighbouring Mavelikkara, was rescued after a terrorist group abducted him in Iraq a few years ago. At that time, New Delhi had acted quickly by establishing contact with the Iraqi government and also sent Minorities Commission member John Joseph to Iraq secure Samkutty's release. The Union Government's persistent efforts paid off, and Samkutty (was) brought home safely. In the case of Maniappan, the Union Government did not act fast and effectively, many feel.

Here is an excerpt from a report in the Pioneer ('Naushad issue echoes in Parliament'), in relation to Case 3:

Rajya Sabha members, especially from Kerala, on Wednesday demanded immediate intervention by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to save an Indian national who is facing the threat of his eye being gouged out as a punishment for injuring a Saudi national in a scuffle.

So what is the difference between Cases 1, 2, 3, and 4, other than the fact that the person in Case 1 died a gruesome death, but the others are safe?

Just this:

Case 1 was a Hindu man, Maniappan Raman Kutty.
Case 2 is a Christian man, Sijo Jose.
Case 3 is a Muslim man, Naushad.
Case 4 is a Christian man, Samkutty.

There could not be a clearer indication of the value of a Hindu man's life. To spell out the obvious -– a Hindu's life is without value as far as politicians and the Government are concerned. But a Christian man's life, and a Muslim man's eye, are of great value. Ah, the wonders of 'secularism; as practiced in India!

This is eerily reminiscent of the Saudi Arabian system of blood money, see the Wikipedia at (or The Wall Street Journal, April 9, 2002): In Saudi Arabia when a person has been killed or caused to die by another, the perpetrator has to pay blood money, or compensation, as follows:

  • 100,000 riyals if the victim is a Muslim man
  • 50,000 riyals if a Muslim woman
  • 50,000 riyals if a Christian man
  • 25,000 riyals if a Christian woman
  • 6,666 riyals if a Hindu man
  • 3,333 riyals if a Hindu woman

    This hierarchy is based on the Islamic legal definitions of human rights and is rooted in the Quran and Sharia (Islamic law).

    Because of the lure of petro-dollars, everyone accepts this with a shrug, 'That's the way the Saudis are'", although it violates our notions about human rights and egalitarianism.

    But it is true that sovereign countries have their laws and they resent outsiders trying to tell them what to do. For instance, Singapore has extremely strict laws about drug smuggling, and those caught trafficking are summarily executed. Just a week or two ago, a Vietnamese-Australian was thus executed, despite pleas for clemency.

    Of course, Case 3, regarding Naushad's pending mutilation, is a humanitarian concern. But then, Naushad is a Muslim, Saudi Arabia is the most devoutly Muslim country, and their law is totally based on the Quran and Sharia. In a purely technical and legal sense, is it appropriate for anyone to try and tell the Saudis what to do? Wouldn't that be interference in their internal affairs, and worse, in their religious affairs?

    It is interesting to note that India's Muslim leaders, who have on occasion declared that their Sharia courts supersede the normal judicial process -– most recently in the case of a Muslim woman being raped by her father-in-law and then being told to divorce her husband and marry the father-in-law -– are silent about the Naushad case. Where is Shabana Azmi? Where is Teesta Setalvad? Why aren't they loudly supporting the Saudi Sharia courts in this instance? Is their support of Islam selective -– only when it is convenient for them?

    There are two lessons to be taken away from these cases, and in comparison, the cases of Rubaiyya Sayeed (1989, Jammu and Kashmir), Tassaduq Dev (1991, Jammu and Kashmir), Nahida Soz (1991, Jammu and Kashmir), and of the hostages in the Indian Airlines flight that was hijacked (1999, Kandahar, Afghanistan).

    If you are an upper middle class person or related to a politician, the Indian State will cave in and do whatever it takes to secure your release, including allowing mass-murdering terrorists to go scot-free.
    An alarming note: Rubaiyya Sayeed is the daughter of the previous chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, and Tassaduq Dev is the brother of the current J&K Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad. What does this say about their willingness to resist terrorists?

    If you are a Muslim or Christian, you get substantially better treatment from the bureaucracy, politicians and the media than if you are a lower middle-class Hindu with no connections as Maniappan Raman Kutty was.

    I suspect that Maniappan Kutty also belonged to a lower caste, since the Marxists did not make any noise about him. Compare this to a CPI-M Politburo member personally chivvying on the relatives of Flight 814 hostages to force the NDA government to cave in to terrorist demands.

    But then, one might say that 'minorities' deserve better protection than the 'majority' community. However, this laudable goal breaks down in the case of Pakistan. A report from Irfan Hussain ('Conversion Losses') in The Dawn relates the sad story of a Hindu couple in Karachi, whose three daughters, Reena (21), Usha (19) and Rima (17), vanished without a trace on October 18th.

    The next the parents heard about the three girls was via a courier package which had three identical affidavits from the girls saying they had voluntarily converted to Islam and therefore couldn't live with their Hindu parents. It is quite possible that they have been kidnapped, forcibly married, and converted under duress, but as helpless minority people in Muslim-fundamentalist Pakistan, the parents have no hope for justice. But the mullahs have generously offered them, too, the opportunity to convert to Islam.

    The kidnapping and forced marriage/conversion of Hindu women is intended in part to humiliate the community by showing them that they cannot protect their valued daughters. In a culture where 'honour' is important -– as seen in the many 'honour killings' of Muslim women who dare to love non-Muslim men, in the UK, for instance -- this is the gravest possible dishonor. And it is an overt threat that Hindus had better convert.

    This sort of violence generally befalls only powerless 'minorities' in most places. So this is yet more evidence that in India, it is the Hindus that are the oppressed 'minority', as I have argued before in 'Who is a minority person?'

    For, there was an identical tale -– same modus operandi -– of the 'disappearance' and 'conversion' of a Hindu girl in October in Hyderabad, India. This did not get much airplay in the Indian English media, naturally. 21-year-old K Pallavi disappeared, and 'reappeared' as 'Sana Fatima', clad head to toe in a burqa, and suddenly spoke fluent Urdu which she did not know before. Her mother was not allowed to see her without the burqa, or to talk to her alone, and she suspects 'Sana Fatima' is an impostor. The girl was escorted to court, curiously, by an MLA and MP of a Muslim organization.

    Here is a quote from the Pioneer editorial:

    It is entirely possible that Pallavi, if at all she and 'Sana Fathima' are the same person, has changed her faith in an emotional response to the killing of a young Muslim man, with whom she is said to have been rather friendly, last year. But that does not mitigate the possible social impact of her action that must be judged in the context of realities which cannot be wished away.

    Her gender is immaterial to the points that are being raised by those opposed to surreptitious conversion by deceit, if not by coercion or inducement. If Pallavi indeed wanted to embrace Islam as an informed adult, she need not have done so in such a cloak-and-dagger manner; if her action had no political or social bearing, she would not have been provided with political cover of the sort that was witnessed in court on Monday.

    So what do you think, gentle reader, is the value of a Hindu's life in India?

    Comments welcome at my blog at

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    Rajeev Srinivasan