Daya Varma and Vinod Mubayi


The murder of Salman Taseer, the governor of the Punjab province of Pakistan, by his bodyguard is generally seen as a Pakistani phenomenon. Because the killer was the bodyguard of the Governor, some commentators have likened it to the assassination of Indira Gandhi because in her case also the assassin was her bodyguard. But that similarity is superficial. In political terms, the murder of Salman Taseer is more like the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by the Hindu zealot Nathuram Godse. In both cases, religious extremists were the murderers.


Although the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi was widely mourned in India and not publicly celebrated like the assassination of Taseer, Godses parent organization, Rashtriya Swayamsewak Singh (RSS), is known to have expressed its adulation for the assassin and jubilation at the death of the architect of Hindu-Muslim unity. The assassin in the case of Mahatma Gandhi, like the assassin in the case of Taseer, remained proud of his cowardly act.


The tragedy of South Asia is the assertion of a violent majoritarianism often on the basis of religious identity.  This phenomenon is not limited to Pakistan and India. Tamil Hindus had been discriminated against by the Sinhala Buddhist majority and Sri Lankan authorities for a long time and the president who crushed their rebellion is a hero. The founder of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman was murdered and the country witnessed persecution of its Hindu minority; the most vociferous opponent of this persecution, the novelist Taslima Nasreen, was hounded out of her country.  She found a temporary shelter in India but even the Left Front Government of West Bengal found it difficult to offer her security.


The causes underlying the rise and popularity of religious fundamentalism in South Asia are complex. Currently, in Pakistan, it has acquired its more virulent form, which threatens the very survival of the country as a modern state. Although religious minorities are sometimes the target, as the case of Aasia Bibi the Christian woman accused of violating the anti-blasphemy law attests, it is sectarian clashes between different Islamic groups, each asserting itself as representing  true Islam,  that are a greater danger to Pakistan. 


In the ultimate analysis, the prosperity, indeed the very survival, of South Asian countries requires a combined effort of all democratic forces of the region to confront fundamentalism as the principal menace facing not only Pakistan but South Asia as a whole.

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