Image: Tapan Ghosh and Devdutta Maji of Hindu Samhati at The Temple Mount by N. Sher
When India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited in July 2017, he became the first head of his country to set foot in Israel. During the historic visit, the two nations signed seven trade agreements in various key areas. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned the favor with a visit to India in January 2018. Since then the diplomatic alliance has continued to flourish.
When 70,000 Hindus marched in support of Israel in Kolkata (Calcutta) in February 2018—considered India’s largest pro-Israel rally in history—the growing connection between Hindus and Jews transcended governments and politics. Organized by Hindu Samhati, a “right-wing” NGO founded in 2008 without ties to any political party that seeks close India-Israel relations, the immediate objective of the march was to call for India to move its embassy to Jerusalem following America’s lead.
This set the stage for another first: a visit to Israel in June 2018 by one of India’s most popular yet polarizing figures, Tapan Ghosh, Hindu Samhati’s founder, “guru” and face of the organization, who was arrested following the February march.
Whereas PM Modi’s visit signaled a new age of cooperation and trade between governments, the visit by Hindu Samhati’s leader signals a deepening bond between two ancient peoples.
The Jerusalem Herald met with Ghosh in June 2018 at the StandWithUs office in Jerusalem. He was accompanied on his “pilgrimage” to Israel by Devdutta Maji, a founding member of Hindu Samhati and a prominent human rights activist who coordinated the historic march in Kolkata. The conversation culminated with a visit to the Kotel (Western Wall), one of the holiest sites of the Jewish people and a remaining remnant of her Second Temple.
The immediate objective of this pilgrimage, said Ghosh, was to establish people to people ties between Hindus and Jews, two indigenous peoples, outside the political arena. His primary aim was to meet with those who share a vision and a cause, “a common narrative that counters the narrative of our common enemy, radical Islam, of Islamists as victims and Israelis as oppressors.”
Looking to the future, Ghosh imagines Jews and Hindus as natural partners working together to defeat the “global hate” spread by Islamists and communists, which has fomented antisemitism directed at Israel and anti-Hinduism.
“We want to defeat the anti-Israeli narrative in India,” said Ghosh, who is
inspired by the Jewish narrative and how “Jews regained their land” while “Hindus lost theirs.” He believes that, because their “sense of history is important to Jews,” this has motivated Israel to become “the start-up capital of the world,” a nation synonymous with survival, creativity and prosperity.
“Such is the fixation that antisemitism or hate against the Jewish state of Israel transcends every national boundary, race, religion and language,” said Maji, Hindu Samhati’s vice president. “What is true for the Jews is also true for Hindus in West Bengal.”
India Under Islamic Infiltration—10% of the World’s Muslims
Hindu Samhati, a popular grassroots movement based in Kolkata, “the cultural capital of India” and India’s seventh largest city, attracts many followers from the rural villages in West Bengal, India’s fourth most populous state bordering Bangladesh. The area is plagued by Islamist violence and expansion, an insecurity that exacerbates the poverty. It is a poor agricultural region that would benefit from increased Israeli trade and agri-tech know-how.
As an Indian rights activist and social worker with a decades-long connection to these poor Hindu villages, Ghosh warned that the region is under siege by illegal migrants. Rohingya and Bangladeshi Muslims have infiltrated India’s porous 2,582-mile border (the fifth-longest land border in the world) from Bangladesh, creating problems for the Hindus who live there. Deporting them before they overrun the region and replace the Hindu population is critical, explained Ghosh.
As Ghosh sees it, there are two main problems: Muslim numbers (population growth and spread) and radicalization. Cognizant of the religious war presently being waged, he is dedicated to preventing the “Islamization” of West Bengal.
The population time bomb is ticking. Bangladesh, which is 90% Muslim, has a higher birth rate than its Hindu neighbor. “They produce [children] and then send them to India,” said Ghosh. There are already 180 million Muslims in India, out of a population of over 1.3 billion. That is 10% of the world’s Muslims.
“If we lose the battle of the womb, we are lost,” said Maji.
In village after village in eastern Bharat (India), Hindus are attacked, children are kidnapped and sold, women raped or victimized as a result of so-called “love-jihads.” Ghosh estimated that Hindu Samhati has given shelter to “thousands of sisters,” including “over 200 Hindu girls who had married or tried to marry Muslims.” These rescue operations are reminiscent of the actions taken by the Israeli anti-assimilation group Lehava, which rescues Jewish women who had married Muslim men and were subsequently mistreated and imprisoned in Arab villages, unable to escape on their own.
In eastern India, violence is easily triggered, regularly escalating into deadly clashes between Hindus and Muslims. Death threats and public lynchings are not uncommon. A Facebook post in July 2017 offended Muslims and led to riots in West Bengal; mobs torched shops, houses and police vehicles.
When such outbreaks subside, preferential politics prevail, explained Ghosh, noting the disparity of public funds distributed to Hindu and Muslim victims of violence, with some three times more money going to bereaved Muslim families. Hindu Samhati offers financial and legal support to families whose members have been arrested and to convicted youths. This has earned the group “the loyalty of the poor persecuted Hindus who have no voice in the system,” said Ghosh.
The authorities in India, similar to the “elite” elsewhere, have “succumbed to the global narrative,” said Ghosh, owing to the clout of Islamists in dictating the world agenda and policies as is most apparent in the nonstop anti-Israel bashing at the U.N.
This attitude is true in West Bengal too, where “the Communist Party and Islam are in league together,” said Ghosh, “acting against Hindus.” The communists ruled the state for 34 years, administering the world’s longest elected communist government. They still have great influence, according to the Hindu Samhati leader, and regularly hold public rallies against Israel.
Since the Muslim population in West Bengal is 30% of the state’s total and growing, this bodes trouble for the local Hindu population because the Muslims vote in a bloc based on religious issues, according to Ghosh. Political parties “are afraid of losing that bloc vote.” Where Muslim populations have gained political power, they generally work to impose Islamic Sharia law.
Defending the State—From Itself
Operating against an often hostile administration, Hindu Samhati activists claim that they have frequently been sent to prison without any valid reason just to please Islamists. When the group has called for Hindus to defend themselves and their homeland, the elite, who don’t agree with Hindu Samhati’s message and its methods, try to tie their hands from taking any action against Islamists. Yet Hindu Samhati continues to encourage and lead Hindu resistance and self-defense.
In the minds of some Jews, Hindu Samhati may evoke comparisons to the late Rabbi Meir Kahane’s nationalist, Jewish Orthodox movement that warned of the existential threat posed by the Arabs in Israel and advocated for their expulsion. His Kach party, already represented in the Knesset, was gaining wide popularity when the Israeli government banned it. Yet his message of Israel as the homeland of the Jews continued to resonate with those who felt empowered to defend themselves and their ancestral land. He was assassinated in 1990 by a Muslim Al-Qaeda terrorist.
“There is only one nation for Hindus, one nation for Jews,” said Ghosh. “The Muslims have many nations. Yet they aren’t content.” Both India and Israel have sizable Muslim minorities that are often hostile, but taking any action against these minorities brings charges of “racism” and harsh government responses as well as world condemnation.
Ghosh maintained that the Muslims in India already “stole our land” and “took our people,” and continue to exert influence over the Indian culture. Ancient India was once vast, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. But as a result of the Mohammedan conquest and 800-year rule, 400 million Hindus were killed and large numbers who weren’t killed were forced to convert by the sword, according to Ghosh. Many of the Muslims currently living in India and in bordering nations have Hindu ancestry. Hindu Samhati is dedicated to protecting the ancient Bharatiya (Indian) civilization.
“Hindus are a peaceful community,” said Ghosh, “that never invaded or conquered other countries.”
India’s “Temple Mount”
Invading Muslims not only decimated the Hindu population but sought “to diminish the Hindu people and culture,” said Ghosh. During the Islamic conquest, an estimated 2,000 Hindu temples were destroyed throughout the subcontinent and mosques erected on these sites.
Access to one of these sites in the city of Ayodhya has been hotly disputed by Muslims and Hindus. While it is one of the most important Hindu pilgrimage sites and considered the birthplace of Hindu deity Rama, it was also the site of a 16th century mosque (the Babri mosque) that Hindu nationalists demolished in 1992, leading to widespread violence. Excavations indicated the presence of a temple beneath the rubble, which Hindus pledge to rebuild. The site is a religious powderkeg.
It can be said that what Ayodhya is to Hindus, the Temple Mount is to Jews.
On this holiest of Jewish sites where Israel’s First and Second Temples once stood, Muslims have built the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Israeli government has given over control of the site to Muslim authorities. Visits by Jews are severely limited and Jewish prayer prohibited. So too all archaeological investigations. Muslims cart off any tangible proof of a Jewish presence at the site in trucks of dirt in the middle of the night, knowing that Jewish claims to the site can’t be proven without evidence. Hindu Samhati recognizes Jewish claims that the Temple Mount belongs only to the Jewish people.
When the subcontinent was divided into separate independent nations in 1947, it was divided along religious lines: India for Hindus and Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) for Muslims. Bengal was also divided along Hindu-Muslim religious lines at the time: West Bengal, a state of India, and East Bengal, a province of Pakistan. There was mass migration in both directions, and much bloodshed. According to Ghosh, Gandhi and Nehru made a historic mistake allowing Muslims to stay in India.
This sentiment echoes Israel’s 1948 dilemma when, after achieving independence, the new Jewish state decided to allow Arabs to become full citizens despite the fact that it was their Arab brethren in the surrounding nations who had instructed them to leave while they attempted to destroy the fledgling state. It wasn’t long before Jews had to flee these countries, making them judenrein (excluding Jews).
India’s differences with its Muslim neighbors have persisted all these decades and occasionally turn bloody. A major war with Pakistan over Kashmir was averted in 1990, even though India sent troops to the border and Pakistan threatened to use nuclear weapons. According to Ghosh, disputed Kashmir is difficult to manage and there is regular infiltration into India of refugees seeking safety or livelihood, with Pakistani-supported terrorists among them.
The situation along the Bangladesh border is also volatile. Two Muslim terror groups are active in West Bengal, said Ghosh. One is Pakistani run and was responsible for the deadly Mumbai attacks in 2008, which included coordinated shootings and bombings, some directed at Jewish targets.
“We Need a Global Movement”
Jews and Hindus share long histories of persecution and suffering, said Ghosh, and now face the same battle for survival against a common enemy.
The relationship between Hindus and Jews can be traced back 2,600 years to the period following the First Temple’s destruction when Jews settled in Cochin, the oldest Jewish community in India. Some believe that Jews came to India while King Solomon was in power. Some 5,000 Jews presently live in the country. Ghosh reported that there have been no instances of antisemitism from the local majority government.
The February 2018 rally in support of Israel was not the first large-scale show of solidarity with the Jewish state. In the summer of 2014, during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza when terror attacks and rockets were launched at Israel by Hamas—an enemy using women and children as human shields—and Israel had to retaliate in self-defense, the world urged Israel to show restraint from defending itself. Hindu Samhati staged a pro-Israel rally with 20,000 people marching in Kolkata, and urged fellow Hindus to support Israel.
In Ghosh’s view, we are in the midst of a religious war caused by the spread of Islam in a clash of cultures and narratives. “This problem is for the whole world,” he said.
“We need a global movement,” affirmed Ghosh, starting with Israel and India, Jews and Hindus, standing together.
A native of Brooklyn now living in Jerusalem, Steven Sher is the author of 15 books. His poetry and prose have appeared in hundreds of publications worldwide. He has also worked as an editor/journalist/media consultant and taught at many universities/writing workshops since the 1970s. More can be learned at his website.