Sunday, February 10, 2013

Holy Warriors - Edna Fernandes

Thanks to characters like Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, or Rajesh Koothrappali, people in the West tend to think of Indians as harmless and easy-going people with funny accents trying to survive in a hostile West. I guess part of that stereotype is true. But, like any other country, India has a dark side of ethnic and religious violence that comes to the surface every now and then. Incidents like Ayodhya, or the low intensity war between the Naga independence movement and the national government of India, not to mention Kashmir, should remind us that political and religious equilibrium in India is an astounding but fragile accomplishment.

In Holy Warriors, Edna Fernandes reviews India's religious violence. In 24 chapters, Fernandes interviews Muslims in favor of terrorism, Muslims against terrorism, Christian revisionists, Goans nostalgic of the old days, Naga insurgents, a former Miss World doing political propaganda for the BJP, and other characters. I don't think there is a more complete work about sectarianism in India in the market (there probably are some Ph. D. thesis floating around, but I doubt any of them made it to the market).

There is only one problem with this book: as it mixes interviews with personal feelings, it is very easy to assume the author's point of view as one's own. Before reading this book, I had no idea about the religious conflicts and cleavages permeating India. Now, I have an idea about what is going on, but it's not my idea; it is Fernandes'. To get her book published, she had no choice but mixing some narrative with passages of the interviews she had. It would be good, though, if one could read the verbatim version of the interviews.

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