Francois Gautier is a vocal and visible Dharmic voice, a lover and defender of Hindus in India and abroad. He is an eminent journalist in his own right, and has worked with Le Figaro, DNA and Outlook India. He has written books such as The Guru of Joy and India’s Self Denial. He has in the past brought awareness to the idea of a ‘Hindu Holocaust‘ in the medieval ages and advocates the indigenous Aryan theory. He has also founded an NGO called the Foundation for Advancement of Cultural Ties. He has been awarded Panchjanya’s Nachiketa Award and the Bipin Chandra Pal Award in the past.
Here is a conversation with Francois Gautier.
You had an upper-class Catholic education, though you never really fitted in the system and revolted against it quite early, as you have shared in the past. Your family wanted you to be a businessman but your interest was in writing, which made you write for a small newspaper and then a film script for a friend. This is a fascinating life trajectory for any teenager, as you were back then. How do you see that period of your life and the way it shaped you?
I was looking for answers. I was looking for who I am, what is the meaning of life. To know myself and it was the time I arrived from Paris to India. It just so happened that there was a caravan of cars driving from Paris to Pondicherry. Auroville. I did not know anything about India or spirituality. I had a little bit of a mystic side from my childhood. So I took that caravan and drove to Delhi. From Paris to Delhi. In Delhi, I had a very strong experience in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. It was an old building then, not the big school that is there now. I felt like I had come home and this was a place of knowledge.
Then from Delhi, we drove to Pondicherry and I met The Mother, who was Sri Aurobindo’s companion and a great Yogini. After meeting her, I took her as my Guru, and life transformed. And that is when I decided to stay and live in India, after meeting The Mother. I went on to live for 7-8 years in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. I started reading Sri Aurobindo and then, of course, The Mother died.
So I had done a little bit of journalism and photography before coming to India, and started freelancing in the south of India first. Slowly, I came to Delhi and became a political journalist for some of the major French-speaking newspapers and magazines. Atleast for 20 years, I was a reporter and a journalist, and of course from writing articles I started writing books, on Indian history, because I was covering Kashmir and I saw with my own eyes clash-ups between religions. I am not a historian but I started studying Indian history, started writing books on Indian history.
You came to India with the first wave of Auroville-migrants at the age of 19, in 1969. What makes Auroville so special, according to you, and how would you see the message of Sri Aurobindo as well as The Mother, whom you interacted with personally, guiding humanity going forward?
Sri Aurobindo is a giant, he is a Himalayan giant, for many reasons. First because he was one of the first to ask the British to leave India, much before Mahatma Gandhi. He was educated in England and came back to India, landing in Bombay. In the early 1900s, he first started writing articles. He was so passionate that he was ready to fight. His brother Barin manufactured bombs in the basement of Sri Aurobindo’s house, to attack and kill the British, and arm the people. So, he was not a pacifist. He felt India should become free, and in the spirit of the Bhagavad Gita, if necessary by force.
But his place is not there in (many) history books. He was the forerunner, you know (to Gandhi and the later independence movement). People say that the first mutiny of India could have ushered in the revolution that could have brought Indian independence by force but that is not true since the mutiny is a very complicated story and mostly tried to put back on the throne the Mughals. We cannot say this was really the first independence movement. But Sri Aurobindo’s was a struggle for complete independence, but his place in Indian history books is not there.
And of course, Sri Aurobindo was a great philosopher, with The Life Divine and Foundations of Indian Culture, which can called the bible of everything – philosophy, painting, architecture, everything. Today, from the perspective of Indian culture, we seem to have gone astray and not the Indian way. Sri Aurobindo was also an extraordinary poet. Some of the greatest writers in the world have compared his epic Savitri to the works of Shakespeare and other. It is of that caliber. He was an Avatar, a great Yogi. For me, Sri Aurobindo is like the Himalayas, not only in Indian history but also philosophy. His thoughts, ideas and works are of a very, very high level. Sri Aurobindo remains my Guru, my inspiration. The fact I met The Mother is a great privilege. I am very grateful to have come to Pondicherry and this changed my life.
That must have been quite a life-changing experience. I have been to Auroville myself, and found the ambience to have a very distinct and almost surreal side to it. That obviously and very naturally brought you towards spirituality, but your move towards Indology is what fascinates me. You have written extensively on the subject, in articles and in books. What made you interested in Indology and spirituality, over the years?
In the Pondicherry Ashram, I spent many spiritual years – interacting with The Mother, meditating. For me, the genius of India is spirituality. The people of India, the people of the countryside, they have this spirituality in a very innate, spontaneous manner. So we need to think – I have to be good, not kill, not steal, but here in India, when I started freelancing as a journalist, I was in Kerala and was doing this feature on the martial art of Kalaripayat, which was taken from India to Japan and China, in the villages I found in the people an acceptance, a natural sense of tolerance, of knowing that God manifested in different times, different names. The simple people of India, not intellectuals or Yogis! Looking at this at close quarters was a memorable experience and spurred me on, in my journey in Indology and spirituality.
You have taken exception to A. L. Basham’s ‘The Wonder that was India’ and see this as laying the groundwork for his later ideas around ‘Hindu Imperialism’. Did you write ‘The Wonder that is India’ as a reaction against Basham’s work and what are your thoughts on Basham’s book?
There was a gentleman known as Sita Ram Goel, and in those days I used to write in The Hindustan Times and in the Bombay paper Blitz. Mr. Goel sent me a letter and asked me if I would be willing to have a collection of my articles published as a book. I replied saying that I would rather write a book from scratch. So, that is what I did. I wrote The Wonder that is India. I had come across this bestseller by a guy called Mr. Basham called The Wonder that was India. It was a good book, but it said that India was very good and now not so good. So, I wanted to write a book called The Wonder that is India. I am very grateful to Mr. Sita Ram Goel on the making me embark on the path of writing books. The first one was important to me and I owe it to Sita Ram Goel, who was a pioneer and champion of Hindu Dharma and interests in a time even when it was seen to be shameful to defend Hinduism by some.
You have mentioned in the past that the foundations of the Indian society were unique since all the aspects of life were turned towards the spiritual. Do you see a need to incorporate ideas and elements from these foundations of ancient Indian society in modern times, for establishing a more Dharmic society?
Yes. I was driving from the Himalayas back to Delhi in ’96 and was looking at the architecture and what India had built since 1947, and except for a few exceptions, it seemed to be largely copies of what was done in the West in the ’50s and ’60s. You look at Indian modern paintings…again there might be some talent but its just a copy of what is done in the West. If you look at everything in India, if we look at literature..the literature that works, that sells in the West is mostly written by the people who are Anglicized, like Vikram Seth or Salman Rushdie or all these writers…they write in English for a western mind. So, it seems to me that India has gone the wrong way. Even education today, they only produce drones.
The education that is happening in India is to make drones that are good for export. So, yoiu don’t have the spirituality which is the very foundation of Indian culture, Indian lives, of everything. Even in Indian politics. If you look at Indian politics in the past, there were kings and emperors who had the sense of Dharma, of duty, as did the people. I think Mr. Modi does stand on and by that but if we look generally at the politicians in India, even from the BJP, they are at best working for the party and at worst working for themselves, but not for the people who have elected them. Everything remains to be done in India. So many things are so westernised – education, politically also.
We have a President and Vice-President, who have no powers at all, and then we have a system where anybody gets elected if you a have a lot of rupees and you can offer radios or computers to people. The whole thing is done wrong. So, I think after Sri Aurobindo died in 1950, even with all that he worked for and all his efforts, India was going in the wrong direction. Of course Mr. Modi has come and there have been some corrections but a lot more still remains to be done.
You have also spoken about the misrepresentation of Indian history, about the skewed projection of history in our textbooks and various modern historians. You have previously said that the whole Indian history, as we read it and study it today, is a huge scam: Ashoka was a butcher who was made a hero by Nehru because he was Buddhist, while Akbar was no better than Aurangzeb and Alexander was beaten out of India, and yet heroes like Shivaji Maharaj and Maharana Pratap are hardly mentioned. What are your thoughts on this?
For a long time, we only spoke about Ashoka and Akbar, who are emblems that Nehru propped up for various reasons but there are so many other kings and queens who stand out and yet are relatively lesser known. For instance, Shivaji Maharaj – known in Maharashtra but not so well known in the South. He was on par with Napolean or on par with the greatest warriors ever. And he was more than a warrior. He was an administrator. He was a man of extraordinary courage and intelligence, but does not have the place he deserves, in Indian history. Maharana Pratap was the only Rajput who actually fought the Mughals.
The Mughals, who took to Maharajas, fascinated the westerners so much but Maharana Pratap and Shivaji Maharaj treated them as invaders, as foreigners. So Maharana Pratap was the only Rajput who fought the Mughals and he fought Akbar, and Akbar definitely wanted to be friends with him, sending him letters and emissaries, but Maharana Pratap wanted to treat him as a foreigner, an invader. As someone who had killed 30,000 Hindus in Chittor. There was a huge Sati (Jauhar) also because the women and daughters did not want to get raped by the soldiers of Akbar.
So, Maharana Pratap held his stance. He never lived in the palace (after Haldighati) and slept on the ground. He was very secular, as was Shivaji Maharaj. They were secular in the true sense. They were Hindus but they would never kill or harm the daughters and wives of their enemies. They were true Hindus. Today, if you ask many in the South of India, nobody knows who he is. And yet he was an extraordinary man. We know the Rani of Jhansi but there were so many others like Rani Kittur Chennamma, whom not many know of.
What you have now in Indian history books is Akbar. And Ashoka, if you research on Ashoka, he did not become a Buddhist because he wanted to shun violence but he did it for political reasons. In those days, there was Jainism and Buddhism, and there was a conflict. To counter one of the sects of Jainism and the Ajivikas, he took the move. Ashoka was an extremely cruel man before that. So, the whole history is often not written as it happened.
Whether it will change now with the Modi government has to be seen. To rename a road, to rename the Aurangzeb Road as Abdul Kalam Road is good but that is a very, very tiny symbolic step. You need to write the true history. So this is what I have thought of doing in my museum but it is a very difficult task because Indians still have a very narrow mindset, even many Hindus. Majority of Hindus, they might go to the temple and perform Hindu practices, but they remain ignorant about their own history. They remain shy, they are not challenged and they themselves are not challenging those who kill them, those who attack them and take over their temples.
In A Western Journalist on India: The Ferengi’s Columns, you are critical of Partition 1947. You go on to say,”as long as Pakistan and India are divided there will be other Kashmirs, other Ayodhyas, other wars with Pakistan—nuclear maybe—and India will never be at peace with its own Muslim community, which is a permanent danger to herself” and have advocated for India-Pakistan reunification. Given current geopolitical realities, how do you see a closer working relation between, if not reunification of, the two nations?
There was a chance that India not be divided at independence, and there was a guy called Stafford Cripps who Churchill assigned because in the Second World War, Churchill needed India not only for man power but also for good and so many things. So, Cripps told Gandhi and Nehru that if they collaborated in the war efforts, we will give you the Commonwealth status, which Australia and other countries had, which would have meant that India would not have been divided. There was already a movement for Pakistan. Jinnah was there. Sri Aurobindo sent someone to Delhi saying that yes we need to accept this proposal because it will avoid bloodshed as it happened in 1947, when there was enormous bloodshed.
An enormous number of Hindus were killed, as were Muslims and Sikhs -who are a warrior race protected Hindus and finally retaliated. But then again, not everything is said. For instance, it is not said the massacres were started by the Muslims, whether it was in Calcutta or whether it was before that…the Moplahs, the revival of the Caliphate or whether it was the Hindu massacres in Pakistan. So, Indian history is again not written as it happened. At that time, there was a thought that as long as Pakistan and India are divided, there will be strife, there will be the sticking point of Kashmir, but things have changed.
I feel the Kashmir problem cannot be solved. Unless India and Pakistan come together, the Kashmir problem will not go away, but things have become more complicated now because the Americans are going to withdraw from Afghanistan. They are going to again leave a gap for the Taliban to take over. Taliban takes over then it will be supported by Pakistan and again they will try to create strife not only in Kashmir but also possibly in Punjab. There is only one positive: Pakistan has exported so much terror not only to India but all over the world that it is coming back to themselves.
There is a possibility that Pakistan will slowly, internally disintegrate, and South Asia, let us say the commonwealth of South Asia or a European Union of South Asia is what ideally should happen, with no borders and a common monetary system. It may happen, it may happen. But there is a Chinese element that can come on top of that, which is much more dangerous than Pakistan since the Chinese are better off, and have a lot of money. I think, at the moment, Pakistan is not India’s main problem. India’s main problem is China at the moment.
We share our interest in decentralization of the economy of India and Indianization of its social, political and educational systems. In your case, even at the cost of democratic principles and the constitution. What do you see are the major roadblocks on that path, be it with corruption, inefficiency or excessive centralisation and misuse of power in various levels of the administration, and how could we resolve them?
The problem is Delhi. The problem is the capital of India is Delhi. It was a place of the British. Delhi beared the brunt of the invasions that came from the Hindukush, Afghanistan through Pakistan, to Delhi. British wanted the capital to be Delhi because from the military point of view, it could control and check these invasions. Now, Delhi has become a big bubble. A bubble where you take a politician from Tamil Nadu, from Pondicherry, let us, who is sincere and hardworking. He comes to Delhi, gets a car and driver, so many people, servants. Then goes into the Parliament, which is like a fish market – there is no fresh air, no natural air. There is no natural light. He loses sight of why he has been elected. In Delhi, he is surrounded by seven wings of security, bureaucrats. He is not in contact with India. I am sorry to say. He loses contact with the real India. He had a connection with the ground, which he slowly loses. Delhi is a huge bubble – there are diplomats, there are journalists, intellectuals and politicians. They stay together happily, in luxury. They often have no clue what the people of India really need.
And the second thing is that India is governed by bureaucrats. This morning I met Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman, the Finance Minister. She is a wonderful woman, very sincere, a true Hindu. But then she herself has to work under the influence of the bureaucrats. Mr. Modi makes very good decisions but he needs the bureaucrats to implement them. And by the time it comes down from Delhi to Gujarat or Orissa or Tamil Nadu or Andhra Pradesh, they are diluted. The bureaucrats make their own rules.
I will give you an example. We were coming back from the Himalayas and we were to fly to Chennai on that day. So we needed a COVID test. Now, the government said anybody can have a COVID test but actually you need to bribe a doctor, get a certification so that you can have a COVID test. So, the whole system has become polluted. Some district magistrate or mid-level bureaucrat may have said that unless you have a certification from a doctor you cannot have a COVID test. Someone made the rule. I don’t think Mr. Modi made the rule. Some bureaucrat must have made the rule. So, it opens the door to corruption. India has become a place of corruption. It is not that the people are corrupt as much as the system is corrupt. But who is going to tell Mr. Modi that if you want to have COVID test, you have to bribe a doctor? Maybe I will tell him.
You have openly said that Hinduism is under threat from Christianity, Islam, Marxism and westernisation. You also have spoken up against what you see as a Buddhist-Jain tradition – Ahimsa. What do you feel is a way to stand up against the threats that Hinduism faces? Fundamentally, how must the inclusivist Dharmic traditions oppose the exclusivist traditions in the contemporary world, according to you? As they say, we may embrace them, they won’t.
Hindus in India have faced multiple attacks. Ofcourse some of the Gulf countries are much more radicalised. I have seen that Islam in India has also become much more radicalised, in places, than it used to be when I first arrived. More so probably because Indians have been going to certain Gulf countries, where you know it is much more strict and dogmatic. And many Muslims Indians feel they are Muslims before being Indian. That is a problem and poses a threat. But that is not the only one. Another is that westernisation is fast catching up in India, with televisions and cable. I feel westernisation is the greatest danger that India is facing at the moment. When Sonia Gandhi was at the fore, helping lead the government, I feel this was more, with the idea that the solutions to India’s problems lies with westernisation.
And this is a problem with most Indologists in the West, when they think that they are a superior civilisation and India needs the West to become a civilised country. And the media…the Indian media looks at India with western eyes. They do not look at India with Indian eyes. They are more concerned about what Amnesty International says or some senator is saying. So, where is the Indianness? I am a westerner who came to see that Indianness is great, is essential. Most Indians have lost their Indianness. And the school system, the education system in India hardly imparts any Indianness. Politics in India is just a copy of democracy in the West. And a bad copy, at that.
The Hindu holocaust over centuries is a reality, which we both have written and spoken about. Given the scale and number of years that this holocaust took place, it stands unmatched in the levels of barbarism and casualties in human history. Much like colonialism is seldom shown in the true light in modern Britain, the description of this holocaust is watered down in modern India by various historians. How do you see us moving away from this tradition of obfuscation of truth and yet not be absurdly revisionist?
Absolutely. You know, I started studying Indian history with the period of Aurangzeb since Aurangzeb is a venerated man by most historians, who portray him as a very staunch but a very just emperor. But I think he was a monster. Even with his own family, he imprisoned his father and beheaded his brother Dara Shikoh, who was a true Sufi. So, he was an absolute monster. Now, we did an exhibition on Aurangzeb according to his own records. He was a very meticulous emperor and every order he gave, he personally signed it and it had the emperor’s seal on them. Whether we speak of the temple raids he ordered or the Hindus being attacked and massacred, all of these orders are preserved. But when I showed this exhibition in Delhi, many people asked – ‘Why do you want to wake up the past?’
The same goes for the Kashmiri Pandits. I showed an exhibition of Kashmiri Pandits in London, where many people came. Again, people asked – ‘Why do you want to wake up the past?’ It seems like Indians are not ready to look at the past. The Hindu holocaust, you know, not only Aurangzeb, I mean Timur killed a 100,000 Hindus. It is recorded. He made a pyramid of 100,000 skulls of Hindus. So, I don’t know if many Hindus want to look at it and know about this dark chapter. I am not sure if the BJP government wants to look at it either.
But no nation can move forward unless they look at their own history – the good and the bad. There are a lot of good things in Indian history, lot of good things to say, but the Hindu holocaust is the greatest in the world ever. Research has showed that 100 million Hindus (roughly) died from the Hindukush to today. Whether it is 100 million or 80 million, it is the greatest holocaust ever. The burning of Kandahar, the razing of Delhi several times – these are all historical facts. These need to be put in books but nobody is willing to. I have seen three education ministers, the HRD ministers, you know, none of them had the guts to touch them (and address this). The one who was there who stood out was Murli Manohar Joshi but even for some of his good steps on this front, there was such outcry that he had to back off. That was 20 years ago but now, we have a billion Hindus worldwise and still not much is being done. They can do it. Hindus must unite. Every sixth person is a Hindu. They can do it. But not only some spiritual and social leaders can do it not the politicians, for I don’t think the politicians can do this. They don’t have the will or the courage to do it.
You have criticised the Indo-Aryan theory and promoted the indigenous Aryan theory. What do you think are the strongest evidence in support of that?
There are lots of evidence. Genetic evidence has shown this. It has been shown that most South Asians, most Indians have the same genetic genome, they have the same genome. So, there was no Aryan invasion. There were no white people who came and pushed back the tribals and the darker people to the centre, to the South. It has long been disproved, this theory. Even the historians like Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib have taken a step back, and have said maybe it was not an invasion but just a migration. We know that it never happened and yet it still remains in history books. Unfortunately still very much in the history books.
It is the furnishing of Indian history. So, unless the government does something, this may not change. It must be made clear that there was no invasion. On the contrary, the Aryan indigenous theory and the Aryan Hindu sway over Bali and the Philippines is history. The Chola Empire, the Chera Empire, their culture peacefully went inwards (into South East Asia). In the same way, the Indian culture went towards Iran, prior to Muhammad. Even Iranian culture has some Vedic elements in it. It is very well known but it has still not been put into history books. It is an old story.
You support the theory that Jesus Christ came to India, and was influenced by Hindu and Buddhist esotericism. Today, we live in a world of increasing differences and strife. In this context, how do you see the message of Dharma helping the world to move ahead in a harmonious manner?
Certainly. The Bhagavad Gita can become the bible of the world. The Truth about what we are and what happens when you die, what happens when you are reborn, what is an Avatar, what is Karma – these are truths in the Gita and there is a lot in it. A truth that the world has lost and India still preserves. Everything there has to be said is said in the Bhagavad Gita. It can become the bible of the world, the Dharma of the world. That sense of why am I on this earth (is addressed). Even now, during the period of the Coronavirus lockdown, people are asking pertinent questions and every answer is there in the Bhagavad Gita.
Sri Aurobindo said the 21st century will be the hour of the unexpected and this is what happened with COVID. COVID is that reshuffling of the pack of cards and we do not know what is going to come out of it. It is going to last quite a few years. It is painful and it is difficult. I find it very difficult to function in this world with everything just standing (still, mostly). But it will become a Dharmic world. It will certainly become Dharmic at the end and that will improve the world. Dharma is the Indian concept that the world needs to understand and practice.
Communist China has had a history of brutish assertion since early days of its existence. Tibet’s annexation was a gross violation of propriety and standards of international relations in front of what can ironically be regarded as imperialist tendencies while fighting ‘entrenched feudalistic and imperial forces’. India and China recently had a standoff in Galwan. In light of these developments, what do you see as the larger international geopolitical reality when it comes to China and how best can India face it?
It starts with the economic angle. The West has invested hugely, hugely, hugely in China. Every major company in the West, from Nike to Apple, have invested in China. Now the Coronavirus has raised some questions. The first question is about the virus – how it escaped from China, how China kept quiet about it. And the second question is around how countries have realized how dependent they were on China. 95% of antibiotics are made in China and so when the (COVID) crisis happened, there was a shortage of antibiotics. Almost every computer today is made in China. There is probably no laptop that is not made in China. So, countries, because of the COVID-19 have woken up to the fact that China is a very inscrutable place.
Of course, since then, we have seen how they acted tough, with India, with Hong Kong, with Taiwan, the Indo-China sea. But one must see that, economically, the West has put all their chips on China. Now, for a long time I have been saying that at some point, the West will have to take back some of those chips and invest them in India which is a natural economic destination for the West because in India people talk English, they are friendly to the West, they are not tough and crooked like the Chinese. This has started, but from the political point-of-view, it is more complicated because China is establishing a new Silk Road through the Himalayas since it wants to pour its goods into the West. It goes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, to Gwadar and other places.
It is something that even the West is taking notice of. It is a tactic to establish hegemony by China. The West does realise this. And the only country that can contest China, economically or politically, is basically India. The US has realised that the only country that can contain China, from a military point-of-view or even economically, is India, because India has a huge army and shares nearly 3500 km border with China. Now, China is also trying to control the seas. They want to control the entire traffic going from the South China sea to the Indian ocean and beyond, and this is frightening many, mostly the US because Europe is sleeping. I think India is going to play a very important role in the next few years. Economically, because some of the western nations will want to shift, delocalise manufacturing from China to India. Medicine, for instance. Politically because India is the only country that can contest with China there.
There is one element that nobody is speaking about – Tibet. Most of the border between India and China is Tibet. Unfortunately, India under Mr. Nehru allowed the China to establish suzerainty over Tibet. The Dalai Lama is 85 now and after he dies, the Chinese are planning to prop up their own Dalai Lama to succeed him. India must start using the Tibet card just like the Chinese are using their claim on parts of Arunachal Pradesh, which is ours. We don’t even have all of Kashmir. You know, again, Hindus are shy. Even Mr. Modi is shy to say that ‘Okay, you want to play a game with us, we have the Dalai Lama and claim that Tibet is a disputed country’. Tibet has always been the peaceful buffer between the two giants – China and India. And it was pro-India, it was Buddhist. Even today, the Dalai Lama is grateful to India. So, why not throw up Tibet?
The conversion mafia that operates in many parts of India have forced masses to convert, sometimes by enticement, sometimes by force and at other times by misprojection (such as the presentation of Yesu Namaskar). How do you see this all-too-evident reality of India today?
The government must come down on such organisations but it is not doing that. People are poor and if you give them free education, free loans or free medicines (as enticement), they will convert out of need. It is a completely unethical conversion. Only the government that can do anything about this. The Hindu temples are in the government’s control but the churches and the mosques have independence. The government has to step in but I don’t think it will because I don’t think they have the willpower to do it.
Thank you, Francois! Namaskar!